HD64 - Interim Report of the Commission on Stimulating Personal Initiative to Overcome Poverty

  • Published: 1993
  • Author: Commission on Stimulating Personal Initiative to Overcome Poverty
  • Enabling Authority: House Joint Resolution 74 (Regular Session, 1992)

Executive Summary:

Poverty dismays us. It always has. From the Biblical admonition that the poor will be with us always to the ghetto rapper's furious, ''Why me?" the ageless realities of poverty confront us as individuals, as communities and as governments. The persistence of poverty is especially painful in a democracy founded - here in Virginia - on the principles of equality, opportunity, self-sufficiency and hope. Each generation has attempted its solution, and some have succeeded: Between 1964 and 1978, the 'War on Poverty" cut America's poverty rate nearly in half. But too often over time, our political will or our economic strength seem to flag, and another generation slips into poverty. At the dawn of the 21st Century, we struggle with a public welfare system that is an uneasy amalgam of Victorian social reforms, Depression-era solutions and 1960's political doctrines. The result is a maze of conflicting policies that traps people in the very poverty it is designed to relieve. Most frustrating is the fact that those innovative approaches that do work seldom receive the consistent, comprehensive funding that allows them to make long-term inroads.

In Virginia and across America, the practical result is that the spiraling cost of poverty drives public budgets, and the cost of poverty programs is fast exhausting the public's ability and will to finance them.

At public hearings across the Commonwealth, the Commission listened to hours of passionate testimony from hundreds of Virginians - welfare mothers, welfare workers, former inmates, housing experts, pregnant teenagers, ailing retirees. Here is what we learned:

• Nobody wants to be poor.

• Welfare isn't enough to feed, clothe and shelter a family.

• Proven anti-poverty initiatives are at work in communities across Virginia, but few receive adequate, consistent support.

• If you go to work at a minimum-wage job, you lose your children's health and child care benefits and you can't afford to pay for them privately.

• If you get married, your husband's income will force the family off AFDC but won't support it, so women "marry" the welfare system instead.

• Prison is to poor men what AFDC is to poor women.

• Poverty is colorblind, and most of Virginia's poor are children.

• Job training doesn't work unless there are jobs.

• Teenage mothers would make other choices if they had them.

• The working poor are never more than a broken finger or a sick child or a dead battery away from welfare.

Tinkering with the welfare system won't work. The people of Virginia, including those who are poor, believe that government should support with dignity those among us who cannot support themselves, but that all of us who can work should work. Virginians also believe that government programs, including investments in the poor, should get results and should be able to prove it. If they don't work, they should be eliminated and if they do, they should receive adequate funds.

To meet these expectations, we recommend a new social contract based on clear, realistic principles that reflect the values of the people in Virginia. We call them the Virginia Principles:

I. If you work, you shouldn't be poor.

II. If you are a child, you should have the financial support of both your mother and your father, and they should be adults.

III. If you receive public assistance, you incur personal obligations.

Like all deeply human dilemmas, poverty is complex and difficult. But we know that there are solutions, and we believe deeply that Virginians have the heart and the will to seek them and to make solid investments in proven approaches.

We propose five initiatives approaches, grounded in the Virginia Principles and shaped by the wisdom and experience of the people of the Commonwealth. Each is designed to achieve a specific outcome and each contains a means for measuring its effectiveness. If they work, we can build upon them. If they don't, we can learn from our mistakes and try again. We call them the Virginia Plan.