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Centering on Poverty

A coalition of the Right and Left launches a new project to reduce poverty.

Just before President Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus bill into law, an intentionally diverse group of religious leaders gathered in Washington today to announce a new project to reduce poverty.

President George W. Bush's former speechwriter Michael Gerson called it "an orgy of strange bedfellows" as he and Sojourners founder Jim Wallis launched the Poverty Forum, a shared commitment to help the poor during an international financial crisis.

"It's a serious, substantive, innovative list of policy ideas that I think are going to be taken quite seriously," Gerson said at a press conference at the National Press Club. "It was a real opportunity to make sure that this set of issues was part of a broader dialogue on the economy in a time when our economy is a major topic of discussion."

The forum calls for increasing child tax credits and raising the minimum wage, issues which are usually perceived as being at opposite ends of the political spectrum. The group's recommendations involve several issues, including pregnancy, fatherhood, and AIDS.

"The Poverty Forum was not meant to suggest that addressing poverty is more important than other issues (eg abortion) and therefore it is higher in a hierarchy of value," Mark Rodgers told CT. Rodgers was onetime chief of staff to former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and head of the Clapham Group. "We organized to focus on poverty, not other important issues. There are other forums for those issues, and many of us are involved in them."

The group recommends that the new administration should keep the State Children's Health Insurance Program "unborn child" regulation in place so states can choose to provide health services to pregnant mothers and unborn children. The forum also includes efforts to promote stable marriage, subsidies for AIDS medication, and more funding to help teenagers and ex-convicts find employment.

The individuals involved in the project do not agree on every specific proposal, but the forum pairs people like Evangelicals for Social Action president Ron Sider and Family Research Council's vice president Chuck Donovan to work on specific portions of the project. Other recommendations include a lifetime savings accounts for every child born in the United States, housing vouchers, and a college savings program for the poor.

Wallis is on the advisory committee for President Obama's new faith-based initiatives office, which has listed poverty reduction as one of its four priorities.

"This is for real. We come from different sides of the political spectrum, we vote different ways historically," Wallis said, saying that it's not about politics. "It's about what's right and what works."

The U.S. Census reports that about 37 million live in poverty.

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Christianity Today covers more political issues on its politics blog.

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