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Rubio, Ernst Introduce Legislation to Help States Combat Poverty

Jun 23, 2017 | Press Releases

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), members of the Senate Opportunity Coalition, today announced they will introduce the Economic Mobility, Prosperity, and Opportunities with Waivers that Enable Reforms for States (EMPOWERS) Act, legislation that would give states the flexibility to modernize programs to help families and individuals find long-term success.

Despite running over 80 programs and billions of taxpayer dollars spent, all too often, the federal government fails to address the barriers to self-sufficiency faced by those living in poverty. The EMPOWERS Act would create pathways to opportunity by giving states the flexibility to pursue pilot projects that better address the challenges faced by low-income families and individuals.

“The EMPOWERS Act recognizes what Americans already know: Washington doesn’t have all the answers. More than 50 years after President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty, it’s clear our social safety net programs are in desperate need of innovation and modernization,” said Rubio. “I’m proud to join my friend Senator Ernst in introducing this bill, which will empower states to develop new ways to help the most vulnerable Americans and reduce poverty.”

“I’ve heard from Iowans struggling to make ends meet that due to current federal programs in place, taking one step forward often means taking two steps back,” said Ernst. “Worse yet, these programs sometimes punish self-sufficiency through stiff phase out rates, or ‘cliff effects’ which inadvertently penalize individuals when they gain employment or are awarded a raise. The EMPOWERS Act encourages states to develop solutions that utilize federal resources to remove barriers to self-sufficiency and help families and individuals find long-term success.”

The EMPOWERS Act would: 

  • Allow states to apply for four-year temporary waivers to integrate and reform two or more covered federal programs that assist people in need.
  • Require states to submit a proposal for a cost-neutral demonstration project designed to reduce poverty and promote employment, savings, financial literacy, family stability, and self-sufficiency for participants in order to receive a temporary waiver.
  • Provide states that obtain waivers with the same level of funding that people in their state would otherwise receive for the covered programs, and require the states to reinvest any savings into helping low-income families and individuals.
  • Require states to contract with an independent, third party evaluator, tasked with rigorously testing the project.
  • Establish the Interagency Board for Empowering Low-Income Families to oversee the waiver process, and ensure projects do not have benefit cliffs or steep phase-out rates that can result in a net loss of a low-income household’s resources once wages or hours are increased at work.