Legislative Advisory Committee on Poverty
The Saint Paul Legislative Advisory Committee on Poverty (SPLACP) was given the very serious and important task of reviewing the causes and current circumstances of poverty in this city, as well as coming forward with clear policy recommendations aimed at lowering the city's 22.3% poverty rate and improving the lives of those in poverty. There are few social justice topics as critical and complex as poverty. Poverty is a world-wide phenomenon and there is almost no topic which is more multi-faceted. Most government, religious and philanthropic institutions have as a part of their mission to lift up those in poverty and thereby improve the lives of all people. The Saint Paul Legislative Advisory Committee on Poverty is comprised of members of government, faith-based, business and nonprofit sectors, in addition to having members appointed to represent the community at large – especially those with the experience of living in poverty. Topics covered in the meetings included:
- the roles of city and county government
- the values and principles we bring to our work
- housing and homelessness
- financial capability and inclusion tools
- jobs and workforce, and
- social justice and racial equity
Saint Paul residents experience poverty to a greater extent than those in neighboring communities, the state and the country as a whole.
African American residents of Saint Paul experience poverty at nearly twice (100%) the rate of city's residents overall. American Indian, Asian and foreign-born residents experience poverty at a 50%.
Female-headed households experience poverty at more than double the rate of families as a whole in the city.
The Saint Paul Legislative Advisory Committee on Poverty was composed of members from government, private, non-profit and foundations sectors, as well as several members of the community with life experience navigating poverty in Saint Paul. The committee met on seven occasions over several months and covered material ranging from the role of city and county government to housing, criminal justice, financial inclusion and the workforce issues. These meetings were informed by research and analysis provided by staff and guests, as well as the vast expertise of the committee members themselves. Staff also interviewed the committee members individually to inform the construction of the committee’s discussions.
The committee made clear from the beginning that its work had to take place within the context of a shared set of values. The first is the importance of maintaining dignity for all people interacting with government and social service programs. They should feel as if they are treated by staff and the system as if they are necessary members of their community whose presence is valued. The second is that all people interacting with government and social service programs should feel as if they are treated by staff and the system with empathy, understanding and compassion. Next is the principle that building community bonds that do not distinguish between us on the basis of wealth is necessary for a social and political system where poverty does not emerge. And finally, whenever possible, it is necessary to support and promote whole family development to empower individuals, households and communities.
Role of the City
It is impossible to escape the fact that however thoughtful and well-intentioned the efforts of this committee are – the real power to alleviate poverty lies with the federal and state governments. It is federal money which provides for food assistance, many tax credits, housing assistance and social security – which is sufficient income to keep many above the poverty line. The city can act in limited ways and the committee worked to focus its efforts on these areas, rather than higher levels of government. The city can also be a convener of public-private partnerships, actively participate in ongoing efforts to address the causes of poverty and make policy initiatives that address poverty as a priority of the city's legislative agenda.
This is not a consensus listing of recommendations of committee members, but rather a list of those that were given consideration.
A. Workforce Development: Programs and regulatory structures ensure jobs support stable families and communities.
- Review Ramsey County Workforce Solution program community outcomes for Saint Paul and assess best arrangement for Saint Paul residents. ☆
- Consider measures, including ordinance changes related to minimum wage and fair scheduling ordinances that mitigate the "cliff effect" for low-income workers. ★
- Consider measures, including ordinance changes, related to scheduling work hours.
- Convene a public-private partnership to address the stigma of arrest and conviction records and incarceration among employers. ★
B. Economic Well-Being: Programs and regulatory structures ensure that people retain their income and assets.
- Consider financial service ordinances that provide protection to consumers. ★
- Consider human rights ordinances that provide consumer and employee protections. ☆
- Work with partners to create lending and pooling programs to manage costs related to transportation.
- Participate in regional partnership to create savings options for Saint Paul youth and employees without other retirement savings benefits.
C. Criminal Justice: Law enforcement and criminal prosecution activities are just.
- Review the process and costs associated with conducting everyday business with the police department. ★
- Support efforts of the City Attorney’s Office to create affordable car insurance to help stem the flow of revolving door traffic tickets. ★
- Support efforts at all branches of government to modify fine and fee structures for minor violations to decrease the disproportionately high burden on those living in poverty. ★
D. Social & Community Support: City leadership develops public systems that ensure access to use of public services and involvement in democratic processes.
- Develop a service navigator model through the Saint Paul Public Libraries that can ensure people receive the assistance for which they qualify. ★
- Convene an ongoing facilities planning process that includes Saint Paul Public Schools, Ramsey County and other major non-profit service providers operating in Saint Paul to streamline appropriate infrastructure investment that meets the community member needs as observed across community institutions. ☆
- Develop programming for childcare that empowers parents to participate in public meetings including city council, boards and commissions and district councils. ☆
E. Housing: City programs and regulatory action maximize the availability of safe, decent, affordable housing for all residents.
- The City should continue to support the development of emergency shelter to serve Saint Paul. ☆
- The City should work to maintain its current level of affordable housing. ☆
- The City needs to continue to ensure the housing is safe and decent, as well as affordable. ☆
- The City should consider supports to ensure there is a minimum of housing discrimination based on source of income. ☆
★ = Very Strong Committee Support, ☆ = Strong Committee Support
You can access the final report (pdf) to City Council from the advisory committee, as well as listen to audio (mp3) and view the accompanying slides (pdf) of their presentation. Additionally, you can listen to audio (mp3) from the 2016 policy session on poverty that led to the creation of the advisory committee.