Staff Editor Madeline Curtis reflects on the importance of preserving the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. GJPLP has more on the changing nature of SNAP in Sarah Carrier’s recent Note, From Paper to Electronic: Food Stamps, Social Security, and the Changing Functionality of Government Benefits, which can be found on WestLaw and Lexis.
by Madeline Curtis
Per data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 12.7% (15.8 million) of U.S. households were food insecure at some time during 2015. Fortunately, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program distributes around $70 billion in benefits to approximately 45 million recipients each year, helping to curb the prevalence of food insecurity and poverty in our country. In fact, according to a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, SNAP lifts millions of households out of poverty, keeping 10.3 million people (including 4.9 million children) out of poverty in 2012. A White House report on the long-term benefits of SNAP found recent research showing that participation in the program leads to “significant improvements in the health and well-being of low-income families.” Additionally, children who receive food assistance show improvements in health, education, and economic status. Further, SNAP has one of the lowest error rates of any public benefit program and a strong record of accuracy in payment.
by Mackenzie Yee
All workers, no matter where they were born, should be able to work under fair and safe conditions. No worker should be subject to exploitation, and there has been legislation at both the federal and state levels protecting workers’ rights, regardless of their immigration status. Still, low-income immigrant workers, and particularly those who are undocumented, are especially at risk of being exploited in the workplace.
Employers are able to exploit immigrant workers by threatening to report their immigration status if they complain about workplace abuses. As a result, a handful of states have adopted laws prohibiting this type of extortion. The most recent such law was passed in May 2016, when Maryland became only the fourth state to pass a bill amending its extortion law to include threatening to report someone’s immigration status as criminal extortion if such threat is used to obtain something of value. This law follows similar ones passed in Virginia and Colorado in 2006, and in California in 2013.
by Gabrielle Rejouis
In light of the recent confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, experts and proponents for public education raise concerns about the future of state-funded education in America. While I attended private school from preschool through 12th grade, my experiences as a first-generation American has influenced my understanding of the importance and need for free public education. Free public education was not an option when my parents grew up in Haiti. They both attended private school. My paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother immigrated to America to work and would send money back to Haiti to pay for the cost of my parents’ tuition and uniforms. Both sets of my grandparents valued education. When my parents immigrated to the United States and joined their parents in New Jersey as teenagers, they completed their high school education at public school before earning their bachelors and master degrees. Public education provided a bridge for my parents to navigate the new culture and new surroundings. It also allowed my parents to establish a strong foundation in America and lift their family out of poverty.
by Rob Van Someren Greve
Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers allow beneficiaries to rent a property of their choice from private owners by having federal funds cover most of their rent. They provide access to affordable housing to over two million very low-income households in the United States. Given the steady decline of other federal affordable housing programs, the Voucher program is of vital importance to the goal of “aiding low-income families in obtaining a decent place to live.” For the program to be successful, private landlords must be willing to rent their properties to beneficiaries. Unfortunately, many landlords—especially those whose properties are not located in neighborhoods with high concentrations of poor households—refuse to participate in the program. To combat this unwillingness and help ensure that Voucher recipients are able to find a “decent place to live,” numerous jurisdictions across the country have passed laws that prohibit landlords from discriminating against tenants on the basis of their source of income.
Unsurprisingly, landlords who had been unwilling to rent to Voucher holders prior to the adoption of laws prohibiting source-of-income discrimination have generally not simply acquiesced after these laws were passed. Landlords in various jurisdictions have challenged these laws in court, arguing as follows: while participation in the Housing Choice Voucher program is voluntary, prohibiting source-of-income discrimination de facto forces them to participate; therefore, such laws are in conflict with, and thus preempted by, the federal statute. Courts have, for the most part, not been particularly receptive to this line of argument. Again unsurprisingly, landlords seeking to preserve the ability to reject otherwise eligible tenants seeking to pay with vouchers have focused their efforts elsewhere.
by Melissa Kahn
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President Trump’s unconventional selection and the Senate’s subsequent controversial confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education has been the subject of considerable debate, and much uncertainty remains as to how much damage she could do to the nation’s public education system. However, we do know that she is an enthusiastic proponent of school vouchers and charter schools. We also know that President Trump has proposed a federally funded voucher program which would redirect $20 billion from existing federal spending toward a block grant program for states to administer school vouchers. Under these programs, parents of students living below the federal poverty level would be able to use a voucher to send their kids to a private or religiously-affiliated school of their choice. Clearly, voucher programs are targeted at economically disadvantaged students, and public opinion surveys show that minority and low-income parents tend to favor school vouchers more than the general public. The question remains, however, whether such programs would help or harm the very constituency which it is designed to protect.
by Michael Waxman
In 2014, criminal justice reform advocates proclaimed the ballot initiative Proposition 47 a historic step toward transforming California’s beleaguered criminal justice system. But in the years since, media outlets and law enforcement groups are lashing back at the law for increasing crime rates. However, this criticism is largely unfounded because there is little evidence that Prop. 47 has had a causal impact on crime. Moreover, critics have overlooked the law’s potential benefits from investing millions of dollars in treatment and services for low-income communities. Ultimately, Prop. 47’s success or failure in rehabilitating California’s justice system and revitalizing low-income communities will likely have major political and policy implications for criminal justice and poverty reform efforts at the local, state, and national level.
Four-year colleges and universities are not the only path to prosperity; community colleges and technical schools offer cost-effective pipelines to the workforce, writes Staff Writer Richard P. Hand. For more on the role community colleges can play in promoting social mobility, check out Mary Deweese’s Failed: The Myths And Realities Of Community Colleges, and How to Fulfill the American Dream Through Community College Reform. Available on WestLaw and Lexis.
by Richard P. Hand
Photo available here.
Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump often spoke about the nation’s loss of unskilled manufacturing jobs. For many of his followers, “Make America Great Again” was the rallying cry for bringing back American manufacturing jobs.
One can see the logical appeal to his simple message. Factories that hired employees for unskilled manufacturing jobs were in America. Factories that hired employees for unskilled manufacturing jobs are now in other countries. Therefore, if we bring back said factories to America, then there will be more unskilled manufacturing jobs.
The harsh reality, however, is that the factories that once hired a multitude of unskilled workers now hire a few unskilled workers and use a multitude of automated machines. While bringing back unskilled manufacturing jobs may sound appealing, at best it could provide a short-term fix for a few unemployed Americans, and at worst it could create trade wars that drive up prices on everyday goods.
In this blog post, Staff Editor Keith Taubenblatt reflects on the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule and its recent repeal.
By Keith Taubenblatt
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Republicans in Congress and President Trump have done away with an important Obama era worker protection measure. On July 31, 2014, President Obama signed Executive Order 13673, requiring companies seeking or holding federal contracts in excess of $500,000 to disclose their prior labor law violations to the government. EO 13673 was the Obama administration’s response to decades of evidence showing labor law violations by federal contractors, and it was an attempt to protect workers employed by those companies from hazardous working conditions and wage theft. A significant number of the workers employed by federal contractors are low-wage earners most at risk for abuse by employers. Nonetheless, Congressional Republicans and the President have deemed EO 13673 unnecessary to the protection of these vulnerable workers. The evidence suggests that their judgment is flawed.
by Deborah Steinberg
Photo of U.S. Capitol Building, available here
Before there was “Repeal and Replace,” there was House v. Burwell. In 2014, the U.S. House of Representatives filed a lawsuit against the Democratic administration in the U.S. District Court for D.C. for allegedly failing to implement several provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). A simple majority of Republican Representatives passed a House Resolution giving Speaker Boehner the authority to sue the Executive Branch to commence the litigation, which is currently on hold at the appellate level. Rejecting the majority of the allegations, the district court ruled in favor of the House of Representatives on its claim that the Obama administration was unconstitutionally funding the ACA because the House never appropriated certain payments. The Court critically erred both in granting standing to the House and in denying the administration’s motion for summary judgment, and in so doing violated judicial precedent and the Constitution. Consequently, the House Republicans could prevent lower and middle-income Americans from obtaining their entitlements provided under the ACA. The lawsuit demonstrates the Republican effort to sabotage the ACA without the fear of political accountability while simultaneously creating additional barriers to the accessibility of affordable healthcare.
By Rachel Deitch
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In 2016, eight state attorneys general, including the attorney general for the District of Columbia, launched an inquiry into several retailers’ “on-call” scheduling practices. When retail workers are assigned to on-call shifts, they must call their employer an hour or two before a potential shift to learn if they should appear for work. The attorneys general sent letters to the companies, and requested information and documents. Several news outlets covered the investigation, highlighting the negative effects on-call scheduling has on employees. In response, six companies, including Disney and Aeropostale, agreed to stop using on-call scheduling.
On-call scheduling can have a negative impact on employees despite its popularity among employers. Retailers use on-call scheduling because they can adjust their staffing based on the amount of store traffic,  and address unexpected staff absences. However, the attorneys general argue that on-call scheduling has a negative financial impact on employees because it creates unpredictable work schedules. If employees are not assigned to work, they receive no compensation and may have already paid for unnecessary childcare. Employees who keep their days open are also unlikely to obtain other work to make up for the shortfall.