Magazine article The Christian Century

After Katrina, Pleas for a Focus on Poverty

Magazine article The Christian Century

After Katrina, Pleas for a Focus on Poverty

Article excerpt

After Hurricane Katrina produced vivid images of poverty in America, leaders of five mainline denominations renewed their call on Congress to oppose deep cuts to programs serving the working poor, children and seniors.

On the day that New Orleans flooded, the Census Bureau said that the number of Americans living in poverty had risen for the fourth straight year. "Our denominations have mobilized and are responding in prayer and financial support and direct service to those in need," the leaders wrote. "Yet, just as disaster struck the Gulf Coast, the U.S. Census Bureau reported in very particular detail that poverty in the United States is growing."

The plea in mid-September by Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran and United Church of Christ officials coincided with broader political pleas for serious attempts in Washington to prepare for future disasters--both natural and human-produced--that take the heaviest toll on people with few or no fallback resources.

"September 11 made Americans aware of our national security vulnerability," said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times, "and there is a good chance that Katrina will raise the public's consciousness about the weakness of our social safety net."

John Edwards, the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee, said on a CNN program, "One of the things that I hope we will do is look at this as an opportunity ... to shine a bright light on poverty in America and do something about it nationally."

And on ABC's This Week program, Senator Barack Obama (D., Ill.) said the crisis should move the two parties to overcome "the false dichotomy" over whether the key to reducing poverty is more government help (Democrats) or greater responsibility among the poor (Republican). Both are required, Obama said.

If awareness of the sharp political divisions in the nation's capital were not enough to invite some cynical shrugs regarding such hopes, the United Nations summit against poverty a few days later elicited skepticism because of the way it has been overshadowed by the UN's oil-for-food scandal and disagreements over proposed reforms of the international body. …

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