Category Archives: Social Safety Net

NY, CA, NJ Governors Assail Republican Tax Plan as ‘Evil in the Extreme,’ a Wrench to Nation’s Economic Engine

Blue State governors including New York’s Andrew Cuomo hope their Republican Congressmembers will do the right thing for their constituents; otherwise, they raise the specter of court challenges to Republican Tax Plan © 2017 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

Governors of New York and California and the Governor-Elect of New Jersey and California joined forces to condemn the Republican tax plan as a “stake in the heart” of the nation’s economic engine, a cynical ploy to punish Democratic-majority states, and only the first-step toward generating such an increase in the national debt to justify cuts in Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, CHIP and other social programs, and threatened to challenge the legality of elements of the tax plan should it become law.

In a joint press call, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, California Governor Jerry Brown and New Jersey Governor-Elect Phil Murphy and using phrases such as “evil,”  “nefarious” and “cynical,” raised issues of the legality of elements of the Republican tax plan, which shifts $1.5 trillion in wealth from middle class and working families to the wealthy  – indeed, 50% of the tax cuts go directly into the pocket of the top 1% – through lowered tax rates, elimination of the AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax), reductions if not elimination in the Estate Tax (which only impacts 2 out of 1000 families now), and new rules enabling the wealthiest to shelter tax through pass-throughs.

But the Republicans pay for the cuts by largely eliminating or significantly reducing the deductibility of state and local taxes, including property taxes, effectively double-taxing, something that has not existed since income taxes were first implemented in 1913, which disproportionately targets 12 states that happen to vote Democratic and also happen to be the donor states that account for 40% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). A similar effort during the 1986 Reagan tax reform effort was defeated by both Republicans and Democrats. The governors say this may be challenged as unconstitutional double-taxation.

Other provisions, such as establishing a legal framework for “personhood” may also be challenged as unconstitutional.

The way the Republican tax plan is structured, it shifts wealth from the 12 “donor” (Democratic-majority) states, to the rest of the country, by eliminating or dramatically reducing the tax deductibility of state and local taxes, including property taxes. In effect, it makes those states structurally uncompetitive by effectively increasing taxes by 20-25 percent for homeowners, may reduce home values by that amount, as well as make it difficult for schools (which account for 60-65% of New Yorkers’ property taxes and 40% of California’s) to raise the revenue they need to property function. But while individuals lose the deductibility of SALT, corporations do not.

In a further blow to public education and stripping away of the separation of Church & State, the Republicans would allow the tax-exempt 529 funds, created to fund college, to be used for K-12 education for parochial and private schools, even homeschooling. (This is on top of repealing the Johnson Amendment, opening floodgates of “charitable” contributions to religious institutions to become political PACs; a particularly insidious breach of the Constitution’s Establishment clause because the religious leader preaching from the pulpit has a special ability to coerce.

The governors held at the hope that the wildly unpopular Congress (only 13% approval) and the most unpopular president in history (33% approval), will recognize the tax plan is similarly wildly unpopular, with barely 20% support, and that Republican Congressmen who have to stand for election in 2018, will do what is best for their constituents.

The Senate version, which eliminates the individual mandate from the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), would result in 13 million more people without health insurance by 2025, and 10 percent annual increases in premiums on everyone else.

The bill also “pays” for the tax cuts to the richest Americans and corporations by eliminating the deductibility of student loan interest, tax credits for renewable energy, and opens the way for drilling in the Arctic National Refuge, and other provisions which help the upward mobility of working families and middle class striving to achieve the American Dream.

The governors held out a glimmer of hope that enough of the Republicans (the only ones who voted in favor of the tax plan) would vote for their constituents’ interests.

“The tax plan that passed Senate, the House, and is headed to reconciliation, is a long way from done. It is a fraud on the American people. They talk about tax cuts for middle class and working people, but what it is, is tax cut for the rich – 50% of the tax cuts go to the top 1%. That’s an inarguable fact. Their theory isn’t new or novel. It’s ‘trickle down’ on steroids.” He argued that instead of corporations taking their tax cuts to raise wages for workers or create more jobs  through investment, corporations in the past have pocketed the extra cash or used it to buy back stock (raising the share prices) or paying dividends.

“To add insult to injury,” Cuomo said. “the tax cut is then targeted at 12 states that happen to be Blue States where they target eliminating state and local deductions. People don’t understand what that will do, but it will be devastating for states. In essence, it is an increase in property taxes and state income tax only on those 12 states. It puts us at a structurally competitive disadvantage because structurally our taxes will be higher.” That gives residents additional complaint about their government (Republicans even now charge that New York’s taxes are high because of mismanagement, or lavish spending on services). Cuomo countered the claim by Republicans that the poorer states somehow subsidize the public services of the richer states.  New York, California and New Jersey are donor states, which means we put more into the [federal] till than we take out. This aggravates and enhances the injustice where we are subsidizing the other states, and now you’re using New York and New Jersey as a piggybank to finance tax cuts in other states.

“That amounts to political retaliation through the tax code. That’s why they passed it with only their own votes,” Cuomo charged.

California Governor Jerry Brown assailed the Republican tax plan saying, “the most immediate evil of this cynical maneuver called the tax bill is to further divide America when we are at one of our most divisive periods in history. The idea that a president and representatives only in the majority would use that power to penalize 12 states – most of which voted strongly against this president– is not going to bring country together. We are divided while some of our most important competitors are getting more unified, authoritarian. We need to come together. This will further divide blue states from red, Democrats from Republicans. It is evil in the extreme. It exacerbates inequality….It’s not right. It won’t stand.”

New Jersey Governor-Elect Philip Murphy further expounded on the devastating impact in terms of widening inequality and continuing down the awful path of us vs Washington leadership.

“It is based on the trickle down theory, which we have seen time and again doesn’t work. Executives get paid better, the gap between the top of corporate food chain and bottom widens; shareholders benefit from buybacks while working people are neglected. It is a scam at the ultimate extreme. On more than one occasion we all heard, when asked for the rationale, the awful answer [from Republicans] was ‘it is our donors, our donor base will dry up if we don’t.’ We saw the chaos Friday night, literally lobbyists hand-writing in pen, amending the bill. This is as bad as it gets.

“But in a ‘glass half full’ sense, as Governor Cuomo stated,  It’s not over yet. This is the ninth inning. Each of our states have Republican House members. This is beyond Republican, Democrat; it is a clear question of whether you are representing the constituents who elected you. Black & white.”

“The changes in the SALT deduction, are particularly problematic, Murphy said. “That’s been part of the tax code since income tax became legal in 1913. For over 100 years, Congress realized taxing people twice is unfair. We are the biggest odnor states in terms of the federal money we give. This will only make it worse.

“The stronger we are together, the more numbers, the more locked arms, we fight together as a team. There is a lot to be said for that. I am honored to be with you.”

Asked what actions, beyond political pressure on Republican members of Congress, the governors might take, they said that just as the Republicans, the day after Obamacare was signed into law, pledged to repeal and replace, they would also take whatever means – even court challenges– to repeal and replace this tax law.

“We’re looking at the legality now. [SALT deductions] has been in the tax code since it started over 100 years ago. This is double taxation – they are taxing taxes, this from the party that’s against taxation, redistribution [or what Republicans used to condemn as “class warfare”]. This is redistribution in an exponential form –taking from richer states and subsidizing a tax cut in less wealthy states. Hypocritical. Everything they said were against: double-taxation, taxing tax for first time, redistribution state to state, so may well be illegal, unconstitutional. We’re looking at it.”

“There may be some legal action but this is a quintessentially political challenge,” Governor Brown stated. “Our job is to communicate the fraudulent and nefarious character of this tax bill – the way it proceeded, which John McCain said follows no normal pathway. We want to make sure our members of Congress know they are hurting New York, California, New Jersey but also hurting America. We are the key elements of America’s engine of prosperity, and when Trump and his allies attack New York, New Jersey, California, they are attacking the vital seams of the American economy. That’s stupid. They will regret it, and we will do everything we can to convince our Republican representatives that the right thing to do is defeat.

Murphy said they are working with state Attorneys General “to tear up all the floor boards, to the fullest extent of law, and challenge this. There are 500 pages of amendments, a lot handwritten. I am betting there are flaws, holes. If we don’t succeed in the next few days, we will have to take this to the limit.

“This is double taxation and I’m not sure it’s legal,” said Cuomo. “We will find out if it is. But Governor Brown’s point is that it is counterproductive. These 12 states are 40% of GDP. If you say this will help the American economy, how do you do that by assaulting 12 states that are 40% of GDP: this will be negative for our states and regional economies. No doubt about that.”

“Attacking the innovation of NY, CA, NJ and others is just a dumb move, only explained by the desperate situation the Republican leadership find themselves,” Governor Brown added. “This president is the most unpopular is history. They are riding a dead horse in this tax bill, acting irrationally, not in interest of country, throwing a wrench into engine of economy.”

“The more people understand, the more people understand how unfair, divisive and harmful it is to them individually,” Cuomo commented. “The problem is, there is so much news, so much happening. This is so complicated – elimination of state and local taxes but the more people understand it, the more they are against it. Congresspeople and Senators ultimately have to go home, and if they vote for this, they are voting against the interests of their constituents, and they have election next year. Ultimately democracy works. A congressperson who votes for this, there’s no going home again.

“I’m an optimist for the simple reason that we all believe in a different America than this bill articulates,” Murphy said. “The more people understand what’s in this thing, the more actively they push back. What it will do for higher education by repealing tax deduction for student loans, stripping credits for renewable energy, opening Arctic to drilling, on and on –repealing the individual mandate in ACA – the more people realize what’s at stake, the more collectively they say this can’t go forward.

Largely eliminating the SALT deductions, Cuomo said, contradicts the Republican claim their tax plan is supposed to spur the economy. “But targeting 40% of GDP, then saying that’s how you are going to spur economy, by putting arrow into economic heart of these 12 states? There are predictions it will drop the value of homes in our states because property taxes in effect will go up 20-25% over night. If you drop the value of homes, disrupt the whole financial system. Mortgage foreclosures. I don’t think they understand what they are doing.

“We talk about [eliminating SALT deductions] as if it were a new concept,” Governor Cuomo said. “It’s not new. They proposed eliminating SALT during Reagan’s time. At that time, Democrats and Republicans both said it was wrong and defeated it. The difference now is the political extremism and their willingness to divide, and the political extremes they will go to.

“This is only step one of their plan – we know what their plan is, because not new, we’ve seen the playbook. Step one is tax cuts for the rich. Step 2, is to drive up the debt, the deficit, and then come back and say we have $1.5 trillion debt that we created (by cutting taxes for rich), and now we have this debt, we have to address it by cutting government spending. Where will they go? The right to Medicaid, healthcare for poor people. The right to CHIP for poor children, Right to housing programs, food stamps, etc. That’s inevitable. They are creating the debt that will then justify their philosophical step to cut government spending to hurt the poorest Americans.”

“Look at this in its entirety, beyond SALT,” Murphy added. “This is their way to cut Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security. It is the height of hypocrisy from the so-called deficit hawks. Look at higher education and student loans, Obamacare individual mandate, Seen result of trickle down. Pass through. Taken in its entirety, the Republican tax plan is exceedingly damaging not just to our states, but entire country.”

“Republicans saw Obamacare passed and the next day they started Repeal & Replace,” Cuomo said. “If they do this, the next day, we will start the repeal and replace of the divisive Tax Act.”

None of them mentioned, but should have, the increasing pressures on the federal government for disaster relief from climate catastrophes (hundreds of billions of dollars in 2017 alone), the need to address the opioid crisis, and to rebuild and mitigate infrastructure.

See also:

Republican Tax Scam: They Don’t Care 85% Oppose. Here’s Why

Republican Tax Plan is Attack on Blue States; Fight Back by Holding Money ‘in Escrow’

Ready the Revolution: GOP Tax Plan Decimates Middle-Class, Gives Rise to New American Aristocracy

Trump Selling Tax Plan in Missouri, the Show Me State: This is going to cost me a fortune, this thing — believe me.

Democrats Should Shut Down Government over Republican Tax Scam

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© 2017 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com, email editor@news-photos-features.com. Blogging at www.dailykos.com/blogs/NewsPhotosFeatures.  ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

White House Highlights Actions to Expand Paid Sick Leave, Gather Data to Fight for Equal Pay

Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez discussed two new actions to support working Americans.   First, the Department of Labor is finalizing a rule to require employees of businesses doing work on federal contracts to earn up to seven paid sick days a year.  Second, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is collecting data to improve enforcement of our nation’s equal pay laws © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez discussed two new actions to support working Americans. First, the Department of Labor is finalizing a rule to require employees of businesses doing work on federal contracts to earn up to seven paid sick days a year. Second, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is collecting data to improve enforcement of our nation’s equal pay laws © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“A woman deserves equal pay for equal work.  She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job.  A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship – and you know what, a father does, too.”— President Barack Obama, 2014 State of the Union Address 

Today the White House is highlighting two new actions to further support working Americans.   First, the Department of Labor is finalizing a rule to require employees of businesses doing work on federal contracts to earn up to seven paid sick days a year.  Second, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is publishing its final and approved collection of summary pay data by gender, race, and ethnicity from businesses with 100 or more employees to improve enforcement of our nation’s equal pay laws.

In a White House conference call with reporters, Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania applauded the Administration’s actions, noting that he has been in public office for less than two years, but prior, “I was a business owner, employed up to 600-700 employees. We did all these things – paid sick leave, personal time off, holidays, long vacation time. These were not a cost to the business, they made business sense with lower turnover, better morale, healthier employees, better productivity.

“One of the things we must acknowledge: it’s not just a fair thing, a matter of public health, public good, but something that is good for business. “

More than one million workers will not have to depend on the kindness of employers because of these new rules. “Workers shouldn’t have to win the boss lottery or geographic lottery to win access to paid sick leave,” commented Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chair Jenny Yang.

Contrary to the “sky is falling” reaction of many private employers, Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez noted, in places where earned sick leave has been implemented – including San Francisco, Tacoma Washington, New York City and Connecticut – employers are by a wide margin satisfied.  “When the law into effect [in these places] they had trepidation, but what they saw was that were able to adjust and in fact thrive.” Indeed, customers may be miffed if a waiter sneezes on their plate; other employees can be taken ill because of a worker with a flu could not afford to stay home.

“The beauty of incubators of innovation like Philadelphia, Connecticut, San Francisco, and Tacoma is that we have track record to build on and tremendous confidence that building on this part of the social contract is both good for workers, public health, families and not an undue burden on business.

“Bringing fairness and balance to workplace is really not something that should be seen as expense.”

FACT SHEET: Helping Working Americans Get Ahead by Expanding Paid Sick Leave and Fighting for Equal Pay

Since taking office, President Obama has promoted policies to grow and strengthen the middle class by supporting working families.  Despite tremendous changes that have transformed America and its families over the past 50 years, our workplaces have not kept pace.  In most families today, both parents work and share in the responsibilities of caring for children or other family members. Recently released data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that these efforts have resulted in strong progress for America’s working families.  Today, a record share of private sector workers now have access to paid sick leave, increasing from 61 to 64 percent over the past year.  Furthermore, this increase was driven almost entirely by increased access in low-wage jobs: in just one year, the share of workers in the lowest-paid quarter of occupations that had access to paid sick leave jumped from 31 to 39 percent.  Since the President took office, the number of private sector workers with paid sick leave has grown by 10.6 million.

Despite this progress, millions of Americans still do not have access to even a single day of paid sick leave, so when workers get sick they may have to choose between caring for themselves or paying their bills.  Too many parents must make the painful choice between staying home to take care of a sick child—and losing out on a day’s pay—or sending their child to school sick.  For that reason, President Obama has repeatedly called on Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act—which would guarantee most Americans the chance to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave each year—and urging states, cities, and businesses to act where Congress has not.

Similarly, despite a woman’s pay being just as critical for a family to make ends meet, women make less than their male peers.  The President has fought to close that gap, and the first legislation he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, an important step in ensuring that Americans can effectively challenge unequal pay in the courts.  Since then, he has taken numerous other steps to advance equal pay, including issuing a 2014 Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees who discuss their pay, and announcing a White House Equal Pay Pledge that has now been signed by more than 50 of America’s leading businesses.

Similar to the expansion of paid sick leave, progress has been made on the gender pay gap.  In 2008, a typical woman working full-time earned only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a typical man; today, that has risen to 80 cents.  That means that for a woman working full-time, the pay gap has shrunk by more than 10 percent, or about $1200, since the President took office.

Yet much work remains.  Too many women and workers of color are still not paid equally for equal work, with African-American women earning 63 cents and Latina women earning 54 cents for every dollar earned by a white non-Hispanic man.  And 41 million private sector workers do not have access to even a single day of paid sick leave.   Today’s actions mark critical progress to support the needs of working Americans and their families.

EXPANDING SICK LEAVE

Last September, President Obama signed an Executive Order requiring federal contractors (and subcontractors) to allow their employees working on federal contracts to earn up to seven paid sick days each year.  Today, the Department of Labor is finalizing its rule implementing the order.  It takes into account extensive public comments from employers, business associations, small businesses, workers, unions, and worker advocates.  The final rule, which goes into effect for new solicitations issued on or after January 1, 2017, will:

  • Give additional paid sick leave to 1.15 million people working on federal contracts, including nearly 600,000 employees who do not currently have even a single day of paid sick leave.  Workers will earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked on (or in connection with) a covered federal contract, up to 56 hours in a year or at any point in time.
  • Allow workers to use paid sick leave for their own illnesses, preventive care, or other health care needs; to care for a family member or loved one who is ill, seeking preventive care, or otherwise in need of care; and for absences resulting from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.  Employers may not retaliate against employees for using paid sick leave or require them to find replacements in order to take it.
  • Improve the health and performance of employees of federal contractors and bring benefits packages offered by federal contractors in line with leading firms, ensuring they remain competitive in the search for dedicated and talented employees.
  • Protect public health by reducing the transmission of illnesses in the workplace from sick employees to coworkers or their customers.
  • Respond to employers’ concerns by ensuring coordination with existing “paid time off” policies that give workers a flexible bank of leave; existing collective bargaining agreements; and multi-employer plans. 

This action reflects leading practices by major employers, states, and localities throughout the country.  Since the President’s call to action in 2014, four states and more than 25 cities and counties have taken action to expand paid sick leave in their community, and many businesses small and large have adopted similar policies.  For example:

  • Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota passed ordinances in May and September, respectively, requiring businesses to offer their workers an hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.  Both ordinances go into effect on July 1, 2017 with phased implementation periods.  The Twin Cities have a joint population of nearly 700,000 residents, though the ordinances cover anyone who does work within the respective city limits.
  • Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC), a nonprofit clean energy consulting company and federal contractor in Vermont, testified in support of Vermont’s new paid sick leave law, passed earlier this year.  VEIC’s founder pointed to the monetary, physical, and cultural value of paid sick leave to employers.
  • Cava Grill, a fast-casual national restaurant brand headquartered in Washington, DC, announced in July that it began offering paid sick and parental leave to its hourly workers, for whom it also raised its starting wage to $13 an hour.  Employees will now receive up to six days a year of paid sick leave, up to four days of paid parental leave, and one day for community service.
  • Microsoft, a federal contractor, took a similar step last year by announcing it would require suppliers with at least 50 employees doing business with the company to provide employees who handle its work with 15 days of paid leave annually (including 5 paid sick days).  In announcing this change, Microsoft pointed to research showing that paid leave contributes to the health and well-being of workers and their families, strengthens family ties, increases productivity, improves retention, lowers health-care costs, and contributes to the health of colleagues.

ADVANCING EQUAL PAY

Today, the EEOC, in cooperation with the Department of Labor, is publishing its finalized revisions to its EEO-1 form, which for the first time will collect summary pay data, broken down by gender, race, and ethnicity, from all businesses with 100 or more employees.  This data collection, which stems from a recommendation by the President’s Equal Pay Task Force and a Presidential Memorandum issued in 2014, is expected to cover roughly 63 million employees and 60,000 employers.

Today’s action will promote improved voluntary compliance by employers with existing equal pay laws.  It will also help EEOC and the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) better focus investigations on employers who are illegally shortchanging workers’ pay based on their gender, race, or ethnicity.

The data will be a tool not only for the federal government, but for employers as well.  It will help employers evaluate their own pay practices to prevent pay discrimination in their workplaces.  The EEOC will also compile and publish aggregate data that will help employers in assessing their pay practices relative to others in the same industry and geographic area.

Businesses have long used the EEO-1 form to report demographic information on their workforces.  With the revised EEO-1, businesses also will report summary data on the range of compensation paid to employees of each demographic group.  Businesses will not be required to disclose individual employees’ salaries.

Employers will first be required to submit pay data for 2017 by March 31, 2018, giving them 18 months to prepare for the change.  This revision does not impact the 2016 EEO-1 report, which is due on September 30, 2016 and is unchanged.  EEOC will be offering webinars and technical assistance to employers, payroll and human resource information system providers, and other stakeholders in preparation for the new submission requirements.

Today’s publication of the revised form comes after the EEOC approved this action by a vote of the Commission, and follows final approval by the Office of Management and Budget pursuant to the Paperwork Reduction Act.  The EEOC is an independent government agency that enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, and genetic information.

BUILDING ON A RECORD OF SUPPORTING WORKING FAMILIES

Since taking office, President Obama and his Administration have taken a number of actions to support working families and combat the pay gap, including:

  • Publishing a final regulation by the Department of Health and Human Services to implement the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014. The program provides subsidies to working families and last year provided services for roughly 1.4 million children aged 0-13, most of whom are younger than 5. The rule, which has not been comprehensively revised since 1998, will provide a roadmap to states on how to implement the new law and clarify ambiguities around provisions that deal with eligibility for services; health and safety requirements; and how best to support the needs of parents and providers as they transition to the new law.  It also clarifies that worker organizations can provide professional development to child care workers and contribute to discussions around the rates states set for subsidies.
  • Signing his first piece of legislation as President, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pair Act, in January 2009 making it easier for employees to challenge unfair pay practices.
  • Creating the National Equal Pay Task Force in January 2010 to implement his pledge to crack down on violations of equal pay laws, which included representatives from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor, and the Office of Personnel Management. The Task Force has issued reports on its progress, including Fighting for Equal Pay in the Workforce, Keeping America’s Women Moving Forward, and Fifty Years After the Equal Pay Act.  In addition, since the creation of the Equal Pay Task Force in 2010, the EEOC has received over 18,000 charges of sex-based pay discrimination, and through its independent enforcement efforts, the EEOC has obtained over $140 million in monetary relief for victims of pay discrimination on the basis of sex.
  • Calling on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, commonsense legislation that would strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 by closing loopholes in the defenses for equal pay violations, providing stronger remedies, and expanding protections against discrimination for employees who share or inquire about information about their compensation at work.
  • Signing a Presidential Memorandum in May 2013 directing the Office of Personnel Management to develop a government-wide strategy to address the gender pay gap in the federal workforce, leading to a report in April 2014 and new guidance in July 2015—which cautioned against reliance on a candidate’s existing salary to set pay, as it can potentially adversely affect women who may have taken time off from their careers or propagate gaps due to discriminatory pay practices by previous employers.
  • Issuing an Executive Order in April 2014 and publishing a Department of Labor rule in September 2015 prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against employees who discuss or inquire about their compensation.
  • Announcing a White House Equal Pay Pledge, with more than 50 leading businesses signing on to take action to advance equal pay.  By signing the pledge, these companies are committing to conduct an annual company-wide gender pay analysis, review hiring and promotion processes, embed equal pay efforts in broader equity initiatives, and identify and promote best practices that will close the wage gap.
  • Hosting a White House Summit on Working Families in June 2014, highlighting the issues that women and families face, setting the agenda for a 21st century workplace, and announcing of a number of steps to help working families thrive.
  • Hosting the United State of Women Summit in June 2016, highlighting the progress that has been made over the course of this Administration and discussing public and private sector solutions to the challenges that still lie ahead.
  • Signing a Presidential Memorandum in January 2015 directing federal agencies to advance six weeks of paid sick leave to federal employees with new children, calling on Congress to grant another six weeks of paid leave for federal employees, and calling on Congress to pass legislation that gives all American families access to paid family and medical leave.
  • Publishing a final Department of Labor rule in May updating outdated overtime regulations, expanding overtime pay protections to 4.2 million additional Americans, boosting wages for workers by $12 billion over the next 10 years, and allowing workers to better balance their work and family obligations.
  • Issuing an Executive Order in February 2014 requiring federal contractors to raise their minimum wage initially to $10.10 an hour, indexing it, and lifting the tipped minimum wage (which disproportionately impacts women)—and urging Congress, states, cities, and businesses to do the same.
  • Directing the Office of Personnel Management and federal agencies to enhance workplace flexibility for federal employees to the maximum extent practicable, including enshrining a right to request flexible work arrangements.
  • Signing into law the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010, which requires agencies to support and establish policies for telework by eligible employees.
  • Calling on Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would require employers to make reasonable accommodations to workers who have limitations from pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions (unless it would impose an undue hardship on the employer). The legislation would also prohibit employers from forcing pregnant employees to take paid or unpaid leave if a reasonable accommodation would allow them to work.
  • Finalizing a Department of Labor rule updating its sex discrimination guidelines for federal contractors for the first time since 1978, to align with current law and address barriers to equal opportunity and pay, such as pay discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environments, a lack of workplace accommodations for pregnant women, and gender identity and family caregiving discrimination.
  • Announcing the Department of Labor’s award of $54 million in “Strengthening Working Families” grants to help low- to middle-skilled parents access the affordable, quality child care they need to earn an education, participate in training programs, and compete for better-paying jobs in emergency industries.
  • Expanding access for women to higher-paying jobs through a proposed rule updating equal employment opportunity requirements in registered apprenticeships and through a Mega-Construction Projects (MCP) Initiative at the Department of Labor.

Five are Honored with Global Citizen Awards at Final Clinton Global Initiative

Jon Bon Jovi received the Clinton Global Citizen Award for Leadership in Philanthropy, honoring him for establishing Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing about positive change and helping the lives of those in need, “one SOUL at a time.” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Jon Bon Jovi received the Clinton Global Citizen Award for Leadership in Philanthropy, honoring him for establishing Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing about positive change and helping the lives of those in need, “one SOUL at a time.” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

The 10th Annual Clinton Global Citizen Awards, held during a special ceremony during the 12th and last Clinton Global Initiative to honor outstanding individuals for their exemplary leadership and groundbreaking work which has effected positive social change.

This year’s ceremony honored Jon Bon Jovi in recognition of the 10-year anniversary of the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation which focuses on the issues of affordable housing and hunger in the U.S. through community development initiatives. Bon Jovi also entertained.

Additional honorees include President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia for his commitment to establish peace in Colombia following a 50 year civil war; Dr. Hawa Abdi for her work to provide refuge, quality healthcare, education and entrepreneurship opportunities to all Somalis; Adi Godrej for transforming his family’s multinational company into a leader of social and environmental value creation; and Nadia Mura, a Yazidi woman captured and enslaved by ISIS, for the courage to tell her story and be a voice for the thousands of women and children who have been trafficked in situations of conflict.

Andrea Bocelli performed at the 10th Annual Clinton Global Citizen Awards with the Voices of Haiti Choir © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Andrea Bocelli performed at the 10th Annual Clinton Global Citizen Awards with the Voices of Haiti Choir © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

In addition to Bon Jovi’s performance, there was a special appearance of Andrea Bocelli who performed with the Voices of Haiti Choir.

Presenters were themselves noteworthy humanitarians and activists: Sister Mary Scullion, executive director of Project HOME in Philadelphia, who presented the award to Jon Bon Jovi; Iman who presented the award to Dr. Doqo Mohamed who accepted on behalf of her mother, Dr. Hawa Abdi; Luis A. Moreno, President of the Inter-American Development Bank, who presented the award to President Santos; Advija Ibrahimovic, a survivor of the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia in 1992, presented the award to Nadia Murad, and Hikmet Ersek President & CEO of The Western Union Company, presented the award to Adi Godrej.

Jon Bon Jovi, Leadership in Philanthropy 

Sister Mary Scullion, who heads Project HOME, focused on breaking the cycle of homelessness and poverty, presented the Global Citizen Award for Leadership in Philanthropy to  Jon Bon Jovi, saying, “He refused to let his fame and fortune shield him from the pain and suffering in society.

Jon Bon Jovi was honored at the Clinton Global Citizen Awards 2016
Jon Bon Jovi was honored at the Clinton Global Citizen Awards 2016

Ten years ago, he established the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing about positive change and helping the lives of those in need, “one SOUL at a time.” The Soul Foundation funds partnerships that address the issues of hunger and shelter, benefiting temporary shelters, transitional housing for teens, permanent supportive housing—including housing for veterans and special needs populations—as well as providing home ownership opportunities. In October 2011, the foundation opened the first JBJ Soul Kitchen in Red Bank, New Jersey to address issues of food insecurity. Staying true to Bon Jovi’s roots, the foundation aided in local recovery efforts in the days following Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The following year, Bon Jovi donated $1 million to the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund.

Over the past 10 years, it has served over 1000 families, veterans and youth; served 55,000 meals at the Soul Kitchen in Red Bank, where millionaires sit at tables with homeless, paying what they can or if they don’t have the cash, volunteering their time. A second restaurant has opened in Toms River.

“It is testament to the fundamental dignity of every person, what our world can and should be: a place where everyone is served with dignity, given an opportunity to work, and create more just and welcoming society.”

Jon Bon Jovi performs at the Clinton Global Citizen Awards 2016
Jon Bon Jovi performs at the Clinton Global Citizen Awards 2016

Bon Jovi, who said he was inspired by Clinton, reflected, “In 2005, I saw a homeless person sleeping on a grate in front of City Hall. I realized homelessness could affect any one. Most people are just one catastrophe away from financial ruin.

“In 2008, I saw food insecurity. In the most powerful country in the world, 1 in 7 don’t have enough food, one in five children are food insecure. It’s a matter of access and opportunity, so when we started the restaurant, we had a pay-it-forward concept.

“This is the 10th anniversary of our foundation. I humbly accept this recognition on behalf of our staff, volunteers, and 55,000 supporters who have dined with us.”

“President Clinton is fond of saying, ‘There is nothing wrong with America that can’t be cured by what is right with America’.”

Nadia Murad, Leadership in Civil Society 

Advija Ibrahimovic, who presented the Global Citizen award to Nadia Murad, was herself a survivor of genocidal atrocity, orphaned when she was just 11 in the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia in 1992.

Advija Ibrahimovic, orphaned when she was 11 in the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia in 1992: “Everything can be taken from a person except freedom to decide what you will do with your heart and mind.” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Advija Ibrahimovic, orphaned when she was 11 in the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia in 1992: “Everything can be taken from a person except freedom to decide what you will do with your heart and mind.” © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“I was 11 when I lost both my parents  in the Bosnian genocide. Like Nadia, I experienced violence and deep loss. Everything can be taken from a person except freedom to decide what you will do with your heart and mind. She dedicated herself to raising awareness of these women.”

She shared the story of Nadia Murad, who was born and raised in the quiet agricultural village of Kocho, Iraq. A member of the Yazidi community, Nadia and her family lived a peaceful, happy life. On August 3, 2014 her village was attacked by ISIS, marking the beginning of its savage genocidal campaign against the Yazidi people. Six of her nine brothers were executed on the spot. In all, she lost 18 family members that day; in all, 1000 Yazidi men were massacred.

Nadia Murad, a survivor of ISIS terror, has dedicated herself to rescue the thousands of women and girls who have been trafficked in situations of conflict. Honored with a Clinton Global Citizen Award, she also has been named a UN Goodwill Ambassador. © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Nadia Murad, a survivor of ISIS terror, has dedicated herself to rescue the thousands of women and girls who have been trafficked in situations of conflict. Honored with a Clinton Global Citizen Award, she also has been named a UN Goodwill Ambassador. © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Murad, along with her two sisters and thousands of other men, women, and children were taken captive and subjected to unspeakable crimes. Murad was initially held hostage in a building with thousands of families. She witnessed young children given to ISIS soldiers as sexual “gifts.” She was raped and tortured on a daily basis. But after facing unimaginable brutality, she was able to escape.

Murad immigrated to Germany where she received medical attention and was reunited with other survivors. In total, she lost 18 family members. With the assistance of Yazda, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping Yazidi survivors and defending the rights of marginalized ethnic and religious minorities, Murad has been able to tell her story on the world stage, forcing world leaders to listen to the horrors of the ongoing genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. 

Just 23 years old now, Murad, a human rights activist, was named a UN Goodwill Ambassador on Friday and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. 

Dr. Hawa Abdi,  Leadership in Civil Society

Iman presented the Global Citizen Award for Leadership in Civil Society to Dr. Hawa Abdi,  known as the Mother Theresa of Somalia, because of her life-saving work on behalf of Somalis displaced by war.

“She became a doctor, Somalia’s first female gynecologist, and opened a rural health clinic, organized on ancestral land. During the civil war, the government collapsed, famine was widespread, and she opened her land to refugees. By 2012, she was providing sanctuary for  90,000 displaced people.

She opened a 400 bed hospital, a school, organized a fishing and farming program and her land is the only source of fresh water in region.

Iman presents Dr. Deqo Mohamed with the Clinton Global Citizen Award for her mother, Dr. Hawa Abdi, the “Mother Theresa of Somalia”. © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Iman presents Dr. Deqo Mohamed with the Clinton Global Citizen Award for her mother, Dr. Hawa Abdi, the “Mother Theresa of Somalia”. © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

“Today, Abdi continues to fight for the women, children, and elderly people of the Hawa Abdi Village. With the help of her daughters, Deqo and Amina, both of whom are doctors, Abdi continues to keep a candle of light lit for the people of the Afgooye Corridor.” Abdi has won numerous distinctions and awards, including the John Jay Justice Award, Vital Voices’ Women of the Year Award, and a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012.” 

President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Leadership in Public Service 

“After 50 years of war, most people had never lived with peace – 6 million fled homes,” said Luis A. Moreno, current President of the Inter-American Development Bank, introducing President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia. “Today, we are on the threshold of concluding a historic agreement to bring a permanent end to the conflict.”

He said the seeds were sown when Moreno was serving as Colombia’s Ambassador to US when President Bill Clinton was in the White House, and credited Clinton’s “visionary aid program that allowed my country to achieve stability, attract investment, and set the conditions for peace. President Clinton made peace in Colombia his priority and brought Republicans and Democrats together.”

Clinton’s successors, George W. Bush and Barack Obama “followed Clinton’s example and supported” his policy.

Meanwhile, the Colombian President Santos put his presidency on the line during difficult negotiations with the FARC that dragged on for four long years.

“There were many setbacks but on August 24, the hope of millions was fulfilled when FARC and the government announced a final settlement. It is now up to the people, who will vote in plebiscite on Oct. 22.

“President Santos wanted a fully democratic process – a plebecite marks the beginning of a new, more complex chapter in our history. Every day, every Colombian will need to make personal decision – for lasting peace won’t be easy. Remembering is easy for those who have memory. Forgetting is hard for those who have heart.”

Convinced Colombia can be reunited together, write new chapter in history of beloved nation.

President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia received the Clinton Global Citizen Award for his courage ending a 50-year war © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia received the Clinton Global Citizen Award for his courage ending a 50-year war © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Accepting the award for Leadership in Public Service, President Santos said, “Peace is a right. It is in the constitution. To be a normal country, we had to stop war. I approached negotiations in a different way: Victims should be placed at the center of a solution – a human rights perspective was the key to success.

“One week from today, we will sign an agreement with FARC – 297 pages long, no detail was left out – and we will start to build a new history.

“War lasted three generations. It robbed us of compassion, the ability to feel suffering of others.

“I thank you in the name of 8 million victims of war over 50 years. The victims were most generous, willing to forgive – they don’t want others to suffer what we have.”

Juan Manuel Santos has been the president of the Republic of Colombia since 2010. Previously, President Santos was minister of defense, minister of finance, minister of foreign trade, designate to the presidency, and chief of the Colombian delegation before the International Coffee Organization. He created the Good Government Foundation (Fundación Buen Gobierno) and founded Colombia’s largest political party, Partido de la U. President Santos was awarded the King of Spain Prize and was president of the Freedom of Expression Commission for the Inter American Press Association. He has published several books, including “The Third Way,” co-written with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and “Check on Terror” (Jaque al Terror). President Santos is a graduate of the London School of Economics, Harvard University, and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. 

Adi Godrej, Leadership in the Private Sector 

Adi Godrej, Chairman of Godrej Group, Godrej Industries Limited, was presented with the Global Citizen Award for Leadership in the Private Sector by Hikmet Ersek President & CEO of The Western Union Company.

Adi Godrej, chairman of Godrej Group is his presented with the Global Citizen Award for Leadership in the Private Sector from Hikmet Ersek President & CEO of The Western Union Company © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Adi Godrej, chairman of Godrej Group is his presented with the Global Citizen Award for Leadership in the Private Sector from Hikmet Ersek President & CEO of The Western Union Company © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Godrej is the vanguard of green development, committed to alleviating poverty, preserving natural resources, and holding 24% of its revenues in a trust for philanthropic purpose, and a motto that “The business of business is goodness. Let’s make Goodness.”

“It’s important to remain a good company,” he said. “We have always actively supported social responsibility. 24% of the corporate funds is in trust that invests in environment and education.”

He said that the company has set three goals for 2020 – train 1 million youth in skills to enhance earnings, build a greener India, generate one-third of potential revenue in products that are environmentally sustainable.

Adi Godrej is chairman of the Godrej Group, a more than 100-year-old family conglomerate, with operations in India and several other countries. Godrej is chairman of the board of the Indian School of Business and former president of the Confederation of Indian Industry. He has been a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan School of Management and a member of the Wharton Asian Executive Board. Godrej is the recipient of several awards and recognitions, including the Rajiv Gandhi Award (2002), the American India Foundation Leadership in Philanthropy Award (2010), The Entrepreneur of the Year for the Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Awards (2010), Chemexcil’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2010), AIMA-JRD Tata Corporate Leadership Award (2010), Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year (2012), Padma Bhushan (2012), and All India Management Association-Business Leader of the Year (2015). Godrej holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from MIT.

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© 2016 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com, email editor@news-photos-features.com. Blogging at www.dailykos.com/blogs/NewsPhotosFeatures.  ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

 

New Year’s Resolution: Work for Social Justice so Less Need for Christmas Charity

Bah. Humbug. The obsession with giving gifts and turkeys and charity at Christmas does little to correct the systemic causes of poverty and inequality © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Bah. Humbug. The obsession with giving gifts and turkeys and charity at Christmas does little to correct the systemic causes of poverty and inequality © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

by Karen Rubin/News & Photo Features

I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas. As we start the New Year. let me tell you about the “hate” part.

I hate that Christmas becomes the one day of the year that is supposed to make up for all the actions that have resulted in the greatest inequality and lowest upward mobility since the Gilded Age and the greatest of all advanced countries. The American Dream has been exported, outsourced, and rendered to myth rather than reality here at home.

This year, Republicans – even as they cling more ardently than ever to Guns and God – don’t even pretend to care about the less fortunate, and promise to perpetuate and make worse the very policies that have resulted in 22 out of every 100 school-age children living in poverty (16 million), while 45% of children live in low income families; and 14.3 percent of households (17.5 million, or one in seven households) were living with food insecurity.  Rather than doing anything to correct the societal conditions that promulgate these travesties, they prey on people’s insecurities, foment their fears and anxieties (Ebola! ISIS!), but do everything possible to thwart progress to alleviate the real source of daily desperation.

I particularly hate the obsession with Toys for Tots – as if handing out a gift at Christmas will make up for all the misery and anxiety that children live through the rest of the year.

Many of the same people who make a show of handing out a turkey for Christmas also withdrew Food Stamps and attacked the school nutrition program, two of the mightiest tools in a limited tool chest to keep people out of poverty, while helping children succeed in school (hunger is a viscously powerful impediment to learning) – and not incidentally, stimulating local economies to break the vicious cycle.

“There are neighborhoods in Baltimore in which the life expectancy is 19 years less than other neighborhoods in the same city,” Susan Grisby reported in “The Most Racist Areas in the United States” (Daily Kos, May 3, 2015). “Residents of the Downtown/Seaton Hill neighborhood have a life expectancy lower than 229 other nations, exceeded only by Yemen. According to the Washington Post, 15 neighborhoods in Baltimore have a lower life expectancy than North Korea…And while those figures represent some of the most dramatic disparities in the life expectancy of black Americans as opposed to whites, a recent study of the health impacts of racism in America reveals that racist attitudes may cause up to 30,000 early deaths every year.”

We are living Charles Dickens “Christmas Carol” but while the classic story sets out the problems, I have always been troubled by the “moral”: that the rich guy who got so rich by exploiting the desperation of others can simply buy presents and give money away to redeem his soul. That’s not the solution.

But the “billionaire class” as Bernie Sanders likes to call them (George W. Bush called them “the haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite. I call you my base.”) has no real interest in correcting the institutional causes of systemic poverty – public education system, tax policy, criminal justice system, health care, environmental policy and rigged election system – all of which also bolster the “haves” and “have-mores”. That’s because the demise of the middle class as more and more sink into poverty suits their greater purpose, and what the hey, if you can just throw around some bucks here and there to redeem your soul and your reputation, while lording over everybody else, so much the better.

And because “cash” is increasingly linked with “political power” (the Right Wing Majority on the Supreme Court equated cash with speech and corporations with people for the purpose of buying politicians), the more cash the more power. The converse is the less cash, the more politically silent and invisible you are. People who are juggling multiple jobs and living pay check to pay check tend not to have the same political influence.

The Republicans are working feverishly to increase the invisibility of the underclass, mounting a Supreme Court challenge that will effectively erase unregistered voters from the census altogether, meaning less representation, less funding (which is also apportioned based on that head count).

“Wages are too high,” self-proclaimed billionaire Donald Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner, bellowed in response to a call to raise the federal minimum wage, doing a perfect but unintended imitation of Ebenezer Scrooge.

The United States of America is not supposed to have an aristocracy or a class system of privileges, but these policies have done exactly that. And in the nation with the highest percentage of incarcerated prisoners in the world (5% of population but 25% of the world’s incarcerated), you even have a new criminal classification, “Affluenza” – the “affliction” that resulted in a 16 year old getting off scot free after murdering four people with a car he was driving unlicensed and drunk (he has since fled after violating the terms of his probation). It’s a justice system which sees the very bankers who bankrupted millions of Americans and clawed back pensions and health benefits of bankrupt cities (Detroit), collecting millions of dollars on their parachutes.

It’s “free money” (actually, not really free, it comes out of others’ pockets) that they turn around and “invest” in political campaigns and, yes, in philanthropy.

Some of the most notorious “banksters”, like Madoff and Great Neck’s own Steven Cohen, whose investment company SAC racked up $9.4 billion, are also some of the most generous. Cohen is a $1 billion patron of the Robin Hood Foundation among other philanthropic contributions (museums, hospitals, schools).

Another Great Necker, Leonard Litwin, who made a fortune with his Glenwood Real Estate company, has been a generous supporter of Temple Beth-el of Great Neck, funding the Litwin Challenge that enabled the synagogue to pay off its multi-million dollar mortgage. Glenwood Real Estate was at the heart of the corruption scandal that has (so far) taken down state leaders, Democrat Sheldon Silver and Republican Dean Skelos. In essence, his company made tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions that helped put these politicians in power, then gave favors in order to secure favorable legislation, like tax abatements.

“The money, according to Mr. Dorego, Glenwood’s senior vice president and general counsel, was used to ensure the developer would continue to benefit from tax breaks, government financing and favorable rent laws. One program alone saved them as much as $100 million, he said,” William K. Rashbaum reported in the New York Times (“Albany Trials Exposed the Power of a Real Estate Firm,” Dec. 18, 2015).

“Glenwood also benefited from another state-administered program, using it to obtain more than $1 billion in low-interest, tax-exempt bond financing since 2000, to buy land and construct eight buildings it has put up since 2001, according to testimony at Mr. Silver’s trial.”

This is far from benign, but has a big ripple effect on working stiffs. It is a big reason why New York City, with the richest property in the world, doesn’t raise enough in property taxes to pay for its public schools, but depends New York State aid for 50 percent of its $25 billion operating budget. That $12.5 billion comes from income taxes from the rest of us, and is a major reason why Long Islanders pay such high property taxes (we don’t get 50% of our public school budgets paid for out of state aid). Who pays for tax abatements? Why working stiffs, of course.

That’s where philanthropy comes in. Charity does not just buy redemption, it also buys respect and resurrects a reputation. Take the Koch Brothers, for example. They are the singularly greatest example of money buying political power (and vow to spend $889 million in the 2016 campaign) in order to direct policy to their own interest and against average people (promoting fossil fuels over renewables, overturning environmental regulations, tax policy that favors the rich especially a repeal of the estate tax, gun rights, anti-reproductive rights, and the latest, criminal justice “reform” so that their companies can pollute and claim ignorance of the law to evade accountability).

They slap their name on everything, from the Smithsonian Institution’s Hall of Human Origins to PBS programming, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so we are to feel grateful for their patronage, like the Medicis. What we should feel is like peons, increasingly dependent on their largesse while public coffers are bankrupted.

It is especially dangerous when the contributions come with strings – like the Kochs funding economics departments at colleges in order to pick and choose the academics and the particular brand of economic philosophy. Or the Waltons (the six Waltons have more wealth than the bottom 30 percent of all Americans, 100 million people) funding charter schools in order to insert their own particular educational agenda (creationism as science, worker bees instead of independent thinkers).

It is in this same vein that we have Ebenezer Scrooge, who by the end of his spiritual awakening, “solves” the problems of horrendous poverty and inequality by throwing toys and money at it. It is like putting a band-aid on a patient with tuberculosis.

“The world may need a reimagined charter of philanthropy — a ‘Gospel of Wealth’ for the 21st century — that serves not just American philanthropists, but the vast array of new donors emerging around the world,” wrote Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, in a New York Times op-ed, “Why Giving Back Isn’t Enough,” (Dec. 16, 2015).

“This new gospel might begin where the previous one fell short: addressing the underlying causes that perpetuate human suffering. In other words, philanthropy can no longer grapple simply with what is happening in the world, but also with how and why.

“Feeding the hungry is among our society’s most fundamental obligations, but we should also question why our neighbors are without nutritious food to eat. Housing the homeless is an imperative, but we should also question why our housing markets are so distorted. As a nation, we need more investment in education, but not without questioning educational disparities based on race, class and geography….

“Whatever our intentions, the truth is that we can inadvertently widen inequality in the course of making money, even though we claim to support equality and justice when giving it away. And while our end-of-year giving might support worthy organizations, we must also ask if these financial donations contribute to larger social change.

“In other words, ‘giving back’ is necessary, but not sufficient. We should seek to bring about lasting, systemic change, even if that change might adversely affect us. We must bend each act of generosity toward justice.”

What would make a difference to break systemic poverty and inequality? Here are key ones:

Tax policy, which is supposedly “progressive” but in toto perpetuating extraordinary advantage to the wealthiest, taxing wages more than wealth. Raising the cap on income taxed to pay for Medicare and Social Security would alleviate the burden which is disproportionately placed on workers (if all income was subject to tax, you could reduce the percentage by a lot, which would mean a big boost in take-home income for everyone). Transaction tax on securities to de-incentivize short-term investing and make capital function more productively, as it is supposed to; making corporations pay their share, and taking away the incentive to offshore profits and jobs. (See, “For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions,” New York Times, Dec. 30, 2015).

Promote a living wage: raise the minimum wage and cease the war on unions.

Reform immigration and provide a path to legal status for the undocumented residents (deal with the question of citizenship separately). This will eliminate a gigantic underclass which presently depresses the wages of everyone while suppressing the economic stimulus that would come from legal status.

Reform criminal justice that unfairly penalizes and imprisons poor people, disadvantaged people, people of color, and destroys families as well as that individual’s ability to get a decent job.

Continue the progress of Obamacare (Affordable Care Act) to make health care more affordable, accessible. Continue putting more resources into prevention and wellness, which will increase productivity and savings. Expand, don’t shut down, Planned Parenthood and access to contraception and reproductive rights. Treat gun violence as the public health crisis it is – not just in the dead, but in the lifetime of lost productivity due to injury, a cost estimated at $228 billion ($8.6 billion in direct costs, $221 billion in indirect costs, according to SmartGunLaws.org),

College affordability – eliminating a barrier to the best ticket to upward mobility, as well as the chains that result from student debt. Now amounting to $1.2 trillion, student debt is like indentured servitude, preventing graduates from buying a home, taking a loan to start a business or even pursuing careers of choice.

Improve access to home ownership – this not only gives a family an asset, a hedge against ever-rising rents, stability, roots, but a connection to community (and likely greater inclination to vote).

Make quality child care accessible and affordable.

Improve mass transportation and safe streets, so that people can get to work affordably, efficiently and without fear.

Give the underclass a voice and a force: Improve access to voting. Make voter registration more efficient and reliable and clear. Make Election Day a holiday, expand voting to include a weekend, overturn arbitrary limitations to absentee ballot. Have standards for polling places and voting machines so that some districts are not forced to wait hours to vote. Make sure the census counts everyone (not just registered voters). Eliminate gerrymandering. Because, just as money is becoming a greater factor in campaigns, politicians are increasingly beholden to maintaining the policies that only add to inequality and social injustice.

It’s scary how much “A Christmas Carol” and Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” still resonate today.

Consider what George Bailey says to Mr. Potter, speaking about George’s father who founded the Building & Loan: “He didn’t save enough money to send Harry away to college, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter, and what’s wrong with that? Why… here, you’re all businessmen here. Doesn’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers? You… you said… what’d you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they’re so old and broken down that they… Do you know how long it takes a working man to save $5,000? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well in my book, my father died a much richer man than you’ll ever be!” 

In essence, such systemic improvements to our society would directly benefit, rather than detract from the wealthiest. It is the “rising tides lift all boats” scenario – not just in requiring less of society’s resources to go to “save” the destitute, but in a healthier, more productive society altogether. There will still be rich, middle class and even poor, but the difference is that poverty would not be as severe, as prolonged, or a generational sentence. Society would restore upward mobility – the essence of the American Dream – and benefit from individuals being able to fulfill their full potential.

So let’s turn to New Year’s resolutions, when we make pledges to be better people. And let’s hope this resolution carries through the Presidential Campaign season which already seems to be a test of who can be the cruelest (which to many interpret as “powerful” and “leadership”).

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© 2015 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com,  email krubin723@aol.com. ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

 

White House Report: SNAP Food Stamps Program Lifted 4.7 Million Out of Poverty in 2014

A new report released today from the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) finds that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, is highly effective at reducing food insecurity—the government’s measure for whether households lack the resources for consistent and dependable access to food. The report highlights a growing body of research that finds that children who receive food assistance see improvements in health and academic performance and that these benefits are mirrored by long-run improvements in health, educational attainment, and economic self-sufficiency. The report also features new research that shows benefit levels are often inadequate to sustain families through the end of the month—resulting in high-cost consequences, such as a 27 percent increase in the rate of hospital admissions due to low blood sugar for low-income adults between the first and last week of the month, as well as diminished performance on standardized tests among school age children.

Each month, SNAP helps about 46 million low-income Americans put food on the table. The large majority of households receiving SNAP include children, senior citizens, individuals with disabilities, and working adults. Two-thirds of SNAP benefits go to households with children.

Today’s CEA report draws on a growing body of high-quality research about food insecurity and SNAP, finding that:

SNAP plays an important role in reducing both poverty and food insecurity in the United Statesespecially among children.

  • SNAP benefits lifted at least 4.7 million people out of poverty in 2014—including 2.1 million children. SNAP also lifted more than 1.3 million children out of deep poverty, or above half of the poverty line (for example, $11,925 for a family of four).
  • The temporary expansion of SNAP benefits under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) lifted roughly 530,000 households out of food insecurity. 

SNAP benefits support vulnerable populations including children, individuals with disabilities, and the elderly, as well as an increasing number of working families.

  • Nearly one in two households receiving SNAP benefits have children, and three-quarters of recipient households have a child, an elderly member, or a member with a disability. Fully 67 percent of the total value of SNAP benefits go to households with children as these households on average get larger benefits than households without children.
  • Over the past 20 years, the overall share of SNAP recipient households with earned income rose by 50 percent. Among recipient households with children, the share with a working adult has doubled since 1990.

SNAP’s impact on children lasts well beyond their childhood years, providing long-run benefits for health, education, and economic self-sufficiency.

  • Among adults who grew up in disadvantaged households when the Food Stamp Program was first being introduced, access to Food Stamps before birth and in early childhood led to significant reductions in the likelihood of obesity and significant increases in the likelihood of completing high school.
  • Early exposure to food stamps also led to reductions in metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions associated with heart disease and diabetes) and increased economic self-sufficiency among disadvantaged women.

SNAP has particularly large benefits for women and their families.

  • Maternal receipt of Food Stamps during pregnancy reduces the incidence of low birth-weight by between 5 and 23 percent.
  • Exposure to food assistance in utero and through early childhood has large overall health and economic self-sufficiency impacts for disadvantaged women. 

The majority of working-age SNAP recipients already participate in the labor market, and the program includes important supports to help more recipients successfully find and keep work.

  • Fifty-seven percent of working-age adults receiving SNAP are either working or looking for work, while 22 percent do not work due to a disability. Many recipients are also the primary caregivers of young children or family members with disabilities.
  • SNAP also supports work through the Employment and Training program, which directly helps SNAP beneficiaries gain the skills they need to succeed in the labor market in order to find and retain work. During fiscal year 2014, this program served about 600,000 SNAP recipients. 

Even with SNAP’s positive impact, nearly one in seven American households experienced food insecurity in 2014.

  • These households—which included 15 million children—lacked the resources necessary for consistent and dependable access to food.
  • In 2014, 40 percent of all food-insecure households—and nearly 6 percent of US households overall—were considered to have very lowfood security. This means that, in nearly seven million households, at least one person in the household missed meals and experienced disruptions in food intake due to insufficient resources for food. 

While SNAP benefits allow families to put more food on the table,current benefit levels are often insufficient to sustain them through the end of the month, with substantial consequences.

  • More than half of SNAP households currently report experiencing food insecurity, and the fraction reporting very low food security has risen since the end of the temporary benefits expansion under ARRA.
  • New research has linked diminished food budgets at the end of each month to high-cost consequences, including:

o   A drop-off in caloric intake, with estimates of this decline ranging from 10 to 25 percent over the course of the month;

o   A 27 percent increase in the rate of hospital admissions due to low blood sugar for low-income adults between the first and last week of the month;

o   An 11 percent increase in the rate of disciplinary actions among school children in SNAP households between the first and last week of the month;

o   Diminished student performance on standardized tests, with performance improving only gradually again after the next month’s benefits are received.

Administration Efforts to Build on Progress

To reduce hunger and improve family well-being, the Obama administration has been and remains dedicated to providing American children and families with better access to the nutrition they need to thrive. These investments make a real and measurable difference in the lives of children and their families, and ensure a brighter, healthier future for the entire country.

Through the Recovery Act, the Administration temporarily increased SNAP benefits by 14 percent during the Great Recession to help families put food on the table.  Reports indicate that food security among low-income households improved from 2008 to 2009 amidst a severe recession and increased unemployment; a significant part of that improvement is likely attributable to SNAP.

The Administration has also developed several initiatives to improve food security and nutrition for vulnerable children.  Through the Community Eligibility Provision, schools in high-poverty areas are now able to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students with significantly less administrative burden. Recent revisions to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) added a cash benefit to allow participants to purchase fruits and vegetables, a change that substantially increased the value of the package. The Administration also has expanded access for low-income children to nutritious food during the summer months when school meals are unavailable and the risk of food insecurity is heightened. The results of these efforts have been promising. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) delivered 23 million more summer meals than in 2009.  And the Administration has successfully implemented Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (SEBTC) pilots, which provide additional food assistance to low-income families with children during the summer months. These pilots were found to reduce very low food security among children by 26 percent.  The President’s 2016 Budget proposed a significant expansion of this effort.

Finally, this Administration has provided select states waivers to test ways of reducing the administrative burdens of SNAP for elderly households, a population that continues to be underserved. After seeing positive results in participating states, including an increase of elderly participation by more than 50 percent in Alabama, the President’s 2016 Budget included a proposal to create a state option that would expand upon these efforts to improve access to SNAP benefits for the elderly.