Tompkins County leaders air poverty concerns - Catholic Courier

Tompkins County leaders air poverty concerns

Issues surrounding health care, low wages, housing and hunger were addressed by Tompkins County religious leaders during an annual breakfast gathering June 10.

More than 40 people — representing nearly 20 Catholic, Protestant and Jewish faith communities — convened at First Unitarian Church in Ithaca. The event was sponsored by the Tompkins County Living Wage Coalition and Task Force, a group of Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga.

According to Edie Reagan, justice-and-peace coordinator for Tompkins/Tioga Catholic Charities, past breakfasts have dealt with such issues as debt forgiveness to poor countries; welfare reform; and the Rockefeller Drug Laws. However, “This is the first time we’ve done something solely on the county,” Reagan said of the sixth annual event in June.

Reagan said she was pleased with the breakfast’s turnout, saying that it continues to gain more participants each year.

“We’re very heartened by the response,” Reagan said. “We believe this is the beginning of greater involvement.”

Presentations were made by Martha Armstrong, vice president of Tompkins County Area Development; James Brown, executive director of United Way of Tompkins County; Marge Dill, executive director of the Human Services Coalition; and Carl Feuer, organizer of the Tompkins County Living Wage Coalition.

Reagan said a chief point of discussion was that Tompkins County residents put more than one-third of their income toward housing.

“That’s one of those red flags that housing costs are too much,” Reagan remarked. Further adding to the dilemma, she said, is that “it’s very challenging to get municipalities here to approve low-income housing developments” in a county marked by noticeably wide differences between high-income and low-income residents.

Conference participants also noted that 30 percent of non-student jobs in Tompkins County are filled by people who commute from outside the county — a sign that county residents can’t afford to take low-wage jobs. Emphasis was placed on the need for a higher minimum wage and also for employers to offer better benefits, such as health care and flexible scheduling.

Reagan said another concern was the need to promote governmental-assistance programs. “In 2001, only 30 percent of those eligible for food stamps were receiving them,” she said. “We really need to work at educating people and making those benefits accessible.”

Reagan noted that this is especially important for single-parent families in the county — 30 percent of whom are living below the poverty level.

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