- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Programs designed to fight poverty in Nebraska need to focus on helping both children and adults at the same time instead of one or the other, according to a report released Thursday by a group of lawmakers, state agency officials and advocates.

Nebraska already offers safety net programs for children and adults, but the lack of coordination results “in fragmented approaches that leave one or the other behind,” according to the report. The report was produced from a 15-month study examining why poverty in the state persists from one generation to the next.

Sen. Kathy Campbell of Lincoln, who led the task force, said the report illustrates the need for a “two generation” approach to address poverty.

“We’ve above the national average, in terms of the percentage of people in poverty, which should be a red flag to policymakers that we need to address this in an in-depth manner,” Campbell said.

Breaking the poverty cycle requires a focus on families as a whole through education, economic support and strengthening networks of families and neighbors, the report said. For instance, it said early childhood education should be paired with education for parents to help them learn how to manage money and find higher-paying jobs.

Many of those affected are the so-called working poor, with parents stuck in low-wage jobs, said Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, a task force member. Mello sponsored legislation to create the task force, modeled after similar efforts in Utah and Colorado.

“Some of the programs we have right now are not yielding the results that we know we want to see,” Mello said. “Only focusing on the child does not help that family to a more sustainable path out of poverty.”

Additionally, the report said Nebraska needs to do a better job tracking trends that cause poverty to continue from one generation to the next.

More than 230,000 people in Nebraska - more than 12 percent of the population - had incomes below the federal poverty threshold last year, according to U.S. census data. The state had higher rates of minority families in poverty than the nation as a whole. A little over one-fourth of Nebraska’s African American families with children under 18 lived in poverty last year, compared to nearly 22 percent nationwide, according to the data.

Elice Hubbert, the report’s author and a clerk for the Health and Human Services Committee, said the new “two generational” approach shows promise in the effort to lift more people out of poverty.

The task force included senators, the state labor and education commissioners, the CEO of the Department of Health and Human Services, and private groups that work with the poor.

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