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Abandon hope? Obama’s new poverty program needs help from Congress

Ben Hecht on Promise Zones

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Like Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty and Bill Clinton's empowerment zones, President Barack Obama announced his grand plan to help eradicate poverty Thursday afternoon.

Obama's "Promise Zone" program was first mentioned nearly a year ago during the 2013 State of the Union address. The program's goal is to help local governments cut through red tape in order to get struggling families much-needed aid as quickly as possible.

Related: Occupy Google: Income Inequality Backlash Hits Silicon Valley

On Thursday President Obama announced the first five of these zones (he hopes that there will be 20 by the time he leaves office): San Antonio, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Southeastern Kentucky and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

"Your country will help you remake your community on behalf of your children,” said President Obama, “not by the ZIP code she lives in but by the strength of her work ethic and the scope of her dreams.”

Ben Hecht, president and CEO of Living Cities, a collaboration of 22 of the world’s largest foundations and financial institutions working to eradicate poverty, joined The Daily Ticker to discuss the program.

Related: Income Inequality Is the Enemy of Economic Growth: Robert Reich

“This policy is really trying to build upon what’s been learned over the years from similar initiatives and I think what they’re realizing is that in order to get a large scale result you’re going to have to bring various parties together and you have to have a shared vision and metrics," says Hecht. 

Related: Here's how to win the War on Poverty

Before the initiative begins, however, it will have to pass through a Congress that is often unfriendly to safety net programs like this one.

“I think in the current environment any appropriations are challenging,” says Hecht, “but these are largely bipartisan efforts and part of the reality is that the cities they selected were to say ‘these aren’t all Democratic places.’”

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