Law professor Philip Alston is a United Nations skilled on excessive poverty. In his place as a U.N. Special Rapporteur he reviews on locations the place pervasive poverty and human rights issues intersect, locations similar to Haiti, south Asia and central Africa. His newest work, nevertheless, is taking him to elements of the U.S., together with the Ohio Valley.
“The United States has been very eager for me and others to research human rights issues in other countries, which I’ve carried out,” Alston stated. “Now, it’s the turn to look at what’s going on in the U.S. There are pretty extreme levels of poverty in the United States given the wealth of the country. And that does have significant human rights implications.”
Alston visits Charleston, West Virginia, subsequent Wednesday to collect info on pockets of poverty on the planet’s richest nation. The go to will embrace a city corridor on subjects together with gaps within the social safety system, health issues together with water and sanitation, the opioid disaster, entry to healthcare, and the criminalization of the poor.
The ‘Crime’ of Poverty
“It isn’t a crime to be poor,” stated Joseph Cohen, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia. The ACLU is among the many teams that may talk about the systemic causes of poverty within the area throughout Alston’s go to.
“Local governments criminalize poverty through actions like passing ordinances for people to beg,” Cohen stated. “And because of our state’s uneven and unfair cash bail system, our jails are overcrowded with people who have not been convicted of any crimes, they are sitting in jail because they can’t afford to make their bond.”
Cohen stated that the southern elements of West Virginia are plagued with habit issues, untreated psychological sickness and homelessness.
“The Charleston Police Department recently estimated that there are 1,000 homeless people in Charleston, which is a city of less than 50,000 people,” Cohen stated. The estimate signifies 400 of these individuals are in shelters and 600 on the road. “That is an unbelievably high proportion of our population that is without the basic necessities of life.”
In the Ohio Valley area, extra 2.5 million individuals stay in poverty. Nearly 1.2 million of these individuals stay in deep poverty, households making under 50% of the poverty degree.
The thresholds for deep poverty range based on the dimensions of the household and ages of relations. For instance, a single father or mother family with three youngsters would qualify for poverty standing if incomes lower than $19,337. Single moms head greater than half of the households in poverty.
Jack Frech is a 40-year veteran of anti-poverty efforts in southern Ohio the place he led the Athens County welfare division for a few years.
“In my 40 years, I have never seen a time when families are suffering as much as they are today,” he stated.
Part of his advocacy included main lawmakers, officers and media members on excursions of poverty stricken areas in Ohio’s Appalachian southeastern counties. But he stated little got here of these efforts.
“To be blunt about it, neither political party wants to be the political party that bailed out poor people,” Frech stated, however he’s hopeful the U.N. go to might have a special impact.
“Having somebody from outside this country come and take an objective look at how we treat poor people, you know, maybe that will help wake people up in this country to moving in a different direction.”
The factor Frech believes would shock individuals probably the most, is “we now have millions of people with no cash income whatsoever.”
He stated that is documented within the month-to-month meals stamp studies compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a program Frech administered on the native degree.
“We threw thousands of families off of assistance because they weren’t able to do the work requirements,” he stated.
According to the newest report, 20 % of these households on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, had no money revenue of any variety within the month the info have been collected.
The Institute for Research on Poverty exhibits supplemental advantages like SNAP play an necessary position in decreasing excessive poverty.
The most recent report exhibits SNAP “reduced the depth and severity of poverty by 15.1 and 19.0 percent, respectively.” However, the authors word that statistics on poverty are vulnerable to underreporting, and the precise impacts of SNAP could also be twice as excessive.
The Trump administration has proposed greater than $150 billion dollars in cuts to SNAP over the next ten years.
The U.N. go to will even discover entry to health look after the poor, together with a give attention to women’s health providers. Margaret Chapman Pomponio directs the reproductive rights advocacy group WV FREE, which can take part within the U.N. city corridor. She stated systemic poverty considerably impacts the reproductive health of women in West Virginia.
“We have a serious shortage of women’s health providers.” Pomponio stated. “Many counties lack OB-GYN’s, and we are down to only one clinic that provides abortion care.”
That means many women in West Virginia should journey lengthy distances to obtain reproductive health care, she stated, and that interprets into time away from household and time without work from work or faculty.
“It is not just money lost, but it actually perpetuates an unequal system where the well-heeled are granted access to better health care,” she stated.
Pomponio stated she thinks the U.N. go to may serve to spotlight the advantages of insurance policies in some Scandinavian nations the place households obtain each maternity and paternity depart, dwelling wages and are assured reproductive rights.
“I think we could learn a lot from the economic and social policies implemented in those countries,” she stated.
Politics and Poverty
Special Rapporteur Alston stated poverty is all the time the results of political decisions.
“Politicians who say, ‘there’s nothing I can do about that’ are merely improper,” he stated.
“The concept of human rights is that folks have primary dignity and that it’s the position of the federal government — sure, the federal government! — to make sure that nobody falls under the respectable degree,” he stated. “Civilized society doesn’t say for people to go and make it on your own and if you can’t, bad luck.”
Alston has simply begun his nation large reality discovering mission with occasions in California. Other stops on the tour embrace Alabama, Georgia, and Puerto Rico, earlier than concluding in Washington D.C. He stated he continues to be within the strategy of taking a look at modifications because the 1996 Welfare Reform Law that was carried out in the course of the Clinton administration and what might come from additional proposed reductions in help packages.
“What I’m seeing so far is that those who are dependent on welfare benefits are enjoying those benefits at an extraordinarily low level. They are really living on the margins, if not below,” he stated. “And if there were really major cuts, then I think it would require a whole rethinking of the entire system because it wouldn’t survive.”
Alston will share his preliminary observations and proposals at a press convention on December 15, on the U.N. Information Center in Washington DC. A remaining report on his go to to the United States shall be out there in spring, 2018.