Bill Gates launched a new fight against systemic poverty in the U.S., with his private foundation on Thursday announcing millions of dollars toward initiatives ranging from data projects to funding for community activists.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said it will spend $158 million combating American poverty over the next four years. It comes as the foundation moves deeper into U.S. issues after largely focusing on global health and development. Critics have long challenged Gates to do more to help the poor at home in the U.S.
Specific programs and grants to combat poverty have not been identified but the foundation’s work will be informed by the U.S. Partnership on Mobility from Poverty, an ideas-oriented task force.
The Gates Foundation, the world’s largest philanthropic organization, funded the task force to kick-start its entry into American poverty issues. The partnership is housed within the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based liberal-leaning think tank, and said it has worked to create ideas over the past two years that philanthropic groups, businesses and government could carry into action.
Members of the task force have issued proposals as broad as “confront racism” in neighborhood planning and as specific as urging an expansion of the child tax credit and eligibility for housing assistance vouchers to help families with children under 6.
In addressing the income gap, they advocate for better jobs and more workers’ rights through wage subsidies, community college access and a gig-economy benefits system, among other concepts.
How the Microsoft co-founder’s money will make it all happen is unclear, but the foundation is expected to fund pilot projects and research that will help support such ideas.
Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann said data and analysis are needed to root out possible answers at the core of poverty. But she also acknowledged that studying the problem would be the easy part.
“It’s easier to generate data than it is to make an impact,” Desmond-Hellmann said.
The Seattle-based foundation, which was established in 2000 and has an endowment worth over $40 billion, has been turning its attention to U.S. poverty, with Gates publicly discussing a trip to Atlanta last year as a “searing portrait of American poverty.”
In the U.S., the foundation has primarily focused on trying to reshape American schools, making itself the largest benefactor of school reform in the country. Desmond-Hellmann said its new strategy on poverty issues will complement its existing education work.
In an interview this year with The Associated Press, the Gateses talked about broadening their agenda to look at other problems that hinder children in the classroom.
“Poverty is like education, where there’s not enough philanthropic resources to take on responsibility, but if you can show how to have a lot more impact, then the policies will benefit from that,” Bill Gates said at the time.