Fighting For Poverty Funding…

by April Baskin

Recently, there was a regrettable and noteworthy effort undertaken by the Republican Caucus in the Erie County Legislature to try and divert County anti-poverty funds under the guise of falsely alleging that 62% of the County’s poverty and poor persons are in the rural areas of Erie County.  Fortunately, my colleagues and I in the Democratic Caucus successfully beat back the attempts to steer money away from the needy residents in the City of Buffalo, where data shows the poorest residents live.

The Republican efforts began with a letter from the Minority Leader, Joseph Lorigo (C-West Seneca) in early January 2019, advocating for “adequate resources” to be provided by the County to an organization based in East Aurora, which serves the needy in the District he presides over in East Aurora.  This was followed by an early February 2019 letter from Legislator Lorigo and his colleague Lynne Dixon, advocating again for that organization and “access to county contracts.”

A week later, that organization’s executive director published an op-ed column in the Buffalo News advocating for funding for his agency and insinuating that the tragic January death of a homeless Amherst resident with mental health issues was due to poverty. Our body invited that organization to testify before our Health and Human Services Committee, and the executive director was given an extraordinary opportunity to speak and present about their work on February 28, 2019.

One week later, Minority Leader Legislator Lorigo introduced a letter asserting that 62% of the County’s persons classified as living in poverty resided in the rural areas of Erie County.  That same day, at a legislative session, the Republican Caucus introduced and attempted to get approved their resolution entitled “Support for Initiatives to Combat Rural Poverty.”  That resolution directed that 62% of the County’s “Poverty Initiatives” funding in the 2019 Budget would be transferred to be used for “services provided to the poor in Erie County residing outside of urban centers” and directed the County to issue a request for proposals “for the provision of services to the rural poor in our county.”

My caucus blocked the resolution from being approved; it was voted down, and I noted that 62% of the County’s impoverished did not actually live in rural areas.

I was deeply troubled with these efforts by the Republican Caucus.  They seemed determined to create an urban-suburban-rural divide in our community.  Worse, they falsely claimed by utilizing in accurate statistics found in a public article that lacked research, without evidence, that 62% of the County’s poverty was in rural areas in the eastern and southern towns in Erie County – which just so happen to be represented by the Republican Caucus.

Last week, we invited the members of the Erie County Poverty Committee and the Erie County Department of Social Services to attend a hearing of the Health and Human Services Committee.  At that hearing, we heard testimony from the Committee members, and its Chair, Reverend Kinzer Pointer, as well as the executive director (again) of the East Aurora-based organization.  The Poverty Committee Chair Rev. Pointer noted that the 62% statistic was not accurate, and cited a policy brief that the Poverty Committee sent to the Legislature which was comprised by Dr. Henry Louis Taylor, Jr., and Keith Lucas, which detailed that in fact, 58% of the County’s poverty is located in the City of Buffalo, with 36% in the other two cities and the inner tier suburban towns, and only 6% in the eastern and southern towns.

Reverend Pointer informed the Committee that “Poverty is a very complex problem, and we ought to use our position to eradicate causes and conditions that make people poor. The policies and programs that work in the city and in the suburbs may not work in the rural communities.”

 We cannot address the needs of one geographic area of our community without regard for all of the areas in Erie County that are suffering from poverty.  There is no place for partisan politics and divisions concerning the fight on poverty, which impacts all Districts in Erie County