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  • Pima County, Tucson to begin talks on boosting prosperity for region’s families

    Nov 22, 2022 | Read More News
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    downtown rainbowStaff members from Pima County and the City of Tucson have begun the important work of improving the financial well-being of families throughout the community.

    Initially, the prosperity working group will be tasked with coming up with policy proposals. It will then be up to the Pima County Board of Supervisors and the City Council — and perhaps several other municipalities and tribal nations — to adopt the policies they deem viable.

    “The level of poverty in this community is a huge problem. Disrupting multigenerational poverty will not only improve the lives of those experiencing poverty, but will make us a wealthier community overall” said Nicole Fyffe, a senior advisor to County Administrator Jan Lesher. “It’s expensive to keep doing what we are doing to provide services to those in need. So, if we’re going to spend money, why not spend it in a way that actually moves people out of poverty?”

    District 1 Supervisor Rex Scott, who voted in favor of the working group, said new ideas and collaboration between governments are necessary to improve the area’s prosperity.  

    “Addressing poverty is a complicated, nuanced issue,” Scott said. “It involves multiple facets — like education, housing, wages and childcare. We need to take a holistic approach and develop policies for local governments that will improve the overall community.”

    The prosperity working group was the brainchild of Tucson Vice Mayor Lane Santa Cruz. She invited Bonnie Bazata, manager of Pima County’s Ending Poverty Now program, to make a presentation before the City Council in the spring. The City Council then voted to seek talks with the county to explore ways that both jurisdictions can reduce poverty.

    “My lived experience has shown me that piecemeal opportunities as a part of a trickle-down strategy for eliminating poverty are not enough,” Santa Cruz said. “We don’t all start off from the same place. Some are born into families with generational wealth, educational degrees and/or citizenship status.

    “I’m grateful for this partnership with Pima County to document the layered causes that keep people in cycles of poverty and provide a framework that can inform practices, policies and investments needed to achieve ‘el buen vivir,’ or better outcomes, for our most vulnerable.”

    The Board of Supervisors, by a 3-2 vote, approved a motion in favor of creating the prosperity working group at its Nov. 1 meeting. Scott was joined by District 2 Supervisor Matt Heinz and District 5 Supervisor Adelita Grijalva in the majority.

    The county’s efforts on the working group will be led by Bazata, who has worked in the poverty-prevention field for 35 years, including the last seven with the county’s Community & Workforce Development Department. She said the working group is a well-timed endeavor since research shows that low-income families were hit hardest by the pandemic, disproportionately losing jobs, housing and health.

    “When addressing poverty, we often focused on alleviating suffering, which can do much good but rarely moves people out of poverty,” Bazata said. “We are asking the question of how we could use government resources more effectively and efficiently if efforts were aligned for the purpose of actually breaking the cycle of poverty.

    “Policy is a tool that can have generational impact, which is why it is significant that our city, county and area leaders are taking these steps now. We often think of policy changes at the state and federal levels, but changes at the local level can make a difference, too.”

    City and county staff will be involved in the working group, Bazata said. Other municipalities and the tribal nations are also being invited to participate, she added.

    “Poverty concentrates in urban areas and hides in rural areas, but the poverty is there. It also means rural areas might need different strategies,” Bazata said.

    The working group will also include University of Arizona researchers, who will lend their expertise and help guide policy decisions with data.

    Bazata said the working group should start meeting sometime in early December. The goal is to have an initial proposal of three to five policies for the Board of Supervisors and the City Council by March. An additional three to five policy proposals would be presented by June.

    “In the short term, we want to get the best ideas coming forward. We will be out in the community getting ideas from our partners with their expertise and many years of ‘boots on the ground’ experience,” Bazata said. “My responsibility as the county’s point person is to guide this process and the listening sessions."

    The second phase of the effort is to review existing city and county programs and services to see what aligns with these policies and what might be missing, she said, adding that community input will be sought during this phase as well.
    “The implementation of these policies will need community support, so we’ll continue talking to a wide array of people throughout the city and county,” Bazata said.

    Bazata said one thing many people don’t realize is that poverty is costly to communities. The more poverty a community has, the more the focus turns to short-term fixes rather than longer-term investments. That’s why it’s important not just to address poverty, but to prevent it.

    “If we lower poverty, we are not only reducing suffering, but saving money and increasing the economic stability of our community,” Bazata said. “Everyone has a stake in reducing poverty.”