Syracuse may get a $500,000 grant to fight poverty

As a part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed budget, 10 cities would each get $500,000 to combat poverty. If approved by the state assembly, Syracuse city leaders could discuss how to use the money before the current fiscal year ends.

As a part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed budget, 10 cities would each get $500,000 to combat poverty. If approved by the state assembly, Syracuse city leaders could discuss how to use the money before the current fiscal year ends.

By Danny Mantooth. Published from The Daily Orange

New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative (ESPRI) calls for 10 cities, including Syracuse, to receive a $500,000 grant for planning and implementing strategies aimed at reducing poverty.

Syracuse Common Councilor Jean Kessner said the city should study how to use the money before making a decision on how to use it. But regardless of what the city decides, she said “one of the best remedies to poverty is jobs.”

Kessner said some of the money will go toward collaborative training between people looking for employment and companies such as CenterState CEO. Community benefit agreements between businesses and communities are one way to encourage job growth, she said.

That issue, she added, is timely, as the city and local developer COR Development Co. are in the midst of a lawsuit, in which Mayor Stephanie Miner claims the developer committed fraud in its dealings surrounding Syracuse’s Inner Harbor.

Kessner said city leadership is aware of the city’s widespread poverty, especially among minority groups.

“I don’t think we have been successful at all, yet, in doing anything about it,” Kessner said. “That would absolutely be on the top of the list of what we study.”

The mayor’s office could not be reached for comment.

Rhonda O’Connor, director of community engagement for Visions For Change, a nonprofit organization that aims to help those in poverty attain self-sufficiency, echoed Kessner’s sentiment.

She added that what is more important, and also more challenging, is getting them to retain those jobs.

There exists “hidden rules,” O’Connor said, of living and working in society, and those rules conflict with the experiences of people coming from “generational poverty.”

Someone who comes from generational poverty relies on relationships for needs, O’Connor said. But when it comes to getting people out of poverty, she added, they have to learn to balance those relationships that previously helped them survive with new responsibilities.

Visions For Change, and its “Choosing To Thrive” program, aims to do just that. The program gets 70 percent of its participants jobs, and 80 percent of those retain those jobs, O’Connor said.

But organizations like Visions For Change and others need money to support their programs.

The proposal totals $25 million, with $5 million coming from the state budget and $20 million from a grant pool that the cities can utilize. The initiative is part of Gov. Cuomo’s 2016 state budget agenda, which the state legislature will vote to approve or reject before the end of the fiscal year on April 1.

The timing, if ESPRI is included in an approved state budget, allows Syracuse leaders, including Mayor Stephanie Miner and the Common Council, to discuss potential options for the money before its fiscal year begins July 1.

“I hope people we represent would have an opportunity to have input in this,” Kessner said.

Said Kessner: “Five million wouldn’t crack the problem … There’s good work to be done.”