Poverty in the Presidential Campaign: What’s There, Not and Why

October 24, 2016

Back in 2012, Greg Kaufmann, then a columnist for The Nation, launched a social media campaign that eventually morphed into the TalkPoverty.org blog and related projects.

The aim was to get poverty issues into what Kaufmann referred to as “the mainstream political debate.” To that end, we were to tweet poverty-related facts and questions to the moderators of the Presidential debates, using #TalkPoverty as the hashtag.

Now we’re nearing the end of a seemingly endless campaign that becomes more bizarre with each passing day. Kaufmann and colleagues have relaunched theirs, with a new hashtag — #WhereDoYouStand.

They want us to tweet questions on specific policies, e.g., a minimum wage increase, expansions of Social Security. We were then to post them on a website that let others vote for questions they’d most like the moderators of the second debate to ask.

Last time I checked, only three such questions had gotten enough votes to put them in the top 30 — those that the moderators had said they’d consider. Perhaps they did, but they didn’t ask any of them. No poverty talk in the third debate either.

We do, however, have one Presidential candidate who’s chosen to talk poverty, as distinguished from telling all blacks they’re poor. Hillary Clinton (or her people) authored an op-ed for The New York Times that actually used the p-word and presented a plan of sorts.

It’s the sort of thing the #WhereDoYouStand campaign seems to have in mind, though perhaps less specific in some policy areas due to the column-length constraint.

No such constraint on her website, which has lots of initiatives tucked into a dozen or so issue areas. Her recently-announced Child Tax Credit reforms flesh out bullet points there.

All this is fine for policy wonks — and perhaps for others who can seize on a few issues that especially matter to them. But it’s hard to get one’s mind around the agenda as a whole.

The Times rousing endorsement alludes to this, allowing as how Clinton’s policy proposals are thus far a “pointillist collection.”

I think we’d benefit from a framework of some sort. I haven’t seen it in the campaigns — and doubt that any of us will. And not only because we’re in the homestretch with one campaign imploding.

An NPR reporter says that Trump has basically one poverty proposal — “jobs, jobs jobs.” We can piece together something more like an agenda from his other campaign themes, plus earlier remarks and ghost-written books.

Poverty is the fault of people who don’t work and policies that encourage them to laze around. So we’ll blow the policies away and create a bazzilion more jobs. Keep undocumented workers from having them — and apparently some who have legal authority to work.

We’ll make all safety net benefits temporary and condition them all on work. Don’t let teen mothers have them unless they “jump through some pretty small hoops” — including, it seems, finding a group home to live in.

So I’m mulling over what a credible framework would look like. What, in other words, would the major headings be for an agenda to address the causes and consequences of poverty in America?

On the other hand, I’m mindful of reasons our candidates would rather not make poverty their “vision thing,” to borrow from then-candidate Bush, the first.

Economist/blogger Jared Bernstein observes that “the poor are not necessarily the swing voters you’re trying to pick off.” In other words, they’re likely to vote for the candidate from whichever party they usually vote for.

But they’re not all that likely to vote, as a recent Census analysis shows. Nothing new about this, except the figures. We see similar low turnout rates dating back to 2004.

We’re well aware of barriers states impose, especially since the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act. But perhaps more people who could vote would if they thought the outcome would make a difference in their lives.

They wouldn’t necessarily turn out if a candidate made poverty, so-labeled central to his/her campaign, however.

A Pew Research survey that focused on views about the economy and government policies found that a very large majority of respondents viewed themselves as middle class — 76%, counting those who put themselves in the lower middle.

Nearly 20% of adults under 65 had incomes at or below 150% of the very low poverty thresholds that year. But only 11% of Pew’s respondents identified themselves as “lower class,” perhaps because that’s a generally pejorative term.

But so is “poor” — thanks to years to fault-finding, fraud myths and the like. Thanks also to years of identifying “middle class” with contrasting virtues like hard work, prudence, responsible child-rearing (and bearing), etc.

That’s partly why our Presidential candidates (and others) refer instead to “income inequality,” a political science professor says.

Perhaps also why Clinton headlined her Child Tax Credit proposal as a “middle class tax cut,” though more than three-quarters of the people who’d benefit are poor, according to Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ estimates.

And it’s probably why she, as Bernstein notes, “doesn’t always connect the dots to poverty and low-income workers,” even when she’s teeing up plans like the CTC reforms, a minimum wage increase and investments targeted to deeply depressed communities.

Probably also why Trump has chosen to connect the dots between indifferent (or worse) politicians and the griefs, resentments and fears of Americans whom he addresses as the once and future middle class.

“If we want the media to talk about poverty, we have to turn anti-poverty work into an anti-poverty movement,” says Jeremy Slevin at TalkPoverty.org. He’s referring specifically to the talking heads who moderate debates.

But it seems equally apt for candidates, whether prompted by “the media” or otherwise — and whether contending for the Presidency or down-ballot offices.

Just Hours Not Just Yet, DC Council Decides

October 20, 2016

A DC Council majority recently decided to table a bill that would have given some low-wage workers more predictable schedules — and, in some cases, more wage income too.*

The nay-saying Councilmembers could have let a newly-formed subcommittee try to fix what troubled them, as its chair urged them to. They instead killed the proposal for the rest of this Council session — and, of course, opened the door to further efforts to block it.

We’ll surely see them, since they succeeded so well this time. We might also, I suppose, expect efforts to further scale back the worker protections that the tabled bill provided — just in case the Council won’t altogether cave again.

I’d thought to dive right into the debate, but realized it wouldn’t make much sense to anyone who didn’t know what the parties were arguing about. So I’ll deal here with the bill itself and why supporters (self included) say it’s needed. Look for the arguments that apparently won the day in a followup.

Which Workers Would Have Benefited

Only some workers in the District would have gained schedules they could rely on for even a couple of weeks — or the chance to gain more hours, also more predictable.

The bill set requirements only for retail businesses, including restaurants that were part of chains — at least five nationwide for businesses that sell goods and at least twenty for restaurants.

The report that inspired the bill focused mainly on workers employed by retailers, restaurants and other food services businesses, e.g., grocery stores, but the survey it reflected also included others — people who work for cleaning services, for example, and for parking lots and garages.

So the bill could have gone much further than it did — and, in fact, went further when introduced. The committee that narrowly approved the bill revised it to exclude hotels, healthcare facilities and six other types of enterprises.

Why Workers Need Predictable Hours and Schedules

The aforementioned report cites several major problems that irregular schedules cause, though the survey also picked up problems all low-wage workers face, i.e. simply not enough money and the consequences thereof.

Erratic schedules specifically make it very difficult for workers and their families to budget, since pay is inevitably erratic too. The workers can’t take second jobs to ease the financial stress because they may have to show up at the first.

They can’t improve their prospects in the labor market by getting more education or training — again, because they don’t know which hours they’ll be free.

They struggle with childcare arrangements, not knowing when they’ll need someone to look after the kids. Nor, one guesses, whether they can pay the fees when due. Further problems, including extra fees when they can’t pick their kids up on time.

And still other problems when they or their kids need medical or dental care, when they need to talk with a teacher, etc.

National research and advocacy organizations have flagged problems of another sort — threats to the safety net benefits many of the workers and their families need.

Some must work a certain number of hours regularly to get them — those in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, for example, and those without children or other dependents who rely on SNAP (food stamp) benefits.

Those in any of our major safety net programs can lose some or all of their benefits when their incomes rise. But then their incomes will probably fall again. And getting those benefits back takes time — especially, as CLASP notes, when a sudden schedule change forces them to miss an appointment.

What the Bill Would Have Done

The proposed Hours and Scheduling Stability Act would have done three major things. First, it would have required the covered businesses to give part-time workers more hours, if they wanted them, before hiring more part-timers.

Second, it would have required them to pay part-time workers as much as full-time workers with roughly equivalent jobs. An exception here, however, for pay differentials based on seniority systems like those built into some union contracts.

Third, the bill would have required the covered businesses to give workers their schedules two weeks in advance. No day-by-day — or even hour-by-hour — scheduling according to expected customer traffic.

The businesses could have changed schedules with a day’s advance notice, but they’d have owed an extra hour’s pay for that. More extra hours of pay if less warning.

This only if workers agreed to the scheduling change — in writing, as all the scheduling communications would have had to be. Workers could refuse and wouldn’t have to find someone else to fill in.

District law already requires employers to pay workers when they show up as scheduled and are told they’re not needed — or were scheduled for more than four hours and sent home sooner or told to sit around for awhile.

The bill would have extended a somewhat similar pay protection to workers told they should call in and be available to come in if needed.

It did, however, recognize that businesses sometimes need no workers because they can’t operate. They’ve no electricity, for example. A big snowstorm has shut down public transit. They been told to close because of a terrorist threat.

No pay owed in these or some other specified cases. Nor if a restaurant scheduled additional staff expecting a nearby event that got cancelled, thus reducing expected customer traffic.

In short, some carve-outs, but generally provisions that aim to make just-in-time scheduling and similar practices less profitable to some businesses that use them.

Or at least, seem less profitable. Relatively stable schedules can reduce turnover — and with it, the costs of hiring and training. They can also increase productivity because workers feel better, physically and emotionally — and do more to help the businesses do better because they feel better about them.

Trader Joe’s reportedly gives its workers their schedules at least two weeks in advance. And it’s doing just fine.

*  I’m linking to the Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee’s report, rather than the online version of the bill because the committee’s version reflects what the Council considered.

Clinton Unveils Anti-Poverty Reforms to Child Tax Credit

October 17, 2016

Clinton firmed up her agenda for children and families last week with a plan to reform the Child Tax Credit. Her announcement headlines it as a “middle class tax cut,” but it would deliver needed income support to poor and near-poor families with children, especially the very young.

We can see that Clinton attends to progressive advocates and members of Congress who attend to them. Basically, she’s borrowed from bills previously introduced in Congress, which borrowed from a proposal by the Center for American Progress.

They all would make the CTC available to working parents who can’t claim it now and deliver the greatest benefits to those with children in their early years.

CAP argues that those families’ needs are greatest — a combination of relatively low earnings, student debt and the costs of necessary things for babies, e.g., cribs, diapers.

One might add the costs of child care, which are extraordinarily high for infants and toddlers. They’re probably a bigger stretch for parents who’ve no student debt because they, at best, finished high school.

Low earnings alone surely justify the inclusion of a more robust CTC in an anti-poverty agenda — optimally, one that would boost the credit for all minor-age children.

The poverty rate for children under six was 17.3% last year, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. But it was 15.6% for older children. Their parents would fare better under Clinton’s plan too, though not as much better.

Her plan would do three major things. First, it would make the CTC available from the first dollar earned, rather than the first after $3,000 — a change that progressives have advocated for years.

Second, it would selectively increase the rate at which the CTC phases in. It’s now 15% of earnings over the threshold to claim it, up to a $1,000 per child maximum. Clinton would triple the rate for children under five.

And third, she’d double the maximum parents could claim for those kids.

So, for example, a single mother who has an infant and a toddler and works full time at the federal minimum wage would get $4,000, instead of about $1,800, i.e., less than the current full credit for the kids.

Now, the CTC, as you may know, is a refundable credit, like the heftier Earned Income Tax Credit. So if a parent owes less than zero when she claims it, plus deductions and the EITC, she gets a check (or the equivalent) from the Internal Revenue Service.

The refunds help account for the credit’s anti-poverty impact — and its potential. The CTC lifted about 3.1 million people, including some 1.7 million children over the poverty threshold in 2013, the Center on Budget reports.

An additional 13.7 million, including about 6.8 million children were less poor than they’d have otherwise been.

Clinton’s proposals would lift about 1.5 million more people out of poverty, the Center estimates. This figure includes roughly 400,000 children under five.

And about 5.2 million people, including 1.1 million young children in deep poverty, i.e., at or below half the applicable threshold, would also gain income. Still poor, but less so.

Not only poor families would benefit. Eligibility for the CTC would apparently plateau at the same maximum adjusted gross income and then phase out at the rate current law sets.

So a single parent with two children could get some tax reduction until her income exceeded about $115,000. A cut-off about $45,000 higher if she married and filed jointly.

The CTC, however, benefits primarily lower and moderate-income working families. It still would. But the Center for Tax Justice finds that eliminating the threshold and tripling the phase-in rate would deliver the greatest benefits to families in the bottom fifth.

The Center on Budget’s analysis indicates a tilt toward families way down in that fifth. About 77% of the people the CTC expansions would benefit are poor, according to its estimates.

The reforms would cost the federal government an estimated $208.7 billion over the first 10 years, if they became law this year, which, of course, they won’t.

The revenue losses would be a miniscule fraction of the federal budget, which was somewhere around $3.9 trillion for just last fiscal year.

And Clinton’s total tax plan would offset the CTC reforms many times over. The Tax Policy Center estimates revenue gains at about $1.4 trillion over the same 10 years its CTC estimate covers. More than 90% of the increase would come from the very wealthiest households.

So we’re highly unlikely to see the whole package pass in the next Congress. But say — oh, let’s say — that Clinton becomes our next President.

Might we see the CTC expansions or something like? Dylan Matthews at Vox thinks not, unless the Democrats win a majority in the House. Jordan Weissman at Slate views all Clinton’s tax proposals as DOA unless Democrats gain control of the Senate too.

I’m inclined to feel more hopeful. Democrats got the current CTC threshold converted from temporary (and expiring) to permanent as part of a big, urgently-needed budget deal.

That won’t be the last near-crisis because Congress tends to put off politically difficult decisions until the last minute. And a whole lot of decisions have become politically difficult as rifts within, as well as between the parties have grown.

Grasping at straws, it may seem. But I do think the CTC expansions have a chance. And I hope that when an actual bill emerges, they provide more relief for families with older children, as Clinton suggests they might.


No Government Shutdown Isn’t Good Enough

October 13, 2016

As I’m sure you know, the federal government doesn’t have a budget for this fiscal year. Congress narrowly averted a shutdown with a continuing resolution. So programs that depend on annual spending choices can keep operating at their current funding levels until December 10.

Then what? Well, the government almost surely won’t have a new budget to replace the CR. Nothing unusual about this. Congress has relied on at least one CR in all but four budget seasons since 1977.

Speaker Paul Ryan said the House would return to “regular order” under his leadership, i.e., pass each of the dozen appropriations bills that make up the budget. So did Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

But they’re not even close. The Senate has passed only three appropriations bills and the House five. They haven’t negotiated final versions of any, though one got folded into the CR.

So we’re likely to have another — either that or a package containing some newly-passed appropriations bills and an extension of current funding levels for the rest.

One way or the other we’re unlikely to have a government shutdown. So why should we care whether we’ve got a bona fide budget or not?

We shouldn’t, I think, care much if Congress decides to punt again — and only once more. But a longer-term CR would leave critical programs under-funded, including some especially important for low-income people.

Consider affordable housing. The Housing Choice voucher program needs more funding annually merely to sustain the number of vouchers in current use because, as you’ve probably noticed, rents rise — and with them, the amount the vouchers must usually cover.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development needs roughly $765 million more for that, according to the President’s proposed budget. A somewhat similar program administered by the Agriculture Department needs an additional 18 million.

And steady state isn’t good enough. Fewer than one in four low-income households that qualify for housing assistance have it. Three quarters of those who don’t pay at least half their income for rent.

And, of course, some can’t. We don’t know yet how many people nationwide the latest homeless counts found. But we do know that last year’s identified about 564,700, including nearly 127,790 children who were with parents or other caregivers.

Yet the current budget is still shy about 59,000 vouchers left unfunded by the across-the-board cuts the Budget Control Act required and choices Congress made to comply with its (modified) spending caps.

These are indefinite-term vouchers. HUD’s homeless assistance grants fund, among other things, the time-limited vouchers local agencies provide through their rapid re-housing programs.

They also help fund permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless people — not necessarily permanent, but subsidized for as long as occupants need it.

As with other types of housing, per-unit costs steadily rise. Just renewing current contracts would cost roughly $2 billion, HUD estimates.

This is barely less than the total current funding level for homeless assistance grants, which also help cover costs of shelters, diverse services and short-shot aid to prevent homelessness. Costs for these rise too.

A long-term CR would obviously tighten the squeeze — and so put progress toward ending homelessness even further behind what’s needed to achieve the goals that federal agencies collectively set in 2010.  Likewise the goals that local communities have embraced, including the District of Columbia.

All such efforts require ramped-up investments in housing that poor and near-poor people can afford, as well as the subsidies and services funded in part through HUD’s homeless assistance grants.

The federal partner would need to do considerably more than the majorities in Congress seem inclined to. Both the House and Senate have, however, passed bills that would provide somewhat more funding for both regular housing vouchers and homeless assistance.

But not identical bills. So even slight increases might not reach state and local agencies — and if not them, then not the people who are homeless or paying so much for rent that they’re short on money for food, medical care, shoes for the kids, etc.

These slices of the HUD budget are, of course, only examples of what prolonged level funding would mean.

CLASP cites several others. These would further limit job prospects for youth and older adults who lack the education and skills our labor market demands — and for affordable, high-quality child care.

Experts in other areas could undoubtedly name a host of others that a long-term CR would significantly shortchange. Not only low-income people would suffer, but they’d get hit from more directions.

Senate’s Child Nutrition Act Update Needs a Fix

October 11, 2016

I’d thought we’d have a new Child Nutrition Act by now. If not that, a bill that had passed in the Senate and needed only a House majority vote. We’re close — and with a bill that has promising features. (See my summaries here and here.)

But one provision has hung up the Senate vote. It may seem highly technical. But it’s more because the current version could deny free school meals to some children who sorely need them.

The provision aims to strengthen the process school districts must use to ensure that only poor and near-poor children get their meals free or at very low cost.

As things stand now, they must verify the family incomes of 3,000 of the applications they’ve approved — or 3% if that’s less.

The revised version would establish a sliding scale, generally beginning at 10,000 or 10% and ratcheting down to the current minimum, based on several performance measures, e.g., a very high percent of applications that confirm children’s eligibility.

A sticking point, as you might imagine, is the sheer number of applications school districts must begin with. Another, however, is that the bill enlarges the pool from which they must be pulled to include families that don’t have to apply in order for their kids to get free meals.

Children whose families receive SNAP (food stamp) and/or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits are categorically eligible. In other worse, they quality automatically. School districts would have to include some of them in their sample.

Other very low-income children also qualify automatically — those in foster care or migrant families, those in Head Start, a comparable state-funded program or a federally-funded program for runaways and those who are homeless, according to the definition that applies to public school students.

These children may also get swept into the verification pool. But schools may not be able to get all their parents to verify their incomes. The families may have no fixed address, for example — highly likely for the homeless and migrant. They may not have phone service either.

Parents who receive the verification request may not read English well enough to understand it — or even well enough to understand they must get someone to help because their kids otherwise won’t get fed.

But if schools don’t receive the required income proof, they can’t continue serving them free meals.

And that’s not all. Children — and all their family members — could also lose out on meals during the summer, when school isn’t in session.

The new CNA would allow states to provide low-income parents with $30 a month to partly compensate for their higher food costs during the summer. But only parents of children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals could qualify.

So if they didn’t pass the income-eligibility screening, they’d have to come up with the total cost of feeding their kids during the summer, unless they could rely on one of the regular summer meal programs.

Many can’t, for various reasons — and even fewer for the whole of the summer vacation. So what the bill gives with one hand, it would take away with the other.

Now, this is a problem that the Senate Agriculture Committee can resolve. Its chair and the most senior Democratic member work well together. The other members generally do too. They unanimously agreed on the bill we now have.

And we’ve no reason to believe that any of them wanted to take meals away from the very disadvantaged children at risk.

The Committee did, however, assume that the ramped-up verification process would find more children ineligible — and thus free up funds that would otherwise have to subsidize their free and reduced-price meals.

Those funds are already committed to provisions that would better ensure well-nourished children — the summer food benefit, among them.

And the Congressional Budget Office has already delivered a cost estimate that could cause some Senators to balk — not to mention the Republican majority in the House. That’s the heart of the hang-up, I understand.

Start tinkering with the verification requirements and (perish the thought) fewer children lose their free or very low-cost breakfasts, lunches and maybe even after-school snacks.

Well, we won’t have a new CNA before we have a new Congress. The clock is ticking toward the end of the session. And members won’t be in Washington for much of it.

They’ll presumably be preoccupied with must-pass bills when they briefly return after the elections — another spending measure to prevent a government shutdown, for example. So the Ag Committee has time for a fix that won’t harm low-income families.

No telling what will happen then. The House committee responsible for the CNA has produced an alarmingly different bill, though, at this point, not much different verification requirements.

So if the House passes the committee bill, negotiators might agree on them, especially if the Senate bill remains as-is. But they’d face much bigger challenges reaching agreement on the rest.

So the CNA might still go yet another year — or more — without reauthorization. Yet one can hope for a better outcome because the Senate bill would do more to deliver on the current law’s promise of “healthy, hunger-free children.”

That better outcome begins with the Senate’s passing a bill that doesn’t cause some of the most likely to be hungry and thus unhealthy to lose the free meals they get now.

Doesn’t end there, as I suggested. But it’s still the best way forward now.


HUD Acts to Limit Lead Hazards in Low-Income Housing, But Could Do More

October 6, 2016

I’ve said my piece, at least for now, on the leaded water crisis that recently had another 15 minutes of fame. Now to the recent policy development I left hanging.

We know that lead from sources other than water poses risks to far more children. The most common is lead in the paint used on houses before the federal government banned it in 1998.

Lead in the soil around houses — from flecking paint, the exhaust formerly emitted by cars and trucks or some combination — is a major hazard too. In at least one case, nearby factory operations left an extraordinarily high level of lead (and arsenic) in the soil a public housing complex sat on.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has rules to address lead hazards is housing it owns and housing subsidized by programs it administers, e.g., public housing, housing with units covered by vouchers.

But it requires “environmental intervention” only when the blood lead level in children tested in three or four times greater than the trigger the Centers for Disease Control has recommended.

HUD has (belatedly) heeded the CDC — and undoubtedly the widespread media coverage of lead poisoning found in children who live in poor neighborhoods.

It’s proposed a rule change that would align its trigger with the CDC’s — and potentially with any the CDC subsequently adopts.

The rule would also establish more comprehensive testing procedures for federally-owned and assisted housing when a young child living there has had a blood test showing lead above the new intervention level.

Swift interim controls and subsequent longer-term measures would apply wherever the inspections found lead paint hazards. So children who hadn’t been tested might be protected from further exposure, as would adults.

But the proposed rule still leaves them at high risk for lead poisoning. For example, it doesn’t change the types of inspections required before a family with children moves into a federally-subsidized unit — or a unit that will be subsidized by the family’s housing voucher.

For the latter and some of the former, that’s just a look around the place, not an actual test of the paint, dust, etc. When inspectors do find lead hazards, landlords don’t have to eliminate them before children suffer damage. They’ve got up to 90 days to finish the job.

They do have to do some things to limit exposure sooner, e.g., clean off surfaces. But note that a child’s high blood lead level often remains the trigger for thorough inspections.

So children will remain the canaries in the coal mine. And families will still have to choose between staying where their children incurred lead poisoning and leaving, perhaps for a shelter or a home in their car — this because the proposal, like the current rule, fails to ensure they can move to another affordable place.

The proposal also preserves a big exemption — no inspection of any sort for an efficiency unit, though the prospective tenant may plan to have a child living with her.

Or she may have one on the way. The CDC warns that lead poisoning can cause pregnant women to miscarry or lasting damages to babies that survive.

The lead hazard standards HUD uses for paint and dust are themselves flawed. The agency relies on the Environmental Protection Agency’s — one established more than 20 years ago, the other dating back to 2001.

Both permissible lead levels are far higher than what scientific research would now support. (A lawsuit seeks to change them, but HUD could de-link in favor of its own.)

In short, the proposed rule is a step in the right direction, but it wouldn’t protect low-income children as well as it could. Not the end of the story, however.

Interested parties have until the end of this month to comment on the proposal. One can hope the end result is a stronger final rule — and as soon as possible.

Because the health of young children in some 128,000 homes is at risk now — or already damaged. Countless more in the future, of course.

But even a stronger rule won’t protect them. Everything we read suggests that neither HUD nor EPA has the resources to ensure that their lead-poisoning protections don’t leave seemingly protected people in danger.

The endangered, if not already damaged, aren’t only children, as I’ve briefly noted before. Some will remain exceedingly vulnerable, unless Congress acts — and not only on the resources issue.

HUD, for example, requires no lead hazard inspections of subsidized units exclusively for low-income people with HIV/AIDS, unless they’re pregnant or will have a child under six living with them.

So here are people with compromised immune systems who may unknowingly live in a place that heightens their risks of diseases they’re already prone to.

Nothing HUD alone can do about this. Congress largely exempted the units when it created the Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS program in 1990, when we knew far less about the disease and what lead in the body can do.

More work then for advocates, even if HUD beefs up its proposal to afford children more protection.

NOTE: I’m indebted to a rulemaking petition filed by 30 organizations and academic experts and to Professor Emily Benfer at Loyola University Chicago School of Law for insights into he current HUD rule and what the proposal would and would not do. Opinions and any errors are my own.

Some People’s Water Crises Are More Urgent Than Others

October 3, 2016

A public epidemic has become public knowledge, thanks, in a manner of speaking, to egregious negligence by Michigan state and local Flint officials.

We’ve learned that millions of children are at risk of lead poisoning — or already have it. Undoubtedly adults too. And they can suffer a wide range of harms. But such research as we have focuses on young children because they’re at highest risk for lifelong damages.

So what then have our federal policymakers done since all this became common knowledge?

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has taken a first step toward strengthening protections against the most common sources of lead poisoning — old house paint and the soil around housing.

But I’ll defer that and focus here on water because it’s been made newly newsworthy by a cliffhanger we may see again.

The administration sent water, filters, funds and folks to Flint shortly after Michigan’s governor declared a state of emergency. But there are still reportedly problems with the water there. And they’ll cost many millions of dollars to fix.

Flint is hardly the only community with lead in the water that comes out of faucets in homes and schools. And, as with Flint, dumping some chemicals into the water supply won’t solve the problem. Lead pipes corrode and have to be replaced.

USA Today reports nearly 2,000 other water systems with higher lead levels than the maximum the Environmental Protection Agency has set as a trigger for action. They’re in all 50 states, it says.

In the District of Columbia too, it seems, though our big lead-in-the-water crisis supposedly ended in 2005 — not, however, because the District no longer has lead pipes. And not apparently because the chemicals added to the water protect us.

The agency responsible for public buildings recently found that over half the public school water systems it tested had lead levels higher than the EPA trigger.

That’s three times higher than what the Centers for Disease Control now says should trigger public health actions. So we’ve had a child health emergency for some time.

The Senate recently approved $220 million to address leaded water problems — this by an overwhelming majority. About $100 million would go to states with drinking water emergencies.

They’d get an additional $70 million to subsidize (not by much) loans for related infrastructure projects. Another $50 million would be divvied up among small, economically disadvantaged communities to help them comply with existing drinking water standards.

This much is fully offset in the much larger water resources development bill. The substantial investments needed to remedy water infrastructure problems would hinge on the outcomes of the annual budget process.

Leading Senate Democrats wanted the paid-for piece included in the continuing resolution needed to prevent a government shutdown. The Republican leadership would have none of it, though it included more than twice as much to aid recently-flooded communities, mainly in Louisiana.

A stalemate then because not enough Democrats would agree to vote on the CR unless it did something about both water crises. And the House couldn’t pass a CR without Democrats because too many Republicans there object to such a short-term stopgap.

A compromise forged by the House Speaker and Democratic Minority Leader averted this different sort of crisis. Seems that impending government shutdowns, like hangings, concentrate the mind wonderfully.

Basically, they agreed to amend the House version of the water resources bill. It had no funds for Flint or any other community whose residents, the youngest especially, are at risk of lead poisoning.

The amended bill, also passed by a large majority, would add $170 million. So there may be some money in the pipeline for some communities with lead in their water pipelines in the upcoming year.

But the $50 million difference in emergency spending is only one of many differences between the House and Senate bills. So negotiators will have a lot of work to do. And whatever they come up with will, of course, have to pass in both the House and Senate.

No such delay or doubts for the flooded communities, however, because their half million is in the CR. Some people’s water crises are more urgent than others.

Now, if lead-laden water had been flowing into members’ own homes — or out of the drinking fountains in their children’s schools ….