Saturday, March 04, 2017

Addressing Root Causes of Poverty Important both in Minnesota and New Mexico

Every year, New Mexico ranks at the top of the list among the 50 states with the highest rates of of hunger and poverty. While the ranking are interesting and help put things into perspective, I believe a better measure is comparing our progress in fighting hunger and poverty. How are we in relation to previous years?

Having said that, I do want to want to make one small comparison. According to Feeding America, one in five people in New Mexico suffers from hunger. In Minnesota, that number is one in nine.

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Why am I bringing up Minnesota? That's because hunger and poverty are still a problem in that state, and one state senator continues to push through a plan to ensure that the state meets the goals established via the Legislative Commission on Ending Poverty by 2020.

Minnesota Sen. John Marty recently introduced Senate File 1318,  a measure that addresses the root causes of poverty in the state. One of those steps is to increase the minimum wage. Sen. Marty is proposing a rate of $15 per hour in Minnesota. (In our own New Mexico Legislature, the House has approved a rate of $9.25/ hour and the Senate $9.00/hour).  As Sen. Marty points out, however, an increase in wages is not sufficient to truly address poverty. "The minimum wage increase alone is not sufficient. Even at that level many workers will not be able to pay for basic needs," the senator said in a piece posted in his website To The Point.

In addition to the minimum wage hike, Sen. Marty proposes other measures, including strengthening the state's Working Family Tax Credit, fully funding the Child Care Assistance Program, and increasing funding for the Minnesota Family Investment Program.

Graphic: New Mexico Voices for Children
These are all intentional steps to address poverty and hunger in the state. Granted, Minnesota is a much wealthier state than New Mexico, and so whatever steps we take must be proportional to our situation.

And how does Sen. Marty propose to find income to fund the programs? Here's how. "These investments in moving people out of poverty would be funded by closing the loophole in which high income earners are exempt from federal social security taxes on income over $126,000," said Sen. Marty. "Minnesota cannot change the federal social security law, but if the federal government is not going to collect this revenue from high income earners it is reasonable for the state to collect that revenue. High income earners would only be paying the same percentage of their income in social security taxes that every other Minnesota worker pays."

Again, in New Mexico we would have to adjust to our circumstances to find revenue. However, the bottom line is that we have to be intentional in this effort.

A wild card is that Minnesota has a governor that is more likely to support the proposals. In New Mexico, chances are our current governor might use the veto pen. At this point, we aren't even sure if our State Legislature's proposals to increase the minimum wage are going to prosper. 

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