Commentary: Today U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) reintroduced the bipartisan Two-Generation Economic Empowerment Act to increase opportunities for families living in poverty. The bill aligns and links existing systems and funding streams to target both parents and children with support aimed at increasing economic security, educational success, social capital, and the health and wellbeing of whole families.
“While we've seen signs of economic recovery, far too many families in New Mexico and across the nation are still struggling to make ends meet and can’t escape multigenerational poverty,” said Heinrich. “I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan bill to give states, local governments, and tribes more flexibility to develop innovative programs that really work to help families find a way out of poverty. Over the last year, I visited programs across New Mexico that are already using the two-generation approach and was able to hear firsthand how providing robust services for parents and their children simultaneously, allowed families to grow together and get on a more prosperous path. By helping families pursue their dreams together, we can make the Land of Enchantment a land of opportunity for everyone.”
“More than 38 million people, or about one in eight Americans, lived below the poverty line in 2018. This sadly includes nearly 13 million children, including 35,000 children in Maine. While federal programs have helped many of those living in poverty manage day-to-day hardships, they are falling short of breaking the cycle of poverty that has trapped too many families,” said Collins. “Our bipartisan bill would support an innovative approach to fighting poverty, one that focuses on addressing the needs of children and their parents – two-generations together – in order to help break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.”
The Two-Generation Economic Empowerment Act is the product of a multi-year collaborative effort to balance the interests and input of a broad array of stakeholders, including Ascend at the Aspen Institute, Central New Mexico Community College, and New Mexico Voices for Children. The legislation is also supported by the Maine Community Action Association and the Maine Head Start Directors Association.
The previous version of Senators Heinrich and Collins’ legislation included two provisions that have since been signed into law. These provisions include a request for the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to issue a report exploring the potential for two-generation pilots, collaboration areas, and federal funding opportunities, and a new program administered by the U.S. Department of Treasury to implement Social Impact Partnerships to improve the effectiveness of social services.
"There is solid research documenting that supporting children and parents together yields stronger results for families. Unfortunately, far too many families face barriers and systems that work against them. Communities and states are embracing a two-generation approach and we are pleased to see this continued bipartisan commitment. Senator Heinrich's and Senator Collins' leadership on the Two Generation Economic Empowerment Act is a positive and concrete step toward ensuring Family Prosperity can pass from one generation to the next,” said Anne Mosle, Vice President at the Aspen Institute and Executive Director of Ascend.
"This effort builds on an exciting movement of innovation that is focused on redesigning systems to serve children and parents together and more effectively combining key services such as early learning, health, and work force." “SFCC fully supports the Two Generational Economic Empowerment Act. The Two Generational approach to eliminating intergenerational poverty, as well as the plan to coordinate federal funding for programs dealing with this issue, will create an enhanced efficiency and bring us closer to eliminating poverty. It aligns perfectly with what our community is telling us and provides the opportunity for economic growth,” said Becky Rowley, President of Santa Fe Community College.
“On behalf of Central New Mexico Community College (CNM), we support and appreciate the goals of the Two-Generation Economic Empowerment Act being proposed by Senator Martin Heinrich,” said Tracy Hartzler, President of Central New Mexico Community College. “In recent years, CNM has been focused on launching education programs and services that support the success of parents and their children. We have seen the promise of these multi-generational approaches, which can be very effective in putting low-income families on a trajectory for a more prosperous and healthier future. We are encouraged by this legislation and the potential it has to improve the wellbeing of families, which also benefits communities and economies.”
“Given our state’s racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity, New Mexicans understand the value of ensuring that public programs and services meet the specific needs of each community. The bipartisan Two-Generation Economic Empowerment Act would give our state the flexibility needed to tailor programs to our unique populations,” said James Jimenez, Executive Director of New Mexico Voices for Children. “This legislation also takes a common-sense approach to improving child and family well-being by streamlining federal assistance programs, making them more efficient and cost-effective, and ensuring they take a two-generation approach.”
“Maine’s Community Action Agencies are committed to the Two-Generation approach and are thankful to Senator Collins for her leadership in re-introducing the Two-Generation Economic Empowerment Act,” said Jason Parent, President of the Maine Community Action Association, which is comprised of the state’s ten Community Action Agencies. “Senator Collins has visited programs across Maine engaged in this work and is familiar with the many innovative Two-Gen strategies we have introduced in recent years. She is also familiar with the challenges we face implementing this approach as federal funding streams are not conducive to addressing the needs of the Whole Family. This bi-partisan legislation would address some of the bureaucratic obstacles that stand in the way of helping families go from crisis to thriving.”
Specifically, the Two-Generation Economic Empowerment Act would:
Coordinate Federal Efforts to Assist in the Development and Implementation of Two-Generation Programs
- The Interagency Council on Multigenerational Poverty and Economic Mobility will create a national focus on multigenerational poverty by facilitating coordinated efforts across multiple agencies and departments. This interagency collaboration will align and link fragmented systems and funding streams, resulting in holistic approaches that simultaneously address the needs of children and their parents or guardians. The Council brings together designees from multiple agencies and departments, including:
- Office of Management and Budget; Department of Agriculture; Department of Education; Department of Health and Human Services; Department of Housing and Urban Development; Department of Labor; Department of Transportation; Department of the Treasury; Department of Veterans; Bureau of Indian Affairs; Corporation for National and Community Service; Domestic Policy Council; and National Economic Council.
Increase Flexibility for States, Local Governments and Tribes to Develop Programs That Best Meet Their Needs
- Two-Generation Performance Partnerships: Federal, state, and local governments will have the ability to test innovative ways of using federal resources by allowing increased flexibility in blending discretionary funds across multiple federal programs in exchange for greater accountability in achieving two-generation outcomes.
Increase Opportunities for Families in Need by Funding Projects that Work
Successful Two-Generation Programs have the potential to lift families out of poverty by using evidence-based strategies. Examples of this approach include:
- Extending the hours for career services and childhood development programs for students who have young children to better match parents' schedules.
- Expanding home visiting programs to offer information on education, workforce training, and employment opportunities.
- Providing access for low-income students who have young children to career services and childhood development programs through their schools.
- Creating partnerships between private, state, and community colleges and universities with government and non-profit organizations to provide services for low-income students who have young children.
- Allowing programs such as Head Start and Early Head Start to partner with organizations that help the parents of low-income children to further their education and receive job training.