McLennan County commissioners resume discussion today on whether to join the city of Waco in funding Prosper Waco in its mission of working with government, business leaders, faith-based entities and health care professionals in fighting poverty — if not eradicating what has been an embarrassingly stubborn problem in our city and county, then bolstering conditions so many of our neighbors aren’t one paycheck away from homelessness, hunger and worse.
Years in the making (the Trib was involved in meetings about all this years ago with leaders such as Pastor Jimmy Dorrell and the Rev. Kenneth Moerbe), Prosper Waco’s mission focuses on ensuring county residents have a working wage (partially through intelligent financial planning), children are prepared for education’s steep challenges (especially in critical primary grades) and health care doesn’t mean regular visits to hospital ER rooms.
A cynic might dismiss all this from a county perspective by noting chronic poverty is a greater problem in Waco and certain communities contiguous to it than stretches far from town. That’s wrongheaded thinking. As County Judge Scott Felton correctly noted in a discussion on the subject last week, problems inherent in poverty show up at the county jail and complicate the effectiveness with which the county can deal with pressing mental illness cases.
“You look at the human side of it and then you look at the economic side of it,” Commissioner Ben Perry added last week. “To the county, if I’m not mistaken, it’s about an $8 million-a-year issue in indigent-related services. And to leverage $100,000 to try to make an improvement?” He’s right. Makes a lot of sense.
Waco Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr., who spoke on behalf of a proposal for the county to match the city’s $100,000 allocation to Prosper Waco, stressed the theme of helping people help themselves. In noting the success of the MAC College Money Program, which makes grants covering two years of college for students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds in McLennan County, he said nine of 10 recipients from such backgrounds the past 10 years have gone on to complete their college education — a sign of enormous economic promise.
Several other factors recommend support, including the fact Prosper Waco will be judged, as designed by community leaders, on specific, measurable data, such as an overarching goal of 55 percent of Waco residents living with incomes above 200 percent of the federal poverty level by 2020. If it fails to meet such objectives as scrutinized by our commissioners, then they are justified in revisiting their support.
Commissioner Will Jones made a comment about poverty being a focal point of Jesus’ teachings. Correct. This newspaper has had vigorous debates on whether the United States is truly a Christian nation. For those who believe ours is indeed a Christian nation, the course regarding support for Prosper Waco is already clear.