Poverty continues to plague the nation and decimate families and local communities. Balancing the responsibility of individuals, the generosity of citizens and the role of government can be difficult to obtain and sustain. Truly helping those who currently find themselves in poverty requires a focus on people and commitment to improve programs.
Government does have a role to play. But it’s time for government to look at its many overlapping programs, eliminate the ones that stall individual progress and strengthen the ones that lead to self sufficiency.
Abraham Lincoln declared that the purpose of government is "to elevate the condition of men — to lift artificial weights from all shoulders, to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all, to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance, in the race of life."
The image of removing weights from shoulders does not look like a hammock. Making poverty temporary, not tolerable, is the goal.
Programs that treat people in poverty like liabilities to be managed must be replaced with programs that treat them like unique individuals — human assets with unlimited, even divine, potential.
Currently, many federal and some state programs provide financial or material benefits based on poverty status. In other words, the present approach makes people’s ability to improve their quality of life through anti-poverty programs — feeding their families, accessing health care and gaining an education — dependent upon remaining in poverty. This “prosperity cliff” puts people into inhumane situations where the most reasonable, and even responsible, option for them and their family is to remain in poverty.
Currently there are more than 80 overlapping federal programs dealing with different aspects of poverty.
Congress should audit and require accountability for results from every program addressing people in poverty. Many programs could be consolidated, modified or transferred to the state and local governments, which are better positioned to help the people who live in their communities.
A true poverty-to-prosperity approach could coordinate issues including health care, unemployment, education and general welfare. Public, private and faith-based organizations should encourage and reward the “success sequence”: finishing school/developing new skills, finding a job, and getting married and having children within marriage, along with acquiring the disciplines, skills, tools, life structures and networks for lifelong learning and self-reliance.
Utah lawmakers, non-profit organizations and concerned citizens have helped Utah take important steps and significant strides to address poverty, particularly intergenerational poverty. Much remains to be done.
Rather than looking to Washington to help our fellow citizens who are trapped in poverty, the Utah model should continue to be tested, perfected and shared as a standard to the nation. The human beings, with infinite potential, who find themselves struggling in poverty deserve the best efforts from neighbors, friends, family, citizens, business leaders and lawmakers.