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    03.21.15 Edward V. Sparer Public Interest Law Forum Spotlights “50 Years of the War on Poverty”
    Brooklyn Law School Sparer Forum

    Brooklyn Law School’s annual Edward V. Sparer Public Interest Law Forum, held March 19, marked 50 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “War on Poverty” with a discussion of the current policies that promote or prevent access to safety net resources and examine where we are now. The forum, “50 Years of the War on Poverty,” featured an address by Steven Banks, Commissioner of the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA)—the largest social services agency in the country. Other program participants included Wayne Ho, Chief Program and Policy Officer of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies; Sondra Youdelman, Executive Director of Community Voices Heard; and Professor Ann Cammett of CUNY Law School.

    Banks discussed his work with the HRA and how it helps combat poverty. With $50 million in its baseline budget, the HRA is seen by Mayor de Blasio as a vital component to fulfilling a major goal of the administration: overcoming income inequality. The provision of legal services is a tool to accomplish this, Banks said.

    HRA had to adjust its approach to make progress toward this goal, Banks explained. “We had to get away from a one-size-fits-all approach, in terms of employment. We had to look at our obligations as an agency to make sure people have training and education, to actually have a career pathway out of poverty.”

    Banks spoke to the critical role lawyers play in the war on poverty. “The creation of programs that provide legal access—these were seen at the beginning of the war on poverty as a very important right,” he said. “Legal services remain an important tool in terms of the enforcement of rights and the protection of low income people along the road to ‘winning’ the war on poverty,”

    Banks also noted that lawyers who work for government agencies have a major role to play, in ensuring that programs are working correctly and in helping to design new programs.

    “Ending poverty is a full-time employment program for lawyers—which is a terrific statement to make at a law school,” he said.

    Watch the video of Commissioner Banks’ address at the Sparer Forum.

    About The Edward V. Sparer Fellowship Program
    Brooklyn Law School alumnus, Professor Edward V. Sparer, was one of the leading poverty lawyers in this country. The Edward V. Sparer Public Interest Law Fellowship Program was established in 1986 to honor him and encourage law students and lawyers to carry on his legacy. For more information about the Sparer Fellowship program, visit