Mayor Kathy Sheehan launched the city of Albany’s Poverty Reduction Initiative Friday at City Hall.
Albany has been selected to participate in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s new Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative. The program is modeled after Rochester’s Anti-Poverty Task Force, which brought together state and local government, business leaders, and nonprofits to redesign and coordinate efforts to address extreme poverty.
Albany has been awarded $1.5 million to coordinate government bodies, non-profit organizations, and community groups dedicated to reducing and eliminating poverty in the city, where Sheehan says 1 in 4 residents live below the poverty level. "Many more struggle at just above the poverty level, where it's still nearly impossible to make ends meet if someone in your family has an illness and needs medication, or if someone in your family is injured on the job, or if someone in your family is struggling with a mental health issue or an addiction issue."
Sheehan noted that when she took office, unemployment was at 7.2 percent and as of 2014 Albany's child poverty rate was 34.2 percent, higher than the median for all cities and higher than the statewide rate. The mayor has selected CARES, Inc., to serve as the lead non-profit organization heading the initiative.
CARES Executive Director Nancy Chiarella says the agency has worked for 27 years to end homelessness, and vows to use the new partner to create meaningful, sustainable change. "CARES will continue to develop the deep collaborative network, which include the business community, local not-for-profit agencies, educational institutions. But most importantly, the community and those actually living in poverty to help inform the programs that we will implement."
Area activist Alice Green is excited about the new partnership — and more excited for the people who will be helped. "We're talking about people who are now part of a caste system because they've been through the criminal justice system, they're no longer employable. We have people who are homeless, who don't know how to go about getting jobs and how to get trained. So, we have that experience that I think we can bring to this whole thing, and we're gonna be on the steering committee and we already have a number of ideas."
Common Council member Judd Krasher, a frequent critic of the administration, wasn’t ready to get behind the latest effort. He says poverty in the city has increased under the Sheehan administration, and he suspects political motivation. "This is more theater to try to do whatever the mayor can to distract away from her failings as a mayor. And we deserve so much better."
The effectiveness of the Poverty Reduction Initiative could become an election issue this November. Pedro Perez, who has headed the city’s "My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper" Initiative, will serve as project lead.