Poverty snapshot

| Julie Pfitzinger | December 16, 2010 | 3 Comments

Catholic Charities CEO presents sobering statistics, ideas for change

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Father Larry Snyder, former CEO of the local organization and now president and CEO of Cath­olic Charities USA, of­fered some sobering statistics reflecting the persistent economic challenges facing this country during a recent presentation at the Catholic Charities office in Min­nea­polis.

Since fall 2008, Catholic Charities USA has surveyed all of its member constituents every quarter to take what Father Snyder referred to as “a snapshot” of the economic situation nationwide. In the third quarter of 2010, results showed an 81 percent increase in requests for help from the working poor and a 71 percent increase from families — just since the second quarter.

Catholic Charities USA is currently concluding its centennial year and Father Snyder said the goals of the organization today are much like the ones established by its founders in 1910.

“We want to focus on ideas to prevent poverty that will work in the next 100 years, just as they did,” he said. “We are committed to reducing poverty by half by the year 2020. We see that as our legacy.”

Seeking solutions

To that end, Catholic Charities USA sponsored 10 regional summits across the country over the course of this past year: the first was held in St. Paul, and other sites included Chicago; San Antonio, Texas; New­ark, N.J.; and Cleveland. The purpose of the summits was to hear from local constituents about their communities and to help determine best practices to find solutions.

“The most basic message we heard from these summits is that the system is broken,” said Father Snyder.  “We must create 21st century solutions to 21st century problems.”

One of the many challenges is that the basic support systems used to meet the needs of the poor are still based on the systems of the 1960s, when they were first established.

In addition, the current line of poverty for a family of four is $22,050, but according to Father Snyder, conjecture for what the current line should be is closer to $45,000, given the cost of living today.

“We have to have a realistic evaluation of how many people in this country are actually living in poverty,” he said. “The estimates now are about 48 million, but if we use an accurate measurement, the figure will be much higher.”

Legislation instrumental

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In September, the National Op­por­tunity and Community Renewal Act, a piece of legislation crafted by Catholic Charities USA, was introduced by Sen. Robert Carey (D-PA) and Rep. James McGovern (D-MA) in Washington, D.C.

According to Catholic Charities USA, this legislation would be instrumental in “developing and empowering local markets, creating new holistic approaches and incentivizing results-driven outcomes with more modern use of technologies so that the federal government can invest in programs that truly bring people into self-sufficiency.”

As part of this legislation, a 10-city pilot program is being proposed, and Father Snyder said he would like to see the Twin Cities have the opportunity to be selected as a pilot city.

“I think they have all the ingredients here that could make this work,” he said.

One of the next steps that Catho-lic Charities USA plans to take to create momentum around this legislation is to hold meetings with con­stituents around the country to gauge feedback and generate more ideas since, as Father Snyder said, the proposed legislation is still in its “concept” phase.

The presentation by Father Snyder in Minneapolis was one of the first constituent meetings and those in attendance included Catholic Chari­ties staff and board members, local funding partners and other interested parties.

Cathy Heying, director of the human rights program for St. Stephen’s Human Services, said she thought the legislative concept was interesting.

“We need to be innovative if we are serious about ending poverty in this country,” she said. “I believe it is important that we include people who have actually experienced pov­erty and homelessness in any of these efforts. They are the ones with the wisdom about what needs to be done.”

Adam Robinson, public policy or­ga­nizer for the local Catholic Char­i­ties Office of Social Justice, was also encouraged by what he heard in the presentation.

“The way the face of poverty is changing in this country makes it more difficult for people to talk about poverty, but we will need the support of the broader community to make the changes that are needed,” he said.

Father Snyder is also the author of “Think and Act Anew: How Poverty in America Affects Us All and What We Can Do about It” (Orbis Books) which focuses on the work of Cath­olic Charities USA and includes stories from people who have been directly affected by the economic crisis.

When asked about the book, Father Snyder said one of his goals was to provide background for readers on the principles of Catholic social teaching, with a particular focus on “Caritas in Veritate,” the third encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI, released in 2009.

“There is such incredible wisdom in this encyclical and I wanted to make the connection between the Holy Father’s teaching and the current economic state of the world and of our nation,” said Father Snyder. “As we rebuild our social structures, we need to pay attention to that teaching.”

For more detailed information about the National Opportunity and Commun­ity Renewal Act, visit http://www.catholiccharitiesusa.org.

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Category: This Catholic Life