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Editorial: Utah Republicans starting to take on poverty

First Published      Last Updated Oct 16 2014 02:39 pm

Utah Republicans, elected at the state and national level, are starting to realize that the poor have always been with us. And that that's not a good thing. And that the rich and powerful should be doing something about it.

Something to break the cycle of poverty, passed down from generation to generation in the same way wealth is inherited in more fortunate families.

Something to tweak, tilt and reform government policies that miss their mark or that make it more difficult, instead of easier, for people to lift themselves out of poverty.

At the state level, led by state Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, the overwhelmingly Republican Legislature and the Republican-led executive branch are digging deeply into the real causes of life-long, intergenerational poverty.



They have come to the empirically solid conclusion that children who are born into poverty enter life with the deck overwhelmingly stacked against them. That low-income households are led, often heroically, by parents who themselves grew up poor, didn't get much education and who struggle daily, if not with health or addiction issues, then with the exhausting race just to keep up.

And that, with smart but relatively inexpensive efforts at offering help for parents and children to get basic health care, be screened for developmental delays or other handicaps and stay in school, that cycle can be broken.

Reid, who is retiring from the Legislature after this year, has won the buy-in not only of his fellow lawmakers, but the civil servants at the state's departments of Workforce Services, Human Services and Office of Education. All expect that every dime spent on these efforts now will pay the taxpayers back many times over through savings in remedial education, police and prisons, health care and substance abuse.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Mike Lee has been making the rounds of his fellow Republicans, calling for a new, conservative approach to poverty and inequality. An approach that is less about giving people money — which, in the conservative view, only creates dependence — than about lifting weights from the shoulders of people who might have a chance if they hadn't fallen victim to some of society's traps.

Those traps, Lee rightly argues, include ridiculously long prison sentences for minor crimes, mostly drug related, and a tax code that weighs too heavily on people who work but don't earn very much.

In both cases, officials are showing an increased understanding that poverty is a trap and, particularly in the case of children, not of the poor's own making. And they see that selling new and more effective responses to poverty aren't things we do just because of our own bleeding hearts, but out of hard-headed understanding that money spent now, and spent wisely, will save a lot of money later.

Not to mention a lot of human lives.

 

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