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Coalition to put pressure D.C. officials over poverty

Several high-profile District organizations are teaming up for an election-year push to hold D.C. Council members and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) accountable for combating poverty in the city.

On Wednesday, the group, Defeatpovertydc, will roll out a new study showing that one in three District residents live at or below the poverty line. One-fifth of District residents also earn less than $11 an hour, according to the coalition.

In a city with some of the highest wage earners -- and some of the most expensive pockets of housing in the country -- the group says the report is designed to expose the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots in the District.

It also sets the stage for a possible fierce battle this spring over the city budget.

With a 12 percent unemployment rate, the leaders of the new coalition say job creation and poverty reduction strategies should be a major focus of the upcoming campaign.

"It is vital that we engage in open and honest discussion about how to address the problems facing low-income residents of our city," said Judith Sandalow, a member of the campaign's steering committee and executive director of the Children's Law Center. "We need leaders who will actively promote programs and policies that make work possible for low-skilled D.C. residents; make work pay enough to support a family; and make basic needs like housing and health care affordable for all."

In addition to the Children's Law Center, Defeatpovertydc is also comprised of Capital Area Asset Builders; the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development; DC Appleseed; the DC Fiscal Policy Institute; DC Hunger Solutions; the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia; The Moriah Fund; Washington Area Women's Foundation; and the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless and Wider Opportunities for Women.

The group has already launched a website and says it is seeking candidates to increase job placement and bolster access to childcare and reliable transportation. It is also pushing for more job training and a renewed focus on efforts to ensure better wages and benefits and more affordable housing.

But the campaign kicks off just as Fenty and the council prepare for a new round of budget reductions to help close what is expected to be a very large deficit. Many council members fear they will be asked to cut deeply into service programs, which already took a hit in previous rounds of budget cuts.

The efforts by the anti-poverty groups to try to set the agenda relatively early in the campaign season could increase the pressure on council members to also consider additional revenue increases, as well as budget cuts, to avoid drastic budget reductions.

Last year, for example, the council approved higher cigarette, sales and gas taxes. But the council shied away from higher income or property taxes, including a proposal by Council member Jim Graham to raise taxes on residents who earn more than a half-million dollars a year.

--Tim Craig

By Washington Post editors  |  March 23, 2010; 1:00 PM ET
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