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Action Plan

Dwight Jones' anti-poverty task force asks the mayor to follow his heart.

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The path to economic stability for the city's poor must begin with jobs — more of them, better paying and easier to get to — says the group that's been working on the budget for mayor's anti-poverty initiative.

But, it emphasizes, jobs alone aren't enough to make a dent in the city's 26-percent poverty rate.

To that end, the members of the Maggie L. Walker Initiative for Expanding Opportunity and Fighting Poverty say the city should expand the role of its new downtown work-force innovation center immediately.

The center would become a one-stop shop not only where the unemployed are trained for existing jobs that pay more than minimum wage, but also where their families gain priority access to child care, transportation, housing and other services.

"Just getting residents a job will not succeed if attention is not paid to the total picture," says the initiative's first-year budget request, obtained by Style Weekly. "The guiding question should not simply be, 'how can we get this person into a job?' but 'how can we get this entire household into stable or thriving situation that allows them to move and stay out of poverty in a lasting way?'"

The 100-page road map out of poverty asks Mayor Dwight Jones to include nearly $4.6 million in his budget to launch short-term and long-range anti-poverty measures. The Walker Initiative's co-chairs, City Council Vice President Ellen Robertson and University of Richmond associate professor Thad Williamson, have begun circulating the document, which is undergoing final touches, among city staff and council members.

"Clearly city government doesn't have the resources to do everything that needs to be done," Williamson says, speaking of hoped-for partnerships with businesses, foundations and philanthropists. "But the city has to put some skin in the game for anyone to believe this is real."

The Walker Initiative's budget request also seeks money for more and better-quality child care, expansion of the Mayor's Youth Academy and a study to determine the feasibility of a privately-backed scholarship fund so that all graduates of Richmond Public Schools who want to attend college can go without worry about cost.

It also asks for money to help trigger a matching study grant for regional Bus Rapid Transit, $800,000 to seed the Affordable Housing Trust recently approved by City Council, and for planning money to help guide redevelopment of public housing so that residents aren't left worse off.

Among the priorities is the creation of the Office of Community Wealth Building in City Hall to sustain and coordinate the efforts in the future.

The Walker Initiative was created last year to take the recommendations of the Mayor's 2011 Anti-Poverty Commission and develop concrete next steps. For roughly six months, volunteer task forces that include residents, academicians, city and business leaders worked on developing a strategy. Their suggestions were presented — and often debated — by a volunteer Citizen's Advisory Board made up of people either living in poverty or working directly with those living in poverty.

Jones' deputy chief of staff, Don Mark — liaison between the Walker Initiative and the mayor's office — says the initiative's budget demonstrates the group's understanding of the way in which jobs, economic development, transportation, child care and housing are linked in the fight against poverty.

"If one of those [elements] gets pulled out," Mark says, "the whole thing falls."

He says the mayor is still drafting his fiscal year 2015 budget, which is due to City Council on March 13. The city is working on an estimated $760 million budget, says Tammy Hawley, Jones' press secretary. Part of that work, she says, is closing a more than $30 million gap between projected expenses and revenues.

Albert Walker, a member of the Citizen's Advisory Board, says he's counting on the mayor to fund the entire amount.

"I believe the mayor's heart is in this," Walker says, "but the question is whether this budget will reflect his heart."

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