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State Representative Carlos Mariani

203 State Office BuildingState Office Building
100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
651-296-9714

For more information contact: Joan Nichols 651-29X-XXXX

Posted: 2007-07-11 00:00:00
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NEWS COLUMN

Ending Poverty by 2020


Minnesota Legislature

State Senator John Marty
328 State Capitol; sen.john.marty@senate.mn; (651) 296-5645
State Representative Carlos Mariani
563 State Office Building; rep.carlos.mariani@house.mn; (651) 296-9714

Ending poverty by 2020: “Impossible." “Beyond our reach.” “Another group issuing another report.” “There aren't many poor people in Minnesota.”

These are some of the wide variety of reactions we have heard to the creation of a Legislative Commission to End Poverty in Minnesota by 2020. But let's move beyond those initial reactions.

Poverty is a big problem here. Visits to “emergency” food shelves have become an on-going part of many families' efforts to put food on the table because their paychecks don't buy enough groceries to last until the end of the month. Children and families sleep on church basement floors because they cannot afford housing. Fulltime workers without health coverage are one illness or injury from losing everything. These are not Minnesota values. We accept these conditions only because we have not paid attention to what causes this poverty or looked closely enough at creative solutions that can address them.

Our historically strong economy has been fraying at the edges. For the first time in thirty years, our unemployment rate is worse than the national average. Children and women are falling into deep poverty at disturbing rates, and Minnesota has some of the nation’s worst racial inequities.

Minnesota stands on a strong foundation. We have the highest proportion of women in the labor force. Fewer people are in poverty here than in other states. We have widely shared values – believing that work, initiative and compassion matter.

It is not unrealistic to envision ending poverty. For most of history people living in poverty was a given: people had to work long hard hours just to eke out survival. There was the constant specter of drought ruining crops and threatening starvation, poverty was a force of nature outside of human control. But now we have a situation never before experienced: mainstream society has enough to live on and more. We are a sophisticated society with the resources and creativity to amplify those resources to meet our needs.

Poverty is no longer a natural outcome. It is the result of choices we make –how we tap our resources, spend private and public money, and define the rules of our economy.

This commission can succeed, if we stimulate public engagement and focus on Minnesota values. By bringing to public attention the damage and cost of poverty, as well as the promise of effective solutions, we can generate the political will to end poverty.

Convinced of both the necessity and the possibility, we agreed to serve on the Commission along with 16 other legislators committed to ending poverty in Minnesota.

Commission members are Republicans and Democrats, rural, urban and suburban, men and women, though like the legislature as a whole, not nearly as racially diverse as our state. We share values of opportunity, fairness, and the importance of the common good. Of course, there will be disagreements as we move forward. However, civil disagreements can lead to the creativity needed for success.

The Commission held its first meeting in June and will develop recommendations for legislative action by the end of 2008. Our work will include both formal testimony at the Capitol and informal conversations with people around the state. Commission members will listen to Minnesotans talk about the poverty in their communities, and develop solutions that build on our values of work, initiative and compassion. We will succeed only if we engage the faith community, non-profit, business and education sectors in reaching this goal.

Yes, the goal of ending poverty is ambitious. But it is an ambition worthy of Minnesota. The temptation to give up, or water down the goal will be strong. But we are confident our state’s numerous resources, along with the values and creativity of Minnesotans will succeed in ending poverty. Our goal is simple: Put homeless shelters and food shelves out of business. Enable every family the ability to earn enough that they can put food on the table and take their children to the doctor. Allow every Minnesotan to contribute to, and benefit from our high quality of life.

Minnesotans of previous generations faced big challenges too. Like them, we will succeed if we work together as a community.

Representative Carlos Mariani & Senator John Marty co-chair the new Commission to End Poverty by 2020

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