Legislators won’t need to look far to find poverty
If Pennsylvania House Republican lawmakers want to know what poverty really looks like, perhaps they need to stay home instead of touring the state.
With approximately 1.5 million Pennsylvanians living below the poverty level – a little more than 12 percent of the state’s population – it’s not hard to find poor people and the organizations trying to help them.
At a press conference last week, Rep. Dave Reed of Indiana County, chairman of the House Majority Policy Committee, announced an initiative, “Empowering Opportunities: Gateways Out of Poverty.”
“With poverty levels growing in communities throughout the state, it is important that we learn more about the barriers that continue to stand in the way of those attempting to move toward a life of economic independence,” Reed said.
With cooperation of some nonprofit, faith-based and human service organizations, the committee members plan to host hearings, roundtable discussions and tour the state to study different approaches to address poverty.
To get started, 18 committee members and staffers participated in a simulation where they split into families and tried to accomplish every-day tasks with limited money, time and resources.
“It was very chaotic,” Rep. Marguerite Quinn, R-Doylestown, said. “There was so much that made you realize that without a car with a tank of gas and a job to go to, the only thing certain is uncertainty.”
That activity – and Quinn’s conclusion – leaves us wondering if our full-time lawmakers are spending too much time away from their home districts.
We’re sure each lawmaker – especially since our state has the largest full-time legislature in the nation with 203 members in the House and 50 more in the Senate – has some constituents who could educate them on poverty and poverty issues.
Reed, who represents Indiana County where the poverty rate is 18.6 percent, could travel the roads of his own county and spend time in local discount stores, food pantries and health clinics to learn why people live in poverty, why some are one step away from poverty and the factors that may or may not bring about change.
A stay-at-home vacation should give Reed enough time to collect stories about rural poverty for sharing with suburban and urban lawmakers who could undertake similar efforts.
We’ll be surprised if this effort by the House Majority Policy Committee yields anything more than an expense for taxpayers who will likely pick up the transportation, meals and lodging costs of the traveling lawmakers.
Before hitting the road, we recommend they stay home and do some homework.