In Johnson County, 16.6 percent of households don’t make enough money to meet their basic needs, according to a presentation at a recent county poverty forum.
Officials held the forum with the goals of obtaining a better understanding of how poverty affects the area and finding the most effective ways to combat it.
Addressing poverty has been one of the four strategic goals of the county supervisors for the past couple years, Johnson County Supervisor Mike Carberry said. Though the county has made efforts to address poverty in the past, he said, there hasn’t been a specific, organized approach until now.
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At the forum, experts from the community gave presentations on the status of poverty in the county and the state.
“We called upon them to paint the picture of what poverty really looks like in Johnson County,” county Social Services Director Lynette Jacoby said.
The first presentation, given by Natalie Veldhouse of the Iowa Policy Project, focused on general poverty in Johnson County. Another talk, by Dawn Wiand of the Iowa Women’s Foundation, centered on how poverty affects women in the state.
Other speakers discussed children in poverty and Johnson County families that still struggling financially because they sit just above the poverty line.
The forum came to a close with the creation of three committees that each will focus on a specific area, Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan said. There is a committee devoted to income and wages, childcare, and affordable housing.
Jacoby said they chose these areas to focus on because they are the areas that are most commonly seen as contributing to poverty in the county.
“We hear this as a common theme, that these are issues that are holding people back in our community,” she said.
The committees will meet individually three times in November with a facilitator who will help develop an action plan for each group, Jacoby said. The goal of these meetings is to develop new solutions to address poverty in the county.
“We’re going to hear from people who work in the field and figure out if there’s something we ought to be doing and try to do it,” Sullivan said.
Representatives from each group will then come together for a final meeting to develop a unified plan drawing from the findings of each group. The focus areas overlap with each other, Jacoby said, so it’s necessary to have collaboration among the groups.
“The question is, is there a way that we can all work across our silos and work collaboratively to build stronger, more innovative programs to address poverty?” Jacoby said.
Jacoby said officials haven’t figured out any specific solutions yet, but the upcoming meetings will decided on them in November.
With budget planning for fiscal 2020 in early stages, Jacoby hopes to see some of the initiatives that come out of these planning meetings put in place.
“Some of the ideas may be incorporated into the fiscal year 2020 budget for the county, and we hope the cities would do the same,” Jacoby said.