The Columbus Dispatch - - Front Page - Kperry@dis­patch.com @kim­ballperry

Mar­i­lyn Brown and Kevin Boyce de­cided to make it their top pri­or­ity.

The com­mis­sion­ers now have asked com­pa­nies to sub­mit pro­pos­als on how to iden­tify and rec­om­mend so­lu­tions for Franklin County’s poverty is­sues.

“We’re not just pro­vid­ing checks and a sub­sidy. We’re pro­vid­ing a path­way to pros­per­ity,” Boyce said. “The best so­cial ser­vice agency is a good-pay­ing job.” He knows. His fa­ther was killed when Boyce was 7. His fam­ily lived in poverty, mov­ing 11 times be­fore he grad­u­ated from high school. Their big break came when his mother got a job at the Postal Ser­vice. “You’d have thought we hit the lot­tery,” Boyce said.

As a state rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Boyce saw the flip side of the pros­per­ity and eco­nomic suc­cess driv­ing cen­tral Ohio. His district in­cluded pock­ets — of­ten sev­eral gen­er­a­tions — of fam­i­lies af­fected by poverty.

“Some neigh­bor­hoods and com­mu­ni­tiehs have up­wards of 50 per­cent poverty,” Boyce said.

A 2015 Redfin study deemed Colum­bus the na­tion’s least eco­nom­i­cally di­verse large city. A 2015 Uni­ver­sity of Toronto study found that Colum­bus was the sec­ond-most eco­nom­i­cally seg­re­gated Amer­i­can city, be­hind Austin, Texas.

“Your destiny should not be deter­mined by your ZIP code,” county Ad­min­is­tra­tor Ken­neth Wil­son said.

The eco­nomic dis­par­ity ex­ists de­spite the Franklin County Depart­ment of Job and Fam­ily Ser­vices’ $86 mil­lion bud­get this year and the tens of mil­lions more spent by other gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties and non­profit, faith-based and other agen­cies that pro­vide food, health and other so­cial ser­vices to the needy. The fed­eral poverty level in the 48 lower states is set at an an­nual in­come of $25,100 for a fam­ily of four.

“It’s never been just about hand­outs,” O’Grady said. “We want to give peo­ple an op­por­tu­nity to help them­selves. We can’t just go throw­ing money at it.”

Al­ready, Franklin County pro­vides job train­ing, has de­vel­oped an in­tern­ship Chris­tine Ben­nett dis­cusses home­work with her grand­daugh­ters, from left, Linh Hustead, 12, Geneva Hustead, 9, and Asia Hustead, 11, in their two-bed­room apart­ment in Colum­bus. Ben­nett is car­ing for the girls, whose mother is in prison. pro­gram for con­struc­tion trades to fill jobs in a field des­per­ate for work­ers, and pro­vides sub­si­dies for com­pa­nies such as For­tu­ity, a call cen­ter seek­ing to hire and train work­ers liv­ing in poverty. The county also upped its em­ploy­ees’ min­i­mum hourly wage to $13.69.

The area’s un­em­ploy­ment rate is low, fluc­tu­at­ing around 4 per­cent, but large pock­ets of poverty re­main.

Brown said that’s be­cause so many of the needy work two or more low-pay­ing jobs and some­times still need food or med­i­cal as­sis­tance to sur­vive.

“This is the is­sue of the com­mu­nity, and it’s the com­mu­nity’s re­spon­si­bil­ity — em­ploy­ers, em­ploy­ees, ev­ery­body,” Brown said. “The real goal is not to keep them on pub­lic as­sis­tance, but to help them” be­come em­ployed and pay­ing taxes.

The con­tract for the re­port, which prob­a­bly will cost more than $100,000, is ex­pected to be awarded in June, with the re­port pre­sented to com­mis­sion­ers a year af­ter that.

Boyce ac­knowl­edges that the process to ob­tain so­cial ser­vices is com­pli­cated and bu­reau­cratic and doesn’t pro­vide the best ser­vices.

“We are ad­dress­ing the symp­toms in­stead of the causes,” Boyce said.

All three com­mis­sion­ers ex­pect that the re­port will show over­laps and gaps in so­cial ser­vice sys­tems. They want to know where and how that can be fixed.

The com­mis­sion­ers sus­pect that the fin­ished re­port will sug­gest a tem­po­rary steer­ing com­mit­tee to help col­lab­o­ra­tion of all so­cial ser­vices. It will look at what is work­ing or not work­ing in other govern­ments and whether their best prac­tices can be ap­plied here.

“There’s many facets to poverty. That’s why we need ex­perts to look at it,” Wil­son said.

Now is the time, of­fi­cials in­sist, to make a hard push to ad­dress lo­cal poverty be­cause the re­gion is pre­dicted to have up to 1 mil­lion more res­i­dents by 2050.

“As we con­tinue to grow,” Wil­son said, “we’re go­ing to suf­fer if we don’t solve this.”

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