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Provo representative says new bill could solve intergenerational poverty

A file photo of Norm Thurston, R-Provo. Thurston said he'll introduce a bill he believes could be a solution for intergenerational poverty. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

PROVO — State workforce officials estimate there are thousands of Utah families living under intergenerational poverty — poverty that is transmitted from one generation to another, making it more difficult to escape. However, Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, said he believes he can change that.

Thurston said he will introduce a bill that he believes will be the solution for escaping this poverty. He will sponsor House Bill 52, which aims to help low-income families save for their children’s education.

Thurston said the path out of this cycle of poverty is to get kids into the right classes in school. The kind of classes that lead to good jobs.

Thurston sponsored similar legislation with a previously-proposed bill, House Bill 379, in early 2019. Through this bill, Thurston sought to create a program he called the Earned Income and Education Savings Incentive Program.

If implemented, the state would match a family’s contributions in a 529 account that sets money aside for education.

“It’s far more effective than just giving parents cash because this is money that is earmarked and dedicated for education,” Thurston said in an interview with KSL NewsRadio.

The bill was proposed during the 2019 legislative session, asking for the program to be implemented as soon as it’s “practical,” according to the bill. But the bill pushed the Department of Workforce Services to begin accepting applications as soon as Jan. 1, 2020.

The bill didn’t pass. But, Thurston isn’t finished yet.

Thurston said the Department of Workforce Services keeps track of which families are going through intergenerational poverty — and would help the state determine who is eligible.

This 529 program already helps some families save for their education costs, but Thurston said families going through poverty don’t have a lot of money to put away in those accounts. That’s why this program would match every dollar in family contributions.

Thurston said even if families could only save for one semester of tuition after high school, their kids are far more likely to graduate. Programs like this have been very effective in other states, he added.

“The state would put in some matching funds to make that money go further,” Thurston said. “So, we can invest along with the parents in that child’s future.”