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University of Wisconsin–Madison
Poverty-related issues in the news, from the Institute for Research on Poverty

Category: Environment

Neighborhoods and Income Segregation

Middle-class areas shrink as income gap grows, new report finds, By Sabrina Tavernise, November 15, 2011, New York Times: “The portion of American families living in middle-income neighborhoods has declined significantly since 1970, according to a new study, as rising income inequality left a growing share of families in neighborhoods that are mostly low-income or mostly affluent. The study, conducted by Stanford University and scheduled for release on Wednesday by the Russell Sage Foundation and Brown University, uses census data to examine family income at the neighborhood level in the country’s 117 biggest metropolitan areas. The findings show a changed map of prosperity in the United States over the past four decades, with larger patches of affluence and poverty and a shrinking middle…”

Weatherization Program – Indiana

Weatherization goal passed: 20,185 homes got improvements with stimulus funds, By Mary Beth Schneider, October 27, 2011, Indianapolis Star: “Indiana has surpassed its goal of weatherizing about 20,000 homes with federal stimulus dollars and hopes to deliver energy-saving improvements to as many as 3,000 others before the program ends in March. Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman, standing outside an Eastside home outfitted with a new furnace, water heater and insulation, said Wednesday that the jump in projections is possible because of cost savings that have left some of the $131.8 million in federal funds available. The success marks a turnaround from the program’s slow start. In November 2009, when the first benchmarks were to be met, the state was to have completed work on 2,202 homes. Instead, only 403 were completed…”

Poor Neighborhoods and Health

  • Poor neighborhoods may contribute to poor health, By Amina Khan, October 20, 2011, Los Angeles Times: “People who move from a poor neighborhood to a better-off one could end up thinner and healthier than those who stay behind, according to an urban housing experiment that tracked low-income residents in five major cities for 10 to 15 years. The research, set up by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, shows that health is closely linked to the environments people live in – and that social policies to change those environments or move people away from blighted areas could be a key tactic in fighting the ‘diabesity’ epidemic. The study released Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine took advantage of a 1990s social experiment approved by Congress primarily to track the changes in income, education and employment of people given the opportunity to move out of low-income housing in Los Angeles, Baltimore, Chicago, New York and Boston. At least 40% of the residents at the start of the study made less money than the federal poverty threshold. Researchers soon realized that the project could allow them to study residents’ changes in health as well, said study coauthor Dr. Robert Whitaker, a pediatrician at Temple University in Philadelphia…”
  • Study: Living in poor neighborhood can hurt health, By Mike Stobbe (AP), October 21, 2011, Seattle Post-Intelligencer: “Back in the 1990s, the federal government tried an unusual social experiment: It offered thousands of poor women in big-city public housing a chance to live in more affluent neighborhoods. A decade later, the women who relocated had lower rates of diabetes and extreme obesity – differences that are being hailed as compelling evidence that where you live can determine your health. The experiment was initially aimed at researching whether moving impoverished families to more prosperous areas could improve employment or schooling. But according to a study released Wednesday, the most interesting effect may have been on the women’s physical condition…”
  • Study: Better neighborhood lowers obesity, diabetes risk, By Nanci Hellmich, October 19, 2011, USA Today: “Low-income moms who move from very poor neighborhoods to less disadvantaged ones lower their risk of becoming extremely obese and developing type 2 diabetes, a study reveals. ‘This research shows how important the environment can be for people’s health,’ says the study’s lead author, Jens Ludwig, a professor of social service administration, law and public policy at the University of Chicago. Obesity increases people’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other serious health problems. People in poorer neighborhoods are at a higher risk of becoming too heavy because they may not have access to grocery stores that are well-stocked with healthy fare such as fresh fruits and vegetables, often don’t have safe places to be physically active and may have greater concerns about safety, which could impact their psychological stress and eating habits, Ludwig says…”

Fuel Poverty – UK

Fuel poverty ‘will claim 2,700 victims this winter’, By Mark King, October 19, 2011, The Guardian: “Almost 3,000 people in England and Wales will die this winter because they cannot afford to heat their homes, a report suggests – more than the number killed in traffic accidents each year. Commissioned by the government, the Hills Fuel Poverty Review found that if just 10% of UK winter deaths are caused by fuel poverty – a conservative estimate it claims – 2,700 people will perish as a direct result of being fuel poor. The report also found that between 2004 and 2009 the ‘fuel poverty gap’ (the extra amount those with badly insulated homes and poor heating systems would need to spend to keep warm) increased by 50% to £1.1bn as a result of rising fuel prices…”

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program

Federal heating funding could drop from $115 million down to $46 million, By Christopher Keating, September 27, 2011, Hartford Courant: “With federal money being slashed deeply by President Barack Obama, state legislators are considering a controversial plan by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to distribute the federal money only to residents who use oil to heat their homes. The idea is being proposed because low-income citizens who heat their homes with electricity and natural gas have shutoff protection during the cold winter months and cannot have their heat turned off for non-payment for half of the year between November 1 and May 1 under the law. The move is under consideration because the state’s $115 million allotment under the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known as LIHEAP, could be cut to $46.4 million. State officials are hoping that the funding could boost to $75 million, but that is uncertain…”

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Enrollment

Alabama helps push U.S. program to all-time high, By Lyneka Little, August 4, 2011, ABC News: “Alabama is responsible for much of the 1.1 million increase in food stamp recipients after horrific storms tore through the area and led some residents to seek disaster relief, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Some 45.8 million people collected food stamps in May, up from 44 million in April, according to the USDA. That’s an all-time high, up 12 percent from a year ago and an astonishing 34 percent from two years ago. Comparing May 2010 to May 2011, more than 20 states have seen double-digit percent growth in individuals seeking food assistance benefits…”

Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program

States hit hardest by heat wave cut or cancel programs to help poor people cool their homes, Associated Press, July 21, 2011, Washington Post: “Many states hit hardest by this week’s searing heat wave have drastically cut or entirely eliminated programs that help poor people pay their electric bills, forcing thousands to go without air conditioning when they need it most. Oklahoma ran out of money in just three days. Illinois cut its program to focus on offering heating money for the winter ahead. And Indiana isn’t taking any new applicants. When weighed against education and other budget needs, cooling assistance has been among the first items cut, and advocates for the poor say that could make this heat wave even more dangerous…”

Weatherization Program – California

State’s slow start puts federal stimulus funds at risk, audit finds, By Kate Linthicum, July 12, 2011, Los Angeles Times: “California could lose tens of millions of dollars in job-creating federal stimulus money for home weatherization projects because the state and several local agencies – including the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power – have failed to perform as promised, according to an audit released Monday. Two years ago, California was awarded nearly $186 million to help low-income homeowners make their houses more energy-efficient. But as of April 30, the state had spent $68 million, the audit found. California State Auditor Elaine Howle, whose office conducted the review, warned that California could be forced to forfeit more than $37 million early next year if it doesn’t quickly pick up the pace of distributing grants. Howle blamed a host of factors for California’s sluggish spending of the federal money, part of a $5-billion economic recovery allocation approved in 2009 to put people to work insulating attics, weather-sealing windows and making other energy-saving improvements on nearly 590,000 homes nationwide…”

Air Quality and Health in Low-Income Neighborhoods

Air-quality regulators to study health effects of San Bernardino Rail Yard, By Phil Willon, June 9, 2011, Los Angeles Times: “Southern California air-quality regulators are sponsoring an in-depth study to determine if the San Bernardino Rail Yard, a major inland hub of goods shipped across the U.S., has caused an increase in cancer and asthma in the neighboring low-income communities.  The study comes two years after the California Air Resources Board determined that diesel emissions from locomotives, big-rigs and other equipment at the facility posed a significant health risk to thousands of residents living near the site, and that the facility posed the greatest cancer risk of any rail yard in California…”

Natural Disaster Displacement

Millions displaced by natural disasters last year, Associated Press, June 6, 2011, Lincoln Journal Star: “About 42 million people were forced to flee their homes because of natural disasters around the world in 2010, more than double the number during the previous year, experts said Monday. One reason for the increase in the figure could be climate change, and the international community should be doing more to contain it, the experts said. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre said the increase from 17 million displaced people in 2009 was mainly due to the impact of ‘mega-disasters’ such as the massive floods in China and Pakistan and the earthquakes in Chile and Haiti…”

Tornado Damage and Low-Income Homeowners

In Alabama, tornadoes wiped out uninsured homes, By Tanya Ott, May 5, 2011, National Public Radio: “Across the South, crews are clearing debris and starting the rebuilding process after last week’s deadly tornadoes. Early estimates put the amount of insured damage at up to $5 billion across the region, but that doesn’t include all of the uninsured damage, which could be extensive. Robert Jamison’s house in the Smithfield Estates neighborhood of North Birmingham has been wiped out. ‘It all the way demolished. The wind blowed everything out there,’ Jamison says as he and two friends pick through what’s left of his home. Furniture, clothing, appliances – all ruined. The roof is missing, as is one wall. The floor joists are bowed and the whole place looks like it could collapse at any minute. Jamison says it feels like his whole world is falling down around him. ‘I dropped the insurance on the house because I couldn’t pay it no more. The economy got me,’ he says…”

Farmers’ Markets and Urban Farming

  • Obstacles seen in poor areas for new farmers’ markets, By Diane Cardwell, April 11, 2011, New York Times: “For years, the Bloomberg administration has labored to improve the eating habits of New Yorkers, banning trans fats from restaurants, urging food purveyors to use less salt and creating special zoning to encourage fresh-food supermarkets to open in produce-poor neighborhoods. But the city still puts roadblocks in the way of community groups seeking to open farmers’ markets in low-income neighborhoods, says a report to be released on Tuesday by the Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer. Those efforts face excessive fees, confusing rules and a lack of coordination among agencies, the report says…”
  • Coming to a vacant lot near you, the neighborhood farm, By Madeleine Baran, April 7, 2011, Minnesota Public Radio: “Farmers looking for land to grow food to sell may have another option. A plan to expand urban agriculture in Minneapolis passed the city’s zoning and planning committee on Thursday, opening the door for farmers to turn vacant lots into commercial farms. Minneapolis is already home to community gardens and farmers markets, but the city lacked definitions or regulations of land used to grow and sell food. Urban agriculture supporters said that made it impossible to get approval for innovative farming projects. Similar plans have been adopted in Cleveland, Seattle, Portland, Philadelphia, Chicago, Kansas City, Oakland and Detroit…”

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program

Home heating assistance seen at record high, By Jonathan Fahey (AP), San Jose Mercury News: “High energy prices, high unemployment and a cold winter are prompting a record number of households to seek home heating assistance. The National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association will announce Wednesday that 8.9 million households are expected to qualify for financial help this winter, up from 8.3 million last winter. It’s the third year in a row the number of households needing assistance has set a new high. The chief reason is the economy, according to Mark Wolfe, Executive Director of NEADA. ‘We have this group who weren’t poor before the recession, who are poor now and scrambling for whatever they can get,’ Wolfe says. ‘It’s a tough situation.’ Congress doubled funding for the program, called Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, to $5.1 billion two years ago and matched that level last year. Congressional Republicans are expected to try to pare that back during budget negotiations next week…”

Nongovernmental Organizations in Haiti

NGOs in Haiti face new questions about effectiveness, By William Booth, February 1, 2011, Washington Post: “In the days after the earth shook and the government collapsed, the municipal nursing home here became one of the most desperate sights in Haiti, as old people lay swaddled in dirty sheets, huddled in cramped tents, begging visitors for water. But little by little, order was restored. A humanitarian aid group called HelpAge International arrived at the nursing home. They paid salaries for security guards, health-care workers and cooks. The last building left standing was patched, and the elderly residents no longer were bathed with buckets in the yard. But six months later, HelpAge abandoned the project after it failed to negotiate a new agreement with city hall. The group Project Concern International, which was operating a clinic on the grounds of the nursing home, also closed down after the mayor asked for rent. The travails at the municipal nursing home illustrate both the promise and the perils of the unprecedented humanitarian aid response in Haiti…”

Post-Earthquake Haiti

After massive aid, Haitians feel stuck in poverty, By William Booth, January 11, 2011, Washington Post: “One of the largest and most costly humanitarian aid efforts in history saved many lives in the aftermath of last January’s earthquake but has done little to ease the suffering of ordinary Haitians since then. As U.S. officials, donor nations and international aid contractors applaud their efforts – all the latrines, tents and immunizations – the recipients of this unprecedented assistance are weary at the lack of visible progress and doubtful that the billions of dollars promised will make their lives better…”

Post-Earthquake Rebuilding – Haiti

Funding delays, housing complexities slow Haiti rebuilding effort, By William Booth and Mary Beth Sheridan, November 25, 2010, Washington Post: “Yolette Pierre says thank you, America. She points to the plastic over her head, to a gray sack on the dirt floor, to a bucket in the corner. Thank you for the tarp. Thank you for the rice. Thank you for the water, too. She is as sincere as she is poor. The $3.5 billion in international relief spent after the worst natural disaster in a generation succeeded in its main mission. ‘We kept Haitians alive,’ said Nigel Fisher, chief of the U.N. humanitarian mission. Now the really hard part begins. To weary Haitians such as Pierre, mired in a fetid camp, hoping to sweep away the tons of earthquake rubble and remake broken lives, the wait for $6 billion in rebuilding money promised in March by the United States and other donor nations is more than frustrating. It is almost cruel. Ten months after the earthquake left more than a million people homeless, only a small fraction of that recovery money has been put into projects that Haitians can see…”

US Rebuilding Aid for Haiti

Haiti still waiting for pledged US aid, By Jonathan M. Katz and Martha Mendoza (AP), September 29, 2010, National Public Radio: “Nearly nine months after the earthquake, more than a million Haitians still live on the streets between piles of rubble. One reason: Not a cent of the $1.15 billion the U.S. promised for rebuilding has arrived. The money was pledged by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in March for use this year in rebuilding. The U.S. has already spent more than $1.1 billion on post-quake relief, but without long-term funds, the reconstruction of the wrecked capital cannot begin. With just a week to go before fiscal 2010 ends, the money is still tied up in Washington. At fault: bureaucracy, disorganization and a lack of urgency, The Associated Press learned in interviews with officials in the State Department, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the White House and the U.N. Office of the Special Envoy. One senator has held up a key authorization bill because of a $5 million provision he says will be wasteful. Meanwhile, deaths in Port-au-Prince are mounting, as quake survivors scramble to live without shelter or food…”

Home Weatherization Program – West Virginia

‘Successful weatherization’ effort?, By Alison Knezevich, September 4, 2010, Charleston Gazette: “In April 2009, West Virginia received nearly $38 million in federal stimulus funds to make the homes of needy residents more energy-efficient. Eighteen months later, many are wondering why that weatherization aid never reached them. Karen Hoffman, 55, got a letter last June saying she had been approved for repairs at her mobile home in Cross Lanes. ‘No one has ever been here,’ Hoffman said. Peggy Coleman of Cedar Grove said a weatherization crew replaced her 33-year-old furnace late last year. The crew was supposed to return to install an air conditioner. ‘They just never came back,’ the 79-year-old widow said. Weatherization is meant to help cut the energy bills of low-income, disabled and elderly people. Crews can install insulation, seal ducts, and tune up or replace heating and cooling systems. The U.S. Department of Energy says families can save an average of $437 a year. The federal stimulus package pumped $5 billion into the program, but across the nation, states have failed to meet goals set when the stimulus was rolled out. They’ve blamed complex federal regulations and other challenges…”

Hurricane Katrina Recovery at 5-Year Anniversary

  • A tale of two recoveries, By Michael A. Fletcher, August 27, 2010, Washington Post: “The massive government effort to repair the damage from Hurricane Katrina is fostering a stark divide as the state governments in Louisiana and Mississippi structured the rebuilding programs in ways that often offered the most help to the most affluent residents. The result, advocates say, has been an uneven recovery, with whites and middle-class people more likely than blacks and low-income people to have rebuilt their lives in the five years since the horrific storm…”
  • On Katrina anniversary, recovery takes hold, By Campbell Robertson, August 27, 2010, New York Times: “This city, not that long ago, appeared to be lost. Only five years have passed since corpses were floating through the streets, since hundreds of thousands of survivors sat in hotel rooms and shelters and the homes of relatives, learning from news footage that they were among the ranks of the homeless. For most of the last year, in many parts of the city, the waters finally seemed to be receding. In November, a federal judge ruled that much of the flooding after Hurricane Katrina was a result of the negligence of the Army Corps of Engineers, vindicating New Orleanians, who had hammered this gospel for four years. In January, the federal government cleared the way for nearly half a billion dollars in reimbursement for the city’s main public hospital, an acceleration of funds that led to the announcement this week that nearly two billion more would be coming in a lump-sum settlement for city schools…”
  • Billions in Katrina relief funds still unspent, By Geoff Pender, August 27, 2010, Miami Herald: “More than a quarter of the $20 billion in Housing and Urban Development relief funds earmarked for Gulf states after Katrina remains unspent five years after the storm, a fact noticed by at least one congressional leader eager to spend it elsewhere. In June, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, ordered data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development into how much remains unspent from the more than $20 billion in Community Development Block Grant hurricane relief funds earmarked for Gulf states after the 2005 storms. The answer: about $5.4 billion, including $3 billion of the $13 billion earmarked for Louisiana and $2 billion of the $5.5 billion for Mississippi…”
  • New Orleans five years after Katrina: Chins up, hopes high, August 26, 2010, The Economist: “It is still obvious to any visitor-especially one who ventures out of the French Quarter, with its restaurants and night clubs, into the unstarred districts of the city. Something awful happened here in the not-too-distant past. The signs are everywhere: empty lots overgrown by weeds, ramshackle, leaning houses, derelict public buildings still awaiting restoration. Some houses feature ‘Katrina tattoos’ sprayed by rescuers as they completed house-by-house searches in 2005. Nobody at home. And yet New Orleans has undoubtedly recovered its essence. The old neighbourhoods are almost intact, and the city’s irrepressible people have mostly returned. Experts estimate that perhaps 360,000 people now live in a city that was home to around 100,000 more on the day disaster struck. Those who left were probably disproportionately black and poor. Yet the city’s large black majority, still there and mostly still poor, has ensured that the extravagant culture of New Orleans has survived the flood unharmed…”
  • Disasters widen the rich-poor gap, By John Mutter, August 25, 2010, “As the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, recovery in New Orleans is patchy. The hurricane flushed out many of the poorer people. For those who remained, almost without exception, the poorer neighbourhoods have experienced the slowest repopulation and recovery of basic amenities such as schools, shops and petrol stations. The poorest district of New Orleans – the Lower Ninth Ward – has about 24% of its former residents, whereas the wealthy Central Business District has seen 157% repopulation. Low-income black workers were seven times more likely to lose their pre-Katrina jobs than higher-income white workers. And low-income people have found it more difficult to attain basic living conditions, including good access to health care – in 2008 there were 38% fewer hospital beds available in New Orleans than before the storm…”

Flooding in Pakistan

Pakistan flood sets back infrastructure by years, By Carlotta Gall, August 26, 2010, New York Times: “Men waded waist deep all week wedging stones with their bare hands into an embankment to hold back Pakistan’s surging floodwaters. It was a rudimentary and ultimately vain effort to save their town. On Thursday, the waters breached the levee, a demoralizing show of how fragile Pakistan’s infrastructure remains, and how overwhelming the task is to save it. Even as Pakistani and international relief officials scrambled to save people and property, they despaired that the nation’s worst natural calamity had ruined just about every physical strand that knit this country together – roads, bridges, schools, health clinics, electricity and communications. The destruction could set Pakistan back many years, if not decades, further weaken its feeble civilian administration and add to the burdens on its military. It seems certain to distract from American requests for Pakistan to battle Taliban insurgents, who threatened foreign aid workers delivering flood relief on Thursday. It is already disrupting vital supply lines to American forces in Afghanistan…”