Mayor Eyes ‘Starbucks One-Stop’ As a New Approach to Poverty

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City Hall has received a host of proposals from a panel Mayor Bloomberg created to tackle poverty, including one that a member described as a “Starbuck’s one-stop,” where New Yorkers could get help with everything from legal work to food stamp applications.

The 32-member commission turned in its recommendations and is now waiting for feedback from the mayor’s office so it can finalize its plan, which is due by Labor Day.

The president and CEO of the Community Service Society, David Jones, who sits on the panel, said there was much discussion about making access to government programs easier for those who qualify and helping people sign up for public benefits without feeling stigmatized.

“Some of us described it, and by no means has this been accepted yet, as essentially the Starbucks one-stop where you could come in for banking, for help with legal problems, but also find out about whether you are eligible for food stamps or Medicaid,” he said.

Mr. Jones said the recommendations he is aware of focus on helping those who work but are still living in poverty.

He said he personally pressed for youth programs to reach 16- to 24-year-olds who are not working or in school. He suggested reviving the 1950s and 1960s model of having trained workers approach people on the street in poor neighborhoods to explain what city services are available to them. He said none of the recommendations are final and the group will have to winnow down the recommendations once it hears back from the mayor’s office and the budget office on what’s feasible.

“I think everyone agrees it has to be narrowed down by a real fiscal analysis of what the city can do and can’t do before the committees and group get back together,” Mr. Jones said.

Mr. Bloomberg’s deputy mayor for health and human services, Linda Gibbs, would not disclose specifics about the recommendations City Hall is reviewing, but said there are roughly 60 ideas being reviewed.

“Some ideas were very heady, some very pragmatic, and what we’re in the process of doing right now is figuring out — within the broad strategies and key themes that we’re working on — what can be done right now,” she said yesterday. “What are we capable of getting off the ground now?”

Mr. Bloomberg convened the Commission on Economic Opportunity in March and charged it with coming up with a plan to help New Yorkers who are living in poverty. He tapped the CEO of Time Warner, Richard Parsons, and the head of the Harlem Children’s Zone, Geoffrey Canada, one of the leading minds of the anti-poverty movement, as co-chairmen. Members of the group have visited London to review the programs in place there, and they have heard from community groups and taken daytrips to neighborhoods throughout the city to see first-hand how job centers and other services function.

The group was told that simply throwing public money at the problem was not the answer, and that marshalling public and private resources in an effective way would be crucial. Some sources said they expect a large chunk of the funding to come from the private sector or from existing city programs.

Mr. Parsons, a Republican who served as chairman of Mayor Giuliani’s 1993 campaign, wrote in an Op-Ed in the New York Post late last month that the commission will focus on two initiatives: making sure it pays to work and helping people prepare for work.

“Making work pay means that people should be better off working than on welfare,” he wrote.”For too long, the working poor have been stuck on a poverty treadmill system that reduces or eliminates critical benefits as soon as a person gets a job and starts to earn a modest living.”

Like others, he praised the mayor for taking on an issue that has persisted in the city for decades.

A single mother from the South Bronx, Ketny Jean-Francois, a member of the advocacy group Community Voices Heard, said she is happy Mr. Bloomberg created the commission but is worried that either there won’t be enough money invested or that it would not effectively smooth out the disjointed way poor people get services.

Others are said taking on poverty is an ambitious goal, but will be hard to accomplish and worry that too much money will be spent.

Ms. Gibb said: “The mayor has been very clear that he wants a plan that both meets the goals of reducing poverty … and respects that need to manage the city’s financial resources in a really responsible way that assures that public that money is being well spent, effectively spent, and reasonably spent.”

The New York Sun

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