Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Making it safer to abandon babies

Here is an essay by a student describing the policy that allows parents to drop of an unwanted baby in a safe place. 

There are many women in the world who are having unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. When these women do not want their babies they have options that they can consider. Their options range from giving the baby up for adoption, terminating the pregnancy, or dropping their baby off at a Safe Haven location in their state. The National Safe Haven Alliance has worked hard to have laws across the United States that promote the safety of newborn babies. They work to prevent the abandonment of newborns. The women that are abandoning their newborns are not always leaving their babies in a safe place for someone to find. A lot of the time these women are leaving their children in very unsafe places such as the garbage or in alley ways. It is important that any newborn receive the love and care of a parent and there are many children who missed out because their mothers were scared or careless. A lot of the newborns that are abandoned do not even get to ever know what love feels like because the conditions they were left in were not acceptable. The NSHA helped in the creation of baby abandonment laws that are also known as “Baby Safe Haven” laws to help prevent newborns from being neglected or harmed. The Baby Safe Haven laws removes the possibility of prosecution from the mother or father as long as they give up their baby unharmed and are given to the proper authorities. The baby safe haven laws vary from state to state in the United States. In all states the safe haven law allows a baby to dropped off as long as the baby is unharmed. The age of the baby and where they can be dropped off at is what varies from state to state. The youngest the baby can only be is up to 3 days old which the law for a few states. The oldest is in the state of North Dakota that the baby can be up to 1 year old. Here in Illinois, the baby can be up to 30 days old and can be dropped off at any hospital, police department, fire station or emergency medical services provider. In the year of 1999 in the state of Texas the first baby safe haven law was enacted. Almost two decades later every state in the United States have passed a safe haven law. This law has done great things and has saved many lives. Our neighboring state, Indiana has recently added an extension of the law and will now have baby boxes for mothers to leave their babies. These boxes will hopefully save many more newborn lives. I imagine that mothers become very anxious and scared of being judged when walking into a hospital or a fire department with an infant they cannot keep, but I feel like the baby boxes will give mothers a more private area to surrender their baby, where they do not have to deal with those feelings. According to Safe Haven Baby Boxes, “As of 2016, 3,153 infants have been safely surrendered to Safe Havens locations nationwide”. I feel like if the baby boxes work, then they should be implemented in every state. It is very important that we have laws like the baby safe haven law so that we are saving lives and helping mothers.

Reconstruction for LGBTQ community

This is an editorial written by one of my students:

Gay marriage is only recognized in only 37 of the 50 states in the United States today. Now, after a case decided by the Supreme Court, which decided the 14th Amendment's rules about equal protection under the law allows same sex couples to marry, same-sex marriage is legal everywhere, even if there are still 13 states that won't recognize it. Before the new laws and court cases, same-sex couples were only able to be in a domestic partnership or a civil union. This law allowing gay couples to enjoy the legal status of marriage is important to have in place so that everyone in the country has equal rights. The fact that it has to become a law is absurd, but when living in a country where the Constitution is based on what a bunch of racist white men came up with—then it is required. 

The LGBTQ community has come a very long way and are still currently fighting for non-discriminatory rights in the workplace. There are only 22 states in the United States that ban discrimination against someone’s sexual orientation in employment. These are basic rights that everyone should have. There are 25 states that allow marriages between first cousins and six states allow this under certain circumstances. The fact that the laws allowing marrying an intermediate family member were passed before laws allowing marrying the same sex seems completely crazy.

Also, not only is it potentially hard for a member of the LGBTQ community to marry or work to provide for themselves, in many states it is still hard for LGBTQ members to adopt. Only 15 states explicitly allow gay couples to adopt. Also LGBTQ members can’t have same sex conjugal visits unless you are in the state of New York or California. Gay and bisexual men can not even donate blood because of the stereotype that they all carry HIV/AIDS. Businesses can still turn them away because of who they are which is completely unacceptable. Just as there was a reconstruction period for blacks there should be one for the LGBTQ community because they are not going to disappear and they deserve to live a happy life, just as anyone else in this country.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Food Assistance isn't the problem.

One area of social policy that has received a lot of attention more than it should in a negative way lately is social assistance for the poor in the way of food stamps. It is a long held belief by some that this is taxpayer’s money being given to free loaders, and poor people who refuse to work and support themselves. There are rampant reports about the misuse and abuse of food stamps or Link in the media. Some people take the apparently compassionate point of view that food stamps trap the poor and create a system that will never allow them to get on their feet independently. The news media—especially Fox News—is quick to highlight instances of people caught gaming the system. In more subtle ways it has led to the idea that most recipients of food assistance are minorities, which makes people respond to this in many ways. I have heard numerous stories both from Fox News and fellow Republican colleagues about how food stamp recipients dine on steak and lobster with their meager food assistance benefits, which is a myth.

What is not portrayed in the mainstream media is that the federal government spends only 12% on safety Net program (SNAP, housing assistance, etc) compared to 19% spent on Defense and International security, 24% towards Social Security, 22% on Medicare, CHIP, and also most food assistance recipients are European-American or that most recipients are United States Veterans. What is also never portrayed is that many recipients are physically or developmentally disabled and could never obtain employment although many would want to be independent. It is also not explained that disabled recipients are living on an average of $165 a month for food (about $80 less than a thrifty food budget). Another missing statistic in the food stamp debate is the actual amount of tax dollars that end up in the food assistance program. For example, if I made $50,000 a year, $33 would go to welfare and $895 would go towards corporate subsidies or tax giveaways to corporations and wealthy citizens, which is starkly different than the picture the media paints, and then again, the people who own the media are getting $895 of that tax money, so they have incentive to keep me focused on complaining about where that $33 goes. Let’s keep it real; the media will rather shield facts as the federal spending on SNAP is not the reason why the country is in debt but the media tend to shine light negatively to brain wash the average citizen and misleading us. 

For additional reading, check out the USDA food plans, and consider how much people actually pay for food to what low income people get for food from the SNAP.  See also the research on food prices and actual spending. 

The real problem is often unaffordable housing combined with low wages. Suppose you live in a city on the coasts, or in Chicago, and fair market rents are very high.  And let us imagine you work full-time for $10-$12 per hour.  In such a situation, you will spend a huge amount of your money on your housing, and what is left over may need to pay for transportation and child-care and so forth, and not much will be left for food.  About 14 percent of American households (with 125 million households, this means about 17.5 million households) are food insecure at some point in the year. We know from survey research by the USDA that there are about 1.2 million American households where an adult goes a full day without eating at least three or more times of year because of food insecurity.  Yes, we actually do have real hunger in the United States.  And the food and nutrition we give to families is just as much a benefit to farmers and grocers and agribusiness anyway, but no one ever points this out.  People in the food business would rather sell their products to poor people with the public paying the bill than letting those people go hungry.

  SNAP costs us about $77 billion per year these days, and we spend another 22 billion on school lunches and other child nutrition programs, plus about $6 billion on WIC.  So, that's a total of $105 billion each year.  These are big programs, but they help many people. Each month about 45 million Americans get food with SNAP benefits, and over 30 million children get free or reduced lunches, or other nutritional benefits through various child nutrition programs, mostly provided through school cafeterias.  And then there are another 9 million or so people in families getting benefits from WIC, including nutrition education as well as food. 

Bathroom Bill in Illinois!

Here is an editorial by a student in the class.

House Bill 4474 in the Illinois General Assembly is now being called the “Bathroom Bill”. The new bill decides who can use bathrooms and locker rooms according to their sex. To the bill sex is an individual’s anatomy at birth.  
Amends the School Code. Requires a school board to designate each pupil restroom, changing room, or overnight facility accessible by multiple pupils simultaneously, whether located in a public school building or located in a facility utilized by the school for a school-sponsored activity, for the exclusive use of pupils of only one sex. Defines "sex" as the physical condition of being male or female, as determined by an individual's chromosomes and identified at birth by that individual's anatomy. Provides that no member of the female sex may use a pupil restroom or changing room that has been designated by the school board for the exclusive use of the male sex and no member of the male sex may use a pupil restroom or changing room that has been designated by the school board for the exclusive use of the female sex, with exceptions. Authorizes a school board to provide reasonable accommodations to a pupil to use a single-occupancy restroom or changing room or the regulated use of a faculty restroom or changing room if the pupil is an adult or an emancipated minor, or the parent or guardian of a minor pupil submits to school officials, in writing, a request to receive such accommodations and the pupil is a member of the male sex but does not identify as a member of the male sex or the pupil is a member of the female sex but does not identify as a member of the female sex. Sets forth a complaint procedure. (ilga)

Let’s say this bill passes, in some people eyes it will stop the perverts. The new bill’s purpose is to have privacy while in the bathroom and safety for the children.  Except the new bill will only prevent the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming youth. This is basically saying that they have no rights, they’re not respected, or valued. 

They should be allowed to feel safe and secure in a restroom. It is only fair for the students to decide for themselves, not be singled out because of their gender identity. This will only make a bigger problem instead of solving an issue. 

We’re in the year of 2016, in a generation that’s very accepting, so why take steps back when we’ve been progressing altogether by including the LGTBQ community? The new bill is like a slap to the face of the transgender community. We like to encourage and accept people, but once it’s done we want to take their rights. It’s wrong, it’s unfair, and there’s not enough evidence that this new bill will stop any unsafe activity going on in the restrooms. 

Wow, this bill has many co-sponsors, and it has some bi-partisan support.  One way of looking at it is the misguided definition of sex: “as determined by an individual's chromosomes and identified at birth by that individual's anatomy.”  I guess whoever drafted the bill didn’t know anything about Maria Patino and other women athletes (about 1 in 500) who have XY chromosomes like men, but don’t have a sensitivity or receptor for testosterone, and therefore develop as women and are physically women.  Or, what about when the the SRY gene gets deleted from a Y chromosome or displaced onto an X chromosome?  What about the intersex persons?  Surely people these days know that sometimes the sexual assignment at birth is wrong.  And now of course, as you say, we are accepting people who don’t even want to be put into the dichotomous categories of male and female. 

It turns out that there have been some occasional problems with men going into women’s bathrooms wearing disguises as men, or claiming that they are transgendered, but in every case I have read about, the man was heterosexual and not at all transgendered, and was using the excuse to get into the bathrooms to satisfy some sort of kink, or just to make a point.  And even in these incidents, I have never heard of any violence, and ever case I am aware of took place in adult bathrooms, not in schools. Would it not be strange if the only men who are bothering women in bathrooms are men who want to pass laws to keep transgendered women out of women’s bathrooms because they were assigned a sex of male at birth or happen to have a Y chromosome?  They are creating the problem they seek to remedy.

Any excuse to pass more laws and give police and tyrants more excuses to fine people and get them involved with the devilish mechanisms of the justice system. I am shocked that this bill has so much support in the General Assembly. Perhaps someone will offer an amendment to change the way sex is defined in the bill.  Or, more likely, it will just die in the Rules Committee. Barbara Currie from Chicago chairs that committee, and she has some sense.


Illinois General Assembly - Bill Status for 4474. (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2016, from http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/BillStatus.asp?DocNum=4474

Good Samaritan Laws and the EMSAA

This is an editorial written by a student 

Imagine that you're driving down the road and witness a car crash right in front of you. You stop the car and get out to help. There is a person lying on the ground not breathing. You call 911 and start doing what you can, remembering bits and pieces of CPR from health class. The paramedics arrive and take the person away. You later find out that because you performed CPR incorrectly, you broke that person's sternum and punctured a lung. They died due to complications. Now you obviously feel guilty, but you did everything you could to help someone in need. But what happens if the family blames you for killing their loved one and decide to sue you? 

Simply put, Good Samaritan laws protect rescuers from prosecution of wrongful death or unintentional injury in a situation like this. Laws like these are designed to reduce a bystander's sense of hesitation when it comes to helping in an emergency situation. People are more likely to help someone if they don't fear being sued due to improper medical treatment. These laws have probably saved many lives, and eliminated some wrongful death or unintentional injury suits. But the lines between good Samaritan and actually being at fault become blurred when drug use comes into the mix. Say you're shooting up heroin with a friend and they overdose. What you are doing was illegal, you get several years in prison for an offense like heroin use. How likely are you to call emergency services to help you? Even if you could save that person's life? More people die of drug overdoses than car accidents though in Illinois, so this particular situation is more common.

 In 2012, the Illinois legislature passed EMSAA or the Good Samaritan Overdose Law. This law is designed to protect those who help save the lives of opiate drug overdose victims (Stop Overdose Illinois). Not only does it protect the person helping the victim, but it protects the victim as well. Laws like this are important, not only because they have shown to prove lives, but because they help to decriminalize substance abuse issues. Instead of getting prison time or fees, a person gets a second chance and may be able to get the substance abuse help they need. However, the practical application of this law falls woefully short of its designed purpose. 

Several cases have presented where the good Samaritan involved ended up being charged for aggravated battery, assault, or even murder if the person doesn't survive the overdose. Many families of survivors and victims feel the need to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, and most prosecutors are only too happy to comply with their client's wishes. But this attitude doesn’t help anyone; it can contribute to more deaths because people are scared to report. This can be attributed by the general desire of law enforcement to crack down on drug use, especially the widespread heroin epidemic. But don't these actions by law enforcement, prosecuting attorneys, and judges directly counteract the purpose of Good Samaritan laws in the first place. Most cases of drug overdose have witnesses present, and research has shown that a major factor in seeking help from emergency services is fear of being arrested (Tobin et al, 2005). So why wouldn't we offer amnesty for those present during an overdose to increase the likelihood of reporting? How many lives could this save?
Most of this goes back to the 1980s, when the "War on Drugs" officially began and small time offenders were heavily criminalized. They sanctioned this criminalization by saying they were out to get the dealers, the kingpins, the ring leaders. But these top dogs of the drug world aren't the ones shooting up with other junkies in vans or boarded up houses. And it's these people who are more likely to overdose. In order to reduce drug overdose deaths, we really need to focus on providing a safe environment for addicts. And since this government won't provide drug clinics, where addicts can have access to clean needles and be monitored during their use, like some European countries, the least we can do is to not penalize people who try to do the right thing. It takes a certain sort of courage to call and report a drug overdose when you were involved and may have been using during it. So why not reward these courageous people with not being jailed or fined? 

And it is understandable why family members would want those present during their loved ones overdose prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But unfortunately, that doesn't help. You take small time drug offenders and charge them with assault, battery, or murder charges. You have people with real drug problems who don't get the help they need and instead get sentenced to lengthy prison terms. So now you have this tragedy for not one family, but two or more; the family of the victim and the families of the witnesses. Saving lives has to come first in these situations. Scaring people out of addictions simply doesn't work. 

Stop Overdose Illinois: http://www.stopoverdoseil.org/

Social Security Survivor's Benefits

Here is an example of a student paper on a policy.

As Americans, we work hard to provide a life for our families. As soon as we enter the work force we pay taxes to help make our country better and to create a basic retirement plan for ourselves. Social Security is meant to be a guaranteed retirement program, so hard working Americans across the country can support themselves after they have earned the right to retire. But what happens if that person dies before retirement? Where does all that money go? In these unfortunate cases, Social Security can act as a sort of life insurance for the surviving spouse and children. Losing a husband or wife can be devastating enough, let alone having to worry about earning enough money to keep a roof over your head or food on the table. Social Security Survivor's Benefits make sure that the families of hard working Americans are supported even after their loved one has passed on. 
Social Security has been around since the 1930's as a response to the economic downturn and widespread poverty, especially among the elderly, as a result of the Great Depression. It acts as a federal entitlement program in the United States, where individuals who meet certain criteria are entitled by law to receive certain benefits. There have been several amendments to Social Security made, mostly in the 1960s and 70s. Social Security was designed to lower the overall poverty rate of post-retirement individuals and to help combat the effects of ageism in the work place. Older adults are often seen as senile, infantile, and useless and are therefore discriminated against when it comes to getting jobs. Without some source of income, many elderly individuals would not be able to care for themselves and meet basic needs. The theory is that a person pays into Social Security their entire life so that they can have a guaranteed retirement plan, which is especially helpful if their job doesn't offer one or they are intentionally laid off just before they hit retirement age. But this money from Social Security can also come in handy for disabled workers or families of the deceased. If a person dies before they retire or after they retire and still have Social Security benefits left, then the surviving spouse and/or children may receive some of the money that their loved one worked so hard for over the years. 

 If the deceased has worked long enough and contributed enough to Social Security, their surviving family may be entitled to some benefits. Some of these benefits include the spouse receiving a payment on a one-time basis, so long as the spouse was living with the deceased or was at least receiving certain benefits under the deceased. In the absence of a spouse, the child becomes eligible for the benefits (Social Security Administration, 2015, p. 5). There are monthly benefits available for certain members of the deceased's family; any widows or widowers who are 60 years or older, or age 50 if they are disabled, any surviving spouse who is caring for a child of the deceased who is under the age of 16 and disabled, unmarried children of the deceased who are under the age of 18 (19 years of age in certain circumstances), any child 18 years of age or older who was diagnosed with a disability before age 22, stepchildren, grandchildren, or adopted children in certain circumstances, any dependent parents of the deceased over the age of 62, and in special circumstances, divorced spouses (Social Security Administration, 2009, p. 1).

So what are the benefits that your family will receive if you pass on? According to the Social Security Administration in 2015, "How much your family can get from Social Security depends on your average lifetime earnings. The more you earned, the more their benefits will be" (p. 6). Once the death has been reported to the Social Security Administration, the process for receiving benefits can begin. A one-time payment of $255 can be paid to qualifying survivors, but the amount is dependent on how long the deceased worked and paid into the program (Social Security Administration, 2015, p. 6). The amount of the following payments is also determined by how long the deceased worked, and by the survivor's relationship to the deceased, but the maximum amount that can be paid is around 150-180% of the deceased's total benefits (Social Security Administration, 2015, p. 9). Surviving children, or spouses with children under the age of 16 will receive 75% of the deceased's benefits, while widows or widowers who are under retirement age generally receive somewhere between 71-99% (Social Security Administration, 2015, p. 9). The only group that receives the full amount of the deceased's benefits are widows or widowers who are at full retirement age at the time of their spouses death or at the time of application for Survivor's Benefits (Social Security Administration, 2015, p. 8). There are several resources available for an individual to check to see what benefits they would be leaving behind for their families. 

Social Security is a publicly funded program through the government. The funding comes from a mandatory tax on income, up to $118,500 (Office of Retirement and Disability Policy, 2015, p. 1). Fortunately, there has always been a surplus created by Social Security, so on its own it would provide all the funding necessary for the payment of benefits. Unfortunately, the government continues to borrow from this surplus instead of simply investing all of it into Treasury bonds. This lack of responsibility and long-sightedness could potentially lead to cutting of the program to fill the government budget deficit. 

 While the theory of Social Security may seem like a simple idea, the practical application is much more complicated. Social Security on the whole is meant to be a supplement to private retirement plans and personal savings. But in recent years, it has become more difficult for individuals to save money, especially with the decrease in companies offering private pensions or guaranteed retirement plans. And since Social Security benefits are only meant to be supplemental, they are often not enough to cover basic needs, particularly for families. Another aspect that can make receiving these benefits is the red tape surrounding the application process. The last thing anyone wants to do when a loved one has passed on is deal with filing an application through the government. To apply, survivors will need birth certificates, death certificates, Social Security cards, W-2 forms for the deceased, marriage certificates, and bank account numbers (Social Security Administration, 2015, pp. 7-8). And Social Security benefits alone are not able to sustain families above the poverty line. So if the deceased was the sole breadwinner for the family, the survivors then have to make do with a fraction of the income they previously had. However, if the surviving family is simply a spouse who also receives Social Security Benefits, they may be able to get by slightly easier with this supplemental benefit. 

All told, Social Security is a great supplemental retirement and life insurance program, but it is just that: supplemental. For the surviving spouses and children of the deceased, this supplemental income may not be enough to sustain them. Children particularly who may be in high school or going through college that have lost a source of income may now be solely reliant on a portion of their deceased parent's benefits. While the program is better than nothing, it should not be entirely relied upon by surviving loved ones as a practical life insurance program.

Office of Retirement and Disability Policy (2015). OASDI and SSI program rates & limits.Retrieved from http://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/quickfacts/prog_highlights/RatesLimits2015.pdf
Social Security Administration (2009). How Social Security can help you when a family memberdies. Retrieved from http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10008.pdf
Social Security Administration (2015). Survivors Benefits. Retrieved from http://www.ssa.gov/ubs/EN-05-10084.pdf

Transgender persons and bathroom use

A student reaction paper

The United States has reached a social justice boiling point on several issues. But one that has recently been heating up is the issue of transgender rights. Several states have passed discriminatory legislation that attacks transgender men and women, directly violating some of their most basic rights. And while the stigma of gay and lesbian identity has slowly been melting away, transgender people are still regarded as "others." This group is not widely accepted, even by some in the LGBT community. But we still need to focus on protecting their rights as individuals. 

HB2, a recent law passed in North Carolina, mandates that public and government buildings must restrict access to restrooms based on birth-assigned sex. In other words, whatever gender your birth certificate says, is the restroom that you must use. Now there are several problems with this law, namely its enforcement. But my biggest issue, and several other cisgender women's biggest issue, is that the law claims to protect the rights, privacy, and safety of cis women. The argument against allowing men who identify as women into the women's restroom is based on the assumption that transgender women pose an inherent danger to cisgender women is completely unfounded. In my own personal research, I couldn't find a single incident of a trans woman attacking, harassing, or sexually assaulting a cis woman. Not a single case. So where is this coming from?

I find it completely asinine that the same legislators passing this law in the name of women's safety are the same legislators passing laws that restrict access to abortion and contraception. The governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory (the same governor who signed into law a piece of legislation that forced abortion providers to meet the same surgical center standards and prevented public health insurance policies from paying for abortions) stated that HB2 was designed to "stop the breach of basic privacy and etiquette."

I want politicians to stop using my safety to justify their unfounded fear of transgender men and women. They don't give a damn about my safety when it comes to almost anything else. They don't give a damn about my safety when it comes to obtaining safe and accessible abortion services. I don't have a problem with a transgender person using the same restroom as me. And how should I know whether they are transgender or not? Who cares? Transgender people have to walk around every day being conscious of who they are, what they are doing, and how they present themselves. I have the privilege of being cisgender and not having to worry about that.If using the women's restroom makes them more comfortable, then so be it. It isn't my concern where they evacuate their bladders and bowels. It's none of my business, and it isn't anyone else's.

I am comfortable with this situation because I'm sure it has happened to everyone at some point in their lives, and you probably didn't even notice it happened. I'm not going to ask to check whether everyone in the restroom that I am using has female genitalia. I suppose that a transgender woman could peek through a stall door, but a cisgender woman could too, and both situations would be equally creepy. I wouldn't be more comfortable if someone who looked like a woman did it. 

 Transgender people experience more harassment than cisgender people do, and why would we exacerbate that by forcing a "man" who identifies as a woman to use the men's restroom? How much more uncomfortable would that be for all involved? Imagine walking into the men's room and seeing a young woman washing her hands at the sink. Or walking into the women's restroom and having a bearded man follow you in. This legislation could present potentially dangerous situations for transgender people. This could also potentially have a worse effect on transgender people of color. People of color experience more bias and prejudice than whites. In states like Florida, where stand your ground laws exist, and citizens can conceal and carry handguns, imagine the outcome of the above situation in the women's room. A white woman walks into the restroom to find a black "man" standing there. It's hard to believe, especially in today's current racial climate, that there wouldn't be a huge stir arising from this situation if she were to fire on him.  

The message that legislators are sending with this legislation is that transgender people are not welcome. And this is already coming back to bite them in the ass. Several large chain retailers in the state have openly stated they will not enforce or support this law, and have showed open support for the LGBT community. There are so many other real threats to women's safety, and often it is perpetrated by the same legislators who support this type of bill.  Don't use my very real concerns about my personal safety to justify your hate, to further oppress an already extremely oppressed group. You don't get to use my life and my experiences and the real threats that exist at your convenience. I will not stand idly by to act as your excuse, as your justification, as your reason. I will not stand by while you pit victims of white male privilege against each other. And while I'm supposed to appreciate the sentiment that these politicians had in mind when passing this bill, I must respectfully decline to be a part of their transphobic legislation and ask that instead of worrying about my "safety" in the restroom, that they worry about my safety everywhere else.