Arizona Town Hall

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Nearly half of Arizona’s households are just one financial disaster away from falling into extreme poverty. For people of color, it’s nearly 70 percent. The latest Arizona Town Hall deals with what to do about the state’s vulnerable population, people who are on the brink of financial disaster, yet are not currently poor enough to be covered by our safety net. Two Town Hall participants, attorney J. Scott Rhodes and Catherine Chiang of Arizona Public Service Company, will discuss the report.

Ted Simons: Nearly half of Arizona's households are just one financial disaster from falling into extreme poverty. For people of color, it's nearly 70%. The latest Arizona town hall focuses on those who live with no savings but still aren't poor enough to be covered by safety nets. Here to discuss the report are two town hall participants, attorney Scott Rhodes and Catherine Chiang of APS. Good to have you both here. Thank you so much for joining us. Before we get started let's define the first term, what is a town hall?

Scott Rhodes: This was our 104th town hall that we just held over more than 50 years. Twice a year we bring together leaders from around the state A. very diverse group of leaders from all walks of life. From tribal leaders, to local leaders, to state leaders, business leaders, community leaders, members of city council. They're there are usually between 110 and 150 people and we take on the toughest issues facing the state at that particular time.

Ted Simons: This was taking on Arizona's vulnerable populations. One of the quotes from the report -- Arizona's most challenged residents are struggling now more than ever. Valid statement?

Catherine Chiang: I think it has a lot -- I think that statement has a lot of validity for Arizona. The voice -- The collective voice of the town hall with various leaders and professionals and a whole bunch of different fields, had statistics and facts, and different points of view that brought -- That were startling. I found that they were startling to me.

Ted Simons: What -- Give me an example. What seemed to move you the most? Or something that surprised you the most?

Scott Rhodes: One of the things that stood out, the background report, one of the statistics was 46% of Arizona households are vulnerable. The way we defined that was being basically one crisis away from falling into where you need help from the safety net, from the social welfare system. So if you're walking down the street, pretty much one out of every two people you see is vulnerable in one way statistically. And that can range from risk of losing a job, or reduction of hours, to things that are more serious. It can be people who are elderly might not have transportation to get to a doctor's appointment, so we look the at really a huge problem in terms of its breadth, but over 2 1/2 days we focused very hard on what does it mean to be vulnerable and more importantly, what might we be able to do as a state to help people who are vulnerable.

Ted Simons: What were some of the thoughts on what the state can do to help these people?

Catherine Chiang: The report was just released last night and the common thread throughout all the recommendations had to do -- Were surrounding around communication, collaboration, and transparency. So I know that one of the town hall participants has actively taken on predatory lending and has reached out to the Arizona community action association to begin putting together a plan on how to restrict predatory lending in their -- In that community.

Ted Simons: I noticed liquid asset poverty was mentioned in the report. 61% with subprime credit. Is it worse -- Is that worse here than other parts of the country?

Scott Rhodes: As many things, it does tend to be a little bit worse in Arizona. We -- I think we get used to being ranked pretty low, and that is one of the areas. And it accounts for a fair amount of the vulnerability. I think one of the things that the participants learned in this town hall was the extent to which income, while important, is not as important for -- To be resilient against vulnerability as having an asset basis.

Ted Simons: The report, 57% of Arizona workers have less than $25,000, total in savings.

Scott Rhodes: Correct.

Ted Simons: That's a big concern.

Scott Rhodes: It's a distressing number. When statistically it's shown when people fall into and need the safety net which can be either governmental programs or nongovernmental programs, once they reach that point of crisis, the chances of success decline dramatically, and the cost to society increases dramatically.

Ted Simons: Again, with the recommendations, give us more in the way of specifics or what you think, what you just heard from being at the town hall, what were some of the stronger suggestions on how to maybe get rid of some of these system barriers or at least get around them somehow?

Catherine Chiang: I think going back to the collaboration, to remove some of the system barriers that currently exist, the Arizona community action association is working really hard at evaluating some of the recommendations made by the town hall and I believe Cynthia is going to address what can we do as an organization to take on some of these recommendations.

Ted Simons: Do you have -- Are there any ideas right now what folks can do as corporations, as entities, organized entities to address this situation?

Catherine Chiang: I think the report was just released last night, so for me it's hard to make that comment, but I do know that every business and organization should be mindful and again, collaborate, coordinate, and make sure that everything that they're doing is transparent. So in order to help this population.

Scott Rhodes: One of the things that stood out to me about these participants at this town hall was the effort they put into coming up with recommendations. This town hall report has a lot of recommendations in it, and more importantly, they organized their recommendations by who will do them, and how much will they cost. So, for example, there are some governmental actions that are recommended. But those are divided by those that are going to require extra funding and those that won't. And then it goes from there to the business communities, to the local communities, and very importantly, individuals. Because this problem is so big. There's no one solution to it all. It will take all of us to fix it.

Ted Simons: And that's a good point. How do you convince organizations, people in the community, that an unseen vulnerability is such a big problem?

Catherine Chiang: I don't know that it is an unseen vulnerability. I think it's how we acknowledge vulnerability. I think that's one of the threads that ran throughout the town hall. It's not so much that this is -- This person because they're homeless is vulnerable, it is my neighbor, my brother, my sister, my parents who are elderly, those people are vulnerable and so as a collective group, we really work to make sure -- We dove in, I think, very well to address this.

Ted Simons: Again, the idea of unseen vulnerability, not so much the homeless person or the person that's obvious, there are problems there, but the person, maybe with $20,000, in savings, they're employed, their safety nets -- They're not eligible for those nets. They're vulnerable.

Scott Rhodes: They are. That was a good point because this town hall was very interested in recognizing that the vulnerability might not be obvious, it might not be obvious to the people who are vulnerable. And we also have in our society some attributes that make it perhaps difficult to recognize or to express that you're vulnerable and reach out for help. So there was a lot of discussion about not only that problem, but also the other side of it, which is vulnerable people add a lot to our culture. They have a lot to offer us. They have stories to tell. They have often times stories of resilience, stories of not letting themselves slip into crisis. And we might all learn from that. That was also an important part of the town hall.

Catherine Chiang: I agree.

Ted Simons: Very good. It's good to have you both here. Thank you so much for joining us.

J. Scott Rhodes:Attorney; Catherine Chiang:Arizona Public Service Company;

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