Eradicating poverty in Pennsylvania is not an easy task. Across the state, people are struggling to make ends meet. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 12.5 percent of Pennsylvanians are in poverty.
In simpler terms, more than 1.5 million of our neighbors cannot afford to feed themselves or their families, afford medicine, afford transportation, afford shelter, afford child care. It’s a bleak world for our very poor. Yet, too many in positions of power believe others are poor because they choose to be, that they are unworthy of help or a policy shift that might lift them up. They fail to realize that every decision we make as their government — whether it’s during budget negotiations or with individual bills — has a direct and lasting impact on poverty and economic security. The legislature continues to deliver a system that fails poor people, that fails everyone.
We recently introduced legislation in our respective chambers to help direct how our commonwealth addresses poverty. Information is power and actions have consequences, so our approach uses data as the guide.
Our first bill would require Pennsylvania to set up a commission and interagency work group to track intergenerational poverty and use the data derived from it to fully understand the causes of poverty and the children who are most at risk to continue the cycle, as well as identify programs that can be modified to better target resources. Through data sharing on factors like housing, health care, education, and criminal justice, and policy coordination among state agencies and local government, we can put a strategic plan in place to eradicate poverty in our state.
Key to tracking and targeting is how we legislate. Our second bill would require the state’s Independent Fiscal Office to complete a poverty impact analysis on a variety of state proposals, including the governor’s proposed budget and the yearly enacted budget, as well as allow lawmakers to request such analysis for any bill, amendment, or joint resolution introduced during a legislative session. The bill is modeled after our state’s current requirement to analyze bills that would have an impact on pension systems. The analysis under our bill would help lawmakers to see how what they’re being asked to vote on would impact poverty and deep poverty in the state.
Other states began the process several years ago and are having some success. For example, Utah enacted similar legislation in 2012 and recently published its seventh annual report. While they have significant work ahead in eradicating poverty in their state, progress is being made and they now have years of data across multiple government systems to identify their gaps, target their resources, and hone their strategies.
There may well be no one solution to poverty. But if we don’t require the data that shows the impact of the laws and policies made by the government, we may not even be able to look for one.