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Families commission begins work in Oakland, Calif.

The National Commission on America's Urban Families held its first hearing on June 24 in Oakland, Calif. The seven-member Commission, chaired by Missouri Governor John Ashcroft, heard invited testimony from state and local experts "who deal with issues affecting children and families every day."

President George Bush formed this commission in response to urging by NLC leaders concerned with the status of families in cities.

Opening remarks by Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris called families a "source of strength and direction and inspiration" who are in trouble due to "values, poverty, and a lack of appropriate government policies." He continued by saying that "families can build strong individuals, and strong individuals build strong families, strong communities, and strong cities and states."

Commission member Victor Ashe, mayor of Knoxville, Tenn., in discussing harmful federal policies with Mayor Harris, cited unfunded federal mandates as a problem.

Panel Topics Show Commission Agenda

Four invited panels composed of 18 people addressed the Commission. The four overall topics assigned to the panelists are one way of looking at how the Commission is viewing its agenda and its responsibility and at what kinds of information the Commission is seeking: [section] public policy and programs: how to promote family strength and self-sufficiency; [section] families and services integration strategies; [section] role of the private sector; and [section] intact families: secrets of success.

Rick White, of the Institute of Contemporary Studies, promoted family strength and self-sufficiency by supporting enterprise zones, school vouchers to encourage educational choice and accountability, and increased use of the Earned Income Tax Credit. However, Maria Casey of the Urban Strategies Council advised that "there is no silver bullet" solution ad encouraged a broad array of efforts that would "raise competent, caring, conscientious, courageous adults."

A warning about how the word "urban" is used was voiced by Harold Davis of the Housing Authority of Oakland. "The difference between urban, rural, and suburban is a matter of degree or focus - for example, the availability of media to spotlight the issues." He went on to emphasize that "If we rebuild families, we will be rebuilding neighborhoods and communities."

The definition of "family" arose several times. Commission Member Alphonso Jackson, of the Dallas Housing Authority, said there is only one definition, "a mother, father, and children." Grantland Johnson, a Sacramento County Supervisor, said that the Commission "shouldn't focus on form, but on functions and outcomes."

His comment echoed earlier statements from Maria Casey who urged the Commission to "embrace the broadest definition of families ... to take them where they are." Commission Member Annette Strauss, a former mayor of Dallas, said that "we still need to come back to the point that children do best with two parents, and we need to focus on anything we can to be supportive [of that configuration]."

Commission members heard testimony for four hours, and then visited programs in the Oakland and San Francisco areas. Their schedule included a homeless families shelter, a youth development center, a church-oriented pre-school, and a gang prevention project.

Future Visits, Commission to Reshape Report

The Commission will also hold meetings, hearings, and visits in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, and Knoxville before submitting a final report which is due December 31, 1992.

In addition, the Commission will hear periodic reports on their research component which is a second way of determining how the Commission is going about its job. Research and examination are being carried out in four areas: [section] Current conditions of urban families, both from an analysis of data and trends and from an analysis of perceptions and public opinion; [section] Government's role and programs, both from the angle of data and trends and from policy effects; [section] Promising programs, from the governmental sector, from the private/non-profit sector, and from those espousing service integration; and [section] Recommendations both for government and for other institutions.

For further information, write the National Commission on America's Urban Families, 200 Independence Avenue S.W., Washington, D.C. 20201 or call 202/690-6462.
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Title Annotation:National Commission on America's Urban Families
Author:Kyle, John E.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jul 20, 1992
Previous Article:Rep. Obey mounts challenge to bust budget 'firewalls.' (David Obey)
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