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New Census Data Shows Poverty Growing in Arizona

September 29, 2010

PHOENIX - New data from the U.S. Census Bureau show poverty growing in Arizona. Last week, the bureau reported the state's poverty rate as second-highest in the nation behind Mississippi. Census figures this week show Arizonans increasingly depending on programs like AHCCCS (Access), the state's Medicaid program, for their health care.

Arizona Community Action Association Director Cynthia Zwick says funding delays and cutbacks in such programs are threatening to push even more families into poverty.

"It's essential, until the job market turns around, until jobs begin to open up in the state in a meaningful way, that folks that are employable, that have been looking for work, but through no fault of their own, find themselves unable to get employment, continue to be supported."

The Census numbers also show that programs like jobless benefits and food stamps have helped keep millions of Americans out of poverty despite the Great Recession.

Zwick adds she understands state government is underwater financially and having trouble paying for programs to help the poor, but says leaders are doing nothing to reverse that trend.

"I know there's a lot of concern about raising taxes or looking at revenue in different ways during an economic slump. But there are lots of corporate exemptions, business exemptions that can be reversed, which would provide significant amounts of revenue back into the state."

Zwick rejects the idea that people have come to rely on temporary aid programs as a permanent means of support.

"We have been under-enrolled in the food stamp program for years and years and years, and it's only been within the last year-and-a-half or so that those numbers have gone up significantly."

She is hoping Congress will act this week to extend an emergency program known as TANF - Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which she credits with helping to support American businesses while putting a quarter-million people back to work.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ