Local Senator Supports Poverty Agenda

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34By Terry Rogers

In March, The Delaware Senate Republican Caucus released a report entitled A Brighter Future: An Agenda to Reduce Poverty. This agenda was led by Senator Gary Simpson and Senator Greg Lavelle.

“Poverty remains one of the largest problems we face in Delaware, as well as the rest of the nation,” Senator Simpson said. “Despite 50 years of government tinkering with anti-poverty measures and hundreds of trillions of dollars later, we still judge success by how much we spend and how many new programs we add. We in the Republican Senate realize that we need to change the focus and, instead, aggressively begin the process of actually getting people out of poverty.

The goal of the Poverty Agenda, as it has been named, is to make Delaware the lowest-poverty state in America by 2024. The agenda says that completely eradicating poverty is currently an unreasonable goal, but that reducing poverty significantly is achievable. Senator Simpson says that one of the best ways to reduce poverty in the state is by creating solid, consistent, middle-class jobs, but the agenda does not rehash methods that Senate Republicans have suggested over the past few years. It acknowledges that job growth and robust economic development would vastly reduce poverty throughout the state.

According to a report recently released by the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institute, family composition was found to have a direct effect on poverty levels. Marriage and delayed childbirth directly reduced poverty risk in families. According to the report, the poverty rate for a single-mother with children was 45.8 percent in 2013, compared to 9.5 percent in married couples.

“Although it is not the role of the government to tell people who and when to marry, we are convinced that family composition has a direct effect on poverty,” Senator Simpson said. “Although it may not be politically correct, we must do all we can to promote this message as strongly as possible. In addition, federal programs have been structured so as to trap people in poverty. Many who receive government benefits know precisely how much they can earn before they begin to lose benefits, therefore, there is no real incentive to better themselves.” Senator Simpson said that the incentives in the federal programs keep people trapped and allow for little innovation or creativity. He also believes that too many leaders in Washington are loyal to specific programs as opposed to the outcome.

The agenda made 11 points that the Senate Republicans feel could reduce poverty significantly in Delaware. The first called for the federal delegation to create and/or support legislation that would end anti-poverty funds in the form of block grants each year. This would allow flexibility with major federal funding and allow Delaware to realign incentives that would encourage people to work their way out of poverty. The state would also guarantee that all funds received would be used exclusively for anti-poverty initiatives and not be used to support other governmental programs.

“The Earned Income Tax Credit is recognized by both Democrats and Republicans as one of the best anti-poverty tools we have,” Senator Simpson said. “In its simplest form, the EITC rewards the poorest working people with a tax cut, thus giving them greater incentive to better themselves through continued work. Democratic House member Paul Baumbach of Newark, along with the support of several Republican colleagues, created legislation that would make the state EITC refundable in Delaware at a rate of 6 percent of the federal EITC. A good idea is a good idea no matter which side of the aisle it comes from and we are happy to encourage this bill’s passage in the Senate.”

In the State of the State address in January, Governor Jack Markell talked about occupational licensing reform, the third item on the agenda. Senator Simpson says that 30 percent of jobs now require licensing and that many of those jobs pose little or no risk to the public. Licensure is a barrier to low-income job creation and raise consumer expenses by over $100 billion. Senator Simpson says that the Senate Republicans are looking forward to working with Governor Markell on ways to reform the occupational licensing system.

Other items in the agenda included creating tax credits for poverty housing, scholarships, company-provided external training and apprenticeships. In addition, workforce training would also be made a priority.

“We know that education is the key to ending inter-generational poverty, but not everyone completes the educational process,” Senator Simpson said. “Though some end formal schooling with no degree, they are still valued members of society with very much to offer. For too long, we have layered workforce training with programs upon programs with very little focus on measured outcomes and/or cost effectiveness. In fact, I’m not sure Delaware government knows exactly how many different funded programs exist in Delaware, let alone knowing if they are effective. We can do better, but first we need to give the issue a full vetting and our legislation will create a committee to study these and other questions and make recommendations for active change.” SEED funding for non-college programs would also be included as a way to further educational achievement.

The final item on the agenda was to create a cottage food industry, similar to a program created in California in 2012. The program would allow those who produce non-hazardous foods, such as bakers, to use home kitchens for production. The legislation would require home producers to operate with a license and that they complete food safety certification courses. They would also be required to carry proper amounts of insurance.

“It is our goal to see Delaware become the lowest-poverty state by 2024,” Senator Simpson said. “We believe these agenda items will increase our chances to meet that goal while reducing government spending in the long run. In the end, we will win and make Delaware a better place for all.”