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Another Voice: Buffalo needs comprehensive approach to poverty

By Michael Weiner and Tom Lynch

While Buffalo has much to celebrate in its move toward economic revitalization, it is no secret that our city still faces areas of concentrated poverty and that Buffalo’s recent successes have not reached all residents.

Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his intention to establish the $25 million Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative to combat poverty and to reduce rampant inequality across New York State.

Ten upstate cities, including Buffalo, that have been identified with high areas of concentrated poverty will be the focus of this initiative. Within the City of Buffalo, 30 percent of residents live at or below the poverty line, and approximately half of children in Buffalo are growing up in poverty.

The United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, in partnership with the Agency Executives Association, supports programs that assist community members living in poverty to resolve crises and overcome barriers to self-sufficiency. While these programs are effective in meeting individual needs, there remain persistent structural gaps and barriers that must be addressed to reduce poverty in our region.

Significant public investment has also been made in a wide variety of public programs to address poverty for decades, but they have not reduced overall poverty rates or been able to stem current increases.

Building on the success of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative, the governor’s plan would support community-led initiatives that encompass broad-based community stakeholders, working in partnership with residents who are living in poverty, to achieve coordinated, cross-sector goals.

Rochester provides a proven model of unprecedented engagement with government, business, nonprofit organizations, higher education, faith-based leadership and with those most impacted: individuals and families currently living in poverty. To achieve similar results on the same scale in Buffalo will require an all-hands-on-deck approach to the problem.

In addition to critical stakeholder engagement, we recommend the initial disbursement for this initiative to be allocated to community research and planning. Taking on a challenge of this scope requires planning to be successful, and rushing to implementation would undercut the effort.

As Buffalo begins to realize its renaissance, it is up to our community to work together around a focused approach to better understand the barriers to eliminating poverty and to develop solutions that can benefit all.

Michael Weiner is president and CEO of the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County. Tom Lynch is president of the Agency Executives Association and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Western New York.