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January 13, 2014

Local officials reflect on legacy of 'War on Poverty'


Aside from relieving poverty, one of the main goals of Johnson’s War on Poverty was to increase opportunity among minorities, such as African-Americans, the elderly and the disabled, and women.  

Frances Wright, director of the Otsego County Office for the Aging, said the Older Americans Act of 1965 allowed for significant advancement for elderly people. 

Wright said the OFO handles many different benefits programs and services for the elderly, including providing meals, legal support, at-home care and transportation. She also said the OFO helps the elderly complete applications for services such as Medicare savings programs, SNAP and HEAP. 

Wright said the OFO also assists elderly folk socially, whether it’s help with laundry, shopping, a bath, help making arrangements for an appointment or help paying for it. She said 30 percent of people the OFO helps are low-income. 

“We help the elderly access whatever benefits can help them stay in the community, where most people want to be,” Wright said. “We help them make their income go further.”

Job Corps was another important initiative that came out of the War on Poverty. At the Oneonta Job Corps Academy, 291 at-risk students currently live and study for free, according to Human Resources/Center for Communications Director Amy Muehl. Almost all of the students are at or below poverty level, she said.

Muehl said Job Corps students receive academic and career training. Students can choose from a variety of trades, including mechanics, electrical work, health occupations and medical office technology. Upon graduation, students also receive help with job placement, career counseling and relocation counseling.

“It’s a really great opportunity,” Muehl said. “Students can get those hands-on skills that will prepare them for the workplace.”

Daniel Maskin, chief executive officer of Opportunities for Otsego, said the war on poverty in Otsego County is no different than anywhere else in the country. Maskin said 15.7 percent of the overall population, 17.8 percent of children and 7.8 percent of the elderly population are in poverty in the county. There are 395 children in Early Head Start and Head Start, he said. 40 percent of children in the county receive reduced or free lunch, according to Maskin.

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