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Community Alliance Confronts Local Wealth Gaps

Community Alliance Confronts Local Wealth Gaps

Source: Kevin Maloney, New Haven Independent

Talk about poverty, and you sometimes have to use the language of war. Many people are seen as casualties in the war against it. Fortunately, there are also alliances that can be forged in this fight. 

The Alliance for Community Empowerment is one such organization that has worked on the frontlines of the War on Poverty since the 1960s. Executive Director Dr. Monette Ferguson joined the ​“Municipal Voice,” a co-production of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and WNHH FM, to talk about economic disparity.

“There are public policies that do not stack the deck for folks,” Dr. Ferguson said. Whether it’s systemic racism or economic barriers, the ​“American Dream” of class mobility is not accessible to all. 

For many, there is a fine line between struggling to survive and entrenched poverty. People with mental illness or substance addictions, those who are affected by trauma, elderly individuals with fixed incomes, and people with debt are all in disproportionately precarious situations. 

This was compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic which robbed families and individuals of jobs, wages and access to childcare.

With growing inflation, many individuals are still struggling to make ends meet. Dr. Ferguson said that The Alliance for Community Empowerment has had more than 11,000 applications for energy assistance because heating prices are so high. 

She said that these individuals don’t need a ​“hand-out,” they need a ​“hand up.” They don’t need more figurative ​“soldiers” or ​“guns” in the War on Poverty, they need resources. Many of those resources are already concentrated in local communities. 

In Fairfield County, she noted, some of the most affluent individuals in the nation, and even the world, live in close proximity to those experiencing deep poverty. 

“We want to tap into philanthropy and help them understand how they could care better for their neighbors by giving,” she said, ​“Also we want the federal and state government to understand that we also need their help in this fight.” 

To that end, Connecticut has just adopted a baby bonds program. Any child who is born in poverty will have a bond set up for them that could be used on their 18th birthday to pay for a home, an education, or to start a small business. 

Although the amount is nominal – it maxes out at $3,200 – Dr. Ferguson said it’s about giving people hope. ​“If you have this hope and this access and this opportunity, it alleviates a little bit of the anxiety around the future,” she said.

The Alliance itself also represents that sense of hope, starting with Dr. Ferguson herself. As a young child, she attended the same head start program that she would later direct before going on to become the executive director of the organization. 

Their new slogan is ​“Alliance is your neighbor.” She wants folks to reach out to them like they were a neighbor or a family member. She wants the community to support each other by passing on resources and information. 

“We have a lot of folks in debt,” Dr. Ferguson said, ​“And folks are really looking for just that hand up. And that is what Alliance is here for.”

Click here to watch the entire episode of The Municipal Voice.