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Buffalo draws on Rochester’s example, new state money in struggle against poverty

The struggle against Buffalo’s deeply entrenched poverty is now being bolstered by money from the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative, modeled on the Rochester Anti-Poverty Task Force.

Rochester set the lofty goal of cutting poverty in that city by half. While an impossible goal, give leaders credit for aiming high. Even making good progress toward that goal will be a victory.

Now it’s Buffalo’s turn, and leaders have to figure out how to get the most from the $2.75 million in poverty funds the state budget has offered.

News staff reporters Charity Vogel and Sandra Tan spent some time in Rochester speaking with community leaders who have been working on solutions to persistent problems and who, even with the state’s help as a pilot city, remain frustrated. Why? When tackling an issue as large and complex as poverty, there are never enough resources.

When examining poverty on a micro level, the solution seems fairly straightforward: stay in school, graduate and go to college or learn a trade. The macro level is more complex and involves countless people with countless individual problems.

At the macro level it is about job quality and public assistance levels for those who cannot work because they are disabled, laid off or unable to find a job. It is also about the cost side of the equation and what money is being spent on. That is where affordable housing, food policy and the costs of energy, public transportation, medical and child care and higher education factor in. Solving these problems requires state and federal assistance.

No one has given up. Not in Buffalo, whose mayor boldly announced his administration’s “Poverty Reduction Blueprint” in 2009. It missed the mark, but not for lack of trying. Now Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz has taken on the herculean task, announcing last year the convening of an anti-poverty committee.

Perhaps there are lessons to take from Rochester, even from those skeptical about what the initiative, begun about two years ago, will yield. There the region created steering committees to identify the barriers people face in escaping poverty. The city joined the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative, which works with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Rochester Anti-Poverty Task Force.

Even with input from a thousand people and, more recently, efforts from an IBM team that spent nearly a month last fall examining the problem, the effort is deemed to be in its infancy.

Poverty in Rochester is interspersed through downtown and into areas with still-healthy manufacturers and others marked by abandoned buildings. Buffalo’s poverty is more obvious, with large areas of devastated neighborhoods.

Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown emphasizes economic development, pointing to the 12,000 jobs expected to be created in Buffalo over the next few years. And then there is job training. The city recently allocated $4 million to the Northland Corridor redevelopment area to support construction of a center that will provide advanced manufacturing and job training. The city’s money is in addition to $44 million pledged to the project from the governor’s Buffalo Billion.

Erie County’s anti-poverty committee, established by Poloncarz, was formed last September. It may have some recommendations as early as this fall.

Erasing poverty will be a colossal task requiring much effort and money. It makes sense to watch what others are doing and adopt the practices that work.