Plan to redirect services could ease poverty while saving the county money

Plan to redirect services could ease poverty while saving the county money

Publication Year: 2015

Poverty is a condition that affects more than just the poor. Paying for anti-poverty programs impacts nearly everybody in Erie County. More than half of the county’s $1.45 billion budget goes toward providing health and human services in the community.

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz is the latest high-ranking official to take a stab at finding solutions to poverty.

While Poloncarz is running for re-election, there probably aren’t many votes in tackling poverty. Success will be incremental, and many parts of the community have little sympathy for the poor. The onetime county comptroller broke it down by the numbers: “It will cost us less in the long run.” Simply improving health in the community will save the county millions of Medicaid dollars.

Poloncarz announced his 49-point agenda in March, called “Initiatives for a Stronger Community.” The plan would improve jobs skills and housing opportunities and coordinate services for the poor. So far, the attempt has failed to impress some anti-poverty advocates. Henry Louis Taylor, a professor of urban and regional planning at the University at Buffalo, suggested it hardly goes “beyond repackaging and restructuring what is there.”

Point taken, but, as Taylor went on to say, the county executive is on the right track when it comes to encouraging cooperation among government and private agencies. Something as simple as breaking down the walls separating county departments and nonprofit agencies has the potential to improve the lives of clients.

A great example is the county collaboration with private nonprofits to reopen the Erie County Health Mall on Broadway near Bailey Avenue, where better communication and smarter concentration of resources allow patients to access health care specialities in one spot.

It is no surprise that governmental agencies don’t communicate well with each other, whether they’re trying to protect their own piece of turf or just never had to collaborate. Poloncarz’s anti-poverty plan is aimed at unblocking bureaucratic logjams and allowing much-needed services to reach their intended targets more readily.

Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown announced his anti-poverty plan early in his first term. The “Roadmap for Reducing Poverty” drew plenty of criticism for identifying the problems without offering much in the way of solutions. Since then the city has worked on anti-poverty programs.

Tackling poverty is a monumental task. The county’s plan to repackage and redirect existing programs is a good place to start.