Friday, April 26, 2019

Student writes an advocacy letter about health care to Senator Duckworth

The Honorable Senator Tammy Duckworth
8 South Old State Capitol Plaza
Springfield, IL 62701

Dear Senator Duckworth
My name is __________, and I have been a social worker in Sangamon county for five years now. My area of operation is family and children, a career I am passionate about because of my concern for our society.  As a social worker, I have been involved in many cases where I noticed families are having health issues, and as I see it, the astronomical health care and health insurance costs are at the root of this problem.  I know that you have a doctorate in Health/Human service; and have long and personal experience working on issues related to wounded veterans and the issues faced by persons serving in our armed services. As many of those soldiers and their families come from modest backgrounds, you are intimately familiar with the problems of health care affordability for military and veteran families when civilian non-veteran family members do not qualify for Veterans Affairs health care benefits.  

I am writing to ask you to make an improved health care system a focus issue for the Senate Democrats and your own work in government. The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act remains an imperfect compromise, and some Republicans eagerly try to destroy it. Please join with other Democrats and reasonable Republicans (if any are to be found) to find some ways to amend the laws governing our health care system, or create new laws to improve the many deficiencies in our system.  If universal Medicare is the answer, support that.  If it isn’t, find something that is better and please advocate for that.

Please consider the possibility that economic growth and wealth is not the measure of a nation’s greatness. A good economy is something we ought to pursue, if we define a “good economy” as one in which all people find meaningful work and ways to independently meet their needs to live decent lives without deprivation. But clearly, the greatest barrier to independence and self-sufficiency lies in illness (mental and physical), injury, and disability.  And, good health and mental wellness are surely among the ultimate ends toward which economies are merely a method for achieving. Health is wealth. Health is one of the most important things in life. If Americans are sick, weak, or dead, they cannot achieve their dreams.

What then is Health? According Christian Nordqvist, in his article “Health: What Does Good Health Really Mean” (in the March 17, 2017 issue of Medical News Today) he defines health as “a state of complete emotional and physical wellbeing…” From this perspective of health, for someone to direct their own lives, shape their own destinies, fulfill their potential, or even execute a simple plan, they must enjoy psychological health as well as sustainable bodily comfort. Health should be a right for people, not a privilege deserved by those who have the money to pay for it or the type of job or military experience that brings with it decent health care.

I note that most Americans will die of heart disease, Alzheimer’s or other old-age dementias, strokes, cancer, or infections of the lungs.  Yet, what is our total federal budget allocated to universities for medical research and allocated to the National Institutes of Health or the Centers for Disease Control, the groups that do the work of preventing or curing these diseases and injuries that pose the greatest threat to us?  When I examine the federal budget, I can see that all the spending on medical research of all types must be less than $6.5 billion for the CDC and $39.2 billion for the N.I.H. (these are the bodies that make research grants to universities).  Yet, our efforts expressed in the budgets of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy’s atomic weapons programs, and the Defense Department, all to protect us from the very unlikely chance that we will be killed or conquered by terrorists or enemy nation militaries is in excess of $650 billion. That seems like a delusional misallocation of resources to me. 

But of course we do spend a tremendous amount on Medicare, Medicaid, and the Veterans Administration’s health services. But a problem here is that the health care system environment in which these efforts to provide health are embedded is horribly inefficient and leaking resources away from health promotion. For example, after some fact checking using an article in Vox written by Sarah Kliff and Soo Oh (updated May 10, 2018,, I am compelled to ask the following questions: Why is it that a patient who spends a day in the hospital in US could end up paying approximately $5,220, while a patient in Spain or Australia spends $482 and $765 for the same amount of time, treatment and other services respectively? Why would an MRI cost double what a Swiss would pay, or five times what an Australian pays?Why would the cancer drug Avastin in our country cost nine times compared with what our British counterpart pays? How can we justify the fact that a C. Section birth procedure costs $16,106 in our country, but women in Spain, Australia and Switzerland pay only $2,352, $7,901 and $9,965 respectively? A normal delivery in America could cost as high as $10,808, but Spanish, Australian and Swiss women pay only $1,950, $5,312 and $7,751 for the same delivery, and why is that? Are these countries wealthier, larger, or stuffed with more intelligent people than our country?  Kliff and Oh (2018) also point out that, “Americans use the doctors less compared to other countries, but still pay more for healthcare.”  In the same Kliff & Oh article from Vox, Tom Sackville, chief executive of International Federation of Health Plans is quoted complaining about the price of the drug Humira we buy in our country, lamenting, “It’s exactly the same product, but, in terms of the American patient, you pay double or more the price, with no health gain!”

In any bad system that causes suffering, when that system persists and resists attempts to improve it, you can be sure that some group of people benefits from the situation as it is. Who benefits from the current medical system that is so inefficient and such a burden to Americans?  I urge you to look into the answer to this question. Most Americans would agree that some people who work to promote health and care for us when we are sick or injured ought to be well-paid, and we do not mind if some people who lead the health care institutions or invent the cures and medicines and technology that can promote our well-being get rich from their work. But clearly the current system is concentrating too much wealth in the hands of too few profiteering health care and health insurance and health administration professionals, and too many (nurses, social workers, public health workers, home health care aides, nursing home workers) are working to promote health with inadequate salaries, and many more are suffering by paying too much for their medicines and medical care. 

As you and your colleagues in the Senate and House work to find an improvement on the PPACA, I urge you to look for solutions that preserve what does work well in the American health care system. Suneel Dhand lists some of the achievements of American medicine in an article “Five Things that Make U.S. Healthcare Great” ( Many Americans receive rapid diagnosis when they feel ill or suffer injuries. We have a patient-centered care system in which many Americans are free to choose from a wide range of doctors. American patients may ask questions of their doctors, express their opinions, and complain or report doctors who mistreat them. We have a system to find and remove incompetent doctors (malpractice lawsuits), and for a variety of reasons, our health care settings are often comfortable environments where patient dignity is a priority. Our patients have good survival rates after having strokes, heart attacks, or cancer. Our university-affiliated hospitals do much of the world’s significant medical research and development. We also produce many of the new medicines and technologies.  Whatever we do to improve the American health care system should preserve these good aspects of what we have.

Sincerely yours,

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Student considers policy reactions to housing affordability crisis

Democratic politicians at the state and federal level are pushing plans to dramatically expand the government’s role in addressing unaffordable housing costs, as rent prices hit new highs in major American cities and the party’s increasingly young and urban base embraces big social programs. Taken from the Washington Post.

    New policies are being suggested to regulate housing rents and control rent prices on housing units and control unaffordable housing costs. I personally think that all of this sounds good, but the reality of it is that unless they find a way to put together and standardized rent based in on the number of rooms and the location of the neighborhood.

    Currently I have the knowledge of a suggested rental price strategy named the Fair Market Rent, not everyone follows the suggested fair market rent when renting their properties because it is not enforced for the landlords to fallow the FMR.

    Now the FMR prices are mostly followed by housing programs with federal funding and affordable housing; now in an ideal situation a family should be able to pay their rent with 25% of their income. The reality is that some people actually pay about 30% of their income or more towards their housing than when they are in subsidized housing. I know about this based on my experience working with housing assistance programs in the pass, and currently working with section 8 housing assistance.

    Now the California’s Democratic nominee for governor is calling for 3.5 million housing units in the state and low-income families to receive new tax credits. In my opinion the problem with tax credits and money being given to low income families is that landlords can definitely take advantage of the fact that their tenants now have all this money for them to take by increasing their rents. This is why if there is not any type of regulations place about rent control the landlords can always take advantage of their tenants in this regard.

    I personally think that rent and fair rent should be regulated by the government in a sense that there is fair treatment about rent prices and housing conditions for those low-income families. Policies that promote fairness and stable rent prices can definitely have a positive impact in these families and their housing opportunities.

    Now in the other hand this type of policies usually don't get approved because is most likely to interfere with the wealthy landlords and the realty businesses as it is well known that some people working in the government own

 Rental properties and will probably oppose to this type of policies that will affect the interests of the rich and wealthy. 

“The reality on the ground, of how severe the crisis is, is getting the attention of the policy makers” (Diane Yentel) – President and executive of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

    I personally think that the fact that fair regulated rent is being talked about and some good housing policies are coming out and then being rejected shows the importance of people being able to afford housing opportunities. Hopefully in the future the Housing Quality Standards for renters get to more adequate and affordable housing could definitely help to reduce the amount of people experiencing homelessness in the United States giving them the opportunity to provide for their families and get permanent employment opportunities.  

  I was not very familiar with the Fair Market Rent policies you mentioned.  I know that HUD establishes Fair Market Rent prices for various statistical metropolitan areas, and that these rates are used in setting allowed rental costs for persons receiving subsidized housing vouchers, and I also had the impression that the official Fair Market housing prices were also used in planning by community development agencies in their housing affordability strategies, but I had never considered the details of how those rates are developed or used.  Perhaps you would be interested in doing more with that issue in a later paper.

  Housing affordability and the human right to housing are indeed issues that America has not adequately addressed.  I can understand that in many markets it makes little sense for developers to produce new affordable housing, because their costs and inputs to create housing units yield far, far greater profits if they create housing for higher income residents, and even the many billions of dollars (somewhere around $7 or $8 billion?  Check the Frontline documentary)  spent by the Federal Government in tax breaks given to developers of low-income housing seem to have little impact on the problem.  The government recognizes (through policy) no right to housing (despite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—see article 25), and almost all the $40 billion or so spent on affordable housing in this country is discretionary spending.  Also, as we target low-income households with our public housing policies, we seem to be neglecting middle-income households, who cannot afford housing in many markets (San Francisco Bay Area; Los Angeles; Seattle; Washington, DC; New York City; Boston; etc.)

   I have often wondered why government at some level (could be state or city government if not the federal government) has not become more involved in providing more affordable housing directly.  I envision governments producing dense housing areas for mixed-incomes and then selling the properties at cost (revenue neutral), and perhaps financing most of the buyers (with adjustable interest rates matching or slightly above the increases in the consumer price index, again so there is no loss or gain to the government providing the housing).    The units could be owned by the purchasers and residents, but with some sort of a land trust agreement, so that when owners sold the units outside their families (they could give the housing to spouses, children, parents, or nephews and nieces), the government or land trust would be the buyer, and a condition of the initial sale would be that the price for the unit would be the same price paid by the owner, adjusted for the inflation since the time of purchase, and perhaps further adjusted for any improvements made to the property by the owner.  

Such a scheme could: 1) make housing available; 2) have minimal long-term cost to the government; 3) provide some slight surplus (through financing the sales of units with interest rates slightly above the inflation rate for those who could afford it) to the government that could be used to provide nearly free housing to persons who could not afford it; and 4) would not damage the private for-profit housing market much, since that market is interested in maximizing profits and therefore is not serving the low-profit margin provision of affordable housing anyway.  The policy could be instituted only in areas identified as having Fair Market Housing rates that were above some fraction of typical median year-round full-time wages of workers in the area.  For example, if local two-bedroom fair market housing rates reach higher than 40% of median monthly income of year-round full-time workers, the government can set up the quasi-public land trust and housing development agency to provide the housing.  Ideally, I would like to see the mixed-income housing units constructed in such a policy to encourage more environmentally friendly housing construction and more dense housing in city centers, so that residents would be more able to walk to work, ride mass transit, and live in structures that used passive solar heating in winter and solar or wind power generation to reduce energy costs of heating and cooling.  

  One problem I don't know how to address is the problem of low-income persons who are nuisance tenants. Among the persons who cannot afford housing there is a small subset of persons who are obnoxious neighbors who would destroy property even if they owned it. The scheme I envision involves home ownership (within the context of a land trust where the quasi-public land trust entity would have the right to purchase any unit that comes on the market at a price where no profit-taking—adjusted for inflation—would be part of the property sale), partly because I think residents will take better care of their homes if they own them, but even so, there are persons who are incapable or unwilling of taking care of their housing, and while I'm sure there are policy solutions to that problem, I haven't quite figured out what they must be, aside from the idea that there ought to be some form of assisted living services available for some residents. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Student reacts to the Poor Kids documentary from FRONTLINE

One of our assignments in the first few weeks of class was to watch an online documentary. The video was a Frontline documentary called, “Poor Kids”. The documentary has changed my outlook forever on how children are especially affected by poverty. This video was the second part of a documentary that follows children in poverty from a young age to young adulthood. The documentary was broken in two halves. The first half gives a recap from the 2012 documentary of when of Brittany, Kaylie, and Johnny were small children facing the struggles of poverty in America. The second half updates the audience on where the families of these three poor kids are in 2017. The ability to watch Brittany, Kaylie, and Johnny grow into young adults and to hear their stories of struggle, was fascinating to me. All of these families were the victims of unfortunate circumstance that lead them down the path of poverty.

Brittany is a young girl from Illinois whose family struggled to make ends meet. Her parents had another baby on the way in the first film and were worried about how they were going to support another child. Brittany was aware of the fact her family was poor and that her father had just lost his job. Necessities such as a hot water in the winter was not available to Brittany’s family. The hot water heater was shut off due to failure to pay the bill on time. Examples like this are so common for families living in poverty, they often go without one necessity to keep something else running. Brittany seemed to be aware at a very young age of the financial struggles her family faced. She knew that they had to move from their old house because her father lost his job. She knew that most of her belongings in storage were thrown away due to failure to pay the bill. She knew that the cable and internet would be next to shut off. A conversation between Brittany and the camera man stood out to me. She tells him, “you have money now but, in a few months, you could be poor, you never know”. It amazed me how this little girl’s comment put so much in perspective for me. What we have today is not promised tomorrow. Most of what Brittany says in the video is negative and its probably because she is constantly surrounded by a cloud of negativity looming over her every day. It is not shocking that as Brittany becomes a young adult, she battles depression and anxiety. When the film picks back up, Brittany is now fifteen-years-old. She says that middle school was a rough time for her because she got picked on for being poor. She was expelled and held back, she states that was the lowest point. Her highest point was completing middle school, something she was very proud of herself for. Graduating from middle-school is an accomplishment that many take for granted. Instead of seeing it as an accomplishment, other students see it as just the next phase in life. Brittany’s stress has remained a constant battle in her life because of poverty.

Kaylie Hegwood lives in Stockton, Iowa and in 2012 she was ten-years-old living with her mother and brother. She starts her segment of the video by complaining how hungry she is and how this hunger affects her throughout the day. Kaylie lives in poor town that has been run down with little job opportunities and little resources. Kaylie and her friends go “canning” to make money. Five cents for non-squished cans and two cents for squished cans. Her family moved to a motel room where their sink was filled with ice and used as a refrigerator. The one bed room was home to Kaylie, her brother Jordan, and their mother, Barbara. Fast-forward to 2017 and Kaylie’s family is still struggling. She is almost sixteen-years-old and has moved around a lot in the past several years. Her family has lived at their current house for two years with the help of their Grandmother who also provided Barbara with a car and a phone for Kaylie. Her Grandmother has battled cancer along with her mother who is currently battling ovarian cancer. Kaylie admits that she is not sad about things that happen to her and her family any longer, she has gotten so used to it. This realization is hard to swallow for a girl that thinks she only has a 50/50 shot of making something of herself in the future.

The documentary shows a boy named Johnny and his family. In 2012 Johnny was thirteen-years-old with high hopes of becoming a football star. His family went from living in a 3-bedroom house to living in the Salvation Army Shelter after his father, who repaired houses, couldn’t find work while in the recession. Johnny is a bright young boy and blew me away with his mature thoughts. He says that he is a realist and knows that if he doesn’t make good grades, he won’t go to college and have a career to provide for himself and future family. He also wants to play professional football and knows that playing his favorite sport will be over in four years if he doesn’t try hard to achieve his goals. Johnny has both optimistic and realistic plans for his life and its admirable. His mother and father try to work hard but can barely provide for Johnny and his siblings.  As the years go on however, Johnny does find himself hanging out with the wrong crowd and eventually ending up in jail. He chooses to move in with his Grandmother in Chicago and is now trying to get back into playing football in college. The second half of the documentary focuses on his sister, Jasmine and his mother and father who are currently living in a hotel until her mom and dad can find somewhere to live. Jasmine is wise and grateful for the family she has. I couldn’t help but shed a few tears at her statement, “I wouldn’t choose this life but it’s kind of showing me what can happen. I will take this experience and use it to make myself a better person by learning from it and knowing what not to do. My hope for the future would be to have a house with my own room and my own space but you can’t really have everything you want.” This tore my heart that the simple pleasure of having your own room was something I took for granted growing up.

I grew up in a single mother household. We struggled and sometimes did not have enough to eat, or my siblings and I had to wear clothing that was too small for us. My mother held a steady job and she kept the same roof over our heads for 18 years. My experiences are nothing compared to these three children and the overwhelming number of poverty-stricken families in America. I struggle to fathom the number of kids that I went to school with that were living a life of poverty. From elementary school through high school I don’t think I ever took the time and noticed my fellow students who may be struggling at home. Kids I rode the bus with, kids I was partnered with in a group, kids that I sat by in the auditorium or lunch table, could have been homeless. I believe that this documentary and more like it should be shown in middle schools around the United States. This will allow other students to relate more to other students and to show compassion and understanding to those who have different home lives.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Student recommends that the Illinois House pass the Inclusive Education Act

The Senate Bill 3249 is also known as the Inclusion Bill. This bill makes it mandatory to teach LGBTQ history curriculum for public schools. State Senator Heather Steans sponsored this bill. It passed the Illinois Senate in March of 2018. Now the bill has to pass the Illinois House, where it is House Bill 5596. This curriculum will be limited to the public schools; it will not apply to private or religious schools. The superintendent of the school district will be required to monitor and enforce compliance with this new curriculum. The program requires all kindergarten-12th grades to include this curriculum in their unit studying. 

Schools can still control the school environment and curriculum, but this law will require that there be some specific coverage of the contributions of LGBTQ persons. Learning about the history of LGBTQ persons teaches the importance of not discriminating against others. If this bill passes Illinois will be the second state to swap out textbooks for LGBTQ inclusive texts. California adopted similar measures in 2011; however, California just approved the LGBTQ textbooks for elementary schools in November. California was the first state to approve this bill. This idea was mainly brought on by suicides among LGBTQ youth. In the upcoming year, California students will gain an understanding of the past and present of LGBTQ community. 

This bill will have no fiscal impact. Textbooks would be purchased through the textbook block grant program whether or not the selections are restricted to textbooks that have LGBTQ content. This textbook block grant program gives annual funding to school districts. School districts can look into online textbooks, which are cheaper. California approved 10 textbooks for elementary and middle school students, so the same ten would presumably be approved for use in Illinois if the Inclusion Bill is passed into law here in Illinois

Change needs to happen. The LGBTQ community is not going to go away. Their history is just as import for students to learn about as is the African Americans, war history, the Holocaust, etc. It is time to stop erasing LGBTQ identities. It is time to acknowledge LGBTQ roles in history. It is time to acknowledge that someone like James Baldwin was an openly gay writer. LGBTQ students need to feel the support from their peers and teachers. It is important for our students to learn about role models of the LGBTQ communities. Of course changing the textbooks will be a slow process, but it something that needs to be done. It is time for Illinois to follow California and approve the Inclusive Curriculum Bill. Our youth need to know about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community. This community is a now a part of history. 

There are several historical figures whose sexuality and sexual orientation are ambiguous, and I hope the presentation of these figures will be nuanced, and help students understand that in historical work, we cannot always be sure of our conclusions.  Also, the ideas we now have about sexual identity and orientation, and the words we use, were not prevalent in the past, so there is an interesting debate about whether our modern terms and ideas about LGBTQ apply in past times and other cultures.  All that sort of information will help students move away from the faith in categories and labels that so many of us rely upon these days.  And I think it's very healthy for children and students in our public schools to learn about different critiques of how gender and sexuality have been expressed or understood at different times and places.  Give the many disappointing aspects of mainstream heterosexuality in 21st Century North American culture (such as the high rates of domestic violence and the high incidence of rape and sexual abuse of children), I think our schools will be doing a great benefit to our society if they open up children to some critical ideas about assumptions and values prevalent in our culture.  It is especially good to know that there have always been eccentrics, misfits, and persons who rebelled against conformity, and among these people were some of the great geniuses and heroes of history, and also some of the villains. 

Student opposes drug testing of SNAP beneficiaries

SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), also called food stamps, is for low income people and families who cannot afford their food. Without this program, millions of people in the United States would go hungry. The United States Department of Agriculture provides SNAP, and it works by giving people a certain amount of money each month that can only use on food. It is put onto a card similar to a debit card. People get a certain amount depending on how many people are in their household, how much money they make, and how much their rent and utilities are. It is a great program for helping end hunger in the United States. 

One problem we face with SNAP is that Republicans and the Trump Administration are trying to make it so certain states are allowed to drug test food stamp recipients. The wrong-headed ideal of this policy proposal is that people receiving food stamps must be forced to go through drug testing, and without drug testing they will not be able to receive food stamp benefits. This is wrong in many ways. At the surface level, it may seem like a good idea that drug addicts cannot get food stamps, but what about their children? Should children of parents who have used drugs starve and suffer because of their parents’ illicit drug use? It really is not fair at all. I don’t, and I hope most people do not want children going hungry because their parents struggle with addiction, and even if someone does not have any children and they are addicts, do they deserve to starve? I have a very strong opinion that no one should starve, no matter what. Murderers and rapists in prison don’t starve, but they are trying to make someone with a drug addiction starve when they are not harming others, just themselves. 

Another reason why it is a bad idea to drug test food stamp recipients is because of how costly it is. Seven states have already tried this, but on TANF instead of food stamps (TANF is a different welfare program that gives cash grants to some poor families) and they have already spent one million dollars on these drug tests, and they will have to spend millions more as the years go by, but it has been shown that applicants who have been drug tested have tested positive at a lower rate than the general population. Drug testing does not work to help people get treatment for their addictions. Instead of spending this much money on drug testing applicants of welfare programs, we ought to be implementing better programs to help the poor move out of poverty, and help persons with substance use issues move toward sobriety. 

Hunger in the United States is a real problem, and forcing applicants to be drug tested will not help solve the problem. More people will starve. More people will steal, so they will be able to survive. Instead of spending millions of dollars to drug test food stamp recipients, we could increase the amount of benefits hungry persons receive because a majority of people who get food stamps do not get enough to last them the whole month. They do okay for the first couple weeks, but then they end up having to go to the food pantry because they run out of food. 

The SNAP program does need to be changed, but forcing people to be drug tested has more negative consequences than positive ones. People will also be losing a sense of self determination and autonomy over their own lives, because they already have to jump through many hoops just to get help from the government, but adding drug tests as something they have to do will just make them more dependent and less self-sufficient. 

I think the most important thing is that everyone gets to have the food that they need. Family members should not hurt because they have a parent or sibling who cannot stay clean. It is not fair to either of them, and there are other programs that we should have to help people who struggle with addiction. Not giving people food is not going to magically make them stay off drugs. 

I'd like to mention a few facts here to help support your editorial. 
In the first part of 2018, the maximum SNAP benefits for families in Illinois who live with no income are as follows:
single individuals: $192 per month;
single parents with one child or two-adult households: $352;
household with three persons: $504;
household with four persons: $640;
household with five persons: $760.
According to the USDA’s March 2018 food plans:
For a thrifty food budget, a family of two adults aged 19-50 years old need $382 per month; and for a family of four with two adults and two children aged 
6-8 and 9-11 years old, the monthly food budget needed is $639.  
For the low cost plan, the amount needed for the two-adult household is $490, and for the family of four with two children and two adults, the amount needed for a month is $841.
For the moderate-cost plan, the amount for the two-adult household: $583.  For the four-person household: $1048.

In 2014, when there were about 120 million American households, total spending per month on food in and outside of home was about $1.15 billion, or approximately $960 per month per household (and the average American household has about 2.5 persons).  
Clearly, the SNAP benefits are not allowing poor persons to receive such lavish benefits that they can live with food consumption that matches typical American diets.  In fact, the SNAP benefits provide less than 40% of the resources that would allow a poor household without income to consume food at a level that matches the American average.  
SNAP benefits aren’t generous.  SNAP benefits do, however, combat hunger.  SNAP benefits reduce the number of Americans living in extreme poverty (looking at consumption levels to define poverty) by about half. 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

National School Lunch Programs

Without the National School Lunch Program so many children would go hungry at school. The program was established in 1946 and signed into law by President Harry Truman. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) helps plan balanced meals in public and private schools. The NSLP helps develop healthy and educational outcomes for students coming from low-income families. Students from low-income families are eligible for the National School Lunch Program. These students receive price reduced lunches or free meals at school. Families with incomes below 130% of the poverty line and receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance of Needy Families (TANF) is eligible for free lunches. Families with incomes between 130-185% of the poverty line are eligible for price reduced lunches. Most of these students are also eligible for snack, breakfast, and summer lunch programs. Schools cannot charge reduced price lunch families more than 40 cents per reduced lunch. Some students are still going hungry, because their family doesn’t know about the NSLP or they don’t qualify.

The NSLP provided price reduced lunches to over 30.4 million daily in 2016 at a cost of $13.6 billion. Behind SNAP in the nation the National School Lunch Program is the second largest food and nutrition assistance program. In 2015-2016 school years, over 98,000 schools participated in NSLP. The meals must meet federal nutrition standards. The program is administered on a state and federal level. On a federal level it is through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On a state level it is through the State Department of Education or Agriculture. 

The program enhances children’s learning ability by contributing to their physical and mental well-being. It has always been said that students who don’t eat proper meals have a harder time concentrating and learning in the classroom.

Documents are kept to prove the lunch program follows the state and federal guidelines. For example, applications submitted by families for free or reduced meals, by site and description of the follow-up actions to verify eligibility. They must keep record of income, expenditures, along with contributions received. Record the numbers of free, price reduced, and full price lunches in categories served each day. The other record that is kept is meal production and inventory records that show the amounts and types of food used. 

Schools get paid on a reimbursement basis. Agencies get paid by the number of meals served. Schools have to submit a monthly reimbursement claim to the Child Nutrition Information Payment System. The department has to then review and approve the reimbursement claim. The claim then goes to the State Controller’s office. After this the check will be issued. It takes about four to six weeks after submitting the reimbursement claim before receiving the check. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Youth aging out of foster care to get tuition waivers

Most foster kids have had a rough start in life. Most of them have been abused or neglected in some way, which is why they are placed in the foster care system. This means that they usually do not have any family members who are able to take care of them or support them either, since this is the first thing looked for when removing children from homes. The kids are forced to pack their bags and leave everything they know behind in order to go live with strangers. This can be very scary for most children, especially those who already have trust issues with adults because of the abuse they experienced as kids. Also, since they have to go through this process many times, they often develop unstable relationships with adults. This is because they are constantly being placed into homes and then being pulled out and placed into new homes over and over again. This process does not allow for the formation of stable relationships, as the kids never get to have reliable people in their lives to bond with.

 Furthermore, the kids switch schools frequently since they are constantly moving. This not only hurts their ability to make friends, but can also severely interfere with their education. When foster kids age out of the system, they are often left with nothing and no one. This is why I am in favor of foster kids receiving free education up to a bachelor’s degree. This would allow them to get on their feet and be able to support themselves more effectively. In the system we have now, they can get up to three years of schooling through the foster care system. While this provides them with a pretty good start, it would be more efficient in the long run to keep them in the system one more year, so they can at least get a bachelor’s degree. This would give them more options and more financial stability than they would have with only an associate degree or certification. 

Supporting these young adults one more year until they receive their bachelor’s degree would reduce the chance of them becoming homeless since they would be more likely to qualify for higher paying jobs. Also, if they do an internship during their schooling, they would gain experience in that field which would help pave the way to gainful employment. They would also be less likely to end up in jail since their lives would have a more positive outlook and clear direction. Currently, by ages 23-24 years old, foster kids are more likely than non-foster kids to be uneducated, unemployed, homeless, pregnant, and criminal. 
The new bills, Senate Bill 2846 and House Bill 5122, would provide tuition fee waivers to those who DCFS has legal responsibility of, current foster kids, those who have recently aged out of foster care, and those who have been adopted out of foster care. This allows young adults who would otherwise be unable to afford higher education a chance to go to college and have a better chance of succeeding in life. To be able to receive the fee waivers, the young adult must have attained a high school degree or a GED, which is equivalent to a high school degree. The new age limit to receive the fee waivers would be 26 years old and would cover the student’s first five years of school. These tuition and fee waivers would cover the full tuition cost for foster kids to go to any community college, university, or college maintained by the state of Illinois. These bills are seeking to provide foster care children with the same opportunities as children who grew up in families and are more able to afford college. By adding these bills, Illinois could help foster children live more productive, healthy lives. Incorporating these bills would also cut costs in areas such as law enforcement because foster kids would less likely be criminal if they had more support and equal opportunities to education.