County News

Emerging Strategies in Addressing Poverty: Discussions of Key Issues, Policies Affecting Poverty and Well-Being in Rural America

Dr. Camara Jones speaks about racial disparities in rural poverty. Darlene Haman and James Wallace, Herkimer County, N.Y. look on. Photo by Jessica Yurinko

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Utah's statewide approach to battling intergenerational poverty asks counties to develop individual plans, offers $900,000 grants

Who spoke:

  • Rebeca Benally, commissioner, San Juan County, Utah
  • Darlene Haman, strategic planning coordinator, Herkimer County, N.Y.
  • Camara Jones, senior fellow, Satcher Health Leadership Institute
  • James Wallace, county administrator, Herkimer County, N.Y.

What participants learned: Utah took a statewide approach to combatting intergenerational poverty in 2012, creating a committee of workforce development, health, human services, juvenile courts and education agencies under the direction of the lieutenant governor. Counties developed plans to help disrupt patterns of poverty lasting at least two generations and staff committees to oversee those plans. In 2018, the state offered $900,000 grants for every county to help fund those plans.

The process has been eye-opening, Benally said, noting that communication among counties and state agencies is wearing down entrenched territorialism.

“We realized that some counties and agencies were duplicating their efforts, so now we’re looking for overlaps (to eliminate) and gaps (to fill),” she said.

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Staff contact: Michelle Price 

San Juan County’s is focusing on early childhood services, job creation and training, connecting to colleges and addressing drop-out rates of nearly 50 percent in high schools on a reservation, where unemployment rates often top 40 percent.

“They know education is important, but priorities are backwards sometimes,” she said. “And when the men in the family can hold a job and provide for his family, that’s the greatest gift he can give them.”

 Herkimer County, N.Y. does comprehensive needs assessments every three years based on input from 85 representatives of social service organizations, and the different priorities of focus over the years demonstrate the changing needs of the rural county.

“Three years ago, opioid abuse wasn’t on there,” Haman said. “So you can see how fast things change.”

Despite several initiatives in place to address intergenerational poverty in Durham County, N.C., Commissioner Brenda Howerton said the efforts have largely been lost on much of the public.

“What I hear is ‘You’re not doing anything to impact our lives, you’re doing research, research and analysis but it’s not shifting the needle,’” she said.

Jones said three qualities in programming would “move the needle.”

“We have to value all individuals and populations equally and recognize and rectify historical injustices,” she said, adding that putting all major decisions in proper historical context was crucial. When it comes time to allocate resources, she said, provide them according to need.

“That requires establishing some metric of need,” she said, which also required proper study of poverty in rural areas.

Haman said that was the county’s plan for the 60 spots available soon in a county-run daycare program.

“We want to make those spots available for families with histories of children being removed from the home, children who have experienced some abuse or neglect,” she said. “It will help get them into the services that will get the child the tools they need,” to be successful.

Jones stressed the need for county leaders to recognize where their social, economic and racial privileges affect decision making that could affect people in need of help.

Erie County, N.Y. Executive Mark Poloncarz described the relatively new layer of consultation by which the county government studies the consequences its new policies would have on the African American population.

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