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Here in the week following the signing of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act — a piece of national legislation that, among other things, sets in motion a dramatic expansion of AmeriCorps and inaugurates a new “Summer of Service” program for middle and high school students — it appears that the need for such service remains as high as ever. Food banks across the country continue to see increased demand and decreased supplies, while tent cities, sometimes populated by long-term residents, continue to be a feature of the contemporary US housing scene. And although we have both successful examples of and expert knowledge about particular policies that can address the problem of homelessness, funding remains a challenge, especially in these economic times.
The economic downturn is not only affecting poverty-reduction efforts in the United States, of course, but is also having an effect globally. US Treasury Secretary Geithner cautioned that international financial institutions needed to alter their practices in order not to give up global gains in fighting poverty, and focus more on “long-term development objectives.” The Obama administration is seeking $100 billion in new aid money, and for the first time in its history the IMF has agreed to issue interest-bearing bonds to finance its programs. All this at the very same time that the World Bank has issued a report forecasting that Eastern Europe and Central Asia will see millions of people pushed into poverty over the next few years. In such circumstances, it’s inspiring to see rallies and assemblies of concerned groups, raising consciousness and perhaps helping make solutions politically viable.
On another front, things continue to go poorly for the mortgage modification bill that continues to meet with industry opposition as it makes its way through Congress. The relief system at the moment is perverse to the point where, reportedly, some struggling homeowners are purposely skipping mortgage payments in order to qualify for some kind of payment modification from their lenders. This hardly seems like a recipe for a sustainable program of keeping people in their homes. Given other societal and global needs, is a bailout of homeowners with unsustainable mortgages ethically justifiable? Yes, argues Randy Cohen, because “a foolish financial decision need not be a moral failure or even unusual.” Agree or disagree, the claim — and the discussion it provoked — is worth taking a closer look at.