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Editorials 2019-April-12

‘Let’s end poverty’

THAT’S one of the bullet points in the NMI delegate’s recent e-newsletter which also mentions that “half the [people of the] Marianas [are] living below the federal poverty line.”

No one, of course, is for poverty or against ways to “end” it, but in the NMI’s case, there is a need to, for once, take a closer look at this issue.

What we have now are generalities. We invoke the “federal poverty line,” but not many want to point out that the term is based on the standard of living in the U.S. which has the world’s largest economy. Poverty in the states may not be the same thing as poverty in the NMI which has quite an extensive safety net for local residents.

According to Robert L. Fischer, co-director of the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development, Case Western Reserve University: “The technical weaknesses of the federal poverty line are well known to researchers and those who work with populations in poverty. This measure considers only earned income, ignoring the costs of living for different family types, receipt of public benefits, as well as the value of assets, such as a home or car, held by families.”

Based on federal poverty guidelines, how does the NMI compare with the other territories? Who are the “poor” in the NMI? How many are they? How do they live exactly? Where do they live? How many have jobs? What about their access to healthcare, education or other public services?

On its website, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists the federal poverty guidelines that “determine financial eligibility for certain federal programs.” There are separate guidelines for 1) the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia, 2) Alaska, and 3) Hawaii.

Are there guidelines for each of the five territories? Shouldn’t they have their own guidelines considering how different their economies are from each other — or from any of the states including DC?

Or are the territorial leaders content with the current applicable federal guidelines, knowing fully well that these will, more often than not, entitle them to more federal assistance?

Incidentally, America’s “War on Poverty” was launched in 1964. Fifty years later, Louis Woodhill wrote in Forbes magazine:

“Has the War on Poverty been a failure? Well, of course it has. If you devote 50 years and $21.5 trillion (in 4Q 2013 dollars) to anything, and people are arguing about whether it was a success or a failure, then you can be sure that it was a failure.

“Have you noticed that, 50+ years from its inception, no one is suggesting that the Apollo program was a failure? The Apollo program was an unchallenged success because it accomplished its stated goal: ‘…to land a man on the moon, and to return him safely to the earth.’

“The stated goal of the War on Poverty, as enunciated by Lyndon Johnson on January 8, 1964, was, ‘…not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it.’ Measured against this objective, the War on Poverty has not just been a failure, it has been a catastrophe. It was supposed to help America’s poor become self-sufficient, and it has made them dependent and dysfunctional.”

In the NMI, where lawmakers who tried to give themselves a pay-raise ended up taking a pay-cut, “let’s end poverty” is a catchy slogan, to be sure — just like “let’s end littering” as mandated by a 1989 law.

No to any fee hike

THE Department of Commerce needs more money. So, like any other government entity all over the world, it has set its sight on other people’s money. It supports a House bill what would double business and other fees. Commerce says having more funds will improve its “efficiency.” This is the same department that assumed that its 2016 prevailing wage survey “should hold until fall of this year.” It was dead wrong. Now it is scrambling to conduct a new survey, the absence of which is no help at all to businesses that are trying to cope with other new federal rules — and an economic slowdown.

According to Commerce officials, the proposed higher fees will “save businesses money because it will cut red-tape.”

You know what will really save businesses more money and cut red-tape?

Reduce government fees and remove red-tape.