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 →
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 →
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.
- Oh, look. A 21-year-old man accidentally shot himself to death in a Philadelphia gun range.
- A 6-year-old girl was critically injured, hit by crossfire while playing in front of her house.
Only two! That was a good day.
(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