New Answers to Who Is Poor in America

May 15, 2017

Recent mail included not only the usual junk, requests for donations and bills, but a magazine from Stanford University’s Center on Poverty and Inequality. Such a surprise, since I hadn’t ordered it. And such an informative and thought-provoking issue.

It’s a series of what it terms “blueprints” for ending poverty, prefaced by two framing papers. One presents key facts that reforms should reflect, the other a litmus tests for them.

They seem to me more groundbreaking than the blueprints, fine as those are. So I’ll focus on the first—and more meaty — here. Will follow up with the second soon.

More Jobless, Childless Adults

The authors present two facts that indicate a changing structure in U.S. poverty.

They’re often ignored because they’re at the margins of our safety net programs and so would be harder to accommodate than, say, much-needed reforms in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. (Unintentionally confirming this, none of the blueprints addressed them.)

The first is the ongoing increase in jobless poverty — more specifically, the unemployment rate for working-age adults. Many are probably “disconnected,” i.e., not looking for work and so not counted in the reported rate.

It rises during recessions, of course. But in good times, as well as bad, working-age adults who don’t have children living with them — often referred to as childless — have dropped out of the labor market.

More in Dire Poverty

So the poverty population as a whole is becoming “a more deprived and destitute class”—not just poor, but deeply so, i.e., living on incomes less than half the poverty threshold or even the extreme $2.00 a day poverty. This is the second key fact.

But our safety net programs don’t reflect it, for several reasons. One is that they’re work-based. TANF, for example, aims to increase the training that will gain participants jobs. The Earned Income Tax Credit is only for people who’ve earned money by working.

The programs are also family-based. TANF, of course, is only for parents who’ve got children living with them. The EITC favors married couples with children and sets a very low maximum benefit for the childless.

Opportunities Out of Reach

The third key fact differs from the others because it’s not directly a change in the structure of our poverty population. The authors refer to it as the “commodification of opportunity”—a fancy term for several developments that help account for poverty.

They include low and unpredictable wages for both workers in regular jobs who’ve got, at most, a high school education and the growing number in the gig economy, e.g., Uber drivers, temp agency employees.

Two other developments have to do with the composition of the poverty population. One is the growing share who are Hispanic. Another, closely related is the share who are immigrants.

They’re at high risk not only because many are undocumented and so justifiably fear complaining of wage theft. Most who are legally here don’t become eligible for major safety net benefits for their first five years.

And however long they’ve been here, a goodly number have limited job opportunities because they speak little or no English.

Still another and again related development is increasing neighborhood segregation. The authors focus here on research on children who grow up in poor neighborhoods, i.e., the potential next generation in the working-age adult poverty population.

But, in fact, living in a poor neighborhood disadvantages the current generation too —  because of few nearby decent-paying jobs, for example, public transportation to get to them, fewer working neighbors to serve as networks and such high levels of stress as to interfere with job training and searches.

Now comes genuine commodification, i.e., the need to buy what’s needed for a decent-paying job. When TANF began, a diploma from a public high school sufficed for a job that paid more than a poverty-level wage.

As we all know, you now need postsecondary education and/or training for in-demand skills. Both are often costly. So it’s sort of them that has gets and those that don’t doesn’t.

Add to these the difficulties low-income parents have in giving their children opportunities that will pay off in the long run. These include high-quality early education delivered in daycare centers.

And following that, ready access to good public schools, since that generally requires living in a well-off neighborhood, where rents are high or nonexistent because it’s a homeowner community.

The authors intersperse these facts with brief remarks on what policies could do and what some already are. But what’s clear enough is that our anti-poverty plans need some significant adjustments.


House Majority Denies Low-Income Seniors and People With Disabilies Choice of Living in Their Homes

May 12, 2017

Some followers may have noticed a long silence. I’ve just rejoined the networked world after another fall — this one, unlike the first, a complication of a complication of a condition only recently diagnosed.

As you might imagine, I’ve been dwelling on health care even more than I would have otherwise. So I was ready to launch a diatribe against major, widely-reported harms inflicted by the House repeal-replacement bill.

I’ll instead focus on another that a columnist for TalkPoverty.org ferreted out. It’s directly relevant to people in my condition, i.e., elderly and/or disabled, at least temporarily, but only those with incomes low enough for eligibility in their state’s Medicaid program.

The Affordable Care Act did more than aim to expand Medicaid eligibility nationwide. It also offered state incentives to expand Medicaid in-home services to the overlapping groups I cited above.

Among the most successful, says the TalkPoverty columnist is the Community First Choice program. It increases states’ usual federal match on their spending by 6% for services that will maximize recipients’ ability to continue living safely and as self-sufficiently as possible in their own homes.

They can receive not only help with so-called activities of daily living, e.g., bathing, eating, and health-related tasks like taking medications on schedule, but also training so they can master these tasks. They can also get equipment to assist them and training on how to use it.

Agencies may further support living at home by providing hands-on help with tasks like meal preparation, light housework and transportation.

Here’s a true win-win. We all, I suppose want to stay in our homes, assuming they’re safe and in relatively good repair.

We surely prefer living in our community to an institution where there’s no one we know and good care is far from assured. Perhaps also not one we know who cares enough and lives close enough to visit regularly.

Government agencies surely prefer this too. An in-depth AARP study found that Medicaid paid roughly three times as much for institutional care as for home-based services. The data are far from current, but there’s no reason to think the basic cost saving has significantly changed.

Another study — this one of a pilot project — found that Medicaid costs dropped by about $11,900 a year for every older adult transitioned from a nursing home back into his/her community.

The House bill would eliminate the CFC program in 2020, cutting an estimated $12 billion in federal Medicaid funding in the first six years.

It’s a minuscule fraction of the nearly the nearly $840 billion the bill would cut from Medicaid. But it would somewhat more than pay for the late-added funds states could use for high-risk insurance pools, if they opted to let insurance companies deny coverage because of pre-existing conditions.

You may have already read about this provision because it’s how the Republican leadership quelled colleagues’ well-grounded anxieties about eliminating the ACA’s guarantee against such discrimination.

People who’ve suffered injuries like mine would be vulnerable, of course. But we’re told that insurance companies have classified a wide range of conditions as pre-existing, including acne, transexuality, pregnancy and recovery from domestic violence or rape with help from therapy.

For this and other reasons, the high-risk pools probably won’t offer insurance that’s either sufficiently broad or affordable. We need only look to pools states established.

They surely won’t without a lot more money than the Medicaid shift, even if states also tap other, more broadly defined funding streams. Two conservative economists estimated the annual cost at $15-$20 billion — this back in 2010. The left-leaning Center for American Progress estimates at least $31 billion.

I’m inclined to think that some House Republicans who voted for the bill knew this, though, as we know for sure, House Speaker Ryan chose to rush it through, rather than wait for an official score from the Congressional Budget Office.

We can also, I think, be pretty sure that House Republicans know they passed a bad bill, from both the promised repeal and replace-with-something=better perspectives. They believe passing nothing would be worse, what with their valuing their re-election prospects more than their constituents’ well-being.

Happily, the Senate will start from scratch and clearly intends to take as much time as the drafters (all Republicans) feel they need.

So the story’s far from over. But broad-based research and advocacy organizations—and the rest of us interested parties—need be less focused on this one hot issue, when there are already many others.


Rehashed Attacks on SSDI, New Rebuttals, Proposed Reforms

May 1, 2017

The Washington Post recently published a long article on Social Security Disability Insurance benefits in small rural communities. It set off a well-deserved backlash. But it made me wonder whether anyone had ideas for improving the program. Hence this post.

Aspersions on SSDI and Beneficiaries

The Post article focused on a former roofer who was suffering chronic pain because he’d fallen to the ground. He couldn’t find a different sort of job. So he was weighing whether to apply for SSDI.

The thrust of the article was that SSDI, is sort of ongoing unemployment insurance benefit — and how both the number of beneficiaries and costs have soared. “Filled with tropes, gimmicks and dogwhistles frequently promoted by right-wing opponents of SSDI,” said Media Matters.

I was going to take a pass — partly because I dealt with these allegations when an NPR reporter patched together factoids and personal opinions to argue that SSDI has become “a de facto welfare program” and partly because expert advocates swiftly pounced, as they had before.

The Post followed up with an editorial calling for reforms, while suggesting, as did the NPR reporter, that many SSDI recipients aren’t all that disabled. Further fodder for Congressional Republicans eager to “reform” so-called entitlements.

And not only they. Trump’s Office of Management and Budget Director made the same point. SSDI has “effectively become a long-term, permanent unemployment program.” He looks forward to talking with his boss about “ways to fix it.”

Then we got a rebuttal of the Post’s rural county analysis from two policy experts at the Center for American Progress. The Post published a correction, based on a different data set. Still wrong said the rebuttal team — essentially cherry-picking, since it finds only one out of more than 5,100 that backs up its still-broad claims.

Surely SSDI deserves a strong defense, Bad enough you can’t earn money for at least a year at any job whatever because your disability is so severe or because you’ll probably be dead.

Bad too in many cases because disabilities can be painful, hard to adjust to and costly, even with Medicare — a benefit paired with SSDI, if you live long enough.

And bad because you’re tarred with accusations of fraud The program isn’t fraud-free, but two former Social Security Administration officials put the rate at less than 1%.

Proposed Improvements

So should we insist that policymakers leave the program untouched? Experts — and not only those leaning left — say emphatically not.

The Cato Institute, for example, tackles a problem that other more moderate experts have also addressed. Under current law, SSDI recipients may try to reenter the workforce for a year, if they earn no more than $1,170 a month or a bit more than that if they’re blind.

A dollar more and they’re over a cliff because that supposedly shows they’re capable of substantial gainful activity — a hard-and-fast disqualifier for SSDI.

Needless to say, I hope, this hardly encourages recipients who can’t earn a whole lot more from trying to earn what they can, even if they might earn more over time.

So Cato proposes a benefits offset for wages earned, but also a subsidy from another funding source that would that would increase up to a higher level than the SGA. And those who opt for this dual support wouldn’t lose their SSDI eligibility.

This isn’t the only problem, however. The overly-complex, often prolonged process of gaining approval for SSDI benefits necessarily means that applicants mustn’t work for quite a long time. If they’re rejected, as many are they have a hard time finding a job they can perform.

One proposal that two former chairs of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security chose for a book would have a new screening system that would identify applicants who could continue to work if they received swift supports, e.g., vocational rehabilitation, assistive technologies like a computer speaks what’s on the monitor.

Employers would, of course, have to retain them — or if they were too disabled for a work support solution hire those who weren’t. Another of the published papers would give them an incentive for the former by requiring them to cover the first two years of disability claims — some skin in the game, so to speak..

The screening system proposal would instead effectively insulate them from liabilities for noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act if they kept their disabled workers who’d received supports on the payroll. (Feel a little queasy about this.)

Still another proposal looks instead to transitional, i.e., short-term, subsidized jobs in the private sector– rather like the highly successful use many states made of the Recovery Act’s TANF Emergency Contingency Fund.

This, however, would be for potentially work-capable beneficiaries, new applicants and those whose applications SSA rejected.

Federal funds would subsidize their pay up to $10 an hour. That would boost their income by roughly $428 more than the average benefit.

But most beneficiaries surveyed had jobs requiring few specialized skills, and only a third had any education beyond high school. So one could assume their benefits were below the average.

Employers would get not only workers they wouldn’t have pay. The program would cover their responsibilities for payroll taxes, unemployment insurance taxes and premiums for workers compensation insurance. In short, good hiring incentives here.

Employers could, at any time, hire their transitional workers, but they couldn’t keep them on as transitional for more than six months.

During that time, transitional workers would have a job counselor, presumably to resolve problems. When the time limit came, the counselor would help those who’d done well to find a regular job. If none panned out within a month, the seeker could become transitional again.

In this respect, it’s somewhat like the trial period the current SSDI program allows in that in eliminates a disincentive to trying to reenter the workforce, but it’s obviously much more supportive than merely allowing a beneficiary to find a job that pays more than the SGA.

The last piece of this proposal tackles problems with the Earned Income Tax Credit that disadvantage all workers who don’t have children living with them and those with children whose spouse also works.

These have been issues on progressive policy agendas for a long time — and the former for the hardly progressive House Speaker Ryan.

Prognosis

The return-to-work proposals could and should raise concerns among progressives, especially that triaging. But one can imagine building in safeguards against denying SSDI to applicants unable to work.

The proposals would appeal to conservative policymakers, I think. They like safety net programs that involve work and/or preparation for work — in other words, programs that aim to get beneficiaries out of them.

Conversely, they don’t like programs that provide ongoing cash assistance without some sort of work component when beneficiaries aren’t demonstrably incapable of doing anything for pay.

Doubtful that we’ll see any of these proposals taken up by this Congress. But the SSDI Trust Fund will probably run out of money toward the end of 2023.

Rather than again redirecting payroll taxes money from the retirement trust account, thus accelerating its shortfall, we might see one or more of them or some combination on the legislative agenda. And one devoutly hopes someone else in the White House.


Not Just Kansas Anymore

April 26, 2017

Back in 2010, Kansas Governor Brownback and his Republican-controlled legislature initiated a “real-live experiment” in a particular brand of conservative economics. It blew up. And we, who don’t live in Kansas, may get hit by a much bigger explosion.

Experiment Blows Gaping Budget Holes

The Kansas Republicans eliminated income taxes for variously-structured small businesses. They also reduced income taxes for individual filers. This, Brownback said, would attract businesses, grow those there and create many thousands of jobs.

Well, Kansas, which must balance its budget every year, saw income taxes fall about $54 million short of projections — and then $333 million. Brownback filled the holes by shifting money from funds meant for special purposes..

Not enough. So Brownback cut funds for a range of programs, e.g., higher education, Medicaid, in-home services for seniors. And he tried to cut funding for K-12 education by $28 million — an action the Kansas Supreme Court found unconstitutional.

Why should we who don’t live in Kansas or have ties to anyone who does care? Because the Trump administration and leading Congressional Republicans have the same theory in mind for their tax cuts. And they’ll predictably trigger cuts in cuts in programs that benefit low-income people.

Faith in Theory Remains

A theory dating back to the mid-1970s, holds that tax cuts will stimulate so much economic growth that the additional revenues gained under the lower rates will offset the seeming losses, even reap more — because business will invest more, people work more, save and invest more.

It’s now commonly known as supply side economics — or pejoratively trickle down. Note how it favors tax cuts for corporations and well-off individuals, since lower-wage workers already have to earn as much as they can and have little or nothing left over to buy stocks and bonds.

Both the theory and some specific features of Brownback’s experiment underpin what the Trump administration and Congressional Republican leaders have in mind for their promised tax reform.

House Speaker Ryan’s Better Way tax reform plan includes large tax cuts on individuals’ investment income, lower tax rates for all businesses and an immediate, instead of a multi-year write-off on their investments.

The promise here is economic growth — in the labor force, productivity and wages. Though the cuts will be larger than “loopholes” and deductions eliminated, the package will, the plan says, be revenue-neutral, i.e. neither more nor less tax revenues collected.

Ryan cites a fairly recent House rule that requires the Joint Committee on Taxation to use dynamic scoring, rather than beginning with the current revenue baseline and then adding and subtracting estimated gains from increases and losses from cuts.

Last year’s concurrent budget resolution, i.e., the basic blueprint for budgets the House and Senate will develop, directed the Congressional Budget Office to do the same, insofar as it responsibly can.

No one with any basic economic smarts doubts that taxes have some effect on choices that affect growth. JCT and CBO factored these in their pre-dynamic scoring.

But the economists must build and use even more complex predictive models for dynamic scores. These — and so the results — can vary widely. But JCT and CBO  must deliver only one score, rather than a range, with explanations as they used to.

And now Trump’s Director of Office of Management and Budget says that both the budget and the administration’s tax reform proposal will reflect some dynamic scoring, but with a considerably higher growth rate than CBO’s.

The plan, he more recently said, ‘”will pay for itself” with growth — nearly $2 trillion over the first 10 years. The Tax Policy Center, on the other hand, estimates a $6.2 trillion loss in revenues, plus another trillion for interest on the mounting debt.

Devil Isn’t Only in Model Details

White House economists are still hammering out details of the tax reform plan, reportedly consulting with Congressional leaders — Republicans only, one infers.

Two things we know for sure. The business tax part will be “phenomenal” and the speaker, whom I trust need not be identified, believes the whole package “bigger than any tax cut ever.”

But what if, as in Kansas, it results in revenue losses? Edward Kleinbard, a former JCT chief of staff, thinks this likely — in part because the models assume that only individuals (and one assumes businesses) make productive investments. But government spending boosts growth too.

Less of that and the deficit will rise. The dynamic scoring partisans will push for deep cuts in investment programs and/or social insurance, he warns.

We know from experience that a rising deficit will prompt a wide range of cuts — both safety net and investments that give low-income people opportunities to earn more, e.g., by gaining more education and marketable skills, better public transportation, renovated neighborhoods that attract businesses.

These all give their children a better chance to do better too.

When Republicans balked at raising the debt ceiling in 2011, the Obama administration brokered a deal. Congress then passed the Budget Control Act — a two-part spending reduction measure.

We first had across-the-board cuts for both defense and non-defense programs that depend on annual appropriations, then caps on each, which Congress and the President later agreed to temporarily modify.

And look what’s happened.

As I’ve said before, programs generally need more funding just to sustain a steady state because costs rise — rent that housing vouchers subsidize, food and beverages that nutrition aid programs pay for* teaching materials, salaries and operating costs in public education programs, from pre-K through college, etc.

But funding for non-defense programs is now 16% lower in real dollars than in 2010. Title I funding targeted to high-poverty schools has remained basically flat, notwithstanding its current Every Child Succeeds Act name.

The Child Care and Development Block Grant — the largest source of federal subsidies for lower-income families serves fewer children in an average month than in any year since 1998, according to the latest official figures.

The Community Development Block Grant, which Trump wants to eliminate, lost $6 million last year alone. Local housing authorities are shy well over $26.5 billion needed to repair and/or renovate deteriorating public housing units merely to avoid further losses, estimated at 10,000 a year.

These are only examples I can readily recall in enough detail and find links for. We will surely have a plethora with those phenomenal tax cuts.

* Most nutrition assistance programs administered by the Agriculture Department must receive enough funding for everyone eligible. This is not true, however, for WIC or two programs that supply food directly, rather than as a cash-equivalent or a reimbursement.


What Do Our Federal Income Taxes Pay For?

April 24, 2017

We who didn’t request an extension (gloat) have filed our federal income tax returns. There’s a lot of chatter about where our taxpayer dollars go — even a Congressman who tells his constituents that they don’t pay his salary.

We do, of course. But more generally, what do we pay for? The National Priorities Project answers again this year. So I put what I owed into its online tool and converted the dollars into shares, since these would be the same for everyone.

Here’s what I learned.

The same shares would be true for everyone who owed income taxes. Only the actual dollars would differ.

The single largest share of my income taxes went for healthcare programs29%. About 80% of this helped pay for Medicaid and Medicare (one of its three funding streams).

Next largest share to the military — roughly 24%. Only about 20% of this went for personnel costs of any sort.

NPP also itemizes, for the interested, what the Pentagon pays for nuclear weapons and to Lockheed Martin, whose trouble-plagued F-35 fighter plane has cost us nearly $4 billion. An email from NPP tells me that we pay over six times more to Lockheed than what we spend on all foreign aid.

Third share went for interest on the debt — 13%. You may recall that Congressional Republicans used the government’s urgent need to borrow more so it could pay what it owed as a lever to force down spending through sequestration and the budget caps. And that they later actually shut down the government in hopes of defunding Obamacare.

Doubtful they’ll access their tax receipts. But the bill that simply suspended the debt ceiling expired a little over a month ago. And some are warning of another skirmish.

My fourth largest share paid for unemployment and labor programs — 7.5%, presumably everything federal agencies spend to get people into — or back into—the workforce.

This same share supports what the Labor Department contributes to unemployment insurance benefits when times are especially hard and the rules it issues and enforces to protect workers from workplace health hazards and wage theft. The latter now include updated overtime pay requirements, but may no longer, coming sometime next year.

Then veterans benefits — about 6%. This includes, among other things, payments veterans receive when they’re disabled while serving, the GI bill, home loans and pensions for low-income surviving spouses. Most of the rest of this share goes to the problem-riddled Veterans Health Administration.

Next come food and agriculture — nearly 5%. Here’s where we find, among other things, SNAP (the food stamp program) and the Agriculture Department’s other nutrition aid programs.

Also, in an altogether different mode, the subsidies Congress gives to farmers — mostly big agribusinesses — to cushion them against price drops, insure them against other business risks and more.

Government next — 4.2%. NPP breaks out only three pieces, all enforcement — and two clearly aimed at ramped-up actions against undocumented immigrants and would-be’s.

But we’ve got to assume, I think, that this line item includes spending for all non-military personnel and activities, including Congress members’ salaries — $174,000 this year, plus benefits.

Transportation gets a 3.2% share. Everything the Transportation Department does gets some share of this share. including controlling air traffic and, as all flyers know, vigilantly trying to keep us from hijacking or blowing up planes.

Education gets a 2.8% share, according to NPP’s analysis. I’d put it at 3.2% because NPP classifies Head Start and related programs as community spending.

It’s true that Head Start and Early Head Start for younger kids do more than ready them for kindergarten, e.g. screen them for health and developmental problems, link families to needed services. But their primary aim is starting low-income children off on as level a playing field as possible.

Wherever you put it, Head Start’s share is far from the largest NPP breaks out. That distinction goes to Pell grants, work-study and other forms of federal aid for lower-income college students. These rolled together receive a larger share than federal aid to elementary and secondary schools — 35 %, as compared to 27%.

And I’d be remiss not to note that the National Endowment for the Arts, which Trump wants to eliminate, gets less than .002% of education’s share, as NPP calculates it — and roughly a tenth of that for everything our federal government uses our income tax dollars for.

Shifting Head Start and EHS, as I have, leaves housing and community with a 1.7%, rather than a 2.1% share.

Here we have everything the Department of Housing and Urban Development spends to help make housing affordable for lower-income people, shelter and temporarily house those who are homeless and make lower-income neighborhoods better places to live, e.g., by attracting businesses and thus job opportunities, providing needed services.

The money goes to local communities as grants. The largest of these is the Community Development Block Grant — another program on the Trump hit list because it’s “not well-targeted to the poorest populations and “has not demonstrated results.”

Followers already know what I — and many others — think of that line of argument.

Energy and environment get a 1.6% share of our income taxes. Seems it’s likely to shrink to an even smaller fraction, what with Trump’s seeking a 31% cut in the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget, crippling its ability to fulfill its legal responsibilities for protecting us from range of environmental health hazards, including climate change.

Lastly, we have, in rank order international affairs and science. These together get about 2.8% of the total.

Say you don’t like the way the budget apportions your federal income tax dollars. NPP has a tool that lets you reallocate them — and gives you trade-offs.

These are mostly shifts from the $528.5 billion Defense Department budget, which NPP has long viewed as excessive. Interesting to see what even small nicks could do for lower-income people.


Bowser Budget Scants Needs of Homeless and Others at High Risk

April 20, 2017

Picking up where I left off, some major parts of Mayor Bowser’s proposed budget don’t link as obviously to the inclusive prosperity road its title promises as, for example, adult education and available, affordable child care.

Yet two other parts we care about do because both are virtual preconditions to earning income and having enough left over after basic needs to invest in boosting one’s marketable knowledge and skills.

But I don’t want to leave impression that I equate “prosperity” with income or wealth, as I think Bowser’s budget title does because it seems an indirect way of referring to the extraordinarily high level of income inequality in the District.

The Latin root of “prosperity” means made successful, but also made happy, according to one’s hopes. One can surely make a homeless family happy by providing it with decent, stable housing it can afford without—or before — doing whatever necessary to boost its income so that it can pay full rent.

So we need to look at the following from multiple perspectives.

Affordable Housing

No one, I suppose, needs anything further said about the acute shortage of housing in the District that its lowest-income residents can afford.

Such prosperity as they might achieve — through taking college courses, for example — is beyond their means because, if they’re not homeless, most are paying more than half their income for rent and more than half of those at least 80%.

The Mayor, to her credit, would again commit $100 million to the Housing Production Trust Fund, plus $10 million to a new fund dedicated solely to preserving existing affordable housing.

But helping developers finance new affordable housing construction and/or renovations isn’t enough to produce units affordable for the lowest-income residents.

Those units need housing vouchers attached to cover the difference between what tenants must pay — no more than 30% of their income — and ongoing operating costs, e.g., maintenance, utilities, staff wages. The Mayor fails to propose funding to increase the number of these so-called project-based vouchers.

And as I earlier said, additional funding could be needed merely to sustain vouchers now in use because if Congress extends the current funding level for federal Housing Choice vouchers, the DC Housing Authority won’t have the money to issue any.

If the Republican majorities in Congress accede to anything like Trump’s budget plan, a larger loss, as yet unestimated at the state/District level.

Homelessness

Want of affordable housing obviously causes homelessness. But it does more than that. It’s hard to get and keep a job when you’re living in a shelter.

That’s especially true if the shelter’s for adults only because they generally have to get in line in mid-afternoon to get back in. And those who make it may not be able to wash themselves and are highly vulnerable to theft.

There goes the cell phone that’s the only way to contact them — and the photo ID they’ll need, if they have one.

All but impossible to get a job if they’re among the chronically homeless without the safety, stability and appropriate services they’d get in permanent supportive housing.

The Mayor does increase PSH funding by $2.7 million. But that would meet only 30% of what’s needed to end chronic homelessness, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute reports. (The target year set by the strategic plan the Mayor’s embraced obviously won’t be met,)

Other single homeless people get shorted in several different ways. No additional rapid re-housing for them, though some temporarily down on their luck could pick up the full rent when their short-term subsidies end.

About 46% for less for families as in the current fiscal year. But its success in ending homelessness — or as the program’s formally titled achieving “stabilization” — is at the very least debatable.

And the District’s youngest homeless people — those under 25 who’re on their own in the city — will continue to suffer from neglect, in addition to the egregious neglect (or abuse) that caused some to leave home to begin with.

Others became homeless when they became legally adults. Various reasons for this. For example, they were either kicked out by their parents (something that can happen earlier) or reached the maximum age for foster care and didn’t have foster parents who’d foster them for free — or any one else who’d take them in.

These young people need safe, stable housing, but also education and/or training and mentoring because, as the National Network for Youth puts it, many are in a state of “extreme disconnection.”

In other words, they’re worst cases of youth commonly referred to as “disconnected” — or more hopefully, “opportunity.” They’re not only neither in school or working. They lack basic life skills, e.g., how to keep themselves healthy, look for a job, manage such money as they make.

The DC Interagency Council on Homelessness developed a five-year plan specifically for homeless youth, based on census (no link available) that’s surely an undercount. It nevertheless captured 545 youth who were either homeless or insecurely housed, e.g. couch-surfing.

The ICH developed a five-year homeless youth plan, as an amendment to the District’s basic homeless services plan requires. The Mayor’s budget invests $2.4 million — less than half what the upcoming (and first) year requires.

Homeless now — others to become so. How then will the District make not only youth, but former youth homelessness brief, rare, brief and non-recurring  — let alone enable these potential contributors to our economy and our civic life share in the prosperity the Mayor dangles before us?


Inclusive Prosperity Programs Shortchanged in Mayor Bowser’s Budget

April 17, 2017

My last post merely mentioned shortfalls in the Mayor’s proposed budget, due at least partly to the $100 million or so she chose to forfeit by doing nothing to halt the automatically triggered tax cuts.

I’ll turn now to my picks for programs she shortchanges, based on how she styles her budget — a roadmap to inclusive prosperity.” Still only summaries. And not all programs some advocates have flagged.

Nevertheless, more than I can cover in a single post with enough substance to convey what’s under-funded — or unfunded — and why that violates the budget’s promise. So I’ll deal here with what seem the most obvious and followup with a couple of others that matter too.

Education and Training

We also all know that education and relevant job training generally move people along the road to some modicum of prosperity. For many adults in the District, the first step must be remedial education — basic literacy in reading and math, help in preparing for the GED exams.

For others, appropriate programs include those leading to a regular high school diploma and /or vocational education courses in other publicly-funded institutions, e.g., charter schools and alternative education in regular public schools like the Ballou High School’s STAY program.

Several surveys have found that adult learners miss classes because they can’t come up with the transit fare. Eighty-six percent of the youngest who had subsidized transportation said it would hard or altogether impossible to attend without it.

No reason to believe that’s not true for at least as many older adults, who’ve often got to spend more of such income as they have on basic needs for both themselves and their children. And, of course, we’ve got to assume that some of all ages drop out.

The Deputy Mayor for Education recommended an adult learner parallel to the Kids Ride program, which covers the public transit costs of getting to and from school.

Not a big ticket item—a mere $1.5–2 million. But no money in the Mayor’s budget for it.

Double-Duty Work Support

The full, unsubsidized cost of child care in the District is higher, on average, than in any state. Though low-income parents are officially eligible for subsidies that help pay for it, as a practical matter it’s difficult, if not impossible to find a center that will accept them.

This is a long-standing problem rooted in the insufficient rates the District uses to reimburse providers. For this, among other reasons, it was shy roughly 14,000 slots for infants and toddlers in 2015.

They’re the most costly to care for properly, what with diaper changing, feeding and all — hence local center charges averaging $22,658 a year.

The kids are too young for pre-K, of course. But the quality of care, e.g., nurturing relationships, talking to, has more impact on brain development than at any later stage. The very young children who get it will do better in school — and thus have a better chance of sharing in prosperity.

Now, if you can’t find trustworthy care for your child, you’re unlikely to work. Nor enroll in an education or training program that would prepare you to do so. And you won’t do either if you can’t pay for it.

Charges for licensed childcare are likely to increase, since the District recently set new licensing standards that require not only teachers, but their assistants to have at least a two-year college degree, unless they’ve got an independently-awarded Child Development Associate credential.

Those who manage to get either surely — and reasonably — will expect increases in their pay. It’s already, on average, extremely low — $26,470, on average, according to the latest figures.

If they don’t get them they can find employers that will. And that’s likely to further reduce open slots, since replacing them would be as difficult as keeping those who left.

Yet the Mayor’s budget doesn’t nothing about this. It would instead put $15.3 million into a new initiative to increase center capacity. But the new slots would be market rate — helpful for better-off parents, but no help at all for the most in need of affordable care to move down her road.

Paid Family Leave

The Mayor proposes no funding to translate the paid family leave law the Council passed into an operating program.

That requires both the creation of a new agency to administer the law, e.g., to ensure employers pay what they owe, pay out to eligible workers for the time off they take, and a new computer system to make all this possible.

We know the Mayor doesn’t like the law. But the essence of being an executive is executing laws.

Forcing more than half a million workers to wait for who knows how much longer to either keep working when they need time off for compelling  for compelling family reasons — or at least as likely forgo needed income — hardly comports with including them in prosperity.

Her refusal to propose the $20 million needed to get the program started doesn’t, I think, reflect only spending constraints imposed by her deciding not to even hit the pause button on the tax cuts. But they do perhaps provide some cover.