Federal poverty indicators are decades out of date and do not accurately reflect what is needed for self- sufficiency, including the challenge of health care, said Los Angeles District 7 City Councilmember Richard Alarc�n.
Alarc�n, along with representatives of more than 20 service organizations, hosted a press conference Nov. 6 to call on Congress and President-elect Barack Obama to update the federal poverty guidelines. Established in 1963, the figures were determined by multiplying average-food costs by a factor of three and never took into account regional cost of living differences.
The current poverty threshold for a family of one adult, one preschool child and one school-age child anywhere in the United States is $17,600 per year. That figure is well below what a Los Angeles family of the same makeup would need for self-sufficiency (the ability to meet basic needs without public or private aid), which is estimated at $51,371 per year, according to Alarc�n.
“Thirty percent of the population in Los Angeles is not self-sufficient,” he said. “Should our poverty guidelines reflect self-sufficiency? Currently, they do not.”
Fourth-year USC dental student Sunjay Lad spoke of his USC Mobile Dental Clinic experiences treating less fortunate community members and shared the importance of oral and overall health care access, especially when tooth pain is the most cited reason for Los Angeles United School District students missing school.
“There are many faces of poverty: children, working adults, seniors,” Lad said.
The Mobile Dental Clinic provided more than $1.5 million in free dental care across California last year, he added, but he stressed that health care professionals must have more support to address the health care needs of community members who are not self-sufficient.
“A volunteer system is not a health care system,” he said
Alarc�n and a coalition of government officials, nonprofit agencies, service providers and foundations are organizing a lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., to encourage lawmakers to update the federal poverty threshold guidelines.
“Change must come from the people,” Alarc�n said. “We are ready to go to work.”
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