SALT LAKE CITY — Utah will create a state commission to develop policy recommendations to end intergenerational poverty and dependence on public assistance programs.
The Utah House of Representatives voted unanimously Thursday to pass SB53, which will bring together executive directors of the state departments of health, human services and workforce services, as well as the state superintendent of instruction and the juvenile court administrator, to study the issue and recommend solutions.
The commission will be assisted by an advisory committee of representatives of faith organizations, child advocacy groups and nonprofit organizations.
The commission would build upon the work of a study of public assistance recipients that was undertaken after the passage of legislation in 2012, says Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, sponsor of SB53. Earlier, the bill was overwhelmingly approved in the Utah Senate.
Researchers determined that nearly one-third of Utahns who received public assistance as children also participated in public assistance as adults.
Moreover, the more impoverished a person is during childhood, the more likely that person is to receive public assistance as an adult.
Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden, noted that children who receive public assistance benefits under the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program were more likely to receive public assistance benefits as adults.
"It's not so temporary," said Peterson, House sponsor of the bill.
Speaking in favor of the bill Thursday, Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, said the issue of education attainment needs to be a high priority for the commission.
Briscoe, a former schoolteacher, said educational research shows a strong connection between chronic absences from school and dropout rates. Whether a child attends school regularly is "a better predictor of high school graduation than your test scores," he said.
The societal consequences are significant, he said. The National Governors Association estimates that high school dropouts cost the U.S. economy $300 billion a year.
Last year, Utah lawmakers passed SB37, which requires the Department of Workforce Services to create a system to track intergenerational poverty data to identify at-risk children and to publish an annual report.
The report analyzed U.S. Census trends and Department of Workforce Services data of clients ages 21 to 40 who received public assistance between 1989 and 2008.
Researchers determined that nearly one-third of all people who received public assistance as children also participated in public assistance as adults.
Some 364,822 people people live in poverty in Utah, about 13.2 percent of the state's population, according to the report. Nearly 16 percent of the state's child population is considered impoverished.
Utah's poverty rate is lower than those of many other states, though the numbers of individuals in poverty has steadily risen since 2000.
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