WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of 18 Christian leaders has developed a host of policy recommendations on poverty reduction that they hope will shape the actions of the Obama administration and Congress.
The effort, co-chaired by evangelical activist Jim Wallis and Michael Gerson, who was a speechwriter for former President George W.
Bush, is led by what Gerson called an “orgy of strange bedfellows” who want to make sure the poor are not overlooked in the economic downturn.
“This whole effort reflects the hope that overcoming poverty in this nation could, should, must become a bipartisan issue and a nonpartisan cause.”
The policy suggestions range from increased funding for low-income college students to helping needy pregnant women receive health care to an increase in the minimum wage.
Wallis, president of Washington-based Sojourners, said some of the members of the forum would be meeting with White House officials this week to discuss the proposals. When the White House unveiled a revamped Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships earlier this month, poverty reduction was listed first among the office’s four priorities.
At a time when one in eight Americans lives in poverty, the leaders said they were particularly concerned that the nation’s neediest might be lost in the discussions of the economic crisis on the middle class.
The Policy Forum was conceived and developed prior to last year’s elections, but much of its specific work — including pairs of ideologically different experts drafting proposals in seven policy areas– came together during meetings and conference calls that began in November.
Gerson, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, welcomed the effort by people from different political perspectives at a time when the possibility of successful bipartisanship is being tested in Washington.
“The problems of extreme poverty are visible only occasionally,” said Gerson, saying the efforts of the forum should remind people about the poor. “We see them after the L.A. riots or we see them after Katrina or we see them when food banks are strained in a severe recession, but those problems don’t disappear in between.”
The initial effort by the Poverty Forum was funded by a $51,000 grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
By ADELLE M. BANKS c. 2009 Religion News Service
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