A few straightforward suggestions to fight poverty

“If incarceration had come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction was shaping the lives of women. Poor black men were locked up. Poor black women were locked out.”

The above quote comes from the Pulitzer Prize winning book “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond. Its subtitle is also telling – “Poverty and Profit in the American City.” The dilemma is we have a poverty problem that stretches from urban to rural America. Yet, it manifests itself daily in the eviction courts of American cities and towns, whether it is from apartments, houses or mobile homes.

The book speaks of how fragile the rental community is regardless of race, yet the black community tends to have a higher rate of exposure to evictions in urban areas. Unexpected expenses, transportation problems, and tragedies can push people paying a very high portion of their rent over the edge and out the door. Ideally, 30% of family income should be toward housing and utilities. Too many of these folks are paying well above that percentage.

It should be noted that there are other drivers of fragility. Some have opioid and other dependencies. Some are fragile due to too many children that stretch the budgets of even the best planners. Some are in downward spirals with unsupportive landlords. And, many of those unexpected expenses that arise are healthcare related.

What are some suggestions to remedy these issues? Based on my experience as a volunteer Board member helping working homeless families and my reading, I would like to throw out some ideas for consideration.

First, we need to talk more about it. America has a huge disparity in distribution of wealth which is not talked about enough by leaders. Where and to whom one is born are greater predictors of success as the American Dream  has waned for too many.

Second, we need to fund more family planning efforts not less. There is a high correlation between poverty and large families. When family planning is funded and birth control access and education are increased, poverty declines, system health care costs decline and abortions decline.

Third, more mechanisms to reduce evictions need to be in place and funded. Crisis assistance funds show success in helping keeping the electricity on and, when funded, reducing the number of evictions. Stopping homelessness (or fragility) before it starts can make a huge difference and will have a positive echo effect.

Fourth, we must invest in impoverished  areas making them more suitable for families both with opportunity and resources. In their absence, crime and other poor influences fill the void.

Fifth, while I have concerns about the new Tax law with its impact on debt and heavy emphasis on the wealthy and corporations, a huge opportunity was missed when we could have added an increase in the minimum wage tying it to automatic increases due to wage inflation. I worry that less money than expected by the law’s drafters will end up in the hands of workers.

Sixth, we must address our opioid crisis in America. To be frank, cutting access to healthcare and mental care insurance benefits are not the answer. We must stabilize access and cost of healthcare, yet opposite measures have been taken in the past few years under the guise of political gain.

There are many more ideas, but these will help. On the investing front, many locations have seen success with using historical tax credits leveraging private money. There is a concept called ABCD (Asser Based Community Development) which shores up or repurposes an deteriorated asset creating jobs.

But, first we need to talk about this real and pervasive problem.

 

 

 

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Contact your Senators, Congressperson and President

It would not be a surprise to know that the US Congress and White House are highly dysfunctional. They have long ago forgotten why they are there. It seems opinions of the donors and oligarchy are the only ones that matter. We need to make our voice louder and consistent. Irrespective of any party affiliation, we must cease with the tribal BS. The party you support does make mistakes, many of them. Don’t just accept them because they are made by folks in your tribe. And, if you think it is only the other party, think again.

Please call your Senators, Congressperson and President and tell them messages they need to hear.

  • Please do not pass a Tax Bill that favors the elite and tell us it does not do so. That is an insult and a lie.
  • Please do not pass a Tax Bill that increases our debt. It is expected by the CBO to go up by $10 trillion and will be over $30 trillion in 2027 without the Tax Bill. What do you plan to do about it?
  • Please do not support candidates that are legitimately accused by multiple women of sexual assault. If a party supports a candidate or incumbent who defames the office, they need to be chastised openly and continuously.
  • Please cease kowtowing to the whims of donors that get you to make less prudent decisions such as pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accord or freeing gun rights even more, when we need to govern guns better.
  • Please work together to improve the Affordable Care Act and make it more sustainable, ceasing efforts to undermine the imperfect law.
  • Please support the rights of every American and cease beating up on the media. They are hard-working people who try to get it right. If they admit mistakes, that is a sure sign of good intent. We could learn from that.

That is all for now. Do call them. Emailing using their template is fine, but you will tend to get a form letter. If you leave an email, ask them to call you. THIS IS OUR COUNTRY! We need to take it back.

 

Remember those foods you hated as kids?

When I was a little, my mother would impose foods on me that simply did not pass muster. My younger voice would claim something was gross or yucky. Now, some of these same foods are delicious. Did my palate change or am I open too trying more foods? Maybe it is a little of both.

A good example is orange marmalade. It is a little bitter because of the sliver of orange peels, so as a child it did not measure up to the overly sweet jellies and jams. Now, it is a staple best used with peanut butter on an English muffin or cinnamon raisin bagel.

Another example is fried okra. Why would anyone want to eat such a thing? Now, if it is an available vegetable at a cafe or diner, it is a must order. One BBQ restaurant serves fried okra as an appetizer. The other excellent use of okra is in gumbo. So, this hard to pick vegetable is well-worth it.

Another vegetable whose taste had to be nurtured over time is collard greens (and turnip greens). I would not touch the stuff early on, but my grandmother imposed them on me, even teaching us how to cook them. Like fried okra, greens are a must order as a side at a restaurant.

My wife would add brussel sprouts and beets. Now, she loves them both and will eat pickled beets out of a jar. I can tolerate brussel sprouts, but beets remain a bridge too far for me. She can have full and sole access to the beet jar.

What are some of your adult-learned favorites? When did the tide turn in their favor?

Prayers are not enough

There is an old joke where a man prays and prays for God to let him win the lottery. After years of praying, he asked God why have you forsaken me and deny me winning the lottery? The clouds parted and God said “It would help if you bought a ticket.”

After yet another gun tragedy, many have offered prayers in public places for the victims and their families, even in the halls of Congress. Being a religious man, I am all for praying, but after so many gun tragedies, it is time we “bought that lottery ticket” and take legislative action. The status quo is not working and legislators are simply not doing their job.

I have written variations of this several times and will have to write it again in the future as our Congressional representatives are too concerned with upsetting the NRA than trying to solve an obvious problem. For example, we have 300 million guns, one for each person in the US, and have over 30,000 gun deaths per year. Japan has an average of one gun per 100 people and had 27 gun deaths for the whole country last year. And, that increased from 8 the year before.

Yes, gun deaths are a mental health issue. They are also a lack of civil discourse issue, they are a drug crime issue, they are a violent entertainment issue, but make no mistake they are an access to gun issue. This is especially true for guns that can kill far too many at one time. But, mass shootings are only part of the problem – the bigger problems happen every day, suicides and homicides. 2/3 of our gun deaths are suicides.

There are measures that can be taken that will help if done holistically. We could begin with by unwinding the horrible legislation that Congress passed and Trump signed that allows 75,000 Social Security mentally health disabled people to be left on the OK to buy a gun list. We could also stop attacking the ACA and its Medicaid expansion which provide mental health benefits. These two practices fly directly in the face of calling gun deaths a mental health issue,

We could follow the lead of states with tighter gun laws and lower gun death rates and start conducting background checks on all purchases and have more elongated waiting periods. We could require gun safety training that must be renewed. We could encode all bullets to help with crime solving and finger print control weapons to prevent child deaths.

And, I am firm believer that no citizen should have fully automatic weapons or even semi-automatic weapons. These weapons have no place in a non-military person’s hands.

King Solomon encourages us to use our brains in Proverbs. Why would God give us this wonderful creation between our ears, if He did not expect us to use it? I have spoken before that people pray for miracles, but isn’t our brain a wonderful miracle that can help solve problems? We are the solution to the problem.

We must act. Our legislators must act. If they do not, we need to share our concerns and share them again. It is obvious doing nothing is not working.

We measure environmental impact on adults, not kids

I have written several times about Sandra Steingraber. Who is she, you may ask? She is a biologist, ecologist, author and environmental advocate. Steingraber has spoken in front of the United Nations, the European Parliament and US Congress on the impact of chemicals on our environment and people.

Steingraber is a bladder cancer survivor which led her to her passionate advocacy. Bladder cancer is a bellweather cancer, meaning it is almost always caused by environmental toxins. Her home was in proximity to several chemical plants. In addition, her siblings and nearby cousins also had various cancers, including bladder cancer. A key factoid is she was adopted, so her cancer was not genetic and it came from exposure.

Steingraber has strongly advocated for kids on environmental issues. Her first two books called “Living Downstream” and “Raising Elijah,” using her son’s name, focus on these issues. A huge takeaway from her books and advocacy is we tend to measure the impact of environmental toxins on a fifty year old man, not children.

Why is this statement important? Kids are still developing their brains, so they are more susceptible to environmental toxins. Their lungs take time to fully develop as well. Plus, children are smaller in weight, closer to the ground, breathe more through their mouths and put their hands in their mouths with much greater frequency. If they touch something, it winds up in their mouth (remember the pretreated lumber playgrounds? – arsenic was used in the pretreatment).

Steingraber and other scientists’ analyses reveal toxins from chemical plants can damage us from air particulates as much as from seepage into the water. She notes these toxins settle on playgrounds, fields and trees, but then become airborne when the wind blows again. So, kids will often get exposed from what they touch or breathe in from what they scuff up from the ground.

I have seen her speak and have read both of these books. Her message resonates with parents. With the assault on environmental regulations by the current White House, her message is needed even more. Plus, she has another huge caution for all of us. As the climate warms, the impact of these chemicals will only get worse. She likens the earth to a crock pot that is warming these chemicals.

I encourage you to read her books. Her message is pertinent, loud and clear. It needs to be shouted from the rooftops, but especially from the playgrounds. We owe it to our children.

If I see you on the trails

I long ago ceased my running and have been a walker and hiker instead. Often, I will go to one of the four trails in parks near my home. If you see me on the trails, you will see a friendly, but tall 59 year old man. Yet, I understand why women running alone will pause when they see me coming towards them.

The news of the day only heightens the concern women must have in the workplace. Similarly, they must be diligent when away from the crowds. I do my best to be overly friendly when walking on the trails, but I am a big guy and people don’t know me from Adam. Female joggers and walkers have to be on the guard.

Since I walk the trails quite often, allow me to offer some advice as this old man and father sees it. Please do not run or walk alone. It is that simple. There have been too many stories where lone women have been attacked. A dog will help, but another person is even better.

Another piece of advice may be harder to follow. Shed the music and earpieces. Sound is a good indicator of trouble, so when it is blocked by music, one of your senses is disabled. I know of several stories where the assailant came up from behind. Another sad story is a woman running at night on a street did not realize a truck passing had a trailer, so she stepped off the curb after the truck passed only to be killed by the trailer. If she had been without earpieces, she might have heard the trailer. Plus, it is not uncommon for a runner to dart in front of a car when listening to music.

The final piece of advice is to avoid running at night or dusk. It is hard to see you, first and foremost, but it is harder to see the assailant. The best option is to run or walk at a park with a crowded parking lot. If yours is the only car, it is best to avoid the trail that day. It gives me pause when I am the lone car.

I have come across some interesting things along the paths. I saw about eight deer earlier this week. I have seen snakes and been spooked by rustling squirrels and birds. I have yet to see any bears, although there have been more sightings in the city. I have witnessed what I think was a police/ informant meeting, which hastened my pace. I have seen people who have given me pause. And, I have seen too many women jogging alone.

Be safe and happy trails.

The President almost did something good, then…

People need to know that our President is not big into details, nor does he care to be. He is not very conversant on healthcare or the Affordable Care Act, for example. Yet, he almost slipped up and accomplished something good. Alas, he changed his position within 24 hours.

Just last week, he signed two executive orders to help healthcare in the US. Neither order would be very helpful and both will cause premiums to go up under the ACA. In fact, he said if we eliminate the subsidies for deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance on people making less than 2 1/2 the poverty level it would just hurt the insurer’s profits. That simply is not true, as our deficit would go up by $20 Billion per annum and people without subsidies would see premium increases.

But, while this was going on, Senator Chuck Schumer kept telling him about the bipartisan effort of Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray that would stabilize and improve the ACA. Their efforts would restore the subsidies that Trump wanted to do away with. Insurers were pricing 2018 premiums higher sans these subsidies,

Trump encouraged Alexander while Schumer did the same with Murray. The President actually did the right thing, as Alexander and Murray were going about their business in the right way with hearings and committe meetings. This is how legislation should be done, which has been lost on our two Congress chamber leaders.

When Alexander/ Murray announced they reached agreement, the President was supportive. Alexander actually thanked the President for his role in making it happen. Yet, just after Alexander called to thank him, Trump changed his mind and now does not support it. Less than 24 hours had elapsed.

Of course, his support may change and Alexander/ Murray are not done yet, but Trump had a chance to take credit for helping Americans. This could have been a helpful major piece of legislation, which is missing from his tenure. Alas, he realized he would be helping the ACA and he had to destroy it. That is what he promised to his base. While imperfect, the ACA is not broken, but it does need improvements. If it eventually fails, it is on this President and Congress’ shoulders.