HEINRICH ON POVERTY AND EDUCATION

Senator works for two-generation empowerment

By:  August March

Late last week, Senator Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) held a press conference to note the introduction of two powerful pieces of legislation designed to ameliorate multigenerational poverty in New Mexico and the rest of the US, too.

The two-generation system links services for parents and children in such a way as to enable success and increase opportunities; parts of the measure have already been signed into law. Heinrich used the press call to remind constituents that he and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) recently re-introduced the rest of the bipartisan bill for consideration in the US Senate.

Using a relatively new service model that research has shown successful in addressing the problem, Heinrich discussed the introduction of the Two-Generation Economic Empowerment Act and the Pathways to Health Careers Act. Both measures enlist the use of a two-generation model in their unique approach to solving one of our state’s most daunting problems.

Heinrich also spoke about the Pathways to Health Careers Act, legislation that would build on current grant-giving activities, especially in the Health Opportunity Grant Program, which provides essential funding for mothers and fathers in families who are trying to expand their professional and economic horizons by attending college.

Weekly Alibi was there for the Senator’s teleconference, listening, taking notes and analyzing the legislation designed to make New Mexican families more economically secure, educationally successful, healthy and filled with well being to boot.

Background

Endemic, multi-generational poverty continues to plague the citizens of New Mexico, a state where the median income is just below $47,000 per year. While the median income in the US has risen more than 8 percent over the past three years, it has only risen 2.5 percent in New Mexico.

massive research report published by the Brookings Institution in 2016 examined case studies of poverty in American communities, including in McKinley County, N.M. In some areas of that part of the state, poverty levels hover just over the 40 percent mark, indicating multi-generational situations wherein many individuals were affected in each family studied.

“The Enduring Challenges of Concentrated Poverty in America” was a landmark document in that it identified ongoing endemic poverty as the underlying source of societal problems like addiction and crime but did so in a way that contrasted with some of the methodologies used by sociologists to study the problem in the past.

One of the outcomes of this new way of thinking is called the the two-generational model. In it, services for entire familes are bundled to increase the probability of their success. The legislation introduced by Heinrich will ensure that this model becomes a priority in the United States and especially in New Mexico.

The Phone Call

Heinrich began his discussion by introducing some experts with him in on the conference call to discuss endemic poverty. They included Anne Mosle of The Aspen Institute who is executive director of the Institute’s Ascend program, as well as James Jimenez, the executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children.

The Aspen Institute is a think tank devoted to humanistic studies; Ascend is a policy program at Aspen that is designed to bring education and economic opportunities to families using a two-generation approach.

The Plan

Heinrich then began to discuss the latest plan in the war against poverty while increasing economic viability in the state by telling reporters that the bill “has the potential to change the way we approach poverty in New Mexico and across this country.”

He continued and expanded on the importance of the legislation and the new approach to a persistent issue by telling reporters, “Although we’ve seen signs of economic recovery over the last decade, far too many families in New Mexico and across our nation are still struggling to make ends meet and, frankly, can’t escape multi-generational poverty.”

Heinrich then indicated that he believes that tapping into the state of New Mexico’s Land Grant Permanent Fund to expand pre-K and early childhood education in the state is a fine idea. Further, the Senator hoped that Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and leaders in the state legislature would keep building momentum and working toward that goal.

But he also emphasized that “we also need to do more to make the federal resources for families far more effective. That’s why I introduced the bipartisan Two-Generation Economic Empowerment Act—to increase opportunities for families living in poverty.”

Heinrich said that such an approach, mandated by the two-generation model, was necessary because “the federal government’s current approach to poverty is simply not working well enough. The way the federal government tries to increase opportunities for working families is not working well enough to address the daily challenges that those families face.

Adding the personal human touch that’s made the Senator a favorite with New Mexico voters for two terms now, Heinrich said he could relate because he was a parent and understood that the overarching duties of a father and mother often led to personal sacrifice, up to and including pursuing new educational goals.

The new legislation, Heinrich reiterated, would join together programs for children and their parents, whereas programs in the past had been separate and sometimes “hard to navigate.”

Heinrich said, right now, for the most part, programs for low-income children and low-income parents comes from separate funding streams. This phenomenon causes siloing and fragmentation, the Senator rightly argued. Because of this and other factors, families became discouraged from participating, he added. But Heinrich is sure that the two-generational approach will be a game changer.

“The two-generation approach aligns and links existing systems and funding streams. It then targets services toward both children and parents at the same time. We should use the two-generation approach to make services more effective and increase economic security, educational success, social capital and the health and well being of whole families.”

Health Careers

In addition, Heinrich spoke about initiatives to provide grant money to low-income state residents who engage a career in the health care industry. This legislation builds on the success of the Health Profession Opportunity Grants Program, using the same two-generation approach that combines job training with critical family supports that low-income parents need to succeed in achieving their health care career goals. Highly trained health care workers, who are often paid much more that the minimum wage, are in high demand these days.

In combination, both measures—as well as their timely and informative introduction by Heinrich and his associates in this case, Mosle and Jimenez—demonstrate a high level of tuned-in leadership guiding New Mexico toward a brighter future.