Tribune Editorial: Two (small) ways to fight poverty in Utah

Intergenerational poverty is a problem in Utah. A report last October showed that while childhood poverty in Utah was declining, intergenerational poverty continues to shackle families to low-income jobs and limited housing.

Intergenerational poverty is exactly what it sounds like – two or more generations stuck at low-income levels.

On Wednesday a Utah legislative committee passed a bill offered by Rep. Ray Ward to provide about 11,000 low-income women with birth control to avoid unplanned pregnancies that often divert women from college and professional goals. Only Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, voted against the bill.

Utah is one of only seven states that do not provide family planning for low-income residents.

Last July, Ward told the Intergenerational Poverty Advisory Committee that birth control is “among the most effective ways to get women and children out of poverty.” Ward estimated in three years the program could prevent 2,000 unintended pregnancies and 680 abortions.

Salt Lake Tribune reporter Luke Ramseth wrote that the additional coverage “would cover women who earn up to 95 percent of incomes at the poverty line, or about $11,500 in 2017 for a single woman.” Ninety percent of the program would be funded by the federal government, assuming Utah secured the necessary Medicaid waiver.

Colorado implemented a similar program and has saved $70 million in Medicaid birth-related costs. The birth rate and abortion rate for women in Colorado ages 15-19 fell 48 percent. For women ages 20-24, the Colorado program dropped birth rates by 20 percent and abortion rates by 18 percent.

Doubling down on its efforts to prevent intergenerational poverty, the Legislature last week also moved forward a bill that would provide poor, working families with a $600 tax credit. Twenty-nine other states have already implemented a state earned income tax credit.

The bill could affect almost 25,000 families who have relied on government assistance for at least two generations. Helping families stay out of poverty will ultimately save the state money.

But the bill is too limiting in its reach – almost 200,000 more Utahns receive the federal earned income tax credit. But 25,000 is better than zero, which is likely why Democratic legislators support the bill. They know it’s all they’re going to get.

But it could be better.

Utah seems to be playing catch-up with other states that already provide programs to help residents support themselves. For a state that relies on self-reliance, Utah should be leading out, not catching up.