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In a statement intended to shift the attention of federal policymakers away from the national deficit and toward the issue of poverty, 36 prominent religious leaders have endorsed a statement calling for child-care policies and employment programs for the young as one means to eliminate poverty in America.

"We believe that poverty causes a human-resources deficit in our country with consequences no less severe than the budget deficit," wrote Cheryl Morden, chairman of Interfaith Action for Economic Justice, the coalition that released the statement, in a letter to members of the Congress.

The religious leaders suggested five ways to begin reducing poverty, including the creation of public-sector jobs for teen-agers and the long-term unemployed in "carefully designed programs linked to economic growth."

They also suggested creating and enhancing programs that would remove barriers that keep employable people from joining or returning to the labor market. "These include6job-training programs linked closely to growth industries, child-care development and subsidies, and job-placement services."

According to the statement, anti-poverty programs represent less than 10 percent of the federal budget but have borne almost one-third of the federal-budget cuts in the last four years.

"Funding for programs for the poor has neither caused the deficit nor threatened the stability of the economy," the statement said. "Congress can finance the programs necessary to end poverty in this country without exacerbating the deficit problem."

Signers of the letter included leaders of Protestant, Jewish, Catholic, and nondenominational social-services organizations.

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