Erie County discusses poverty, and trying to break from it, at downtown summit

Aug 24, 2017

Erie County hosted a Poverty Summit in downtown Buffalo Thursday. The all-day gathering was organized to discuss issues while also pursue changes that may help bring people out of an ongoing poverty cycle.

Government officials, not-for-profit leaders and other community stakeholders covered topics ranging from Medicaid usage in Erie County to issues specific to women and children, seniors, disabled persons, immigrants and refugees.

Guests listen to a presentation Thursday morning at Erie County's Poverty Summit, hosted inside the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

"We're here to talk about why people fall in poverty, the sometimes cyclical nature of it, how somebody can be in poverty and work hard but fall back into it very quickly," said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who delivered opening remarks. 

Legislation introduced by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964 was unofficially looked upon as the nation's "war on poverty." Poloncarz said more than 50 years later, poverty still exists and while it may never entirely be eradicated, the community can do more to help those looking to escape it.

One of the problems faced by people working to get out of poverty is that if they succeed, they may still economically struggle yet no longer qualify for some of the protections that covered them while in poverty. This, according to Poloncarz, makes them vulnerable and in danger of falling right back into poverty.

"That's one  of the issues associated with the Affordable Care Act. It's there to provide health care to individuals who may be working but don't have it otherwise," he said. "One of the biggest issues we see is individuals, if they work hard, they may be able to lift themselves above the poverty level but they're just above it. If they don't have health care, it's easy for them to fall back into it if there's a health emergency for a family member." 

The county executive noted that in spite of significant local economic development in recent years, not everyone is benefiting. 

"What we see in our community is this tremendous renaissance but the rensaissance is not for all," Poloncarz said. "There are young children who live in the City of Buffalo who go to bed hungry every night, who have never seen Canalside nevertheless Lake Erie. We have this tremendous rebirth, this renaissance. We need to ensure that we do all that we can so that everyone benefits from the renaissance, not just the select few."

As the county executive put it, a rising tide raises all boats, unless the boat has a hole.