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Heinrich Addresses National Association of Counties, Highlights Success Of Taking A Two-Generation Approach To Increase Education And Economic Opportunities For Families

WASHINGTON (Feb. 16, 2022) – During remarks at the 2022 National Association of Counties (NACo) Legislative Conference, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), announced that he will reintroduce the bipartisan Two-Generation Economic Empowerment Act to increase educational success and economic opportunities for families living in poverty.

“We need to alter the way that we think about service delivery to families who want to achieve economic security, educational success, and healthy outcomes. That starts with taking a two-generation approach that meets the needs of children and parents at the same time. The two-generation approach is at its core about effective, evidence-based governing,” said Heinrich.

Senator Heinrich, vice-chair of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, is leading the legislation with U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) to align and link existing systems and funding streams to target both parents and children with support aimed at increasing economic security, educational success, social capital, and the health and wellbeing of whole families.

Heinrich added, “The two-generation approach places families at the center of program design and purposefully connects services so they can work seamlessly to help parents and children achieve success together.”

Senators Heinrich and Collins will reintroduce the legislation in the coming weeks.

The NACo Legislative Conference brings together nearly 2,000 elected and appointed county officials to focus on federal policy issues that impact counties and our residents. Attendees have the opportunity to engage in second-to-none policy and educational sessions, interact with federal officials and participate in congressional briefings and meetings.

Senator Heinrich’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below.

Good afternoon.

Thank you for that kind introduction, Councilmember Rice.

It is a real honor to be here with the National Association of Counties and to join all of the county officials who serve communities all around our great nation.

I want to start just by saying how saddened I was to learn of the recent passing of the former President of NACO and former County Commissioner and Mayor of Santa Fe, Javier Gonzales.

I worked with Javier for many years, and I know how much he embodied what it looks like to truly lead a local community.

As a former city councilor, I have so much respect for the hard work, sacrifice, and dedication of local leaders like yourselves.

As a former local elected official, I recognize how much you feel the impact of your work at the neighborhood level when you work in county government.

Each of you makes such a profound difference in the lives of your constituents.

That was true even before the two years that we’ve all just gone through.

But I am especially appreciative of all the ways that county and local leaders in New Mexico and across the country have gone above and beyond to look out for your neighbors whose lives were turned totally upside down.

I do want to be clear about the way I see our overall outlook right now.

After two incredibly challenging years, the American economy is growing faster than it has since 1984.

We just added nearly half a million jobs last month—and more than 7 million jobs over the last year.

The last year has also seen the largest drop in the unemployment rate and the largest reduction in the childhood poverty rate on record.

I am very confident that the strong investments in both the American Rescue Plan and the landmark Bipartisan Infrastructure Law are setting the foundation for an incredibly robust economic recovery.

Despite all of this progress in our overall economy, however, I think that all of us recognize that there are still far too many families in our country struggling to keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table.

Many of the factors that have trapped families in a multigenerational cycle of poverty predate the pandemic.

However, I see this moment as a real inflection point—and a chance to turn the page on a status quo that wasn’t working even before March 2020.  

We have an opportunity to invest strategically in reshaping the way our states, local communities, and local service providers help families overcome intergenerational poverty.

Even before the pandemic dropped additional challenges onto many families, our largely disjointed approach to poverty was simply not effective.

Low-income families willing to sacrifice, save, study and work to better themselves were met with an uncoordinated and seemingly uncaring bureaucracy.

While multiple federal programs dating back to the New Deal and the War on Poverty exist to assist low-income parents and children, they each have individual funding streams and structural barriers that have kept services for adults and services for children separated by nearly insurmountable barriers.

That fragmentation has meant that the needs of children and parents are addressed separately, at best, and without a comprehensive strategy.

This has often left children or parents behind.

And it has diminished the whole family’s chance of building success together.

I have been calling for years for policymakers to alter the way that we think about service delivery to families who want to achieve economic security, educational success, and healthy outcomes.

It starts with taking a two-generation approach that meets the needs of children and parents at the same time.

The two-generation approach is at its core about effective, evidence-based governing.

The two-generation approach places families at the center of program design and purposefully connects services so they can work seamlessly to help parents and children achieve success together.

Over the past decade, I have been proud to champion federal two-generation legislation in the Senate and to be part of a growing movement of policymakers and state and local service providers who are implementing innovative two-generation solutions.

I like to point to specific examples of what this looks like in New Mexico.

Last year, I met with members of the “Paso a Paso Network” in Taos County, New Mexico, which has brought together a wide array of community organizations and health, education, and social services to merge resources and systems that support local families.  

The “Paso a Paso Network” has found a way to link many disparate services together and make it much easier for parents and children to find the support that best meets their needs.

Ngage New Mexico in Las Cruces believes children are more successful in life and school when they have a strong family support system.

So in addition to taking kids and their parents outdoors to hike or creating other exciting afterschool events, they are also offering parenting workshops on topics like financial planning, goal setting, car maintenance, and college readiness.

These workshops equip adults with tools for success that they can pass down to their children.

That’s the two-generation approach in action.

There are so many great examples of this same type of two-generation work cropping up all across the country.

And I want to emphasize that two-generation solutions are happening in communities that vote mostly Democratic and in those where most people vote Republican.  

Ascend at the Aspen Institute’s — which is the leading force and an incredible partner in generating two-generation solutions—points to amazing success stories from all across the country.

That includes Jefferson County, Colorado’s Prosperity Project, which has integrated workforce and mental health services for parents whose children are enrolled in Head Start and child care programs.

And it includes the innovative partnership between the State of Georgia’s Department of Early Care and the state’s technical college system to provide services to college students who are also parents.

Many people are not aware that more than one-in-five college students these days has children.

If parents are able to find time to attend college and build career skills, they have to fit their class schedule around their existing jobs and their child's school and child care hours.

Two-generation solutions that assist college students and their children together can offer whole families a greater chance at success.

I recently introduced legislation to establish a first-of-its-kind federal College Completion Fund to help colleges and universities scale up the direct supports and two-generation solutions that students need as they navigate their way toward degree completion.

That includes things like child care, career coaching, food pantries, and transportation and housing assistance.  

I also cosponsored the Full Service Community Schools Expansion Act to expand our support for full-service community K-12 schools that provide comprehensive academic, health, and social services for their students and for their students’ families.

I will also add that many counties who have been leading the way on implementing two-generation solutions were able to scale up their work thanks to the flexible funding that they received from the American Rescue Plan.

I fought hard to secure that immediate funding support for States, Tribal governments, counties, and municipalities to assist with much-needed replacement revenue.

This was a real sticking point in negotiations.

But I made sure that we stuck to our commitments to local communities that took on enormous costs throughout the public health emergency.

The American Rescue Plan delivered $407 million directly to counties in my home state of New Mexico that allowed them to continue providing essential county services.

Many counties in New Mexico also found innovative ways to put these funds to work scaling up two-generation programs like meal delivery to families in need and expanded youth summer programs, and improving services for behavioral health, addiction treatment, and domestic violence.

As I said before, I see this moment as a real inflection point for our communities.

I want to be sure that the support that we’ve been able to provide to our communities—and to families and children—through the American Rescue Plan and other Covid relief packages aren’t just a one off.

We need to take what we have learned about what works and make sure service providers, community organizations, and government agencies are working with each other in a coordinated way to support whole families.

In that spirit, I am proud to announce today that I am once again partnering with my Republican colleague Senator Susan Collins to reintroduce our bipartisan Two-Generation Economic Empowerment Act.

I’m grateful for the support that the National Association of Counties has shown for our efforts.

And I am pleased that we have already achieved some major accomplishments since we first introduced a version of this bill five years ago.

In the first version of our bill that we introduced in 2017, we proposed establishing a federal clearinghouse for two-generation and economic mobility policies.

We are pleased that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has taken the first step in establishing the Council on Economic Mobility.

Our new bill would make this council permanent and provide it with the resources it needs to become an essential clearinghouse of successful two-generation policies that states and local communities can look to for guidance and support.

Our new bill would also establish a new “Performance Partnerships” pilot program that would allow state, Tribal, and local governments to test out innovative ways of using federal anti-poverty resources.

These partnerships would allow increased flexibility in blending discretionary funds across multiple federal programs—and also flexibility to blend federal funding sources—in exchange for greater accountability in achieving better two-generation outcomes.

I say this as someone who used to work in local government and as someone who now represents an incredibly diverse state: this increased flexibility is essential for making these two-generation programs successful.

Even within New Mexico, successful implementation of two-generation strategies looks a lot different in a rural chapter of the Navajo Nation than it does in an urban neighborhood in Albuquerque.

What works well in Rhode Island will not be what works best in Montana.  

The federal government can play a critical role in delivering funding, technical support, and evidence of what is working in other communities.

But to be truly successful, with real buy-in, two-generation strategies need to reach and be implemented at the local level.

Local leaders like all of you are fully versed in the specific contexts and needs in your communities.

You are going to be the ones whose innovative ideas can dramatically improve service delivery for children and families.

If you aren’t already doing so, I sure hope that all of you will consider looking into how taking a two-generation approach might work in your counties.

And I’ll close by saying the same thing I told the New Mexico Association of Counties just last month.

If we can make the most of the generational investments from the American Rescue Plan and the Infrastructure Law, our communities and our country can emerge from this moment in a stronger competitive position than we have ever been in.

We should never underestimate the resilience of the American people.

Let’s all keep doing what we can to empower them to succeed and fuel our nation’s comeback story.

Thank you.