The Census Bureau reported earlier this month another rise in the federal poverty rate in 2007, and economists believe that with growing unemployment, those figures will only get worse. So this week a faith-based coalition of activists and religious organizations announced the launch of a National Week of Action to highlight the issue of poverty and to pressure the federal and local governments to implement policies that ease the economic burdens of working families.

The week of action, titled “Fighting poverty with faith,” began on Sept. 9 with local actions across the country, including letter-writing campaigns and educational forums, and will culminate in a national prayer vigil at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 16.

In a teleconference announcing the beginning of the week of action, Rabbi Steven Gutow, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, highlighted the multi-denominational nature of the coalition, which includes, Christian, Jewish and Muslim organizations and faith centers, churches, synagogues, and mosques.

“The goal of this event,” Gutow said, “is to elevate the issue of poverty in a way it has not been in a while in the 2008 elections.”

Gutow said that people of faith across the country will be calling for both a commitment from elected officials and candidates to address poverty and unity across faiths in a project of holding candidates accountable after the elections.

“We need for candidates and elected officials to be very clear about setting poverty reduction goals and setting the work on meeting them early on in the new administration and the new governments that will happen after the first of the year,” Gutow said.

“We’re doing it because we’re religious people who believe deeply that God calls on us to do all we can to stop or lessen poverty,” he added.

Gutow pointed out that the dates for the national week of action coincide with the Islamic holiday of Ramadan and are just before the Jewish ‘high holidays’ of Rosh Hoshanah and Yom Kippur when Jews are required to examine closely their duty in this world.

Participants in the week of action in Nashville, Tenn., are joining with the city’s mayor to hold a public forum highlighting the problem of poverty, Gutow said. He also cited important similar events in Birmingham, Alabama, across the state of Rhode Island, in Detroit, Michigan, and 19 other cities across the country. In each, local activists will be both talking about the issue of poverty and calling on candidates and elected officials to pass and implement poverty reduction programs.

Today’s economic crisis, rising food and energy costs, growing income inequality, home foreclosures, and more have made poverty a pressing issue unseen in decades, Gutow suggested.

‘History shows us that when we ignore our society’s most vulnerable, the country hurts, the world hurts, but we as individuals hurt when we do not do what we should do,’ he said.

‘This week is not about the problem. We can solve poverty with political leadership powered by a citizen’s movement,’ Gutow emphasized. People of all political persuasions, whether they are Republicans and Democrats, independents or Greens, are welcome as a part of that movement, he said.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) joining Gutow on the teleconference said, ‘Poverty has been forgotten, and it has been ignored for too long. Silence is no longer an option.’

DeLauro talked about the contradiction in today’s economy marked by rising productivity of workers and their falling real incomes. ‘Our country can do better,’ she said.

DeLauro cited the biblical call for individuals to come to the aid of those less fortunate. ‘Our faith needs to guide our conscience,’ she said.

Apparently referring to the Bush administration and its economic policies, DeLauro said, ‘We witnessing today the bad choices by those who should know better and their policies have deepened the income equality and raised barriers for those who are struggling to do better.’

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