Poverty no longer beneath the notice of Utah's policymakers.

12 February 2013 Written by  

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Low-income families in Utah are facing increasingly hard times. The overall poverty rate is 13.2 percent. The poverty rate for children is higher at 16 percent. People are making the most of key supports — 131,000 children received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program aid, and 189,831 people received the Earned Income Tax Credit in 2011 — but this alone is not enough to lift the most vulnerable Utahns out of poverty. To make matters worse, these economic challenges are not confined to a single generation. Persistent poverty means that parents are passing these struggles onto their children.

A third of Utah adults currently receiving public aid also grew up in a family that received government assistance. The reality in Utah, and across the United States, is that many children who are born poor are likely to remain so.

The good news is that, even in an era dominated by what seems like unprecedented partisan acrimony, it is possible to come together to tackle even challenges of this magnitude. Recognizing the corrosive effects of intergenerational poverty in our state, Republicans and Democrats in the Utah Legislature last year worked together to pass the Intergenerational Poverty Mitigation Act. Signed into law on March 19, 2012, this legislation required that the state track intergenerational poverty for the first time. In the end, this bill was supported by every member of the Utah House and Senate present and voting in the final votes.

Voices for Utah Children worked with the bill's sponsor, Senator Stuart Reid, on this law because we share a mutual interest in collecting accurate data on those in need. While we may disagree about some specific solutions to poverty in our state, we recognize that having quality information on which to base policy is a common aspiration among policymakers and advocates of all stripes. The Utah Department of Workforce Services released the first annual intergenerational poverty report in September 2012.

While this law will not solve the problem of intergenerational poverty in our state, it does help keep the issue firmly on the agenda.

This year Senator Reid has introduced SB 53 Intergenerational Welfare Reform that creates the Utah Intergenerational Welfare Reform Commission and the Intergenerational Poverty Advisory Committee. The Commission will examine and analyze shared data and information regarding intergenerational poverty; identify and develop effective plans, programs; and make recommendations to help at-risk children escape the cycle of poverty. Additionally, the Commission is required to create an ongoing five and ten-year plan, which is updated annually, containing measurable goals and benchmarks, including future action needed to attain those
goals and benchmarks.

It's critical to remember that SB 53 is just one more step. Advocacy groups in particular will have an important role to play in driving policymakers to use the data and develop evidence-based solutions. We will continue to ask "Is it good for kids?" as policies and programs are debated. And to remind policymakers that no child ever did anything to make themselves poor.

Sara Face Shot BetterSara Gunderson, Office Manager and Executive Assistant, joined the organization in 2007. She has extensive administrative experience, including more than eight years in development at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center. Sara received her BS in Psychology at the University of Utah with a coursework emphasis in infant and child development.