Poverty discussion strikes familiar chord

Gina Maldonado

County residents will take recommendations to Gov. Strickland

Portage County community members tried to envision an Ohio without poverty last night in the Student Center.

More than 100 community leaders, students and local residents participated in the Portage County Conversation – an event held in response to Gov. Strickland’s Ohio Antipoverty Task Force.

“A lot of people talk about it’s a recession, but it’s a depression to them (impoverished residents),” said Frank Harrison, PARTA marketing equal employment opportunity officer.

Several cities across Ohio are holding meetings, like the Portage County Conversation, in an effort to answer the governor’s calls earlier this year to reduce poverty.

On April 30, the group and its statewide counterparts will deliver its recommendations on poverty, which include increased access to education and grassroots activism, to Gov. Strickland.

“The idea is all of us make greater intelligence,” said Arlyne Habeeb, director of community outreach for the Portage County Community Action Council.

Ira Fields, an 86-year-old south side resident, said she’s seen a decline in neighborhood services for the elderly. Fields relies on Kent State’s bus service to commute and eats at food service programs twice a day.

“Now it’s really hard to get anyone to help,” Fields said.

According to the Community Action Council of Portage County, approximately one-fourth of the county’s total population – 36,000 residents, live at or below 200 percent of the poverty level.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2009 poverty guidelines for Ohio range from one person who makes less than $10,830 per year to five people’s combined income of less than $25, 790 per year.

Poverty continues increasing as a result of massive layoffs.

Portage County Community Action Council statistics state that the December 2008 unemployment rate was 7.8 percent, the steepest unemployment number in the county since 1971.

“It could be any one of us,” said Geraldine Hayes Nelson, Kent State associate dean of undergraduate studies. “Just one layoff and I’m there (poverty).”

Contact public affairs reporter Gina Maldonado at [email protected].