by Greta Feldman
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In July 2017, journalist Emily de la Bruyère traveled to two small towns in southwestern Ohio to report on the opioid epidemic and its impact on families and communities. Her five-part series produced intimate ethnographies, but she made clear what most already knew—this issue is not confined to any one place or demographic. At the same time, however, it weighs especially heavy on impoverished and depressed communities. I recently spoke with Emily to better understand the national narrative and how local, state and federal governments are addressing the crisis. She made several notable points which are important in considering the issue at large:
by Stacy Ham
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In June 2017, Ballou High School in D.C. (“Ballou”) was praised for getting each senior student to graduate.[i] Three months ago, that praise turned into criticism after NPR and WAMU 88.5 conducted an investigation of Ballou’s attendance records. The investigation found that half of the high school’s graduates missed at least three months of school in one year.[ii] Out of the 164 students that graduated in 2017 at Ballou, only fifty-seven were actually attending and passing courses in accordance with the school district’s policy. In other words, only about one-third of the graduates should have been allowed to graduate.[iii]
To learn more about government benefits that protect children, check out From Welfare to Work: What the 1996 Welfare Reform Initiative has Meant for Children, by Erin Holland, available on Westlaw.
by Molly Thornton
In the weeks leading up to the government shutdown in January of 2018, President Trump issued a series of tweets in which he warned that a government shutdown would have a devastating effect on the nation’s military. In reality, much of the Department of Defense would continue working during a shutdown, continuing “operations necessary for the safety of human life or the protection of property.” In addition to exaggerating the effect of a government shutdown on the military, President Trump’s tweets completely ignored a group that is far more vulnerable to the effects of a shutdown than the military: low-income children.
When the federal government last shut down in 2013, the Republican-led House refused to pass an appropriations bill unless President Obama and the Democrat-led Senate would agree to a budget that eliminated funding for the Affordable Care Act. Lasting a period of sixteen days, the shutdown had a significant negative impact on a number federally-funded programs on which low-income children and their families rely. One such example is the program Head Start, which operates centers that prepare low-income children for success in Kindergarten. Without funding to pay employees, Head Start centers across the country were forced to close for up to nine days, affecting over 6,300 low-income children and their families.
by Ibe Alozie
This article discusses underbanking (and its nexus to poverty) in American households, steps that the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection (CFPB) has taken to mitigate the effects of underbanking, and recent changes at the CFPB that increase the likelihood that the CFPB will be less active in mitigating the effects of underbanking. To learn more about underbanking, check out From Paper to Electronic: Food Stamps, Social Security, and the Changing Functionality of Government Benefits, by Sarah Carrier, available on Westlaw and LexisNexis.
A household is considered “underbanked” when it has an account at an insured institution or bank but still uses alternative financial systems or services outside of the banking system. Rather than going through the traditional banking system, these households use money orders, cash checking, auto title loans, or pawn shop loans, among others, to meet their financial needs. While 68% of households in the United States are fully banked, a 2015 survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC) found that 19.9% of households in the United States—approximately 24.5 million households—are underbanked.
To learn more about Broken Windows policing, check out Nowhere to Go: The Impacts of City Ordinances Criminalizing Homelessness, by Donald Saelinger, available on Westlaw and LexisNexis.
by Kimberly Kidani
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In 1982, George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson wrote an article entitled Broken Windows, which purported to offer a policing strategy that would help police to serve the needs of communities. This strategy empowered officers to focus on “order maintenance.” The authors based the strategy outlined in Broken Windows on the premise that that crime and disorder are linked, and therefore increasing order through greater police presence in neighborhoods would prevent crime and make residents feel safer. In theory, this strategy would empower officers to restore a community through the policing of low-level offenses. In practice, “broken windows” policing is an antiquated attack on the poor that the criminal justice system needs to replace with real solutions.
Although The Atlantic published Broken Windows over thirty-five years ago, the article still has a large influence over how and what we police today. For example, New York City’s adoption of “broken windows” policing evolved into “zero tolerance” policing—strictly enforcing low-level offenses—which in turn motivated the city’s unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policies. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has explicitly encouraged broken windows policing. He has followed through on this proclamation in his reforms of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) operations and initiatives. For instance, the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) no longer investigates and reports on problems within police departments on a voluntary basis. Instead, Sessions is encouraging “proactive policing” strategies—those that attempt to seek out and stop crime before it happens, like stop-and-frisk and zero tolerance policing—which many people associate with broken windows tactics. However, although some supporters of Broken Windows credit this strategy with decreases in crime since the 1990s, other changes since then—including economic development and demographic shifts—make it impossible to definitively determine how effective Broken Windows is at reducing crime. Regardless of its efficacy, this policing strategy resonates with many people in the community: A 2015 Quinnipiac poll indicated that a majority of New York City voters support broken windows policing.
To learn more about food security among people living in poverty in rural countries, check out Poverty, Food Security, and the Right to Health, by Robert S. Lawrence, Iris Chan, and Emily Goodman, available on Westlaw and LexisNexis.
by Zachary Karlan
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Nestlé is by far the largest food and beverage company in the world. In September of 2017, the New York Times published “How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food,” in which it explains how Nestlé employs Brazilian citizens to deliver its products right to the front door of approximately 250,000 households. Nestlé and other companies have aggressively adopted a presence in developing countries like Brazil to combat declining sales in more economically developed nations. This door-to-door delivery model makes it simple for the poorest Brazilians to access food, especially those who do not live near a supermarket. Although not currently in service, Nestlé used to have a floating barge that would deliver food to villages in the Amazon. According to the company, Nestlé serves 700,000 “lower income consumers” who benefit from “products enriched with vitamin A, iron and zinc—the three major nutritional deficiencies in Brazil.” On its face, Nestlé and other multinational companies who employ a similar model for global expansion appear to provide an objectively good service: Providing poor individuals with food that might not otherwise be accessible and at a price they can afford. However, studies show that Brazil is facing a serious obesity problem due to the abundance of processed foods from companies like Nestlé. This should force us to question whether this program is truly helping the poor.
by Sophie Breene
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On May 19, 2016, Governor Larry Hogan signed the Justice Reinvestment Act (JRA) into law, making Maryland the 26th state to pass some form of justice reinvestment legislation in the past ten years. Beginning in October 2017, incarcerated individuals can petition the courts to start putting the law’s provisions into action. The law came to pass after several rounds of bipartisan negotiations, and thus critics on both sides of the political spectrum argue that JRA does too much or not enough for criminal reform. Despite its limitations, the new law will help to curb the cycle of incarceration that disproportionately hurts people living in poverty.
To learn more about the doctrine of parens patriae, check out The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997: A Collision of Parens Patriae and Parents’ Constitutional Rights, by Amy Wilkinson-Hagen, available on Westlaw and LexisNexis.
by Rajan Bal
It is conceptually uncontroversial that the government has an interest in protecting children from harm. Children as a demographic are more vulnerable than adults considering how many of their choices are not their own decision (such as where they live and who they live with), and as a result the government maintains a special responsibility towards ensuring their protection. The doctrine of parens patriae, “parent of the country,” allows the government to embrace this responsibility by intervening in the family unit to protect children whose welfare may be at risk. Under the guise of exercising this responsibility, the government often takes overly invasive action by forcibly removing children from their homes and placing the children under the care of the state. While the government should take children out of abusive households, it often confuses abusive households with poor ones. As a result, poor families, often on welfare or headed by a single parent, are subject to higher rates of having their family disrupted often just because they are poor.
The government must reconcile its special responsibility to protect children with parents’ unique interest in raising their children. In Meyer v. Nebraska, the Supreme Court held that parents’ right to raise their own children is a fundamental right. If the government aims to interfere with the family unit to protect the welfare of the children, it must narrowly tailor its intervention to accomplish that objective. If it does not, the government runs the risk of evaluating its need to intervene based on standards of care for middle-class White families, which could impose untenable standards to functioning and healthy families of different backgrounds that result in damaging outcomes.
by Monica Patel
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Children do better with families than without. This might seem obvious, but the foster care systems across our country do not necessarily operate in accordance with this fact. In the United States, about 57,000 out of 425,000 children in the welfare system are living in group placements—otherwise known as “congregate care.” Those 57,000 children are being deprived of a family environment during critical, and vulnerable, years in their development. The group homes for these children vary from large institutional models to small “house parent” models. States often use group placements because the local agency simply has not found an appropriate family placement, and the youth’s parents are mentally or financially unequipped to take the youth back. Furthermore, African-American and Latino youth in the foster care system are more likely than white youth to be in group placements.
California alone has around 64,000 children in foster care, with a little over 5,000 of those youths in congregate care. In California, the high school dropout rate for youth in congregate care is fourteen percent, while only four percent of foster children not in congregate care (those in relative homes, nonrelative foster family homes, pre-adoptive homes, or trial home visits) drop out of high school. Researchers in 2008 found that foster youth in group placements were 2.4 times as likely to be arrested as foster youth in family placements. By these measures and others, long-term congregate care does not serve our foster children well.
by Brendan Cardella-Koll
It is no secret that the debt collection schemes that courts impose across the country disproportionately impact indigent individuals, even sometimes to the point of functioning as modern debtors’ prisons. One such scheme, which has become the target of recent litigation in Tennessee, calls for the suspension of an individual’s license for failure to pay traffic fines. The lawsuit targets this scheme as an unduly harsh and discriminatory debt collection method against poor residents. The complaint alleges that courts impose fines without consideration of an individual’s ability to pay and then notifies the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security (“the Department”) of a failure to pay without any mention of the reason for nonpayment. The Department is not required to make any inquiry into the reason for nonpayment before suspending a license, and Tennessee law imposes additional fees for the reinstatement of licenses suspended for failure to pay traffic fines. In multiple other jurisdictions, debt collectors do not seek to determine an individual’s ability to pay nor do they allow indigent individuals to establish any sort of payment plan for the traffic fine. As a result, if an individual is brought before the court for a traffic offense with an attached fine, the individual must be able to pay the fine in full or face the suspension of his or her license.