Author Archives: afscme

Forever in Your Debt: Who Has Student Loan Debt, and Who’s Worried?

Source: Caroline Ratcliffe, Signe-Mary McKernan, Urban Institute, June 2013

From the abstract:
Outstanding student loan balances in the United States total roughly $1 trillion, with student loan debt following one of every five adults. People across the income, age, and educational attainment spectrums have student loan debt, but it is particularly concentrated in some groups. African Americans and Hispanics are about twice as likely to have student loan debt as whites. Fifty-seven percent of people with student loans are concerned that they may be unable to repay that debt. This concern cuts across demographic and economic groups but is more prevalent among people with children, with lower household incomes, and women.
See also:
Searching for Relief: Desperate Borrowers and the Growing Student Loan “Debt Relief” Industry
Source: National Consumer Law Center, June 19, 2013

A student loan “debt relief” industry has sprung up in response to the demand for student loan borrower assistance and this report documents multiple problems as well as potential violations of consumer federal and state laws. Given the many misrepresentations uncovered, it is unlikely that these companies are providing quality services in return for the money they are charging. Such practices severely compound the pain of vulnerable consumers seeking to find resolutions to difficult student debt problems. The U.S. Department of Education should make it easier for student loan borrowers to access its borrower assistance programs, and federal and state authorities should ensure that these companies comply with the law so that consumers truly understand what services they are buying.

States Missing Out on Millions in Medicaid for Prisoners

Source: Christine Vestal, Stateline.org, June 25, 2013

Only a dozen states have taken advantage of a long-standing option to stick the federal government with at least half the cost of hospitalizations and nursing home stays of state prison inmates. The other states have left tens of millions of federal dollars on the table, either because they didn’t know about a federal rule dating to 1997 or they were unable to write the laws and administrative processes to take advantage of it….

…Why have so few states and localities taken advantage of the opportunity to collect millions in federal money to defray correctional health care costs? Like everything else connected with Medicaid, the rules are complicated and implementing the program requires cooperation among at least three separate agencies: corrections, Medicaid and local social services.

Another problem is that inmates don’t necessarily want to cooperate with prison personnel once they explain they are trying to defray some of their costs by drawing on federal funds….Another reason is that state corrections agencies didn’t find out about the ruling right away. The announcement first went from Washington to federal regional Medicaid officials who interpreted the ruling before sending it to Medicaid agencies in the states. Medicaid agencies then further analyzed the ruling before alerting the corrections agencies. Some corrections departments never got the memo.

Delaware, Louisiana and Oklahoma were the first states to use Medicaid for inmate hospitalization. As word of mouth traveled, a few more states enacted the needed laws and administrative procedures….As a result, most states likely will not be prepared to take advantage of it for the 2014 expansion, Strugar-Fritsch said. But once states understand how much federal money they’re leaving on the table, most will do what it takes to set up the needed systems, she predicted….

2013 KIDS COUNT Data Book

Source: Annie E. Casey Foundation, June 2013

From the abstract:
Tracking 16 indicators of child well-being, the 2013 KIDS COUNT Data Book finds that children in the United States continue to make gains in the areas of education and health despite a growing poverty rate. This year’s Data Book also offers expanded coverage of America’s youngest children, adding to the ongoing national conversation on early childhood education. New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts ranked highest for overall child well-being in the report, with Nevada, Mississippi and New Mexico ranked lowest.
See also:
– Read the Data Book and related resources
– See national and state profiles on key indicators of child well-being
– Find out how your state ranks
– Review regional and state rankings quickly with the interactive KIDS COUNT data wheel
View the KIDS COUNT Publications and Resources Series

State, Local Policies Make Important Steps Forward for Workplace Flexibility

Source: Liz Ben-Ishai, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), June 2013

…Last month, the state of Vermont passed the country’s first law that includes a provision giving workers the “right to request” a flexible work schedule. And on the heels of Vermont’s exciting victory, earlier this month, San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu introduced a proposed ballot measure for rules that would give workers who are caregivers a “right to request” flex work. Such laws allow employees to file requests with their employers to telecommute, job share, work part time, or adjust their schedules – all options that can greatly reduce the burden parents and other caregivers face when trying to meet the demands of their jobs and care for their families….

Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment – Fifth Report to Congress

Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water (4606M), EPA 816-R-13-006, April 2013

From the fact sheet:
…The survey estimated a total national infrastructure need of $384.2 billion for the 20-year period from January 2011 through December 2030. American Indian and Alaska Native Village systems represent $3.3 billion of the total national need. It is important to note that the scope of the survey is limited to those needs eligible to receive DWSRF assistance – thus excluding capital projects related primarily to dams, raw water reservoirs, future growth, and fire protection….With $247.5 billion in needs over the next 20 years, transmission and distribution projects represent the largest category of need. This result is consistent with the fact that transmission and distribution mains account for most of the nation’s water infrastructure. The other categories, in descending order of need are: treatment, storage, source, and a miscellaneous category of needs called “other.”…The results of the state survey show that the nation’s medium-sized community water systems (serving between 3,301 and 100,000 people) account for the greatest share, 43 percent or $161.8 billion, of the total national state system need. Large and small systems also have substantial needs of $145.1 billion and $64.5 billion, respectively….

Slashed Public Payrolls Make the Unemployment Problem Worse

Source: Center for Effective Government, June 18, 2013

…Although the private sector is recovering, recent government policies have not been helping. The jobs situation would be substantially better if local, state, and federal governments were not cutting their payrolls. Since the start of the recession, about 528,000 government jobs have been eliminated, and a smaller percentage of the employed workforce works in government. The public sector added some jobs during the official period of the recession, but cut back more steeply since it technically ended. “Since the recovery began in June 2009, the public sector has lost nearly three-quarters-of-a-million jobs (737,000),” the Economic Policy Institute’s Heidi Shierholz pointed out. “These losses are an enormous drain on the recovery.”

The crunch in the public sector job market is exacerbating the substantial employment needs in the U.S. that are not being met. There are 11.8 million unemployed people; some 4.4 million (37 percent) have been searching for work for more than six months. Some 7.9 million are “involuntary part-time workers” – meaning they work part-time but want full-time work – and 780,000 have stopped searching for work altogether; these people are not counted in the official 7.6 percent unemployment rate….

…There is a legitimate debate about the best way government can create jobs – whether indirectly through greater spending on infrastructure and other investments that increase private sector hiring or through direct public sector hiring (school teachers, clean-up crews, etc.) – but in the last few years, the nation has not been having that debate. Instead, austerity-oriented politicians have been entirely focused on cutting down the size of government and immediate deficit reduction….While the economy has begun to slowly recover in the private sector, reductions in public sector spending over the last three years have held back growth and allowed unemployment to remain unconscionably high. The conversation should change. One of the best things we could do to reverse course is to end the slash-and-burn approach to government so prevalent since 2010….

Legislators and special interests are making sure we get the state court judges they want

Source: L. Jay Jackson, ABA Journal, July 2013

Not content that Iowa Supreme Court justices have been sufficiently chastised for legalizing gay marriage, a group of conservative state legislators tried to cut the salaries of the four remaining justices who were part of the 2009 decision. In April the lawmakers filed an amendment to slash their annual pay from $163,200 to $25,000. Voters had already removed the other three justices who voted for same-sex marriage in a 2010 retention election after activists campaigned against them….Although Iowa legislators dropped the pay cut amendment in May, experts nevertheless expect more such efforts. They say these measures reflect a broad trend of attacks on impartial arbiters who vote in ways that anger certain groups. It is part of a national war on state courts fought mostly by legislators and special interests who are targeting judges with negative campaign ads, and by legislators attempting to pack or unpack higher courts with like-minded jurists. Judges are battling from the bench, often with their hands tied by ethics rules that require them to take the high road, despite low blows. Legal observers say the judiciary is under attack as never before, jeopardizing the American tradition of impartial jurisprudence….

State Judicial Threat Assessment
Some state courts are feeling the pressure more than others. Here is a look at what’s going on around the country, where threats against the judiciary are high, low or somewhere in between.

CALIFORNIA
Last year, California passed disqualification rules that go into effect if a judge received contributions of $5,000 or more in support of a campaign during the last six years (or in support of an upcoming campaign) from a lawyer or party involved in a case. The rules require judges to disclose campaign contributions of $100 or more from a party, lawyer or law office involved in a case and to complete a campaign ethics course before the election.

DELAWARE
Supreme court justices are appointed for 12-year terms through a rigorous merit selection process where a nominating commission sends three names to the governor.

IOWA
Three supreme court justices were voted out during the 2010 retention elections for ruling in favor of gay marriage. And this year, legislators sought to reduce the salaries of certain remaining justices by more than three-quarters. The measure was later withdrawn by sponsors after widespread condemnation.

KANSAS
This year, state legislators scrapped merit selection and gave the governor authority to name Kansas Court of Appeals judges, subject to Senate confirmation.

MICHIGAN
In 2008, outside groups lobbied to reduce the size of the supreme court by two justices, reportedly to remove two Republicans on the court. The next year, the supreme court enacted strong recusal rules allowing the full court to determine whether a challenged judge should be removed from a case.

OHIO
Big business and the insurance industry give generously to stack the bench with pro-corporate candidates, resulting in the high court issuing a disproportionate amount of rulings abridging injured plaintiffs’ rights.

TEXAS
Earlier this year, legislators proposed recusal of judges who have accepted more than $2,500 from a party or law firm arguing before them. And a former Texas Supreme Court chief justice recently said the state has “one of the worst systems” for judicial elections.

Truth in Numbers? A Brief History of Cuts to the Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island

Source: Monique Morrissey, Economic Policy Institute, Briefing Paper #363, June 20, 2013

From the summary:
…This briefing paper provides an overview of the cuts to Rhode Island’s pension system since 2005. It begins by analyzing the cumulative effects on DB benefits of these cuts. It then examines ERSRI’s normal cost and unfunded liability, as well as benefit levels, prior to the cuts. Following this, the paper analyzes the changes ushered in by the first rounds of cuts (those in 2005, 2009, and 2010) and by RIRSA (which took effect in 2011). This narrative description of the changes since 2005 is followed by a timeline of the changes, which includes conservative estimates of the impact of successive cuts on benefits (see Appendix B for methodological details).

Principal findings include:
• Rhode Island was slower than most other states to fund its pension system. As a result, the Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island (ERSRI) had a shortfall even at the peak of the dot-com bubble, despite providing relatively modest benefits. Indeed, workers—many not covered by Social Security—contributed more toward these benefits than their counterparts in other states.
• While workers shouldered most of the cost of current benefits, employers failed to pay even their full (smaller) share, leaving ERSRI among the most underfunded plans in the country.
• Between 2005 and 2010, three rounds of cuts reduced pension benefits for a prototypical 30-year employee by 23 percent. Despite these cuts, the plan’s funded ratio declined further as a result of the 2008 stock market downturn.
• The funded ratio was further reduced by changes in accounting assumptions in 2010 that appeared timed to justify draconian changes to the system.
• The Rhode Island Retirement Security Act of 2011 (RIRSA) slashed defined-benefit pension benefits by roughly half (less for short-tenure workers, more for long-tenure workers) and introduced a supplemental defined contribution plan.
o This hybrid plan costs taxpayers more than the old system despite providing a less valuable and less secure benefit to workers.
o When taking into account the supplemental defined contribution plan, a prototypical 30-year worker would experience a cumulative 34 percent reduction in benefits between 2005 and 2012, with a quarter of 30-year workers experiencing cuts of 40 percent or more, depending on investment returns.
o The savings from RIRSA come not from switching to a hybrid system, but rather from cutting accrued benefits—a move that is being challenged in court.

The Top 10 Myths About Preschool

Source: Katie Hamm and Juliana Herman, Center for American Progress, June 25, 2013

From the summary:
Even though the arguments for investing in early childhood are compelling, there are still critics of expanding access to preschool. Their criticisms, however, are often based on misconceptions about early childhood education. Because high-quality preschool is exceptionally important to the future strength of our nation, it is imperative that we get the facts straight.

This issue brief debunks the top 10 myths about early childhood education and the president’s plan to expand preschool access.
Myth No. 1: Preschool is too expensive
Myth No. 2: The federal government should not have a role in funding preschool
Myth No. 3: Preschool doesn’t work, and the effects are overstated
Myth No. 4: The effects of preschool fade out over time
Myth No. 5: Middle-class families don’t need preschool
Myth No. 6: We don’t need more publicly funded preschool because most children already participate
Myth No. 7: Federal funds for preschool means Head Start expansion
Myth No. 8: Effects achieved in programs such as the Perry Preschool Project have never been replicated to scale
Myth No. 9: The Perry Preschool Project is too old to be relevant
Myth No. 10: Preschool expansion will compromise families’ decision-making role