The United Way of Southern Chautauqua County held a taskforce meeting to report out on the 5-year Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative in Jamestown. The city contracted with the United Way in 2016 after receiving $1-million-180-thousand dollars through the state initiative to plan, implement and evaluate programs aimed at reducing poverty.
United Way Executive Director Amy Rohler said due to the Pandemic, it’s hard to know if the goal to reduce the number of asset limited income constrained employees, or working poor, was achieved through the initiative, “What I do know is that there were many families helped. In total, there were an unduplicated 466 households in the city of Jamestown, many of which were engaged with a coach or mentor, many of which secured employment, and access to lots of other kinds of resources beside just employment.”
Rohler emphasized that the goal was never to eliminate poverty, but to have an impact on it, which she says the ESPRI did achieve in Jamestown. She said one of the challenges learned to overcoming poverty is something they called the “Benefits Cliff,” where someone is receiving support from the safety network like food stamps, heating assistance, and child care subsidies, “When they’re receiving all those services, they are often in a better position than someone who is actually working more and earning more money but doesn’t qualify for those. So when you actually look at everything, the value of those benefits and what it brings to their household, they’re often in a better position than someone who’s probably working a minimum wage job.”
Rohler said creating a position like a benefits transition navigator is something discussed that might help people understand the options they have. She added one of the things learned was that having a hub organization is needed for poverty reduction initiatives, “Without someone structuring how the programs are measuring what their impact is, without someone coordinating, in our case what was monthly meetings, without providing a shared platform so that we can more efficiently and effectively communicate information; it’s very hard to be effective. And we end up in our silos when we really could be working together and sharing resources and sharing information.”
Rohler said having a taskforce to continue working on poverty reduction is the next step in this process.