Commentary

No poor among you

However, there should be no poor among you, for in the land your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, God will richly bless you, if only you fully obey God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today.

–Deuteronomy 15: 4-5

In the midst of the 2009 recession, poverty is worsening, and those who are most in need are not getting the attention they deserve. Candy Hill, the vice president of Catholic Charities USA, commented, “All the focus is on the middle class — on Wall Street and Main Street — but it’s the people on the back streets who are really suffering.” The recession means many middle-class families and individuals are hurting and losing economic stability — job loss is known on every block, in every social circle, but those most affected are the many neighbors who are hungry, unable to afford medical care, losing their housing, dropping out of education, and cast adrift from community life. We as faith communities cannot abandon those who are most in need in times of crisis.

Yet poverty is not just a result of recession. According to the American Community Survey, a yearly survey put out by the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2008, half a million Minnesotans live below the official poverty line, which is set at $24,050 for a family of four. Although Minnesota’s poverty rate is relatively low in comparison to the rest of the nation, it is still unacceptable. People of faith and congregations should be leaders in the fight to end poverty.

Minnesota’s state government has shown a commitment to ending poverty through the work of the Legislative Commission to End Poverty in Minnesota by 2020 (LCEP), which recently made its recommendations. Minnesota’s faith communities should intensify our efforts to work toward ending poverty.

JRLC supports and promotes the following recommendations of the LCEP as a first step to ending poverty:

* Restore work as a way out of poverty.

* Refocus public assistance to streamline services and support everyone’s capacity and potential.

* Help Minnesotans build and maintain financial assets.

* Revitalize our communities through infrastructure and person-to-person support.

* Modernize our system of education to build the best workforce in the nation.

Brian Rusche is the executive director of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition (JRLC), and a member of Valley Community Presbyterian Church in Golden Valley, Minnesota. This article is an excerpt of a position paper prepared for JRLC, available at www.jrlc.org/issues/issue-papers.

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