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RMAPI installs interim leader as executive director

The Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative has selected Aqua Porter as its next executive director. Porter had served as interim director since May.

“Aqua is exactly what this coalition needs right now. We already have a group of community leaders who are working together and beginning to see real change. Her experience leading complex teams, her change management skills and her passion for equity will solidify the gains we’ve made,” said RMAPI co-Chairmen Daan Braveman and Jerome Underwood in a statement Tuesday. “She will help build the culture of results and accountability that we need to ensure we continue on the path to a community that has equity of opportunity for all our neighbors. During her interim role, we’ve had a chance to see her in action and couldn’t be more optimistic about our future as a result.”

Aqua Porter
Aqua Porter

Since May, Porter has forged strong bonds and working relationships with the members of the coalition and the backbone staff that supports it, officials noted. She brings decades of experience in a variety of roles at General Motors Corp. and Xerox Holdings Corp., including 17 years in vice president roles at Xerox in Rochester. She has a lifelong commitment to equity and justice, evidenced by numerous awards and serves on multiple community boards.

The RMAPI coalition is a collective impact effort comprising 30 organizations working toward the common goal of eliminating poverty and increasing self-sufficiency. Coalition members include local, state and federal government, nonprofit organizations, funders, area employers, education leaders and community members who bring contextual expertise to the group’s decision making.

In its first five years, the coalition has made significant strides, officials said. Members developed a shared strategy focused on workforce development and basic needs. Under the leadership of former Director Leonard Brock, the group began to address both the short-term needs of communities struggling with poverty and the longer-term systemic changes needed to change the community’s trajectory.

Advocacy has emerged as a strategy RMAPI can use effectively, according to Tuesday’s statement. An unprecedented level of cooperation across sectors and among community members has led to some significant gains, on both the short and long-term priorities.

A seven-member search committee made up of RMAPI’s co-chairs and members of the Steering Committee, including people with lived experience of poverty, committed to finding the coalition’s next leader. A search consultant identified more than 150 candidates nationwide who were vetted by the search committee.

The Steering Committee voted unanimously to approve Porter as the new executive director at its meeting on Nov. 30.

“I have been so impressed with the work of the coalition and the backbone staff during the past few months,” Porter said. “It’s humbling to take on this role and responsibility for our community, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Eliminating poverty is a community challenge that can be solved by working together collectively to transform systems, policies and practices that have stymied us for decades. There is no silver bullet. But I am truly excited about what I know we will be able to accomplish together, with a focus on results and accountability.

“Justice demands nothing less of all of us.”

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

RMAPI releases 2020 policy priorities

The Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative on Thursday announced its policy priorities for 2020, with actions aimed specifically at the root causes of poverty.

“Implementing policies that address inequality and promote self-sufficiency is a key part of creating the systemic changes that will bring meaningful poverty reduction to our region,” said Jerome Underwood and Daan Braveman, RMAPI steering committee co-chairmen. “We plan to continue working with our partners in Rochester and harnessing the voice of community members, especially those affected by poverty, to put these priorities into action in the coming year.

RMAPI this year will prioritize:

  • Funding to improve child care access and quality;
  • Strengthen working family tax credits;
  • Support parole reform through the Less is More Act;
  • Increase funding for public transportation;
  • End driver’s license suspension for unpaid fees and fines; and
  • Improve housing access.

RMAPI plans to call on state officials to better support low-income families, children and young adults through expanded and strengthened refundable tax credits for working families. The proposed tax credits would remove the phase-in of the Empire State Child Credit in order to make it available to the state’s poorest kids and families.

It also will establish a $1,000 young child credit and expand the existing credit to $500 for children 4 and older. The tax credit would increase and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, which encourages work and lessens the “benefits cliff” by increasing the state’s match to 45 percent and extends the credit to childless young workers.

RMAPI officials noted that nationwide, one-third of low-income families who pay for child care are pushed into poverty by those expenses. Fewer than 20 percent of low-income New York families eligible for child care subsidies are receiving them.

A lack of access to child care causes many parents, overwhelmingly women, to drop out of the workforce for long periods of time, pushing them into poverty, RMAPI officials said.

RMAPI supports efforts to reform the state’s parole structure and move away from “a system that reincarcerates people for technical violations like missing an appointment with a parole officer, being late for curfew or testing positive for alcohol.

The Less is More Act would:

  • Provide earned time credits. People under community supervision would be eligible to earn a 30-day “earned time credits” reduction in their community supervision period for every 30-day period in which they do not violate a condition of supervision.
  • Bolster due process by giving those under community supervision a hearing in a local criminal court before they are detained and provide for speedy hearings.
  • Restrict the use of incarceration for technical violations. Incarceration would be eliminated as a sanction for most technical violations. Certain technical violations could still result in jail time, but it would be capped at a maximum of 30 days.

RMAPI noted that statewide there are nearly 35,000 people under active parole supervision who could see their efforts to rejoin the workforce and reintegrate into their families and communities disrupted because of a “technical violation.”

RMAPI supports an increase in state funding for Regional Transit Service to implement its Reimagine RTS. The redesigned public transportation system will provide more choices and greater access to people across Monroe County, officials said.

A 10 percent increase in statewide mass transit operating assistance would better meet the growing needs of customers, RMAPI said. Officials noted that in Monroe County, the funding need for projects identified as a priority is $59.3 million and would be used to build a new paratransit facility and expand usage of electric buses.

RMAPI is calling on the state Legislature to sign the Driver’s License Suspension Reform Act.

Under the current law, thousands of New Yorkers have driver’s licenses suspended every year because they cannot afford to pay traffic fines and fees, officials said. Between January 2016 and April 2018, the state issued close to 1.7 million driver’s license suspensions for traffic debt. These license suspensions are nine times higher in the state’s 10 poorest communities compared to the 10 wealthiest, according to RMAPI.

The Driver’s License Suspension Reform Act would:

  • End driver’s license suspensions for nonpayment of traffic tickets and for not appearing at a traffic hearing;
  • Reinstate all driver’s licenses suspended for failure to pay or appear; and
  • Make affordable payment plans available for traffic debt.

RMAPI will support the work of local advocates to support efforts to increase access to housing. This will include enforcing a ban on source of income discrimination, building on RMAPI’s past efforts to end landlord discrimination against Section 8 housing vouchers.

RMAPI supports establishing a county-wide pilot project to provide legal information and assistance in housing matters, as well as preserving resources for those experiencing a housing crisis.

“I am proud to partner with RMAPI on their 2020 policy agenda to directly address many of the root causes of poverty,” said Assemblyman Harry Bronson, D-Rochester, in a statement. “As someone who grew up in poverty, I watched my mother and father struggle to make ends meet for myself and my brothers and sisters. For families in poverty across Monroe County, they experience numerous barriers related to affordable and accessible childcare, public transit and housing.”

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer