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McEntee: C'mon, Utah, we can do more to help the poor
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Many of us never have and never will live in desperate poverty. But too many of those who do tend to be undereducated, underemployed women and their children, are the most vulnerable among us.

And while times are bad all over, they're particularly pronounced in Washington County, where one in four children lived in poverty last year. Statewide, close to half the single mothers subsisted below the federal poverty line.

That's a flat-out disgrace. I know the good people of Utah do a lot for men, women and children in need, through their taxes, donations, churches and community efforts, or by just writing a charitable check or taking a load of groceries to a food bank.

The poor may always be among us, but I and everyone else living in well-fed comfort have to do and spend more.

The state, meantime, needs to be its own watchdog on frivolous, even damaging legislation such as the federal land grab that would cost millions and still most assuredly fail. Imagine spending $3 million or $4 million not on a futile legal battle but on food and health care for suffering kids.

Voices for Utah Children, a Salt Lake City-based nonprofit, says kids who live in persistent poverty are more likely to get sick and be hospitalized. Hunger often leads to developmental delays. Students can't keep up in class if they lack a stable home and regular meals.

This is a state that, incongruously at odds with its stated love for children, has the nation's lowest per-pupil spending in its public schools. Young people with an incomplete education won't be working at jobs that pay a decent wage and offer affordable health insurance.

Government offers public assistance such as food stamps, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and help with finding jobs. But federal and state programs cannot be the only solution. Cities and counties shoulder a lot of responsibility for their residents. Scouts — girls and boys — distribute grocery bags for donations.

For men and women, early and affordable education that leads to high school and post-secondary certificates and degrees, and thus jobs, can help prevent dropping out, having babies young and inching toward intergenerational deprivation.

All this is a reminder to myself that I, as well as you, have to do more. Pack more grocery bags, donate more to reputable agencies, drop a dollar or two into a street person's hand.

And never forget that, but for chance and good fortune, any one of the people who suffer from hunger and homelessness could have been you or me.

Peg McEntee can be reached at pegmcentee@sltrib.com, facebook.com/pegmcentee .

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