The culmination of a long election cycle is almost upon us. Voters will soon cast ballots to chart a desired course for the future of their communities and nation. While 2016 has seen a divergence from debate on serious issues towards a more rancorous slew of political attacks, elected officials must serve their constituents by proposing serious solutions to problems. The remedy to many ills facing our South Florida communities, whether it be a lack of affordable housing, an increase in violence, or need for better schools, is often a stronger and more vibrant economy for all workers and businesses.
Recently the U.S. Census Bureau released new data on income and poverty. On the national level, reports are positive: median household income jumped to $56,516 in 2015 from 2014, an increase of 5.2% or $2,798. While incomes are still 1.6% below 2007 pre-recession levels, there are glimpses of hope, including growth of 6.1% among Hispanic workers. In Miami-Dade County, we have seen a slight decline of those living in poverty, from 20.4% in 2014 to 20.0% in 2015. Nationally, the rate of Hispanics living in poverty has decreased to 22.6% in 2015 from 24.1% in 2014.
Even with modest gains in income and a slight reduction in poverty, more must be done to assist those working to lift themselves up by the bootstraps. Far too often the federal government creates too many bureaucracies, layered with too much red tape, to provide an adequate safety net of programs that will actually help the most economically vulnerable.
Congress is proposing real solutions to help those in poverty find work to provide a more stable future for themselves and their families. Under the leadership of Speaker Paul Ryan, House Republicans have been advancing “A Better Way” agenda. Rising above petty politics, the House is advancing real poverty reform solutions that will improve schools, reward work, and tailor benefits to better suit an individual’s needs.
So what does this mean in practical terms? We need to identify the root causes of poverty and that often depends on the neighborhoods where kids are born. I have introduced the “ Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act,” a bill that provides at-risk kids more options for success by providing local leaders the flexibility to better meet the specific needs of the most vulnerable children in their communities.
As kids progress through school, administrators should recognize that not every student would benefit from a four-year college degree and make available vocational opportunities. I worked on the “Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act,” which provides students the training needed to prepare for good paying jobs in fields like healthcare and high-skilled manufacturing. I am proud to report both bills passed the House of Representatives with overwhelming bipartisan support.
For those struggling adults, we must recognize that a one-size-fits-all federal strategy does little to address local concerns. Miami is different than Montana, and the programs that might benefit one neighborhood are drastically different than others. States should have more autonomy in using federal tax dollars to support programs that work, and wind down those that don’t.
All poverty reduction programs should encourage work while still helping those in need. For instance, work-capable adult recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, who do not have children, should be encouraged to look for work while receiving benefits. And we should allow greater mobility for housing assistance so that individuals can move to areas with more jobs and better opportunities.
The solutions identified above are a great first step in reducing poverty, but more must be done. I am confident that by reforming current federal programs and giving local governments more flexibility, we will see a continued reduction of poverty and greater rise in income. This can be done without reducing one penny spent on benefits or raising taxes. I will continue to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to advance solutions that will strengthen the economy for everyone.
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