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The Associated Press September 20, 2011, 10:07AM ET

Agencies: Negative mindset about poor must change

The mindset that all poor people are lazy and don't deserve help -- especially from the government -- must be changed if society and the economy are going to improve, some charitable organizations said Monday at the first National Poverty Summit.

Catholic Charities USA is hosting the two-day event in Fort Worth. About a dozen nonprofit organizations met to discuss ways to stop poverty, from helping single mothers to homeless veterans to laid-off workers who cannot find other jobs.

"When you put a face on poverty, you have a whole different perspective," said the Rev. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA. He said the "prevailing mindset" that needy people should simply work harder to get out of poverty is dishonest and not helpful.

Recently released Census Bureau figures show that a record 46.2 million people live in poverty -- nearly one in six Americans. The overall poverty rate climbed to 15.1 percent, from 14.3 percent the previous year, as the recession leaves millions still struggling and out of work.

Many experts believe America's poverty rate -- now the highest of any major industrialized nation -- could get worse before it abates. The nation's poverty level stands at $22,314 annually for a family of four.

People from all walks of life now find themselves in need of help, many for the first time in their lives. Those at the summit are exploring new ways people can get the skills and resources to move out of poverty, so they can have a "trampoline" instead of a safety net, Snyder said.

Andrea Levere, president of the Corporation for Enterprise Development, said all children need to have a savings account for college, because even low-income families and teens with part-time jobs can start saving.

Such a program started last year for low-income kindergarteners in San Francisco public schools -- where the city makes an initial $50 deposit and matching funds are provided by EARN, a nonprofit organization that also provides matched savings accounts for low-income workers. Similar programs to help children open bank accounts are in place in other cities.

While a four-year university is not the best option for all students, these savings programs motivate low-income children to stay in school, which ultimately increases their chances of ending the cycle of poverty, Levere said.

"Nobody thought a low-income family could save ... but it's the price of hope," she said.

The Pew Research Center said its recent polling shows that a majority of Americans -- for the first time in 15 years of being surveyed on the question -- oppose more government spending to help the poor.

The deep budget cuts by the U.S. House earlier this year included programs that helped the poor.

"We do have a deficit, but we can't reduce the budget on the backs of vulnerable people," said Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. "It's a false savings when we allow so many more people to become homeless and stay poor."

David Beckman, president of Bread for the World, said it will take a grass-roots effort to convince Congress that cutting these programs will lead to more poverty.

"We have got to beat them back," Beckman said. "These programs were working ... and don't cut the legs out from under them."

On Monday, President Barack Obama vowed to veto any deficit reduction package that cuts benefits to Medicare recipients but does not raise taxes on the wealthy and big corporations. Obama's proposal includes no changes in Social Security and no increase in the Medicare eligibility age, which the president had been willing to accept this summer during negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner to avoid a government default.


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