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Let The Stimulus Stimulate: The Gospel According to Carson

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By Lois Carson

The world of Community Action has been challenged to fish or cut bait; to receive and expend an amount that is triple its ordinary funding on exemplary program strategies in an environment that will allow no screw-ups. We are under the microscope like no one else—like no other time! But, I am convinced we can meet the challenge because we are the innovators; we think outside of box; we are the miracle workers. As Walter Cronkite said, “we do God’s work”.

Anything that happened in America prior to September, 2008 is irrelevant. The world has changed so drastically since the economic tsunami last fall that it is a totally new day in America. What an economics lesson I have received in the meantime.

Today my lesson is about the accounting rules change promulgated by the “little-known Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB)”. Today I learned about “mark to market” which has amplified the mortgage finance and the banking crisis; according to writer, Kevin Hall, that is how the mortgage crisis begat the banking crisis which begat the US economic crisis which begat the global financial meltdown. Here is what my somewhat extensive readings and limited research have led me to think.

I think I am changing my mind about a focus on poverty and the poor. I still want to end poverty; however, I want to balance that vision with a focus the shrinking middle class. If we don’t stem the downturn of the middle class, the poor will have absolutely no hope of ever leaving poverty—no place to which to aspire.

Our community assessment will try to get a handle on the plight of the middle class and we will grapple with shoring up that segment of the population, especially those who are on the precipice of poverty. In the end we will gain more support for our work by collectively addressing the near poor, the laid off, the pushed out--- the people who are the backbone of society.

In fact, if the old poverty standards were replaced with more realistic ones that included food, shelter, transportation and other daily use measures, the middle-class would lose even more members. Maybe the stimulus will reveal the fallacy of the old measures.

The Stimulus will give us that opportunity to stimulate the fortunes of small business, 22,000 of whom are struggling in Riverside County by matching them with TANF participants and training and nurturing both; this gives us the opportunity to serve the poor and the middle class simultaneously. Our partners in this effort are the CSU Women’s Business Center, the Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) and the Workforce Investment Board (WIB).

We will stimulate the construction industry and related industries by subcontracting with them in our weatherization programs. In addition we will partner with and financially support the Environmental Health agency with lead, asbestos and mold removal. With the City of Riverside, we are exploring means of insulating mobile homes. Riverside has one of the highest percentages of these units, occupied mainly by seniors, and we should lead the effort in insulation exploration. This stimulus would go a long way in freeing up more discretionary income for these seniors. Someone once said you can measure the quality of a society by the way it tends to its children and elderly.

We will stimulate the lives of our future leaders by increasing the investment in the Pre-Apprenticeship Program, a workplace mentoring initiative, and the investment in Project LEAD, an after- school mentoring program for middle school youth, the group most likely to get into trouble after school. The mentors receive a stipend and earn an educational award to the college of their choice. As you can see CAP Riverside will continue with its high impact strategies, but will attempt to gather more data on exactly what condition the middle class is in.

What will be our strategies for examining the plight of the middle class? We will poll service clubs like Rotary and Kiwanis, Optimists and Soroptimists, as well as chambers of commerce and churches; we will share with the poor our rationale for taking this direction and get their input. CAP will never abandon its commitment to the poor; however, expanding its vision to include the middle class can benefit both segments of the population. CAP will continue its pursuit of innovation to move our constituents from poverty to prosperity and assist the middle class in retaining its prosperity.

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