New caucus seeks to end poverty through better policy

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By Lila Brown

Contributing Writer

SACRAMENTO — A group of progressive California lawmakers, including three members of the California Legislative Black Caucus, have pledged to end poverty in the state by advancing more effective policy during the next legislative session and beyond.

Newly appointed Assembly Majority Leader Isaac Bryan, D-Culver City, announced the formation of the End Poverty in California Caucus at a Los Angeles screening of the documentary “Poverty and Power.” The film features former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, an anti-poverty advocate who founded a nonprofit that shares a name with the caucus, End Poverty in California.

“We’re headed towards the end of the legislative session, but we’re in the process of recruiting members to the poverty caucus,” Bryan, who is the chair of the new caucus, told California Black Media. “We’ve got about a half dozen members already.

“As we continue to do outreach in the Legislature, I expect that number to grow. By the time we come back together in January to introduce new legislation we should have everything ready to go, to focusing on criminal justice reform and the housing crisis’ systemic nexus to poverty in the state.”

Bryan serves as treasurer of the California Legislative Black Caucus.

The End Poverty Caucus says it will aim to “help lawmakers organize around key votes and issues and build power in order to advance bold policy change.”

Other lawmakers who are members of the newly formed poverty caucus are state Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblywoman Mia Bonta.

“Part of the reason over a quarter of our state’s residents live at or below the poverty level is because of California’s failed public policies,” Smallwood-Cuevas said in a statement. “Our State Legislature must fight for California’s working families by creating equitable access to quality jobs and doubling down on what Californians earn across the board, particularly for residents from marginalized communities of color.”

Bonta said bills she introduced this year have prioritized the needs of children and families, but she looks forward to working with her colleagues to take bolder and broader action to address those problems.

“It’s clear that we need to advance stronger policies that will coordinate effective, place-based delivery of wrap-around services for people most in need to make significant progress in the fight against poverty,” Bonta said. “I look forward to joining forces with our End Poverty Caucus to ensure that we strengthen our safety net and tackle the racial and economic inequities in our communities.”

Other members of the caucus are state Sens. Nancy Skinner, D-Oakland; and Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco; and Assembly members Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, D-Orinda; Matt Haney, D-San Francisco; Ash Kalra, D-Fresno; Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland; and Luz Rivas, D-Arleta.

Some critics have cautioned that creating a caucus focused on poverty is political showmanship by Democrats that will have little impact on actual poverty reduction. Tim Anaya, vice president of the conservative leaning Pacific Research Institute, said “The new End Poverty in California legislative caucus is not going to foster a serious discussion about helping Californians climb the economic ladder. Rather, [it] promotes policies that don’t work and would trap more Californians perpetually in poverty.”

Instead, Anaya said, lawmakers should support free market reform to support entrepreneurship and small business growth. In an op-ed titled “Ending Poverty in California Requires Good Policy, Not Platitudes,” that several California news outlets published last week, the author, Steven Greenhut, western region director for the R Street Institute, compared the California Legislature to a high school student council setting unrealistic goals they cannot achieve.

“Ending poverty is a large promise — and the Legislature is much better at passing laws that exacerbate poverty (minimum wage, anti-competitive union work rules, onerous licensing requirements) rather than reduce it,” Greenhut writes.

Although poverty, has decreased overall in California over the last four years, the numbers are still dire. About 28 % of state residents (4.5 million people) are poor or near poor, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. The state’s homeless and housing affordability crises also compound problems poor and low-income families face in the state, according to policymakers.

Bryan says he looks forward to working with leaders like Tubbs, who has been a leading proponent of progressive economic policies like guaranteed basic income and baby bonds.

“The best policy solutions come from listening to the people who are the most affected. I am proud to lead a caucus that is dedicated to doing exactly that,” Bryan said.

Lila Brown is a reporter for California Black Media.

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