WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) spoke on the Senate Floor to unveil S. 3458, the Two-Generation Economic Empowerment Act, a bill they introduced to increase opportunities for families living in poverty. The bipartisan bill aligns and links 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.
YouTube VIDEO: Watch Senator Collins' Remarks
The Two-Generation Economic Empowerment Act is the product of a multi-year collaborative effort to balance the interests and input of a broad array of stakeholders. During his remarks on the Senate Floor, Senator Heinrich shared his experience of visiting programs across New Mexico that are already using the two-generation approach and told the stories of families who have benefited from robust services for parents and their children simultaneously.
Senator Heinrich's remarks as prepared for delivery are below:
I rise today to introduce the Two Generation Economic Empowerment Act alongside my colleague and friend from Maine Susan Collins.
Earlier this month, we saw positive economic data from the Census Bureau that showed that over the last year, American middle-class and low-income families saw the largest growth in their incomes in generations.
But, unfortunately, there are still far too many families in my home state of New Mexico, and across our great nation, who are struggling to make ends meet, put food on the table, and to escape multigenerational poverty.
Last year nearly one in five New Mexicans lived below the federally-defined poverty rate.
These are mothers, fathers, and grandparents trying to support themselves and their families.
They are young adults trying to get ahead, to lay the groundwork for the future they've envisioned for themselves.
But often the dreams we have of going to school and getting a job are cut short by the reality that these once rites of passage on the way to the American Dream are farther and farther out of reach.
I believe that all of us have a responsibility to change the status quo.
Now, without critical programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and the National School Lunch Program, even more families would be struggling to overcome poverty in the wake of the Great Recession.
But it's time to recognize that the federal government's current approach to poverty is too disconnected and too disjointed to truly address the needs of working families.
And it ignores the very nature of the family.
I'll tell you what I mean by that.
I grew up on a small cattle operation. In addition to tending our cattle, both of my parents worked. My dad was a utility lineman. And my mother worked in a factory inspecting wheels on the assembly line.
Like many Americans, I learned the dignity of hard work long before I ever held a job. I learned at home.
And as a father of two kids, I understand the challenges of parenthood-especially when both parents work.
Much of our time is centered on our jobs and our children. For many of us, this leaves very little time for yourself or your own educational pursuits.
And if parents are able to find time to attend school, they have to fit their class schedule around their jobs, their child's school and childcare hours.
All of this limits parents' access to a full and rigorous class schedule. And it extends the number of semesters that a parent is in school and increases their student loan debt.
The way the federal government tries to help increase opportunities for working families isn't working well enough to address these daily challenges that our families face.
While multiple programs exist to help low-income parents and children, they have individual funding streams causing silos and fragmentation.
Low-income families trying to access these benefits often have trouble navigating the multiple eligibility requirements and service providers.
Families get discouraged and lose out on benefits because each one has its own set of requirements.
And even the local service providers who are trying to help families are finding this disjointed federal landscape difficult to navigate.
Addressing the needs of children and parents separately and without a comprehensive strategy is leaving too many children and parents behind and diminishing whole families' chances of reaching economic security.
That's why I've teamed up with my Republican colleague from Maine Senator Susan Collins to introduce the bipartisan Two-Generation Economic Empowerment Act.
Our legislation will increase opportunities for working families through programs targeting parents and children together with support aimed at increasing economic security, educational success, social capital, and health and wellbeing.
By aligning and linking existing systems and funding streams, our legislation will lead to improved outcomes for parents and children while improving the effectiveness of service delivery.
Our legislation will make federal agencies coordinate more effectively through a new Interagency Council on Multigenerational Poverty.
The council will align and link departments that are already working to address poverty in order to reduce redundancy and red tape, and make sure programs across different agencies are working in a complimentary fashion to help families and communities.
We are also looking for new ways to incentivize investments in comprehensive, two-generation programs.
Our bill will encourage federal, state, tribal, and local governments to test innovative ways of using federal resources by allowing increased flexibility in blending discretionary grant funds across multiple federal programs in exchange for greater accountability.
We will create a social impact bond pilot program to encourage private foundations and investors to fund new two-generation programs.
Over the last year, I have visited programs in New Mexico that are already using a two-generation approach.
In Albuquerque, I met with participants of the CNM Connect Services program at Central New Mexico Community College.
This program assists students-many of whom are parents or children of parents attending CNM-with academic support, financial coaching, and career services and connects families with behavioral health services and child care.
By streamlining and coordinating all of these support services for students and their children, families are able to learn and grow together.
At CNM, I met Maricela Carmona, who was a full-time mother who couldn't focus on her own education until her two children started an Even Start and Head Start early childhood education program.
Thanks to a two-generation program that connects parents to childcare and education, she earned her GED and started taking courses at CNM to become a social worker. And she was working with other parents to help them raise healthy families and receive an education.
In Santa Fe, I toured the United Way's Early Learning Center. This hub of early learning and family support can serve as a model for creating a path of opportunity for all hard-working Americans using a comprehensive two-generation approach.
At a state of the art facility, the center offers year-round, full-day services for children and families including hot meals, a health center, teaching and learning technology, employment and social service assistance for parents, and a home visitation program.
One mother I met there, Brenda Olivas, was first connected with United Way when she was four months pregnant. The home visitation program supported her as she and her husband raise their young son Angel.
When I talked with her, Brenda had just started working at the Early Learning Center, helping care for children. Brenda said she hoped to enroll in classes at Santa Fe Community College and put herself on a path toward a career.
I also hosted an outreach session with families, education administrators, and representatives of several non-profit service providers at Doña Ana Head Start.
I heard from working parents and service providers about the challenges and obstacles that stand in the way of educational and career opportunities.
And just last month, I visited La Clinica de Familia's Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership Center. The center cares for children while their parents work or further their education at New Mexico State University and Doña Ana Community College.
And I got to read "Brown Bear, Brown Bear," one of the children's favorite books!
It's time to build on programs like these, bring in more stakeholders, and start actively changing the trajectory of our families and communities.
This is the type of challenge that will have to be fought on the front lines through public-private partnerships on college campuses and in community centers, on ball fields and in health clinics, and in our towns both large and small.
No matter your zip code, you should have an opportunity to use already existing federal resources or attract private investment to implement the two-generation approach in your community.
And that is exactly what the Two-Generation Economic Empowerment Act aims to achieve.
I would like to once again thank my colleague, Senator Collins, for working with me to create this legislation.
And I would like to thank the great minds at Ascend at the Aspen Institute and great advocacy organizations in my home state of New Mexico, like New Mexico Voices for Children, for working with me and my staff on these real, innovative solutions to increase economic mobility.
As we work to advance this bipartisan bill in the Senate, I hope that the rest of my colleagues will see why this is an issue that should be bipartisan and needs urgent attention.
It's important to note that our proposal does not add new federal spending or add to the deficit.
Our legislation takes existing funding and programs that we already agree on, and makes sure that we are investing more wisely and effectively to meet the needs of our children and families.
This is both fiscally responsible and morally imperative.
We all know that all the potential we could ever ask for sits in homes, churches, and classrooms across our great nation.
By helping parents, grandparents, and children overcome poverty and pursue their dreams together, we can put whole families on a path toward economic security and create a greater economic future for all of our communities.