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Poverty battle will center on new state commission

Published: Saturday, March 16 2013 2:04 p.m. MDT

Members of a new state commission will be expected to step out of their respective   silos and collaborate on strategies to break the cycles of   intergenerational poverty and welfare dependence. (Shutterstock.com) Members of a new state commission will be expected to step out of their respective silos and collaborate on strategies to break the cycles of intergenerational poverty and welfare dependence. (Shutterstock.com)

At the beginning of the Utah Legislature 2013 session, The Deseret News pledged to focus its legislative coverage on five key issues that matter to Utah families: early childhood education, college and career readiness, economic development, health care and well-being, and intergenerational poverty. See what transpired in each of those areas during this year's legislative session.

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Stuart Reid has a to-do list for five state department heads for the coming year: Develop policy recommendations to break the cycle of children in poverty from becoming adults in poverty.

Reid, R-Ogden, sponsored a bill creating a state commission to examine the causes of intergenerational poverty in Utah and to identify possible solutions. The bill was overwhelmingly supported in both houses of the Utah Legislature.

The commission will be made up of the executive directors of the state departments of workforce services, health and human services; the state superintendent of public instruction; the state juvenile court administrator or their designees; and a nonvoting chairman.

Commission members will be expected to step out of their respective silos and collaborate on strategies to break the cycles of intergenerational poverty and welfare dependency. That will require additional study of proven strategies, developing means to share information and working jointly on approaches to improve outcomes for children.

"That coordination has to happen down to the caseworker level, and in the case of education, teachers and counselors, so everyone's involved in that process and they're all working in unison to make sure the most effective approach is coordinated and works to its greatest advantage," Reid said.

The launching point for the commission's work is the ongoing study of intergenerational poverty by the Utah Department of Workforce Services. A bill passed by the Utah Legislature in 2012 required the department to track intergenerational poverty data to identify at-risk children. 

The inaugural 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.

The report, which was released last fall, is an analysis of workforce services clients ages 21 to 40 who received public assistance between 1989 and 2008.                    

The report found that the longer adults were in poverty as children, the longer they are likely to be in poverty as adults.

Utah's poverty rate is lower than many states, but the number of people in poverty has risen steadily since 2000, according to the report.

"What's at stake here is the lives of these children," Reid said. "It's whether or not they're going to live a life of despair and hopelessness in poverty and welfare dependency with all the attending consequences of that, or if they're going to live a life where they have hope for success and, in fact, enjoy success in their experience as children into adulthood, free of poverty and free of welfare dependency."

Utah's poverty rate is lower than many states, but the numbers of people in poverty has risen steadily since 2000, according to the 2012 report.

Other moves were made to care for Utah's homeless and low income residents.

The Utah Legislature appropriated $1.5 million for homeless services and facilities in Salt Lake and Ogden, including $500,000 for the purchase and renovation The Road Home’s Winter Community Shelter in Midvale.

Lawmakers also eliminated a requirement for parents whose only source of income is a government disability benefit to pay for child support while their child is in the custody of the Division of Child and Family Services.

In an unrelated matter, lawmakers passed into state law a federal prohibition regarding the use of welfare funds – cash assistance – at casinos, liquor stores or casinos. Lawmakers said they were not aware that cash assistance is misapplied in a significant manner in Utah but a federal mandate required the state to codify the federal restrictions in statute.

E-mail: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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