Monday, April 24, 2017

Student writes complaining of Medicare's caps on physical therapy services

To Whom It May Concern, 
I have resided in Illinois for my life.  I live in Greenfield, Illinois, which, if you are not sure, it’s a small town and everyone is here to help one another.  I used to work at Blue Cross Blue Shield as a Customer Representative and due an unforeseen stroke, I had to quit work.  As a community as well as a former BCBS representative, we are there to help other people.  We see other people who been through the best and worst of things try to get better and move on with their lives.  We also take care of the elderly and people with sickness, cancer etc., and we try to help out by taking care of each other.  We are a tight knit community.
I am also not a big fan of politics.  I want the people to get into their positions by what they stand for, be listening and “go with my gut feeling” so we can see some movement in our policies.

In that regard, I want to speak to you about Medicare and Physical Therapy for people with Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis. People that have these diseases do benefit from repeated physical and speech therapy.  Their quality of life depends on these benefits to gain a sense of normality.  I have been working with a woman, ____, who has Parkinson’s disease for about a year now, and her condition has taken a down-ward spiral over the last couple of years.  She used to work at the ______ _______, and although she had this disease, she could still work.  About ten years ago, she was taken off working because her tremors were getting so bad.  She used to walk, but now she is confined to a wheelchair.  She now has a nerve receptor to handle the tremors and she has been signed up to receive physical and speech therapy to gain some access to walking and swallowing techniques.

According to Medicare, “There is currently a combined $1,920 yearly cap for physical therapy and speech-language therapy, and a separate $1,920 yearly cap for occupational therapy.”  I know there can be an extension for additional services, however, after the $1,920 year-cap, it’s not getting approved through Medicare, and the facilities do not want to extend their services in fear on not getting paid.  That would become the patient’s responsibility.  Patients cannot afford to go under for physical and speech therapy.  How would they recover?

I have seen ____ progress immensely with the therapy she has received but once that happens she has to start all over again to regain her strength back.  It’s very sad to see her start over and over again to only gain her where she was before she stopped going to therapy.  She could actually get up and walk!  Her body responded well to the therapy.  She actually could feel her gaining strength! That also affected using the bathroom and showers.  She didn’t get so close to falling but, after a month or two she lost all her strength and she ended right back where she was before.  It breaks my heart.

If we can use Medicare and have guidelines to approve extended visits, such a policy would be great.  If they could send in records to show what improvements they have made with the physical therapy and speech therapy, to acknowledge what they did, then Medicare could cover it. I understand that some people will not make any improvements, and I understand that when there is no clear sign of effectiveness it makes sense to have a cap and say that after spending a certain amount and showing no benefit, that can be the end for the year.  However, when people show improvement, the cap is too low; the people who should continue therapy will only gain strength with momentum and possibly have a pain free life if they get continuous therapy, so the cap on therapeutic services is very harmful and destructive.  I know this is newer to Medicare with Parkinson’s and MS, so if we could take a look at this, we could improve Medicare for people who are relying on services.  And let’s face it, $1,920 would not get very far with therapy, but that would really help those who need it and want to stay in their home without the use of nursing home and skilled care.  To me, that would increase the payments going out, but would be a lot less for a nursing home care.

I appreciate your time and attention to this matter.
Warm regards,

[Student Name]

A Pro-Life student urges politicians to protect funding for Planned Parenthood

To The Honorable Senators of Illinois, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth,

Greetings, today I am writing to you to express my concern for the funding of Planned Parenthood. Over the years there has been many a debate about the morality of Planned Parenthood and whether their services are right or wrong. Even though I myself am an avid pro-lifer and have participated in several pro-life events such as the March for Life in Washington D.C., this is not what I want my letter to be about. I simply aim to address the issue of the allocation of funds for the Planned Parenthood program.

Despite the bad reputation among many of us who are pro-Life, which Planned Parenthood has earned itself over the years with many scandals, the program does have many good things to offer to our community. These good things include STD testing, birth control, cancer screenings, and their sex ed program. In 2014 Planned Parenthood helped 4,218,149 with STI/STD treatment and testing alone (PPFA pg. 2). In that same year they provided contraception to 2,945,059 people (PPFA pg. 2). These statistics alone prove that Planned Parenthood does more than just terminate pregnancies. 

Few would argue that Planned Parenthood is all bad and that their work in treating STDs and cancer screenings is not a valued asset to our society. However, there are people like myself who are deeply troubled by the idea of our tax money funding procedures that we so vehemently oppose. In 2014 Planned Parenthood received $528 million dollars from the government alone (Kurtzleben np).  That money counts as 40% of their total revenue (Kurzleben np).  Realistically it makes sense that not all of the tax money goes to abortions; however, people who stand on the side of pro-life do not wish for a single penny of their hard earned money to go to abortion. However, many would agree that the money the government allocates to Planned Parenthood is still useful and necessary.

Therefore, I propose that there be a policy that dictates where and how the money the government gives to Planned Parenthood is used. This policy would also require Planned Parenthood to provide the public with financial statements for every penny of their $528 million dollar revenue. The government could make it simple for Planned Parenthood by giving out their funds in the form of grants that can only be used for a certain aspect of Planned Parenthoods programing. For instance say the government only allow 100 of the 528 million to be used for the distribution of condoms overseas in impoverished nations. 

Despite how people feel towards Planned Parenthood, they are the “leading providers of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, and the nation's largest provider of sex education” (Parenthood np).  I think that having a policy like the one I proposed would be an excellent compromise to the pro-life, pro-choice battle that all too often places Planned Parenthood in the crossfires. 

Thank you for your time and attention.
[Student's Name]


Kurtzleben, Danielle. “Fact Check: How Does Planned Parenthood Spend That Government Money?”. NPR it’s all politics. August 5, 2015.

PPFA — Planned Parenthood Federation of America. (2015a). 2014 Annual Affiliate Service Census Executive Summary. New York: Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. (An internal report). _____. (2015b). 2014-2015 Annual Report. New York: Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. 

Parenthood, Planned. "Planned Parenthood at a Glance." Planned Parenthood. N.p., 17 Feb. 2017. Web. 22 Feb. 2017. 

This is an interesting example of allowing a political leader to know that although you are representing a particular camp in some controversial issue, you do not necessarily support all the opinions associated with your camp.  You are pro-life, and against abortions, and you especially do not want money spent on abortions.  Many who agree with you on that issue want to defund Planned Parenthood.  You are suggesting that despite your pro-life stance, you still want to protect Planned Parenthood and ensure that it receives government payment for the services other than abortion that is delivers.

As another aside, Planned Parenthood is already prevented from using federal dollars on abortions.  See the Fact Check story from several years ago about this. Planned Parenthood describes how it gets federal dollars mainly through Medicaid and Title X for preventive health services (never abortion, which cannot be paid for with federal dollars).  So, to some extent, the policy you are advocating for here is already one that exists. 

TANF may help families out of poverty, but it is too limited

Here is another student paper about TANF
For this assignment, we were asked to examine a policy that was related to welfare. I chose to focus on TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). I want to point out the positives, the negatives, and give reasons for why I believe it should become a policy change. TANF is a federally-funded program that is run by the states; it provides limited cash assistance to low-income parents and their children (Family Equality Council, 2016). The program was designed to help families reach sustainability and eventually be able to provide for themselves. In order to receive this assistance there are requirements that must be met.

Since TANF is run by the states, some requirements may be different for who can qualify for this assistance. TANF is temporary, so the requirement of receiving cash assistance from federal funds cannot exceed sixty months. “However, states can exceed the 60 month limit for up to 20 percent of their caseload based on hardship” (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2015). Work requirements are also set for the individual to receive cash assistance. The states are to impose sanctions (reduce or terminate benefits), if the individual is not meeting requirements of work activities. Most states have chosen to create the “full-family” sanctions. This simply means that failure to meet the requirements will result in removing benefits for the entire family.

This welfare program has many positives and many negatives. For instance, it allows for the opportunity of eliminating poverty for families who receive the benefit. Many of the causes of poverty are lack of jobs, inadequate housing, and poor nutrition. This program allows for the family who may be receiving low income, to receive a little extra to feed their children, pay rent and utilities, and get a car fixed up so it can carry a parent to work. This is always a benefit of cash benefit programs compared to in-kind benefit programs.  The TANF program in some states also allows you to meet with caseworkers in order to set goals. These goals include future plans to stop receiving TANF and be able to be stable with finances. The program is just not a free ride for people who do not want to work or be lazy. You must go through meeting requirements, and meet multiple times with your caseworker.

Although it seems that trying to help assist a family financially is great, there are also drawbacks of this program. The idea that you have to prove yourself eligible starts with the assumption that applicants are unworthy or undeserving until they have proved otherwise. Why not start with the idea that the amount of income you receive is not good enough to support a family of three, and this is a program that may help you? The other issue that ought to be disparaged is the time limit. While the time limit may cause the individual to want to get goals arranged for the future, what if this is the only option? For some people, they have tried multiple things and it seems no matter what, they cannot reach their full potential. After their sixty months have run out they will still have no source of income, and they will be unable to provide for themselves or their family.  Consider all the possible cases: persons who don’t quite meet the diagnostic criteria for a cognitive disability, but really have intellectual limitations that make them difficult to employ; persons who don’t meet the criteria for a full disability, so they can’t qualify for SSI or other forms of assistance, but in fact, they are very close to being disabled, perhaps due to mental or physical health problems; persons who have reoccurring health problems that make them not very dependable as workers (they miss too many days), so they lose jobs and can’t find and keep work for more than a year at a time, but over the course of fifteen or twenty years they have used up their five years of TANF; persons who are in fact a little lazy, a little sneaky, or a little unpleasant to have as employees, but they aren’t actually criminal or menacing or belligerent or entirely non-productive, they are just minimally productive.  Society has people like these, but capitalism doesn’t offer much scope for these people to succeed and become self-sufficient. TANF could be a policy that kept these people out of harm’s way, preventing them from ending up in homeless shelters, jails, hospital emergency rooms, and courtrooms.  

With both the pros and cons of the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Family), I do believe that there should be some policy change. The time limit should be extended to families who need it. As a caseworker, you should be continuously taking into account how a family is benefitting from the program. However, if you notice that a family may almost be to their full potential and needs and extra month, extend their cash assistance. I also believe that there should be a set amount of money to be given to family sizes throughout all of the states. The federal government should be able to provide each state with the same amount of funding so that one family does not receive more than the other. Who says that this parent is not meeting the same requirements, but not receiving the same amount? With these reasons I believe the TANF program does work to help assist families, however could definitely be improved.

Policy Basics: An Introduction to TANF. (2015, June 15). Retrieved March 1, 2017, from

Temporary Assistance for Needy Familes. (n.d.). Retrieved March 1, 2017, from

A student considers the TANF program

A social welfare system provides assistance to needy individuals and families.  The types and amount of welfare available to individuals and families vary depending on the country, state or region.  Examples of social welfare in the United States include Medicare, Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, food benefits, and Section 8 housing assistance.  

The 1996 welfare reform enacted by the Clinton Administration ended Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) as an entitlement program and replaced the program with a block grant, called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).  TANF is a federally-funded program run by states that provides limited cash assistance to low-income parents and their children.  To be eligible for TANF, individuals must participate in work activity within two years of receiving assistance, and families are limited to a total of five years’ assistance in a lifetime.  If an individual refuses work requirements, states have the option to reduce or shut off assistance to that family.  Another important feature to TANF concerns minors.  Minors who are parents cannot receive TANF assistance unless they are living at home with their parents or in another adult supervised setting.  Minors must attend high school or an alternative educational program as soon as their child is twelve weeks old. 

TANF is funded not only by the federal government, but also by the states.  The federal government gives states a fixed block grant each year.  States that meet specified criteria may also qualify for federal contingency funds.  In 2013, states reported spending about $15 billion of nonfederal money on services intended to meet TANF’s goals. The Federal government spends about the same amount, with about $15.8 billion expected for TANF grants to the states from the Department of Health and Human Services for 2017.

TANF comes with multiple positives and negatives to the program.  Positives to the program include:
  1. TANF has helped provide people with food, medical assistance, and other services.  
  2. The program helps individuals stay motivated and teaches them to meet their needs.  
Negatives to the program include: 
  1. Some people abuse it and do not tell the truth about their status.  
  2. Since it is a cash assistance program, individuals who receive the cash can spend it on anything.  Although the money is supposed to go to necessary items such as food, clothing, and rent, some individuals are spending their cash on alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.  
  3. There are also people who do not want to be part of the program because they are embarrassed or for other personal reasons. 
Today, there are many different flaws in the TANF program.  TANF only exists on a short-term basis leaving those who depended on it hopeless.  The continuing growth of the human population is making TANF become ineffective because of the insufficient budget.  Another flaw within the program is that while states can set their own time limit policies, they cannot provide cash assistance from federal TANF funds for longer than 60 months to a family that includes an adult recipient.  This leaves individuals without a source of income. 

In conclusion, there are many positives and negatives to TANF today.  TANF over the years has helped low income families stay on their feet, pay for food, and put a roof over families’ heads.  While TANF aims to assist in the prevention of poverty, it only serves to keep its individuals on the brink of poverty.  

Here is another list of benefits and harms of the TANF program:

1) It is a cash benefit.
This is beneficial because it allows recipients to have some autonomy and dignity, as they may manage their own money.  It also maximizes their freedom, because it allows them to use the money for whatever is their most pressing need.
This can be harmful, because some TANF recipients have very poor financial literacy, and they may waste or squander their cash benefit.  Some who suffer from addictions will use their benefits on pursuing their addictions.

2) It offers only very little money.
This is beneficial because the small benefit levels do not attract people to become poor so that they qualify for benefits.  It also is so low that even when people receive TANF, they need more money, and so they will look for work to earn more money, and that will help them become independent and get off of welfare.
This is harmful because even poor persons should live with dignity and have their basic needs met.  During the periods when people need TANF, they need to focus on their parenting, or focus on building their skills, or focus on finding a good job.  If the benefit level is so low that they must hustle around and try to make ends meet, they will not have the energy or time to devote themselves to the tasks that are more important.  Also, the low benefit levels may make it impossible for people to have phones or cars, and so they may miss opportunities to take jobs or study.

3) There are time limits.  If you have not found a job in a certain amount of time, you benefits can be cut.  After five years in of receiving benefits in your life, you may never receive any more benefits.
This is beneficial because it makes it impossible for people to become dependent over a long period of time.  Since people can lose their benefits if they don’t find employment, they will be more willing to enter the labor force and work for an employer. This should make poor people more subservient and diligent in their work, since they will fear being fired, especially if they have no benefits left to gain when they are out of work.
This is harmful because some people may have chronic health problems or mental health issues or other life circumstances that put them in a situation where they need assistance for more than five years, or may take them a long time to find a reasonable employment opportunity.  The time limits will cut off support for the children as well as the parents, so that children with parents who have lost their benefits may suffer. 

4) It can be humiliating and complicated to apply for the TANF benefit, and the regular monitoring of your situation by a caseworker can be an invasion of your responsibility.
This can be beneficial because fewer people will apply for benefits.  Also, people who receive benefits can be closely monitored and coached or encouraged by their caseworkers, so that they will be less able to cheat, and more able to work toward their plans for self-sufficiency.
This can be harmful because the stigma associated with receiving TANF may push families who could use the cash benefit away from gaining it, and they will have even more financial trouble while going through a spell of economic hardship because they have not gained access to the resources that are supposed to help them. The caseworkers may treat TANF recipients with contempt or might try to enforce their own values on the recipients, possibly giving bad advice or generally making clients miserable.

5) the program is generally too small, offers benefits that are inadequate, and is too harsh in its sanctions and benefit limits.
This can be beneficial because it reduces government spending and punishes the poor for whatever behaviors brought them to the point where they have become poor.

This is harmful because it feeds the American hatred of poor people, and punishes people for life circumstances that are usually not their fault, which is unfair.

Student suggests that a Federal Child Allowance could replace the Child Tax Credit

Dear Thomas E. Price, M.D.,

My name is [Student’s Name]. I am writing because I know that you are the head of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and I would like to advocate for a new child tax credit policy and possibly re-introduce a new policy to help the country’s suffering children. Experts who specialize in poverty and child well-being have suggested Federal child allowances and Federal Child Development Accounts, and I think that such policies could cause a large impact on every child in the United States while helping their caregivers as well. 

As of now, our country has the highest child poverty rates among advanced nations. In 2015, 13.1% of American children were food insecure and 19.7% of Americans under the age of 18 were in poverty (“Hunger and Poverty”, n.d.).  Such statistics are evidence that our nation is failing to do everything it can to prevent horrific levels of deprivation among children. However I know that we allocate enormous amounts of money, spending it on child hunger and child anti-poverty programs annually (for example, $23 billion on child nutrition programs, $19.6 billion on child tax credit refunds where credit exceeds liability for tax, a high percentage of the $71 billion we spend on Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits, etc.), but this money is not spent well. The money that goes toward child poverty hardly affects the children who are the very worst off; instead, kids who are higher up on the ladder are getting extra assistance.  The children in the poorest families, where parents cannot get TANF, and may have difficulty getting SNAP, perhaps because they are homeless, as depicted in the recent book $2 A Day, are abandoned and harmed by our present welfare system.

I have been researching, reviewing, and learning about one of the current programs that is to help the kids who are not well off: the child tax credit. I have found that the child tax credit has a hard time reaching the severely poor families. The majority of families who receive this assistance are those who have a moderate and middle income. You would think that the people who have low to zero income would be the ones who would find the most use of this money for the children. Granted, the middle and moderate families need the help too. In fact, almost all of America could use an extra boost to ensure their kids are getting some type of aid. These tax credits help the poor by providing credit up to $1,000 per child who is under the age of 17. One of the first flaws that strikes me is that this child tax credit helps the working family. Does that mean that the people who are out of work or are unable to work do not qualify for this tax credit? Are we excluding the children whose parents are not employed from this financial boost? Also, the fact that a child is no longer eligible once he or she turns 17 can cause a burden as well. I believe that the age should be raised. The child tax credit is also confusing to file for, making it a burden for families who are unfamiliar with the process. There are many additional options that can add onto the original credit, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit. Lastly, one may be overwhelmed while trying to decide whether or not their child will qualify for the support. The child tax credit is providing some help, but it is seldom working. It does not help everyone—so why not try something new?

I think that the government should provide a monthly check to every child in the country regardless of income or socioeconomic status. The government would get rid of some of the child tax credits completely and instead write a check every month to families with children. Having these allowances will ensure that every single child have an equal starting base. The parents will have cash to provide food, clothing, shelter, school supplies, and other basic needs. The vulnerable will have a floor that will be hard to fall under. They know that money will be provided to help care for their family. The parent will need to claim the number of children they have and a check will be provided to each. It’s a simple process unlike the child tax credit. Obviously children age 17 and under will be able to obtain the check, but I think that the transition years of 18 through 20 should still be given a check unless the child themselves identifies as independent. The reason I think this would be an adequate addition is because at this is a confusing age for many young adults. It is this time that they are trying to go to college, which is expensive! Many students will go to a university close to home so that they can reside at home for a few more years to save a few thousand dollars. This is another two years that they are relying on their guardians to provide meals and a place to sleep. This is another two years that families could use the assistance. By the age of twenty someone tends to start to get a grip on their life and can begin to help with their own finances. This policy will treat everyone equally. No one person will receive more or less money based on income. It will be an easy process of apply and receive. Kids will have a solid base. The positives out weigh the negatives.

One of the biggest concerns will be how expensive this policy will be. I was thinking that each child’s check would be roughly $250 per month, equally about $190 billion a year (Porter, 2016). Yes, at first glance that seems like an outrageous amount, but hear me out. Simply by cutting the child tax credit, the country could pay for half of that already. Also, by giving out these allowances an enormous amount of people could be lifted out of poverty. People will be able to buy more, which will help the economy. According to John Maynard Keynes, the best way to help an economy was to spend more! With less people in poverty, more people will be able to contribute to spending, which will affect the supply and demand of products and boost our economy. Another hesitation is that citizens that don’t actually need the help will still receive a check. In reality, we could all use the help, but the point of the universal access is that everyone is treated equal. There will be zero uproar about someone having access to more money than someone else. It will be a set amount that each and every child will receive.

I hope that this letter has made you think about the current policy and has opened your eyes to a new possibility. The child tax credit does help some children who are in poverty, but there are still many glitches with the idea. I think that having a stagnant cash amount given to each child will provide a steady base for all. Thank you for your time. 

[Student’s Name]

This is a good example of a student’s letter to a person in the government in which a student analyzes a policy proposal and makes a recommendation, or writes a letter of advocacy.  

In response to the student’s paper, I had a few suggestions to make concerning the proposed policy.  
  1. As most children are poor at young ages (poverty rates for children aged 0-11 are far higher than poverty rates of children aged 12-18), the allowance for younger children could reflect this by being larger than the allowance for older children.
  2. You could compare this to the guaranteed minimum income.  I know that my idea that every citizen ought to have a guaranteed minimum income is controversial and radical, because most Americans think it is fair to force people into the capitalist labor market by denying benefits to able-bodied working-aged adults who do not or will not take employment.  But, no one expects children to work, and most of us expect that elderly persons should be allowed to retire and rest in their final years.  So, why not provide a guaranteed minimum income for children and the elderly, since we have no objections to their being out of the labor force?  
  3. A Federal Child Allowance program can be used as a reward for children who remain in school and avoid problems with the law.  Children who have high rates of being absent without excuses from school or who do not attend school could have their allowances cut or eliminated, and young persons who are convicted of crimes or status offenses could also lose some of their allowance benefits. Students who meet particular academic milestones might get a little bonus with their benefits. 
  4. It probably would make most sense to split the child allowance into two accounts; one would be a child development account, and the money in that account could be used to make a down-payment on a home, pay for education-related expenses, pay for health care, or pay for investment in a business. The other income stream would be a “living allowance” for families (very much like a refundable child tax credit), used for child care, food, clothing, housing, school supplies, transportation, and entertainment.  

I would give every child age 0-11 a living allowance (refundable child rearing tax credit) of $4800 per year ($400 per month), and $200 per month ($2,400 per year) for young persons aged 12-19 (provided they were still in school or vocational training programs).  I would give every child a “Child Development Account” of $5,000 at birth, and add $2,100 to that each year ($175 per month or $2,100 on each birthday) up to age 20 (provided the young person was in school and not found guilty of any crime or status offense).  That could be a lifetime benefit of $47,000 for each person born in the USA, and would pay a significant portion of college expenses and also pay for a downpayment on a home or condominium. 
Assuming no one ever lost benefits for dropping out of school, or had benefits reduced for crimes or school absenteeism, and everyone continued getting benefits to the maximum age because of remaining in school or getting vocational training, the total cost per year would be $512 billion. (I have used Census estimates for the American population by age and multiplied by the benefits I've suggested).  But, there could be reductions (considerable reductions) for SNAP, NSLP, Medicaid, Student Loans, and the existing tax expenditures for the child tax credit (which would be eliminated).  I estimate a $16 billion reduction in SNAP spending, a $8 billion reduction in NSLP, a $30 billion reduction in Federal Medicaid, a $4 billion reduction in student grants and loans (and corresponding tax credits associated with loans), and a $5 billion reduction in the child credit tax expenditure (eliminated) and various other tax credits associated with child care.  So, perhaps $60 billion in reductions to existing programs would leave the net cost of this policy at $452 billion.  I would pay for it by transferring $178 billion from the Defense Department budget (cut that budget by about 30%), eliminating the deduction for home mortgage interest (saving $83 billion), and raising $191 billion by increasing income taxes on households earning $50K to 100K by about 2 percentage points (actual income taxes paid would go from 14-15% to 16-17%), increasing income taxes on households earning $100K to $200K by 2.5 percentage points (actual income taxes paid would go from 17.5% to 20%), raising income taxes on households earning $200K to $500K by 3 percentage points (actual income taxes paid would go from 24% to 27%), raising income taxes on households earning $500K to $1 million by 43 percentage points (actual income taxes paid would go from 29% to 33%), and raising income taxes on households earning over $1 million by five percentage points (actual income taxes would go from about 33% to 38%).  I have used the IRS report on tax returns from 2014 (filed in 2015) showing actual incomes earned and taxes paid to calculate these tax rates and the revenue we could expect by these tax increases.

I think we can defend our nation adequately spending $425 billion a year instead of over $600 billion per year on the Defense Department, and I think wealthy people can afford to pay 38% instead of 33% of their income in taxes. The benefits we would gain by having so many children lifted out of poverty with these $4,800 per year spending allowances given to every family would be unimaginably tremendous.  The child development accounts would also have a terrific impact on our society.  Imagine the increase in home ownership, and the decrease in college debt this policy would give us.  Imagine the decrease in crime that would follow from young people having all this money saved up and the decrease in poverty.  

Since I’m worried about overpopulation, I think parents would only get the child allowances for their first three children, and then fourth children and subsequent children would get no further benefits, but there would be no limit on adopted children (and I’m not proposing elimination of the Child Adoption Tax Credit, either).  

Immigrant children would get the benefits after naturalization, but there would be no retroactive bonus of benefits for the child development accounts (you can’t immigrate here when you are five, and then get the $5,000 initial deposit you would have received if you had been born here).  There would also be regulations with the benefits so that they would be paid to parents who were citizens, so if you are visiting here from abroad (you aren’t an American citizen) and your child is born here (your child is a citizen), and then you return abroad with your child, your child would not get the living allowances or additional contributions to the development account while living with you abroad, but they would still get the initial “American citizen born in the USA” benefit of $5,000 in the development account, and allowance benefits for every month they lived here with their parents, and annual development account benefits for every year in which they lived more than half the year in the USA.  The development account benefits could only be spent in the USA (business investment, housing purchase, health care expenses, and educational expenses in the USA are legitimate uses of the development account, but not expenses abroad, aside from study-abroad semesters or foreign language study abroad when permanent residence is in the USA).  

Works Cited
Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2017, from

Porter, E. (2016, Oct 18). Giving Every Child a Monthly Check for an Even Start. Retrieved Feb 26, 2017, from 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

A student offers a reaction to welfare reform

This student reacted to the $2 A Day book and a report on welfare reform.

My reaction to welfare reform

In my social welfare and policy class we study the history of social welfare policy and services. The policies and services are introduced through lecture and text.  We also study the client(s) in relations to policy and services, sometimes as their advocates. One of the texts required for the class is “$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America” written by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer. This informative book described the history of welfare and its reform. Formally known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), now known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) welfare (cash assistance) is supplemented with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and sometimes Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and other programs. Edin and Shaefer’s book explained that the purpose of reform was to keep people from taking advantage of the system, and also the reformers wanted to help those on the program become independent. Edin and Shaefer also gave insights, using cases of actual people who were dealing with the system and the current effects of the reform. 
The requirements when you apply for TANF consist of having an address proving where you reside (lease and rent receipt), your recent pay stubs (if working) or proof of any income (SSI, Disability, retirement child support,..etc), proof of income for everyone living in the household, your checking and savings account statements (cannot exceed $2,000), birth certificate, and Social Security card. I was a bit curious and decided to search the internet for more information on the welfare reform and came across a research report conducted in 1998 by Michigan State University. “Social Welfare Reforms in the Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio Wisconsin”, written by Dr. Fayyaz Hussain. Dr. Hussain received his Ph.D. from Michigan state University in 1991, his expertise includes: poverty, hunger, social demographics and rural sociology.

Per Dr. Hussain the new policy for food stamps in the state of Illinois states:

  1. Food stamps will be given out for only 12 months (can be extended for 12 months if a person in the household is elderly or disabled)
  2. People would be found ineligible for any of the following reasons.
 A) refuse to register for employment 
B) refuse to participate in job training programs
C) refuse to accept an offer for a job
 D) quit a job.

I feel the problem with the reform is it has narrowed the requirements so much that people who qualify and benefit from the program the most are denied or do not qualify at all, because of a technicality. I feel the system is not equipped to deal with individual cases that need special circumstances granted to ensure the health and wellbeing of the individual and/or children, mainly because it does not address the needs of the clients as individuals upon initial contact.

 This book read to me like a novel put together of some of my friends and family life experiences. I was born and raised in Chicago and knew stories like the ones in the book all too well. In the book, it shows how the system reformed to help people has put them in more chaos (poverty, hunger, and homelessness). 

The system was set up to serve and provide for the public the basic needs for survival but people’s circumstances and needs vary. The policy requirements can be unrealistic for someone homeless with children. What if a woman finds a job that requires her to be outside past the homeless shelter’s curfew time. It leaves her with the decision of being homeless with SNAP benefits and a job, but will she be able to keep the job while fighting homelessness? If she quits she is most definitely going to be kicked from the program. An example in the book illustrated a woman and her daughter who were forced to live with distant relatives, a situation in which her daughter was sexually assaulted by the family member. The people in the book want what most of middle and upper class people take for granted, a stable home, stable work, and food. I think the system needs to be revised again to better serve the people in need. We all deserve to be fed and safe at night in a home with our loved ones. The US is a rich, powerful, and influential country yet our people are homeless and starving everyday. 

Yes, the key points are that TANF is now so paltry and restrictive that many people (about 1% to 1.5%) of the American population is not getting any cash assistance, and they cannot get any steady cash income. Many of these people have difficulties finding stable housing. With almost no cash income and no secure housing, their lives are so precarious that holding a job becomes extremely difficult.  If we as a society gave people more resources and stability, those who are willing to work would have a foundation of welfare that would help them settle down and find work, if any work were available.  
Providing jobs and providing stable and secure housing would solve many of the problems for these desperately poor persons.  However, in come cases we may also need to provide a more generous system of benefits if the adults are unable to work, or if they would be better off devoting their time to the care of their children and self-improvement until the children are older. 
The assumption that people must work, and must accept whatever jobs the capitalist system offers them, is an assumption that devalues human liberty and dignity, and puts more value on property rights and wealth.  Surely workers and potential workers ought to be given security in their basic rights to a life of dignity and freedom from material want, so that a spartan but secure and healthy lifestyle is available to all. Those who want luxuries or material advancement beyond the basic fundamental material necessities should be able to enter the labor force, but I see no reason to force everyone into the labor force.  

A student reacts to the Housing Choice Voucher Program

This is one of very few student reaction papers that discusses the housing choice voucer program.
The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program was initially started to get low income families out of impoverished areas and into better areas and into better schools.  The program goes by a fair market rent.  That is, a family is to pay no more than 30% of their income in rent and the voucher will cover the rest of the cost.  The fair market rent is evaluated every year by HUD.  The voucher program serves about five million families and that is only about 25% of eligible families.  The Housing Choice Voucher Program is failing because the idea that it was built around is seemingly not working like they hoped that it would.  

When a person is lucky enough to get off of the long waitlist that the program has, they then in turn have to find a landlord that is willing to accept the voucher.  Just because a person gets on the program does not guarantee housing or guarantee that the landlord will accept the voucher, and this ability of landlords to refuse to participate keeps families in impoverished areas.  Landlords do not want the hassle of having the inspections the voucher program requires.  The voucher program has been given a bad name because of the costly repairs that the landlords have to make after a tenant has moved out.

  And yet some landlords in these impoverished areas seek out to rent to families with the Section 8 voucher.  The rent of someone with the voucher is a more reliable source of rent than someone that is not on the program.  A lot of families will stay in these areas because it is familiar areas for them and they will often take the first place that will rent to them given they are given a time limit to find a place to live or they will lose the voucher.  

The idea behind the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program is a good one.  It however cannot guarantee that a family will be able to move out of impoverished areas in hope for a better opportunity at living and schools.  It can however guarantee housing for families that are eligible.

Let us examine some of the principles of providing housing subsidies:

1) People have a human right to have a home, and homelessness is a violation of human rights.
2) Housing prices are often so high that people who work cannot afford housing; and many people are unable to work, so they obviously cannot afford housing.
3) There is no policy that forces the government to provide housing.  The government can screen who receives housing vouchers, and can take away housing vouchers if a recipient breaks program rules.
4) Landlords own the properties they would rent to tenants, and have a right to screen possible tenants and refuse to rent their properties to persons who are likely to damage the properties, annoy or threaten other neighboring tenants, or fail to pay for rent or utilities.
5) Landlords have a right to discriminate about whom they accept as tenants based on evidence related to problems, but they must not discriminate based on things like race, family composition, and that sort of thing.
6) There is an inadequate supply of housing vouchers and public housing.
7) Many renters who receive housing vouchers become problem tenants, and there is a perception among landlords that those who have vouchers may be more likely to cause problems.  Many other persons who use housing vouchers are excellent tenants, and some landlords are willing to say that they have noticed no higher level of problems with housing voucher recipients compared to those who rent without public assistance from housing vouchers.
8) Some landlords like the housing voucher program, and are glad to work with HUD and receive the rents; other landlords dislike the housing voucher program, and are unwilling to accept tenants with housing vouchers.

Solutions that seem plausible:  

1) HUD ought to do a better job of screening who can receive housing vouchers, and ought to ensure that tenants are good tenants; this could change the reputation of the program, so that more landlords would be willing to participate.
2) HUD ought to do a better job of working with landlords to solve problems when a landlord claims that a housing voucher tenant has become a problem tenant. 
3) There ought to be more funding for housing choice vouchers so that fewer people are on the waiting list and more people are housed.
4) Persons who are accused of being problem tenants ought to be given a chance to defend themselves, but if it turns out that a landlord is correct, and a housing voucher recipient has a record of damaging landlord properties in an egregious way, such voucher recipients ought to lose their housing vouchers, and some alternative form of housing provision ought to be available so that these persons avoid homelessness, but also the landlords are protected so no one will rent to them again.

Section 8 Housing

Section 8 Housing
Section 8 housing is a federal program that provides affordable housing to those with low income. There is a selection process involved that determines one’s own and, if applicable, family’s gross income. Should one meet the criteria for Section Eight housing, a local housing authority will try to find a place in the limited sections that best fit their needs. However, there is a waiting list that is further exacerbated by the limited resources available to the HUD and local housing agencies.  
I became curious of what it was like to talk to people about applying for housing and the process involved. I found an apartment complex out in Athens, Illinois. There I called the number I found associated with that place and after a brief discussion I was given another number to call. I also had to ask for a specific person in regards to this phone call. So, I called the number and asked for this person. I was met by shifty voice that just said “I’m sorry, ill connect you to them.” I can assume quite accurately that this person took pity on me, which got my blood pressure going. Now, I didn’t need the housing, this was just a curiosity. But to speak down to to someone, is not right. 
What came next was the application itself I received in the mail. This application is pretty daunting and requires numerous details about one’s specific history. Which is fair, considering the nature of this program. What can be bad is that they have a zero drug policy and if one is caught selling, using, or distributing you will be evicted. What happens if a person just has a momentary relapse, which is expected of recovering addicts, and now they are back on the street? That is not conducive to a just society to push them back towards drugs by taking away their home.    

Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8) and public housing both try to assure communities that the residents will be law-abiding and upstanding citizens.  Also, rules try to protect residents so they will not live in a community where addictive substances are widely used and available. For these reasons, which seem logical enough to me, people who use public housing or housing assistance must submit to some tough restrictions on their use of illegal mind-and-mood-altering substances. On the other hand, just as you point out, the penalty of removing someone from their home and taking away their housing assistance seems too harsh, and possibly a violation of human rights.  A referral to treatment seems a better solution than immediate eviction. 

Paid Family and Medical Leave

This student thinks we need a paid medical leave law for employees to receive income on days they take off from work to care for their children.

In today’s society, there are many reasons that families need time off from work. For my reflection essay, I will be discussing the policy on paid family and medical leave. This policy effects many people because things happen in people’s lives every day that could hinder them from going to work, however, the United States does not have guarantee pay for leave. Therefore, many people are upset and fighting for a change in the healthcare act- Family Medical and Leave act - that only allows certain individuals leave with pay. This topic relates to the course because social workers have the opportunity to help advocate for families who have to take time off work for medical issues or domestic family issues. Social workers can also help because if the act never gets approved than the social worker can try to help the employer and client work some type of agreement out.

I believe that the current FMLA act only helps the wealthy companies because they are the ones who can afford to pay those extra expenses. The current act, in truth, only affects the low-income families who cannot afford to miss a day of work to go to a doctor’s appointment because they live paycheck to paycheck and need the money. Therefore, this policy should be changed to benefit more than just the high paying companies because the families who work in the companies who do not provide pay for leave are the ones who actually need it.

Source: Findlay, Steve. "Paid Family and Medical Leave." Health Policy Briefs. N.p., 21 Nov. 2016. Web. 7 Feb. 2017.

The problem of paid family leave and medical leave is one where there are some conflicting values. Adults in a society have an economic role, and usually they are selling their time and labor to an employer, who then has some power over the employee during times when the employer is paying for the employee’s work.  Adults also have other valuable roles, and we usually don’t pay them for these other roles.  In a democracy, citizens should be good citizens, and that implies they need time to keep informed of local, state, and national issues.  They need time to engage in debate in the public sphere, attend meetings of interest groups or community groups, and they need time to vote or campaign for candidates and issues that they believe are important and good for society.  Much of this citizenship activity is something they do on their own time, but there may sometimes be conflicts between the labor hours they are selling and the hours they need to work in their “jobs” as citizens.  

People also have duties to their community: they should maintain the properties they rent, and maintain and improve the property they own. They may need to take care of neighbors or attend community events, use parks and libraries, patronize theaters and concerts, attend festivals and sporting events. They ought to do some of these things in the company of friends or neighbors.  Doing these things maintains the quality of the community.  Again, like the citizenship tasks, these community member tasks are mostly done on a person’s own time, but conflicts might arise with the time an employer claims.  

Finally, many people serve society by reproducing labor (having or adopting or fostering children, and helping them to grow into responsible independent adults who will also be good employers or employees, good citizens, and good community members.  This task of reproducing labor is one that most directly causes conflicts with economic life, because children may need attention and aid at times when workers would normally be working for their employers. While most parenting can occur outside of the time a worker has sold to their employer, there are special occasions (such as injuries and illnesses, educational opportunities and cultural enrichment events) where parents may find their obligations to serve society by rearing their children (reproducing labor) conflict with their contractual obligations to their employer (to provide labor in exchange for their pay).  There are also sometimes duties children may have to parents that also conflict in this way, and since our society recognizes a sacred moral obligation of children toward their parents, there are times when caregiving duties to parents will also intrude on the economic relationships a person has with their employer.

The Family Medical Leave Act solves this problem of potential conflicts between filial obligations and obligations to an employer by promising people that they may suspend their work for their employer to work instead in the unpaid ways parents and children of elderly adults sometimes do, to care for those children or adults. But, the Family Medical Leave Act does not demand that anyone pay the person who suspends their relationship with their employer.  Society doesn’t take on the burden by paying the employer or absent employee some sort of compensation for the interruption to the provision of labor and compensation.  Society also doesn’t demand that the employer provide income while the worker is taking time away from economic life to tend to family obligations. 

If wages were generally adequate to cover the cost of reproduction of labor, workers could set aside a reasonable amount of savings to cover the loss of income during the inevitable days that income is lost when they take a leave to tend to sick children or incapacitated parents. However, for many people, wages are insufficient, and no savings are accumulated for this contingency, or for any other sudden financial strain.  Also, some families are afflicted with exceptionally long and costly disruptions to health, as when a child develops cancer and may need to remain in treatment for months or years, or when an elderly sibling or parent becomes so incapacitated that they require nearly constant support and aid.  Even if workers have set aside sufficient resources to normal life events such as occasional mild injuries or passing illnesses, these sort of catastrophic problems will interrupt income and security so much that bankruptcy could result, or at best, a family might need to sell its assets, exhaust its savings, and cut consumption to subsistence levels.

It seems wrong to demand of employers that they take all the responsibility for all the risk that their workers may face such demands outside of work.  This seems a very high burden for small business employers who may have very narrow profit margins.  It also seems unreasonable to put the entire burden on the workers.  The most equitable solution probably involves some mix of risk sharing in which workers and their employers both contribute to a fund to pay for their paid days away from their employers while they care for others, and everyone joins in paying a very small tax (contributing a modest premium) to a general social insurance scheme that protects employers and employees from the rare catastrophic health problems. 

If paid family leave is mandated, employers can simply set aside a percentage of a worker’s pay into an account that will be used to pay employees when they miss work for reasons allowed with a paid medical leave law.  If the worker never uses sick days or family care days, the money can be returned to the worker with interest. If a worker must leave the workplace for much longer than usual, some general social insurance scheme might provide income for a longer period of time such as a year or two.  

Student considers farm policies in social welfare

This student reacted to the film we watched in class: The River (1937), and reflected on the situation on farms and in farming communities of Central Illinois today.
Looking at the Farming Administration and watching the River documentary, and considering the requirements as they were for farmers for that time (1937) to now, it seems to me the farming industry hasn’t changed too much.  We still produce corn, wheat, beans, and hay for feeding the animals and we raise: cows, sheep and pigs, at least in our area.  When, The River was filmed, way back in 1937, they even irrigated.  We still do today as well.  They system is different, but with our technology we still irrigate. If you were born rich, your acreage keeps growing and your banking account does too.  If you’re not well-off, and if you don’t have acreage like the big farmers do, you struggle to stay alive or you get out farming. It’s the same way today.

My husband’s family were big into farming.  We paid our bills each month, and took out loans to get a bigger supply of tractors and combines.  We got more and more farm ground.  We were lucky.  Some other farmers were barely staying alive, with no new tractors and combines; they were selling off pieces of their farm ground.  You could see them— how they lost a piece of themselves each time they had to do that.  The same situation was shown with The River, people worked hard and their kids were dirty.  Those of us today who work in agriculture know this. Especially looking back at what we have been through, it seems it is often the case, that the farmers worked like dogs and the woman stayed at home.  The farmer’s wives took care of the home front, fed them meals, as well as cooking and cleaning and you needed to feed our “man” while he was in the field.  We still do that today.  I’m not sure if everyone does that but in our little town, we do and we feed them at noon, everyday.

Grant Wood’s Dinner for Threshers (1934) 

We also get money for NOT planting the soil, like we saw in The River.  USDA pays us and sometimes plant alfalfa or not disrupt the plants and animals that to preserve the animals and plants that live there.  Robert Frank, who guest-blogged on the PBS Newsdesk, stated, 
Paying farmers not to grow crops was a substitute for agricultural price support programs designed to ensure that farmers could always sell their crops for enough to support themselves. The price support program meant that farmers had to incur the expense of plowing their fields, fertilizing, irrigating, spraying, and harvesting them, and then selling their crops to the government, which stored them in silos until they either rotted or were consumed by rodents. It was much cheaper just to pay farmers not to grow the crops in the first place.

You mention the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays some farmers a rent for not growing crops on land that could help protect the environment if it was used for something else. You also refer to various policies and laws that attempt to maintain the sustainability of farming in the United States. This aspect of the federal social welfare policies that aim to prop up the economies of rural areas and ensure that America produces an abundance of food usually gets overlooked. In fact, since many of these policies are in the Department of Agriculture, and are described as part of “farm policy” and people are generally biased to think of welfare policies as “urban policies,” many textbooks of social welfare policy do not give any attention to agriculture policy, aside from the children’s food programs and SNAP and WIC.  

The division between successful farmers and failing farmers does seem mostly attributable to access to capital investment. If you already have money, and you are free from debt, you can acquire more land, take advantage of economies of scale, invest in bigger and better machinery, and increase your yields.  If you have a small farm, and you cannot get money to enlarge or purchase the better equipment, you must find some other way to make a success of your operation.  Niche farming might work for some, but that also requires a development of a market for specialized crops.  Direct marketing to consumers also can make smaller farms economically viable, but generally you need to be able to deliver your crops to a large concentrated mass of consumers, or bring your produce to farmers’s markets where the volume of sales will make the effort worthwhile.  In San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle a farmer can sell $2,000 of produce on a single day at a farmers’ market (if the weather is good and the produce is of high quality and priced right), but I doubt any of the farmers at the Springfield farmers’ markets can sell more than $600 in a day. 

The film The River described the people of the Mississippi Delta as ill-fed, ill-housed, and ill-clad.  I believe conditions have considerably improved since the 1930s.  Indoor plumbing and electricity, nearly universal within twenty years of the making of that film, have made a large difference.  Food benefits for the poor have also helped. But rural areas today, especially in the areas along the Mississippi River as it stretches south from Illinois, are terrible.