Archive | Fuck the Poor

How poverty changes the brain

Varal 001

Close The video tells the story of Malala Yousafzai, the Nobel Peace Prize winner from Pakistan who at 15 survived being shot in the head by the Taliban while riding a bus in 2012. “I want to get my education, and I want to become a doctor,” she says, adding that the Taliban throw acid on… Continue Reading →

0

Maine’s wingnut governor breaks the law

Gov. LaPage, Freeport Flag Ladies and Susan Collins

Paul LaPage, uberwingnut, is a loose cannon who looks for any excuse to cut benefits to poor people:

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage has pounced on the recent unsealing of court documents showing an Iranian refugee who resettled in Maine and later joined the terror group ISIS.

But the governor’s eagerness to use Adnan Fazeli’s radicalization here to rail against welfare benefits for refugees may have led him to run afoul of a federal law designed to protect the identities of welfare recipients and their families.

State officials have not confirmed that Fazeli, or his family, received welfare benefits when he lived in Maine between 2009 and 2013. According to federal laws governing food stamps and cash assistance, they’re not supposed to.

“It’s concerning if that was indeed reported by Maine officials because federal law is clear that people’s confidentiality should be protected,” said Robyn Merrill, director for Maine Equal Justice Partners, an advocacy group for low-income Mainers

Merrill’s concerns were raised by a report in the Boston Herald in which Maine state officials are quoted as saying that Fazeli, and his family, received cash and food stamp benefits.

Those benefits, known also as SNAP and TANF, are federal programs, funded mostly with federal tax dollars. According to federal rules, the identities of benefit recipients are confidential — only law enforcement, immigration officials and state administrators are allowed to know who receives the benefits.

Those same officials, according to the law, “must adequately protect the information against unauthorized disclosure.”

The Herald story also contained an interview with LePage, who told the newspaper that the Fazeli case prompted him to order a review of all benefit programs for refugees.

Merrill said that Fazeli’s radicalization here is concerning, but she worries about the LePage administration’s zeal to politicize it.

“It seems as though this one particular circumstance is really being exploited and used as justification to deny help to a whole group of people,” she said.

Wonderful news

This is something that can make a real difference if they’re successful. I can’t tell you how many people are being held because they can’t afford bail:

Holding defendants in jail because they can’t afford to make bail is unconstitutional, the Justice Department said in a court filing late Thursday — the first time the government has taken such a position before a federal appeals court.

It’s the latest step by the Obama administration in encouraging state courts to move away from imposing fixed cash bail amounts and jailing those who can’t pay.

“Bail practices that incarcerate indigent individuals before trial solely because of their inability to pay for their release violate the Fourteenth Amendment,”
the Justice Department said in a friend of court brief, citing the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.

Woo hoo, Texas! You’re No. 1!

We Texans Honor Our Flag

Never let it be said that Republicans don’t achieve!

The rate of Texas women who died from complications related to their pregnancy doubled from 2010 to 2014, a new study has found, for an estimated maternal mortality rate that is unmatched in any other state and the rest of the developed world.

The finding comes from a report, appearing in the September issue of the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, that the maternal mortality rate in the United States increased between 2000 and 2014, even while the rest of the world succeeded in reducing its rate. Excluding California, where maternal mortality declined, and Texas, where it surged, the estimated number of maternal deaths per 100,000 births rose to 23.8 in 2014 from 18.8 in 2000 – or about 27%.

But the report singled out Texas for special concern, saying the doubling of mortality rates in a two-year period was hard to explain “in the absence of war, natural disaster, or severe economic upheaval”.

From 2000 to the end of 2010, Texas’s estimated maternal mortality rate hovered between 17.7 and 18.6 per 100,000 births. But after 2010, that rate had leaped to 33 deaths per 100,000, and in 2014 it was 35.8. Between 2010-2014, more than 600 women died for reasons related to their pregnancies.

No other state saw a comparable increase.

In the wake of the report, reproductive health advocates are blaming the increase on Republican-led budget cuts that decimated the ranks of Texas’s reproductive healthcare clinics. In 2011, just as the spike began, the Texas state legislature cut $73.6m from the state’s family planning budget of $111.5m. The two-thirds cut forced more than 80 family planning clinics to shut down across the state. The remaining clinics managed to provide services – such as low-cost or free birth control, cancer screenings and well-woman exams – to only half as many women as before.

At the same time, Texas eliminated all Planned Parenthood clinics – whether or not they provided abortion services – from the state program that provides poor women with preventative healthcare. Previously, Planned Parenthood clinics in Texas offered cancer screenings and contraception to more than 130,000 women.

Another day in deregulated paradise

I wrote earlier this week about Sam Brownback’s deregulated paradise and how it contributed to the decapitation of a 10-year-old boy. (By the way: Thanks to that state’s “tort reform,” the family’s potential damages are limited to $250K. It’s even possible his father, a Kansas GOP state legislator, voted for the cap.

I just don’t have the heart to look it up, under the circumstances.

Anyway, this is a less awful situation than decapitation in North Carolina — but bad enough. Just as in Kansas and Wisconsin, the Koch crowd has taken over down there and immediately began to dismantle government services, cut taxes, and make it harder to vote if you’re black. It is hopeful only in the sense that this year’s gubernatorial race is has Roy Cooper slightly ahead of Gov. Pat McCrory. (If you have any money to spare, I’d send it to Cooper.)

The Dems have had their own shortcomings in NC, but it’s a new day. Anyway:

But what many people don’t realize is that over the past few years, state lawmakers have drastically cut funding for classroom supplies – forcing teachers and parents to pick up the slack. On top of that, politicians eliminated a back-to-school sales tax holiday that used to save North Carolina families an estimated $15 million each year on school supplies. In fact, some parents and teachers are even road-tripping to states like South Carolina and Virginia this weekend to take advantage of the sales tax holiday savings!

According to the Department of Public Instruction, North Carolina spent $59 per student on instructional supplies before the Great Recession began in 2008. But in the 2016-17 school year, that number will be down to about $30 per student. Proper funding for classroom supplies should be a top priority for our state lawmakers. Unfortunately, parents and teachers are being forced to fill an irresponsible funding gap created by the politicians in Raleigh.

When I first started teaching at Millbrook Elementary over a decade ago, teachers received $100 each year to buy classroom supplies. A couple years later, that was reduced to a $75 store credit at a local teaching supply shop. A couple years after that, the amount teachers could spend depended on how much their classrooms raised for the PTA. Then last year, teachers got nothing.

That’s why every year I’m forced to spend hundreds of dollars of my own money on classroom supplies for my students. If we’re doing a special project that requires anything other than construction paper and glue, I have to buy it. If we run out of soil during our plant unit, I have to buy it. In fact, a recent survey found that the average teacher spends about $500 of his or her own money on classroom supplies each year – but many spend much more than that, especially teachers in low-income areas. And when politicians cut funding for classroom supplies, it hurts our low-income students the most.

Nearly 70 percent of students at our school receive free or reduced-price lunch, and some are even homeless. But we try hard to make sure every student is able to succeed, no matter what their living circumstances are like. I’ve bought shoes for a student. I’ve kept crackers in my desk in case a student misses the bus and doesn’t get to eat breakfast. I’ve even bought extra pairs of underwear in case a student has an accident during class. We’re not certainly required to do this – it certainly doesn’t show up on the standardized test scores our lawmakers use to “grade” us on – but if going the extra mile for my students will help them reach their fullest potential in life, how can I not?

‘White Trash: The Original Underclass

Just roll on in

This story was co-published with the Atlantic. Sometime during the past few years, the country started talking differently about white Americans of modest means. Early in the Obama era, the ennobling language of campaign pundits prevailed. There was much discussion of “white working-class voters,” with whom the Democrats, and especially Barack Obama, were having such trouble… Continue Reading →

Another day in Killadelphia

As I’ve mentioned before, the Republicans who control the PA statehouse refuse to give Philadelphia permission to enact its own tighter gun laws. Laws can’t stop all shootings, but they can stop some of them.

Got that fire from my homie @chrisRWK !! Always good to see you bruddah- amazing show! #respect #killadelphia #rwk #chrisrwk #philly #phillyConnect #phillyRepresent #playfulgorilla #artshow #arthustle

Only two! That was a good day.

New Jersey’s student loan program is ‘state-sanctioned loan-sharking’

student-loan-images
(Photo/Courtesy aboblist) by Annie Waldman ProPublica, July 3, 2016, 9 a.m.

Amid a haze of grief after her son’s murder last year, Marcia DeOliveira-Longinetti faced an endless list of tasks 2014 helping the police access Kevin’s phone and email, canceling his subscriptions, credit cards and bank accounts, and arranging his burial in New Jersey.

And then there were his college loans.

When DeOliveira-Longinetti called about his federal loans, an administrator offered condolences and assured her the remaining balance would be written off.

But she got a far different response from a New Jersey state agency that had also lent her son money.

“Please accept our condolences on your loss,” said a letter from the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority to DeOliveira-Longinetti, who had co-signed the loans. “After careful consideration of the information you provided, the Authority has determined that your request does not meet the threshold for loan forgiveness. Monthly bill statements will continue to be sent to you.”

DeOliveira-Longinetti was shocked and confused. After all, the agency features a photo of Governor Chris Christie on its website, and boasts in its brochures that its “singular focus has always been to benefit the students we serve.”

But her experience with the authority, which runs by far the largest state-based student loan program in the country, is hardly an isolated one, an investigation by ProPublica, in collaboration with the New York Times, found.

New Jersey’s loans, which currently total $1.9 billion, are unlike those of any other government lending program for students in the country. They come with extraordinarily stringent rules that can easily lead to financial ruin. Repayments cannot be adjusted based on income, and borrowers who are unemployed or facing other financial hardships are given few breaks.

New Jersey’s loans also carry higher interest rates than similar federal programs. Most significantly, the loans come with a cudgel that even the most predatory for-profit players cannot wield: the power of the state.

New Jersey can garnish wages, rescind state income tax refunds, revoke professional licenses, even take away lottery winnings 2014 all without having to get court approval.

“It’s state-sanctioned loan sharking,” said Daniel Frischberg, a bankruptcy lawyer. “The New Jersey program is set up so that you fail.”

The authority has become even more aggressive in recent years. Interviews with dozens of borrowers, who were among the tens of thousands who have turned to the program, show how the loans have unraveled lives.

The program’s regulations have destroyed families’ credit and forced them to forfeit their salaries. One college graduate declared bankruptcy at age 26 after struggling to repay his debt. The agency filed four simultaneous lawsuits against a 31-year-old paralegal after she fell behind on her payments.

Another borrower, Chris Gonzalez, couldn’t keep up with his loans after he got non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was laid off by Goldman Sachs. While the federal government allowed him to suspend his payments because of hardship, New Jersey sued him, seeking nearly $266,000 in payments, and seized a state tax refund he was owed.

One reason for the aggressive tactics is that the state depends on Wall Street investors to finance student loans through tax-exempt bonds and needs to satisfy those investors by keeping losses to a minimum.

Loan revenues also cover about half of the agency’s administrative budget.

In 2010, the agency filed fewer than 100 suits against borrowers and their families. Last year, it filed over 1,600 suits. (Some could result from federal loans handled by New Jersey, though such loans make up just 4 percent of the agency’s portfolio.)

The cases are handled by debt collectors, who can tack on another 30 percent in fees on top of the outstanding debt.

Marcia Karrow, the authority’s chief of staff, said, “the vast majority of these borrowers are happy with the program.” She added that New Jersey’s loans had “some of the lowest default rates” in the country. But when asked to produce the annual default rates, the agency sent ProPublica and the Times data only for students with strong credit scores, making it impossible to calculate the overall rate. (Read their responses to our questions.)

A spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie said the governor does not control the authority and declined to respond to questions about the loan program. But Christie appointed its executive director, Gabrielle Charette; he also has the power to appoint at least 12 of the agency’s 18 board members and can veto any action taken by the board.

Besides administering the loan program, the authority provides financial aid counseling, conducting hundreds of financial aid nights at New Jersey high schools, where it offers advice about paying for college, including pitching its own loans.

DeOliveira-Longinetti, who emigrated from Brazil and had long worked as a nanny while raising her son as a single mother, always knew that paying for college would be a challenge. Even after marrying her husband when Kevin was in middle school, she knew that their combined income would not be enough to cover the costs. But a friend told her about New Jersey’s program. That, along with a combination of scholarships, grants, and other loans, allowed Kevin to enroll at the University of Vermont.

Since her son’s murder, DeOliveira-Longinetti has made 18 payments to New Jersey. At $180 per month, she has about 92 to go.

“We’re not going to be poor because of this,” she said. “But every time I have to pay this thing, I think in my head, this is so unfair.”

For decades, states served as middlemen for federal student loans. Most of the loans were made by banks and were handled and backed by regional and state-based agencies as well as by the federal government. The arrangement was unwieldy, expensive and marked by scandal.

After Pennsylvania’s student loan agency lost a public records lawsuit in 2007, documents revealed that the agency had spent nearly $1 million on things like fly-fishing, facials and falconry lessons.

That same year, New Jersey’s agency was caught in what amounted to a kickback scheme. The state attorney general found that the agency had improperly pushed one company’s loans in exchange for annual payments of $2.2 million. A subsequent investigation by the state’s inspector general found that the agency was in “disarray.”

In 2010, Congress and the Obama administration decided to effectively eliminate the role of state agencies by having only the federal government lend directly to students.

Some states, like California, decided to downsize and transferred their federal loan portfolios. Others, such as Pennsylvania, won contracts from the federal government to service debt from the federal loan program.

But New Jersey chose a different path. In the years leading up to the end of the federal program, New Jersey sharply expanded its loan program, slowly replacing the federal loans it once handled with state loans. From 2005 to 2010, loans from the agency nearly tripled, to $343 million per year. Since then, the agency has reduced its loans by half, but its outstanding portfolio has remained roughly the same, about $2 billion.

Karrow said the growth of New Jersey’s program was simply a result of both the growing number of students and the rising cost of tuition. But in fact, college enrollment and tuition have not grown as rapidly as the program’s size.

Lawsuits on the Rise for the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

Source: New Jersey Courts Automated Case Management System (ACMS) and Archive Case Management Information System (AMIS)

While other states have similar programs, New Jersey’s stands apart, both for its size and onerous terms.

Massachusetts, running the next-largest program with $1.3 billion in outstanding loans, automatically cancels debt if a borrower dies or becomes disabled, something many other states also do. The program of the third-largest state lender, Texas, is half the size of New Jersey’s. And Texas offers a flat interest rate, a modest 4.5 percent, while New Jersey’s rates can reach nearly 8 percent. Some other state loan programs also have more flexible repayment options 2014 Rhode Island, for example, offers income-based repayment.

New Jersey, meanwhile, encourages students to buy life insurance in case they die to help co-signers repay. As an agency pamphlet cautions, “Are you prepared for the unthinkable?”

The agency, Karrow said, treats each instance of a deceased borrower case by case and tries to be compassionate, but, she added, “we must also meet our fiduciary duty to our bondholders.”

When consumer lawyers protested the program’s onerous conditions at a 2014 agency meeting, the agency, according to minutes from the meeting, said that giving borrowers a break would make the bonds sold to finance loans “less attractive to the ratings agencies and investors.

Indeed, in a recent bond assessment, the credit rating agency Moody’s cited the authority’s “administrative wage garnishing, which it uses aggressively” for “significantly higher collections” compared with other programs.

A New Jersey rule adopted in 1998 allows the agency to give borrowers in default a second chance by allowing them to become current on their account through on-time payments. But the agency has never granted a reprieve and instead cuts off contact with borrowers, leaving them at the mercy of collection firms.

Karrow said federal regulations prohibited the agency from offering such relief, but student loan experts disputed that assertion.

“There is nothing in the federal law or regulations that prohibits them from offering private loan rehabilitation,” said Mark Kantrowitz, a financial-aid expert.

The combination of a lack of flexibility, an unwillingness to discharge loans and the state’s power to seize wages has resulted in even “more intractable problems for our clients than predatory mortgages, deceptive car loans or illegal internet payday lending,” said David McMillin, a lawyer with Legal Services of New Jersey, a nonprofit organization that provides free legal assistance to low-income state residents. “Many borrowers and co-signers find themselves facing a lifetime of debt problems.”

Given the lack of options, some New Jersey borrowers have resorted to declaring bankruptcy, even though, as is true of all student loans, their debt is rarely canceled. Declaring bankruptcy also makes it virtually impossible to secure a mortgage, lease a car or even use credit cards for years. But for New Jersey borrowers, such an extreme step at least offers a way to gain manageable monthly payment terms.

As a co-signer, Tracey Timony struggled to help pay off her daughter’s $140,000 in loans. Though the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority can seize wages or tax returns without court approval, it must secure a judgment to dip into borrowers’ bank accounts or place liens on their property. Instead of garnishing Timony’s wages, New Jersey sued her after her daughter defaulted.

“The agency is looking to put as much pressure on the borrower and be as aggressive as possible, and the way that you do that is you go after everybody that is liable,” said Jennifer Weil, a New Jersey student debt lawyer. “In case the garnishment doesn’t work, a judgment will help put pressure on the parents.”

Timony declared bankruptcy and got monthly debt payments that will rise no higher than about $1,000 a month, far less than what the agency had demanded.

“I never thought that sending my daughter to college would ruin our lives,” Timony said.

Few have felt the weight of the agency’s powers more than Gonzalez, the college graduate who was sued after receiving a diagnosis of cancer and losing his job.

He had borrowed the maximum he could in federal loans 2014 a total of about $30,000 for five years 2014 and paid for most of his tuition with loans from New Jersey.

“I felt so comfortable because it was the State of New Jersey,” he said. “It’s the state, my government, trying to help me out and achieve my American dream. It turns out they were the worst ones.”

Over five years, he took out over $180,000 in state loans. Unlike most other states, New Jersey does not impose a strict cap on loans to discourage overborrowing. One family, according to a recent state audit of the agency, took out over $800,000 in loans, more than five times the value of their home.

Gonzalez’s loans had a relatively high interest rate 2014 on average about 7.5 percent. At the time it seemed like a good investment. He graduated with an engineering degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida and landed a job on Wall Street working as a programmer for Goldman Sachs.

But a few months after he started, unusual rashes began to appear on his legs and underarms. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and started radiation therapy.

After three years of cancer treatments, Gonzalez was also laid off.

He needed to take care of his student loans. The federal government and his private lenders all deferred his debt for at least six months.

Gonzalez expected New Jersey to do the same, but the agency refused, requiring him to pay at least $500 a month. With unemployment checks as his only income and burdened by continuing health expenses, it was too much for him.

He made no payments while the agency reviewed his case. In June 2014, Gonzalez moved to Florida to lower his cost of living. His health slowly improved and he started his own company, developing technology for small businesses. In his first year, he made just $26,000, but he started to pay back his federal and private bank loans.

On May 8, 2015, after months of hearing nothing, he received an email from New Jersey: His deferral request had been denied and his loan was being sent to a collection agency.

“Unfortunately, because of how the loan originated, the Authority is not in a position to offer forbearance or relief,” Robert Laird, a program officer at the loan agency, said in the email.

Terrified by what a default would mean for his credit rating, Gonzalez told the agency that he would stop paying for health insurance and use the money 2014 $200 per month 2014 to repay the loans.

The agency rejected the offer. “In the event that your doctor declares you total and permanently disabled, please keep me posted,” Laird told Gonzalez in an email.

One day in April, a stranger rang Gonzalez’s doorbell.

“Chris Gonzalez?” he asked. Gonzalez nodded. “You’ve been served with a lawsuit from the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority.”

The suit demanded over $260,000 2014 about $188,000 for the original loans, nearly $34,000 in interest, and $44,000 to cover the fees of a collection agency’s lawyer.

Even if his business improves, Gonzalez has no idea how he will afford his ballooning payments.

“I don’t have money,” he said. “I am spending it all on my debt.”

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.


But they couldn’t test the water in Flint

By on June 22, 2016 in Class War, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Fuck the Poor, Scary Crazy Wingnuts

Gov. Snyder on 2016 investment mission to Europe

Don’t let your friends vote for Republican governors and legislators:

Not a single welfare recipient or applicant has tested positive for banned drugs in a Michigan pilot program, part of the growing practice of screening beneficiaries of government assistance for drug abuse.

The program, which ends on 30 September, may face renewed scrutiny in the wake of Wisconsin congresswoman Gwen Moore’s proposed legislation to force taxpayers with more than $150,000 of itemized deductions to submit to the IRS a clear drug test. Under the legislation, applicants who refuse the test would be required to take the significantly lower standard deduction when filing their taxes.

Moore’s office said drug-testing welfare recipients and applicants is “blatantly unacceptable” and pushes a stereotype that impoverished individuals are more susceptible to substance abuse than other, wealthier individuals who are beneficiaries of government programs.

Uh oh

By on June 22, 2016 in Class War, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Fuck the Poor

Site Meter