Lawmakers to tackle the question: Can the poverty cycle be halted in Utah?

Published: Thursday, Jan. 31 2013 6:25 p.m. MST

Utah must hold parents and other adults who play a role in the lives of children in poverty accountable for their success or failure, an Ogden lawmaker says.


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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah must hold parents and other adults who play a role in the lives of children in poverty accountable for their success or failure, an Ogden lawmaker says.

Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, is sponsoring legislation to establish a commission to study recently released data on intergenerational poverty in Utah and to develop policy recommendations to break the cycle of kids in poverty becoming adults in poverty.

Last year, Utah lawmakers passed a bill that requires the state Department of Workforce Services to create a system to track intergenerational poverty data to identify at-risk children. 

The data were eye-opening:

The report found that 364,822 people live in poverty in Utah, about 13.2 percent of the state's population. Children in poverty number 136,751 or almost 16 percent of the state's child population.

"There are some clear things we know from the data and from studies that will benefit these children. That's what we want to focus on. We want to hold adults, both parental adults, guardians and agency adults who are managing the system, accountable for success on behalf of these children," said Reid, who sponsored the bill and is pushing legislation this year in search of solutions.

A newly established commission would include the executive directors of the state departments of Workforce Services, Health, Human Services, the state superintendent of public instruction, the state juvenile court administrator or their designees, and a nonvoting chairman.

The commission would meet at least quarterly and produce a report by Nov 1. Members will not be compensated, but their expenses will be covered.

This year's bill, SB53, also calls for an advisory committee not to exceed 11 members to assist the commission. Members would include representatives of faith-based organizations, local government, academia, and child advocacy organizations, all of whom have expertise in education and/or childhood poverty issues.

The next step

Karen Crompton, executive director of the advocacy organization Voices for Utah Children, said Reid wants top administrators and policymakers at the table, "not just some designee, so we can give it the importance it deserves."

Crompton said she supports the next step in Reid's plan.

"It brings a group of people together to share information in ways we sometimes don't do, because we tend to operate in silos in almost everything we do," she said.

Adults who receive public assistance benefits are required to seek or prepare for work, Reid said. Parents who receive public assistance should also be required to demonstrate that their children are attending school and meeting other benchmarks of well-being.

One of the key challenges of addressing intergenerational poverty is that government agencies that serve low-income people use the same approach when dealing with people in poverty, whether it is situational or intergenerational, he said.

Reid and his wife, Laura, have elected to live in inner cities for most of their married life, he said. He has twice served as a bishop for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in inner-city wards and has worked with hundreds of people who have received public assistance. 

Government agencies, churches and nonprofit agencies are adept at helping people who experience situational poverty due to a death, catastrophic accident or illness or a house fire, Reid said.

Unfortunately, the same strategies are used to address families that have received public assistance for three or four generations, Reid said.

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