Some religious heavyweights from across the ideological spectrum are coming together to try and make significant policy progress when it comes to the issue of poverty. They are out with their recommendations today. They hope the Obama administration pays attention.
Jim Wallis. President of the influential group Sojourners and Michael Gerson, a top aide and speechwriter for President Bush are leading the effort. Read part of the letter they released this afternoon:
Since November, we have been working together with this group of highly-talented men and women to create a menu of policies that represent the common concern of our common faith – a concern for the plight of the poor. The Poverty Forum brought together 16 ideologically diverse Christian leaders and policy experts to identify concrete and effective anti-poverty policies that should garner bipartisan support. The Forum worked to build a spirit of collaboration and common ground. Participants worked in pairs to develop consensus proposals within their areas of expertise. Participants were not asked to explicitly endorse every item, and this is not a package per se, but a number of ideas and options to be explored further by our national leaders. Still, everyone did agree that a collective introduction of these ideas would help spur the kind of broad public debate we need. All the participants are eager to engage with policy makers and further the public discussion around practical solutions toward reducing poverty. From the beginning, the overarching spirit and desire of the Forum has been to work cooperatively to reach a broad consensus, a spirit we all hope is shared by our new administration and Congress.
The full letter is here.
So what are their policy proposals? It’s a long list and you can read through it here.
Leave your comments here and tell me what you like and don’t like.
A few of them caught the attention of The Brody File. Read those below.
Lifetime Savings Accounts. Many American families and communities have low or negative savings rates. The America Saving for Personal Investment, Retirement, and Education (ASPIRE) Act would create a savings account for every child born in the United States. Each account would be “seeded” with $500 from the federal government. Households at or below 50 percent of the national medium income would be eligible for a supplemental initial contribution of $500. Additional investments of up to $2000 per year can be made from individuals, family members, foundations, etc. Eligible income levels can receive a match of up to $500 per year for additional savings contributions. Withdrawals cannot be made from the account until the child turns 18 years old, when their account will be governed by rules similar to Roth Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs). These rules allow for tax-free withdrawals without penalty for select asset building pre-retirement uses, including post-secondary education and first-time home purchases. The universal nature of the accounts creates significant opportunities for financial education.
Strengthen and Protect the Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Initiatives and Expand Access to Marriage Education. Over the past 30 years, the prospects of divorce, rates of non-marital childbearing, and domestic violence have diverged sharply by class. In depth qualitative studies of low-income couples find that such couple’s relationships often form by chance rather than by plan. Yet, these couples usually want to stay together and marry, yet desperately need tools to make their relationships strong. The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 provided funding of $150 million each year for healthy marriage promotion and responsible fatherhood. This program should continue to exist; should continue to stress the benefits of marriage over cohabitation; should continue to strengthen the marriage field; should continue to promote responsible fatherhood; and should continue to research the impact marriage has on poverty and other outcomes. The federal government should also make it a policy to evaluate current anti-poverty programs, and any expansion of anti-poverty programs, to determine how to structure them in a way that encourages healthy family formation and does not create disincentives to marriage or responsible fatherhood.
Expand Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) by Eliminating Marriage Penalty: The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that in 2003 the Earned Income Tax Credit raised the income of 4.4 million persons in low-income working families, including 2.4 million children, so that they were not poor. The EITC now moves more children out of poverty than any other government program. This policy proposal asks for the strengthening and expansion of the EITC by eliminating the marriage penalty while seeking to mitigate any unintended effects todiscourage stay-at-home parenting. It also provides an additional credit tier for 3 or more children, rather than the current two-child maximum. Included in these changes is the creation of a new EITC for individuals age 21 and older who work at least 30 hours per week. Creating a new individual EITC would likely encourage more unskilled workers into stable formal sector employment earlier in life. It would also eliminate the perverse disincentive of the current credit, which taxes marriage (for two earners with custodial children) and work (among second earners in married couples).