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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The biggest global risk to the west

Ian Bremmer, the President of the Eurasia Group and a CBS News Correspondent cited his group’s report on CBS This Morning regarding the greatest global risk. In essence, he said the number one risk is an emergent China filling the void being left by a retrenching US from the global leadership stage. Here is what Bremmer said in the interview about China.

“They  have the strongest leader in Xi Jinping they’ve had at least since Mao [Zedong]. And because the United States is America first, it’s transactional. It’s unilateral. It’s undermining a lot of alliances. You put those things together and suddenly you actually have a China that is willing to engage in what is increasingly a geopolitical vacuum,” Bremmer told “CBS This Morning” on Tuesday.

“In other words, this is the first time we’ve ever seen as U.S. leadership erodes, no one else has been standing up. Now the leader of China is saying we’re prepared to stand up whether it’s on climate or the global economy, you know, regional security, you name it, that’s a big change for the world.”

Bremmer cited an easy example. The US President said he is going to cut funding to Pakistan as they are not doing enough to combat terrorism. The sad truth is it really does not matter that much, as China supports Pakistan more than we do and will step up. I mentioned in a recent post that twice now, Xi Jingping followed the US President at two world events in Davos and Vietnam. The Chinese leader gave the speech the US President usually gives regarding working together globally. Trump spoke of maximizing only American interests.

Not only is this counterproductive, it will actually hurt our share of the global pie making us less relevant.There are two things to note. First, the position that Xi is advocating used to be a foundation of the US Republican Party. The party sold its soul to support the short-sighted and bullying President who gives the illusion of being a populist.

Second, the US cannot shrink to greatness. We are actually doing pretty well as a country and were so when Trump took office. It is the distribution of wealth that is the problem and this President has done very little to resolve that problem. Lessening our global position not only will hurt our economy, it will make us less safe.

If Trump continues in office through one term, this period will be viewed by historians when the US made an unforced error and ceded its global leadership position. This is the exact opposite of what the President should be doing.

 

 

If you give a mouse a cookie

The childhood book by this name reveals that some are never satisfied when you do them favors. I was thinking of this as I thought of the litany of things done by a self-promoted populist on behalf of his true benefactors, the wealthy mice. He started with cookies, but the list goes on.

If those onerous environmental regulations were getting in the way, he just rolled back a few of them. Plus, if those scientists and their data were problematic to polluting businesses, he just fired a few, ran off a few and deleted access to important research data.

If access to public lands and what lies thereunder was a roadblock, he just cut back on the national parks and gave easier access to developers. What is land, if it cannot be exploited for short term gain? As a rancher put it, when the developers come, the profits go to Houston and Calgary, but the degradation is left for them long term.

If paying taxes is preventing investment in employees or business, even though conpanies are sitting on cash, then he gave the mice more money. The key is how much will flow into investment and employees and how much will be used to make the executives look good?

Along the way, there are some photo ops to say look what is happening, but the mice seem to be the ones who are getting the cookies and added benefits. As one energy consultant noted, the President has done a lot for coal owners, but not much for coal workers.

I am all for making things easier, but we need smart regulations that protect Americans from short cutting and corruption. We must pay for things as well, and debt and environmental costs are dear. Saying they don’t matter is poor stewardship as our children and grandchildren will have to pay the price for our avoidance.

Wednesday wonderings

Happy Hump Day to all! Please permit me some alliterative license to wonder this Wednesday about a few events in the US and around the world.

I wonder what folks in Russia are thinking when their leader sanctions state sponsored cheating to win the medal count in the Olympics? To be kicked out of the Olympics was a surprise, but necessary result.

I wonder what folks in America, who do not believe the Russians influenced and are still influencing our elections and civil discourse, think after seeing the Russians banned from the Olympics. Let me say it plainly, if Putin is willing to cheat over Olympic competition, don’t you think he would cheat in influencing elections that would be in his favor in other countries?

I wonder what Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa was thinking when he was quoted in the Des Moines Register to support the Tax Bill favoring wealthy Americans, “I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing. As opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.” This quote is highly offensive and betrays a line of thinking that is too often felt by those who “have.” No, Mr. Grassley, most Americans are living paycheck to paycheck to buy groceries, medicines, day care services and to pay rent (or mortgages),utilities and bills. I called his office to share my concern over the Tax Bill and to register that this quote is in extremely poor form.

I wonder what the US President is attempting to accomplish with citing Jerusalem as the capitol city in Israel? This move is being condemned by almost every nation as unnecessary and inflammatory. Is it to appease an evangelical base in the US or is it part of some master peace plan? If the latter, many experts I have listened to note that this will likely derail any peace process. Even the ones who have not been totally against it, say if it is to be helpful, then there are very subtle and delicate words that must be used. I am not confident that this President is up to that task, as it is not in his nature. Even beyond his prepared words he will use today, he has shown a bent to unwind progress with his inability to leave it alone.

I wonder why some people are having a hard time believing that Senate candidate Roy Moore sexual assaulted and harassed teen girls. It was not a secret that the man trolled malls looking for pretty teens to exploit. And, he cannot defend himself as his words get in the way. Mr. Moore, did you know these girls or not? When you have trouble answering the question, it means two things to me. Either you are lying or there are so many you cannot possibly remember them. One thing is for certain, they remember you.

I wonder why GOP Congressional leadership are using robocalls and commercials to sell me on their Tax Bills. Only 29% of Americans support the bills and 64% of Americans think the bills favor the wealthy. As a I said in emails, voicemails and conversations with staff of these politicians, we cannot increase the debt as these tax bills do (and should be reducing it) and please do not tell me how much they favor the middle class, when it is obvious who greatly benefits from them. Our friend Gronda refers to them as the “Donor Relief Fund.” Please let them know of your concerns.

I wonder.

 

Any more questions?

For over two years, I have been amazed at how a man, who is so consumed with himself and has given so little regard to the plight of others, can become the President of the United States. He convinced far too many people, whose voice has not been heard, that he was on their side. Unfortunately, they did not pay attention to his history which reveals he has only one cause – himself.

Yesterday, this man decided to kick poor people one more time, stripping subsidies under the ACA for deductibles, co-pays and coinsurance for those who qualify because of low wages. This man owns the imperfect, but working ACA. He has sabotaged it from the get go picking up the baton the GOP Congress gave him, so if the ACA fails as a result, it is on his and GOP leadership’s shoulders.

A few weeks ago, he rolled out the outline of his tax plan that uses sleight of hand with a small tax break for the middle class, while eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax, Estate Tax above $5 million in value, and the ACA tax on wealthy people, while cutting the individual and corporate tax rates. This is a clear windfall for the “haves” with a little gain for the “have-nots.”

Next, we should consider his proposed defunding of programs to retrain displaced coal miners. At the same time, he was enabling coal owners to invest in digging more coal with fewer workers. An energy expert said, “Trump is not for coal miners, he is for coal owners.” The dilemma is the current and former coal workers don’t know this.

The focus on fossil fuel and attack on environmental regulations is another slap at the disenfranchised. They tend to be the ones who feel the brunt of environmental rollbacks. A rancher in Montana, who has successively fought against the oil companies, notes that he cannot name one western town that has benefited long term after the oil rush abates. He said “all of the money goes back to Houston and Calgary.” The ranchers and farmers are left holding the bag to fix all the environment problems.

Speaking of environmental calamities, after much better responses to hurricanes in Texas and Florida, the response to the hurricanes which devastated Puerto Rico has been slow and fraught with problems. Yet, after pronouncing what a great job he was doing, Trump has continually harangued people in need, actually verbally and physically insulting them when he visited and afterwards.

Finally, the President’s attack on civil liberties, protest and free speech is the coldest dagger of all. He is basically telling everyone to “believe no one else but me.” His actions and words say he will squelch these unpatriotic troublemakers. To me, he is saying how dare they question what is going on in this country or what I am doing?

Well, I dare ask one question to everyone. Do you have any more questions about whose bread is being buttered by this President?

My former party does not know much about healthcare

The Graham-Cassidy Bill seems to be on its last legs, but these bills are like Jason – just when you think you kill the serial killer, he remains alive. This latest effort may be the worst bill by my former party, which I left in 2006. It is apparent to me that Republican leaders don’t know much about healthcare and don’t care to know or take the time to know. That includes the man in the White House who just wants to sign something that negates something Obama did. “Who knew healthcare could be so complicated?” he asked earlier in the year. The answer “Everyone, but you.”

Every bill either put forth by the Senate this year or passed by the House has been scored poorly by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), has been not appreciated in polls and has been denigrated by medical and hospital associations. Not involving women, Democrats, experts and due process in the planning revealed a haphazard approach to legislation.The Graham-Cassidy Bill is the worst of the bunch as it places the burden, and eventually all of the financing, on the states. In a nutshell, the bill says we cannot figure this out, so we are punting it to you.

In addition to the tens of millions of Americans negatively affected by these bills, if passed, the authors make a concerted effort to kick people in poverty and near-poverty in the teeth. Since we have a poverty problem in America, these bills are especially cold-hearted. And, Graham-Cassidy gives states the right to do away with pre-existing conditions, which was incorrectly refuted by Cassidy after being called on the carpet by Jimmy Kimmel. Seeing protestors in wheel chairs at the Senate was telling.

Further, I have shared with Senators, Congressional Representatives and the White House, these bills would be dilutive to the economy. Standard & Poor said yesterday in their global report the Graham-Cassidy would harm the American economy by $240 Billion through 2027 and cause 580,000 job losses. In a nutshell, when people in need no longer have insurance, the trade-off becomes between food/ rent and medicine. So, less is spent in the market place which dilutes the economy.

Yet, let me emphasize one thing that has been raised by more than a few state Medicaid Directors and Governors. Building a new healthcare delivery system will take longer than the time given. In my view, it will take longer than even these folks are thinking about. In business and government, leaders tend to vastly underestimate the complexity to set-up administration of things. As President Obama found out, setting up healthcare exchanges was hard and initially failed to deliver.

This is an important observation about the Affordable Care Act. It is in place. It is not in a death spiral and it is not broken. From the lens of fewer uninsured, it has been successful. Yet, it needs improvements, but first it needs to be stabilized. Part of the reason for the latter is the GOP’s efforts to hamstring its success by defunding subsidies for adverse selection to insurers. Coupled with slow funding of other subsidies, nineteen states who did not expand Medicaid and general naysaying, the law has not been given full opportunity to be successful.

So, this retired benefits actuary, consultant and manager recommends the ACA be stabilized under some version of the bipartisan Alexander/ Murray Bill. Then all members of Congress can spend more detailed and thoughtful time in deciding how healthcare can be delivered going forward. My recommendation is they improve the ACA.

The President and Congress own Obamacare

I have written often about the imperfect Affordable Care Act and ways to improve it. I have written often about the Republicans role in sabatoging the ACA making premiums even higher by not funding promised payments to insurers for adverse selection as well as naysaying the law and not expanding Medicaid in 19 states.

This sabatoge continues under this President who says the ACA is in a death spiral. It is hurting in many areas, but stabilizing in others. He said he wants to let it implode and then fix it.

Mr. President, that is not good enough. You are threatening to cease further promised payments to insurance companies which will harm people. You see, what you and Congress fail to realize is you own Obamacare. If it fails, it is on your watch. And, to be frank the significant majority of Americans and the press do not recognize the role you played in hamstringing the imperfect law.

My strong advice is to do what is necessary thinking of its patients and users. Those Americans out there deserve your best efforts to help them. Watching the ACA fail after you greased the skids is extremely poor form and uncaring. It is that simple. Fix the ACA. That is what is done to laws that need it to help people.