MN groups brainstorm ways to address poverty disparities

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On the heels of a regional conference, multiple groups are working on new solutions for reducing the poverty gap in Minnesota.

Nonprofits, government leaders and people who’ve seen poverty firsthand gathered last week in Duluth to get a deeper sense of the connection between poverty and race in Minnesota, and discuss how to overcome long-standing disparities.

Bill Grant, executive director of the Minnesota Community Action Partnership, which hosted the event, said one observation is assistance programs are often run by people who have never experienced poverty. He added public perception is still a problem.

“We also need to challenge the belief that poverty is inescapable,” Grant asserted. “We need to get over the belief that there will always be a percentage of the population that chooses to live in poverty.”

While overall poverty has declined in the U.S., a recent Partnership report noted the Minnesota rates for Black residents and Native American populations are 20% or higher, well above the state level of 8.7%.

Grant noted one solution discussed was pardon reform, in hopes of making it easier for someone with a past conviction to escape the poverty cycle with a new job and housing.

John Doan, vice president of operations and equity for Trellis, a group providing support services for people as they age, said income disparities are especially felt among older Minnesotans of color.
He stressed it is a myth programs like Social Security and Medicare give seniors everything they need, and depending on your ZIP code, your advanced years are likely to be even more difficult.

“Access to education, access to healthy food sources, access to jobs; all of those things play into account,” Doan outlined. “Because if you think about [being] older and poor, it’s an accumulation of lots of years of life experience and of life circumstances.” Doan’s group is part of a coalition that will soon ask state lawmakers to boost funding for basic services for older Minnesotans, to make sure economic prosperity is evenly shared.

“For example, we know that there’s a huge shortage in funding for senior meals, as well as for assisted transportation,” Doan noted.

Mike Moen writes for the Minnesota News Connection.

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