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Ernst, Rubio Rollout Legislation to Combat Poverty, EMPOWER States

The EMPOWERS Act gives states the flexibility to modernize and create pilot projects to help lift families out of poverty

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

Despite 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.

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 Senator 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 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 Senator 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.”

Additionally, the EMPOWERS Act has received support from Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds:

"The EMPOWERS Act takes a bold step in granting states flexibility to partner with those looking for long-term success,” said Governor Reynolds. “The act offers a chance for states to create pathways of new opportunity for families and individuals and breaks down some of the barriers currently preventing many from leading more stable and fulfilling lives. I want to thank Sen. Ernst for placing confidence in states to carry out this important work. Iowa is excited and able to readily accept this challenge."

About the EMPOWERS Act:

  • This allows states to apply for four-year temporary waivers to integrate and reform two or more covered federal programs that assist folks in need.
  • Requires 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.
  • States which obtain waivers would receive the same level of funding that folks in their state would otherwise receive for the covered programs, and they would be required to reinvest any savings on helping low-income families and individuals.
  • Requires states to contract with an independent, third party evaluator, tasked with rigorously testing the project.
  • Establishes 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.

To read the full text of the bill, click here.