City officials get a feel for the poor life
In October, at the National League of Cities (NLC) National Summit in San Antonio, local government officials and community business leaders participated in a poverty simulation, presented by the NLC Institute for Youth, Education and Families and the San Antonio Department of Community Initiatives (DCI). The simulations presented real-life scenarios, such as interacting with social service workers and managing finances. American City & County talked with DCI Director Dennis Campa about the goals of the simulations, the need for national poverty policy changes and how other cities can benefit from similar exercises.
Q: What do you hope to achieve with the simulations?
A: We really want business people, government officials and the social service community to understand the complexity of [the social service system]. We have everything present in our community to [successfully] move a family from poverty to self-sufficiency. But, because [resources are] so complex, and [they] don’t come at a one-stop center, [individuals and families may have to visit multiple offices] every year to get the support [they] need.
Q: What is the most common reaction participants have when taking part in the simulations?
A: They walk away not wanting to blame the people in poverty any longer. They [also] walk away with [the knowledge] that this can be changed. These complex systems we set up to help people, to some extent, disempower them [and] are far too burdensome and difficult to navigate. We want [participants] to have a greater sensitivity and appreciation for the people who [have] to endure the situation.
Q: Have there been any program or policy changes in San Antonio as a result of the simulations?
A: The poverty simulations right now [are] beginning to make people ready to do the hard work. What do we do now to make this work better? We’ve seen what the past has brought us [and] what the present is, and now, we have a glimpse of the future. If we’re OK with children and families living in poverty, and families not being productive workers, then let’s keep things the way they are. But, if we’re not satisfied, how do we use our collective energy, time resources and technology to have better results?
Q: What changes should be made nationally to help individuals and families living in poverty?
A: Right now, to receive subsidized childcare, [residents] go to one office in our community. The type of information that [they] bring [to] verify income and that [they] are working and going to school should also make [them] eligible for the [federal] Children’s Health Insurance [Program] and food stamps. But, [they] have to go [to other offices] to receive those. [If somebody enters] through the Children’s Health Insurance Program, then [that person] should qualify for [other federal assistance programs]. We should have no wrong door.