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Maine Groups Unite To Fight Childhood Poverty, 'An Issue That Concerns All Of Us'

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Willis Ryder Arnold
/
Maine Public
A child plays at the Parkside Neighbood Center in Portland Tuesday.

Several Maine groups are uniting to try to reduce childhood poverty in the state - and reduce it dramatically.  Maine Equal Justice, Maine Community Foundation and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce are launching an initiative they say aims to cut childhood poverty in Maine by 50 percent.To reach that goal, the Invest in Tomorrow initiative calls for addressing issues of hunger, health care, transportation, education and child care.  The program, organizers say, is intended to simultaneously help children and address the state's future workforce concerns.

"So we know that when kids are struggling with hunger, when they don't have stable housing, that the likelihood that they're going to struggle later in life is increased,” said Robin Merrill of Maine Equal Justice at a press event Tuesday in Portland.

The initiative comes after a series of community forums held throughout the state, surveys of social service providers and Maine residents, and individual interviews - a deliberate strategy, group members say, to cast a wide net for input. Merrill said childhood poverty is a nonpartisan issue, with many perspectives. 

Dana Connors, president and CEO of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said he’s happy the organization can play a part in addressing an issue that not only affects Maine children currently, but will likely affect how those children participate in the economy in a decade or two. 

“Childhood poverty is an issue that concerns all of us," Connors said. "It's an issue that we cannot afford to turn our back on or ignore."

The initiative is broad and aims to address the fact that childhood poverty affects a range of experiences.  One in five Maine children lives in a home that is food insecure, for instance. Both Merrill and Connors say addressing that issue is one of their chief concerns for 2019.

They intend to pursue federally-funded lunch programs as a means to improve food security for some children throughout the summer months.

They will also seek to increase education options for parents, address the “benefits cliff” some experience while moving off public assistance, and improve aspects of state support systems.

On its website, the group has included a dashboard to maintain transparency and track its accomplishments and goals.

Originally published Dec. 12, 2018 at 1:27 p.m. ET.