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Senator David Watters Applauds Senate Passage of Legislation to Help Finance Pre-Kindergarten Education

CONCORD- Today, the NH Senate approved an innovative “pay for success” financing program for pre-kindergarten education. After the Senate passage of SB 503, Senator David Watters (D- Dover) released the following comments:

“I applaud my Senate colleagues for supporting this innovative approach to financing pre-kindergarten education,” said Senator Watters. “New Hampshire is one of a few states in the country that does not provide early childhood education, but SB 503 gives our communities an alternative way to finance this education without putting the burden on the local school districts.” 

Through SB 503’s “pay for success” model, funding for pre-kindergarten education would come from private investors who would then be reimbursed by the state if the program results in improved third grade reading levels or reduces the cost of special education remedial services. The payments will only be made if savings exceed the costs of the program. The first “pay for success” program was established in Utah in 2013 and has proven effective at reducing the cost of special education services and saving the school districts money. The total savings in the first year of the Utah program was $281,550.

“SB 503 is a ‘New Hampshire’ solution to improving education for our children by creating a partnership between our educators and private investors. I thank my Senate colleagues for their support, as this legislation is critical to expanding access to quality education to our children.”

This Guy Just Destroyed Right Wing Politics In One Epic Rant

(Editor’s note: I found this rant on facebook and contacted the author to get permission to publish it. Thank you Monty for allowing us to share your epic rant)

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LaMonte M Fowler

By LaMonte M Fowler

I feel the need to drop a little truth on y’all. So buckle up…I’m about to be politically incorrect.

We don’t need to take America back. No one stole it. It’s right here…you’re sitting in it. Chillax.

Mexico isn’t going to pay for the wall and we’re not going to deport millions of people and break up families. If you think either one is a good idea, you’re not smart and probably not a person I want to hang out with.

We don’t live in a democracy. Technically we are a Federal Republic. But in reality we are ruled by an oligarchy. If you don’t know what that is, look it up. Reading will do you good. You probably need to do more of it.

FoxNews, CNN, and MSNBC have an agenda and are not “fair and balanced” or in any way unbiased. I’ll reiterate…read more. Read newspapers (even online ones). Read lots of opinions and sources and then (stay with me here), THINK! Form your own opinion based on as many facts as your can brain can tolerate.

Speaking of facts…there actually is a difference between facts, opinions, and propaganda. You should learn the difference. (Another opportunity to show off your mad reading skills.)

Science is real. We know things because of science. Don’t be afraid of it. You have an iPhone and Facebook because of science. It’s your friend.

Global warming or “climate change” as the cool kids call it IS REAL. Anyone who tells you it’s not real is not a smart person and probably should not be dressing themselves or caring for children.

Racism exists. And you are probably a little racist and should work on that. Seriously.

American Christians are not under attack. We are not being persecuted. We wield so much power in this country that politicians pretend to be Christian just so we will vote for them. No one is trying to take your bible away from you. The gay people are not destroying our families—we don’t need any help from them, thank you. We do a fine job of that by ourselves. So stop saying we are persecuted. You sound stupid.

Poor people need help. If you’re not helping them but complaining about how the government helps them with your money you are not a nice person.

Be nice to the people who teach your children. Don’t send them nasty emails or yell at them. Their job is 10,000 times harder than your stupid job. You are not a professional educator so just shut your mouth and be thankful someone is willing to teach your offspring.

You don’t know what Common Core is. You think you do, but you don’t unless you’re a teacher. So stop complaining about math problem memes on Facebook. You can’t do the math anyway.

ISIS is not an existential threat to the United States. We do not need to rebuild our military. Our military is the strongest, scariest, most badass killing machine the world has ever seen. So stop being afraid and stop letting politicians and pundits scare you.

Guns do in fact kill people. That’s what they are designed to do. If you feel you need a gun to protect yourself in America, you are probably living in the wrong neighborhood and should move before you go out and buy a gun. There are like a billion places to live where you won’t need a gun, or even need to lock your front door.

If you do own a gun, then make sure you know how to use it really, really, really well. Seriously…get some training because you still don’t know how to record stuff with your DVR. Go to the gun range and shoot the thing a lot. Learn how to clean it properly and be able to disassemble it and reassemble it with your eyes closed. It’s a freaking gun and it deserves that level of care, proficiency and respect. And for God’s sake, keep it locked up and away from your kids.

If you are even a little bit crazy, sad, or pissed off…you shouldn’t have a gun. And the Founding Fathers would totally agree with me.

Stop being suspicious of American Muslims. I guarantee the guy sitting next to you in the cubicle at work is probably more of a threat to you than any Muslim. He has to listen to your uninformed ranting day after day and has probably already imagined very colorful and creative ways to end you.

Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and all the rest are ENTERTAINERS! Stop getting your opinions from them. (Here’s where that reading thing can really be an advantage.)

Stop sharing Facebook memes that tell me to share or else Jesus won’t bless me with a laundry basket full of cash. That’s not how prayer works. And I don’t want money delivered (even from God) in a laundry basket. Nobody ever washes those things out and they just keep putting nasty dirty clothes in them. Yuck!

We are the United States of America and we can afford to house every homeless veteran, feed every child, and take in every refugee and still have money left over for Starbucks and a bucket of KFC.

Unless you can trace your family line back to someone who made deerskin pants look stylish and could field dress a buffalo, you are a descendent of an immigrant. Please stop saying that immigrants are ruining our country. Such comments are like a giant verbal burrito stuffed with historical ignorance, latent racism, and xenophobia, all wrapped in a fascist tortilla.

That’s all for now. I feel better.


Author Bio

LaMonte is an author, missionary, and business consultant who lives Chicago, Illinois. When he is not writing science fiction novels or helping his clients, you can find him serving the people along the Amazon River in Brazil. You can learn more about his work at www.lamontemfowler.com.

Governor Hassan Announces Partnership to Enhance High-Speed Broadband in New Hampshire Schools

 CONCORD – As part of her efforts to ensure a strong K-12 public school system that helps students develop the skills and innovative thinking needed for success in the 21st century, Governor Maggie Hassan and New Hampshire Department of Education (DOE) Commissioner Virginia Barry announced a new partnership – the New Hampshire School Connectivity Initiative (NHSCI) – aimed at enhancing access to high-speed broadband at New Hampshire’s K-12 public schools.

 

“Ensuring that our students have the skills and innovative thinking needed for good jobs in the 21st century economy is critical to New Hampshire’s future, and access to high-speed broadband is a critical tool in preparing our young people for success,” Governor Hassan said. “Broadband is an essential component of a modern economy’s infrastructure, and by expanding access to broadband in K-12 public schools throughout New Hampshire, the New Hampshire School Connectivity Initiative will open doors for our students and broaden educational opportunities across all curriculum, including critical STEM areas, helping to better prepare them for future success.”

 

Led by DOE’s Office of Educational Technology, NHSCI is a collaboration between DOE, the New Hampshire Department of Information Technology, the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development, and the University of New Hampshire.

 

In order to meet K-12 connectivity goals and ensure that all New Hampshire public school students have the opportunity to engage in digital learning, NHSCI will facilitate statewide K-12 fiber network discussions with school districts, service providers, and partner organizations; maximize discounted communication services provided to schools and libraries across the state through Federal Communication Commission’s E-Rate funding program; and continue efforts to analyze and strengthen a comprehensive K-12 connectivity report.

 

The initiative has also signed an agreement with EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit organization that supports increased broadband connectivity in public schools and will provide its services free of charge to NHSCI to help New Hampshire’s K-12 schools and districts connect to scalable high-speed broadband.

 

“Improving connectivity to schools and libraries across the state will enhance e-learning and online content, which can provide more personalized learning opportunities for students,” said Commissioner of Education, Virginia M. Barry, Ph.D. “Broadband can also facilitate the flow of information, helping teachers, parents, schools and other organizations to make better decisions tied to each student’s needs and abilities.”

 

Republicans In The NH Senate Kill Two Bills Designed To Help Working Families

2015-03-26 Senate Passes SB136 3

Senate Passes SB136 (2015-03-26). Image by Marc Nozell Flickr CC

The NH Senate Republicans strike back against working families.

Today, Republicans in the NH Senate voted to send two new bills to an “interim study” or in laymen’s terms killing the bills for the rest of this session.  Both bills were killed by Republicans straight down party lines with one exception.

SB 479 would have created a tax credit for businesses who implement employee profit sharing. This bill would encourage more New Hampshire companies to give back to their workers through profit sharing. Corporations like Market Basket proudly give back to their workers through profit sharing creating a very loyal and dedicated workforce that gets extra benefits from their hard work. 

“Once again, the Senate has turned its back on hard working New Hampshire families. Even though our economy continues to improve and jobs are coming back to the state, incomes are not rising for our workers. This legislation was an innovative way to encourage businesses to share their profits with their employees,” said Senator David Pierce. “I’m very disappointed that my Republican colleagues again chose to reward bigger corporate profits rather than increasing workers wages. Just last year, we came to a compromise to cut corporate taxes for those at the top, yet today we rejected a common sense approach to help increase wages for those in the middle.” 

Senate Bill 479 creates a tax credit against the business taxes for companies that implement employee profit-sharing. Under this legislation, the tax credit would be available for each qualified employee of up to 15 percent of the compensation paid as profits in which employees share. There would also be a cap of 10 percent of the employee’s wages. 

“Profit-sharing gives everyone a stake in a company’s success, boosts productivity, and puts more money directly into employee’s pockets. This legislation is good for workers and good for businesses. Employee-profit sharing is a practice we should be encouraging in our state and rewarding businesses for implementing a profit-sharing plan supports both our workers and businesses.”

SB 511 would have established a refund of a portion of state education property taxes for child and dependent care expenses. 22 states have already adopted a similar supplement to the Federal Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit. If SB 511 had become law, families who claim the Federal Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit would be eligible for a property tax refund of 50% of the federal amount. 

Republican Senator Gerald Little (R-Weare) was the only Republican to stand up for working families and voted to support SB 511.

“Once again, the Senate has chosen to maintain the status quo rather than do something to help hard-working Granite State families. Child care is one of the largest costs for families in New Hampshire and SB 511 would have helped reduce that cost,” said Senator Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia). “If we can afford to give businesses tax breaks like we did last year, we can certainly afford to help our hard working families.” 

“Not only would this legislation help reduce the cost of child care for our families, but it helps New Hampshire’s businesses retain good employees who might otherwise have to choose between working and taking care of their children and encourages our economy to grow. New Hampshire’s working families need state government to be responsive to the rising costs of child care services and I’m disappointed that the Republican majority voted against reducing the cost of affordable child care for Granite Staters.”

Republicans are always claiming they want to reduce taxes for working families and for local businesses but when push comes to shove they fold like a cheap suit.

Granite State Rumblings: Putting Children And Families First in the Primary

The Iowa caucus is over and on Tuesday, February 9th the voters in New Hampshire will have their say on the candidates they feel will best lead their party to victory in November. This primary season has seen candidates come and go, different issues take center stage, and viewpoints change.

Through it all, the staff of Every Child Matters in New Hampshire has followed the candidates across the state, helped raise the issues that are important to children and families in the state and across the country, and asked every major candidate a question on those issues. We have participated in round table discussions, Conversations with the Candidates, town hall events and forums, held weekly Twitter Chats about the issues with our partner MomsRising, and worked to educate potential voters about the process and the issues.

During this last week before the First in the Nation NH Primary, the candidates will be back in the state. Here are several things that you can do to continue to raise the issues.

  • Please take a look at our Every Child Matters Digital Dialogue – which is a collection of brief snapshots for each of the two major parties’ presidential candidates – a sample record of what they’ve been saying and doing on some issues that we at Every Child Matters have worked on for years.
  • Then continue the conversation by:

to ask a question about their position on an issue that is important to you.

You also have 2 more chances to hear what almost all of the candidates have to say first hand.

On Thursday evening February 4th, the 3 Democratic Candidates will participate in a debate at UNH in Durham hosted by MSNBC. The Union Leader is giving voters a chance to submit a question that they would like to have asked of the candidates. We also encourage you to join us in tweeting questions for the candidates to moderators @chucktodd, @maddow. And don’t forget to watch the debate live on MSNBC at 9 pm. on Thursday, February 4th.

On Saturday, February 6th, some (number is still undetermined) of the Republican candidates will participate in a debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester hosted by ABC News. Join us in tweeting debate moderators @DavidMuir and @MarthaRaddatz with questions for candidates.

All of these things will help you to make an educated decision about the candidates and your issues when you go to vote on Tuesday, February 9th.

GROWING UP GRANITE

Come to YWCA NH in Manchester this Saturday, February 6th from 11 am – 2 pm as we co-host the first NH Primary Family Fun Day! FREE FUN for the whole FAMILY! Join us in counting down the waning days of this Primary Season!

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Pregnant Or Returning To Work? Know Your Rights Learning Session In Nashua Dec 15th

Stand With Women Logo

Recently the New Hampshire Citizens Alliance and Granite State Progress launched a new campaign, Stand With Women or Stand in the Way.  The campaign is focused on advancing Freedom, Family Values, Opportunity, and Fairness for women.  Either you stand with women or you are standing in the way.

Tomorrow, December 15th, The Stand With Women campaign will be hosting a learning session in Nashua from 6-7pm at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Nashua.  Below is a short description of what they will be focusing on at this event and a flyer to share with friends and co-workers.

Dealing with morning sickness or returning to work after the birth of your child are hard enough, don’t let workplace non-compliance with your rights make it more difficult. Come learn about the three major acts – Pregnancy Discrimination Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, and Fair Labor Standards Act – that protect you in the workplace and what to do if they are not being met. Then hear an update on other state and federal legislation in the works to strengthen economic security for women and their families.

Pregnant or Returning to Work After a Baby, Know Your Rights - Nashua Flyer

Amherst Education Association Correcting Mis-Information About Amherst Schools

A statement from the Amherst Education Association:

As you may be aware, there have been several presentations at Amherst School Board meetings and in other public venues in recent months from groups and individuals about public education in Amherst. 

The professional educators of the Amherst Education Association believe that many points addressed in such presentations have been inaccurate or misleading, which is why approximately 70 teachers attended the November Amherst School Board meeting to share an educator’s viewpoint.

Among our concerns are the following:

1. Fiscal data being presented to the public is being used in inaccurate or misleading ways.

2. Standardized test results should not be the sole measure of academic quality.

3. The Amherst School Board is already engaged in much of the work these presentations have said the Board should be doing. This work is conducted openly in public sessions with published agendas and minutes. 

4. Statements are being made about the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement as if math teachers, school nurses, English teachers, librarians, art and music teachers, social studies teachers and science teachers and all of our colleagues are the biggest problem faced by the community. Many of these assertions have been made using inaccurate or misleading information.

We firmly believe that making teachers the problem is a misguided approach. As a group of committed professional educators, we will not stand for people coming before the school board and disrespecting the teachers of Amherst who have devoted our careers toward improving our school district and the quality of education for our students.

If the goal is to make Amherst one of the best school districts in the state, a goal we wholeheartedly support, the most productive way to make that happen is to work with teachers, not against them.

The next Amherst School Board meeting is Thursday, December 17th at 6:00 pm in the Souhegan High School learning common – parents and community members who support public education in Amherst are encouraged to attend!

Featured image by Rocksee (Flickr CC)

Ten States, Including NH, To Introduce Resolutions And Legislation To Make College Debt Free

By Vanderweil Engineers Boston [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Vanderweil Engineers Boston [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Progressive Democrat Marjorie Porter, State Representative from Hillsborough, NH, plans to introduce a resolution to the NH House pushing the state towards a goal of Debt Free College.

The idea of Debt Free College is being floated by all three of the Democratic Presidential Primary candidates. Though they vary on how they would like to accomplish this goal, the idea is that a basic college education should be open to everyone and be covered by the state like we cover elementary schools.

For too many students the cost of a college degree is too much to bear, even with Pell Grants and the ability to take out student loans. This keeps many stuck in the low-wage job cycle, as more and more employers are requiring a college education before being considered for employment.

We already know that workers with a college degree earn higher wages. In 2011, college graduates earned between $20,000-$25,000 more annually that those with only a high school diploma.

Even our community college system is unaffordable for many students. 40% of all community college students must take out a loan just to receive a two-year associates degree. Considering that 40% of all college students attend community colleges that equates to a ton of students.

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Click image to enlarge

New Hampshire is leading the country when it comes to student debt and cost of higher education. This is not something to be proud of.

New Hampshire is the number one state in the country for the percentage of students who graduate with massive student debt. 76% of graduates walk out of New Hampshire colleges with an average of $33,410 in student loans.

New Hampshire is also dead last in the amount of money given by the state to support our public universities. The state spends about $104 per capita for higher education. The national average is more than double what NH spends at $242.45.

As a matter of fact, New Hampshire spends more money on prisons that we do on our colleges and universities.

Many states are still struggling to recover from the 2008 recession and the severe cuts to their budgets as a result of lost revenue. In budgetary funding New Hampshire is still 26.8% below where we were prior to the crash in 2008.

Budgetary cuts and low funding to our public colleges and universities have shifted the burden directly to the students. To compensate for the lack of support from the state budget, NH colleges and universities have been forced to increase tuition putting NH squarely at the top of the list for highest in-state tuition.

Legislators from ten different states (NH, IA, SC, MA, HI, SD, IL, WI, and MO) plan to submit similar resolution to evaluate the potential of making their public colleges and universities debt free.

If our goal as a nation is to have the best educated population in the world, we must ensure that every student has the ability to attend college without being saddled with overwhelming student debt. This all begins with making public colleges and universities debt free.

 

Granite State Rumblings: Syrian Refugee Children Need A Safe Place To Grow

 Image by DFID - UK Department for International Development FLIKR CC


Image by DFID – UK Department for International Development
FLIKR CC

As we gather with our families and loved ones to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I am reminded of the many blessings in my life. My most precious treasures are all of the children who have been a part of my life over the years.

I am fortunate to have three beautiful, articulate, resourceful, and resilient daughters, and two handsome, articulate, resourceful, and resilient sons. I gave birth to two of them and gained the other three through marriage, a grandson who brings me nothing but joy, 2 nieces and 3 nephews who I never get to see often enough, 4 boys who were entrusted to me for their care by the State of NH’s foster care system, and the hundreds of children who I taught or cared for in my 20 plus years in early childhood education.

My life has been blessed because of children. I cannot imagine it any other way.

That is why it has been so distressing the past two weeks to hear the fear and anxiety that many have about the Syrian refugees being directed at the children. Over 2 million Syrian children have sought refuge in neighboring countries according to Save the Children Federation. Most are in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. More than 7,000 children have been killed. Children affected by the Syrian conflict are at risk of becoming ill, malnourished, abused, or exploited. Millions have been forced to quit school.

One of the things that I know as a parent, grandparent, foster parent, and teacher is that children need a safe environment in which to grow. They need caring communities, a place to run and play, healthy food and clean water, and adults in their lives who have their best interest at heart. Your children and my children deserve these things and so do the children of Syria.

By opening our hearts and minds we can help ensure that children who are being forced to flee their homes and in many cases their families will find safe refuge.So, because I know that the most effective way to overcome fear and misinformation is through education, let me do some educating. And please, feel free to pass this along to others.

A refugee is defined as a person outside of his or her own country of nationality who is unable to return because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinions, and is unable to obtain sanctuary. The definition is sometimes expanded to include people fleeing war or other armed conflict.

Syrian refugees face a long security screening process before being admitted for entry to the United States. Averaging 18 months to 24 months, the process is the most intensive of any check conducted for people seeking admission to the United States. It is specially designed to mitigate any threats and helps ensure Americans are not placed in harm’s way.

Here is The Screening Process for Refugee Entry Into the United States

Recurrent vetting: Throughout this process, pending applications continue to be checked against terrorist databases, to ensure new, relevant terrorism information has not come to light. If a match is found, that case is paused for further review. Applicants who continue to have no flags continue the process. If there is doubt about whether an applicant poses a security risk, they will not be admitted.

1 – Many refugee applicants identify themselves to the U.N. Refugee Agency, UNHCR. UNHCR, then:

  • Collects identifying documents
  • Performs initial assessment
    • Collects biodata: name, address, birthday, place of birth, etc.
    • Collects biometrics: iris scans (for Syrians, and other refugee populations in the Middle East)
  • Interviews applicants to confirm refugee status and the need for resettlement
    • Initial information checked again
  • Only applicants who are strong candidates for resettlement move forward (less than 1% of global refugee population).

2 – Applicants are received by a federally-funded Refugee Support Center (RSC):

  • Collects identifying documents
  • Creates an applicant file
  • Compiles information to conduct biographic security checks

3 – Biographic security checks start with enhanced interagency security checks

Refugees are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States.

  • U.S. security agencies screen the candidate, including:
    • National Counterterrorism Center/Intelligence Community
    • FBI
    • Department of Homeland Security
    • State Department
  • The screening looks for indicators, like:
    • Information that the individual is a security risk
    • Connections to known bad actors
    • Outstanding warrants/immigration or criminal violations
  • DHS conducts an enhanced review of Syrian cases, which may be referred to USCIS Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate for review. Research that is used by the interviewing officer informs lines of question related to the applicant’s eligibility and credibility.

4 – Department of Homeland Security (DHS)/USCIS interview:

  • Interviews are conducted by USCIS Officers specially trained for interviews
  • Fingerprints are collected and submitted (biometric check)
  • Re-interviews can be conducted if fingerprint results or new information raises questions. If new biographic information is identified by USCIS at an interview, additional security checks on the information are conducted. USCIS may place a case on hold to do additional research or investigation. Otherwise, the process continues.

5 – Biometric security checks:

  • Applicant’s fingerprints are taken by U.S. government employees
    • Fingerprints are screened against the FBI’s biometric database.
    • Fingerprints are screened against the DHS biometric database, containing watch-list information and previous immigration encounters in the U.S. and overseas.
    • Fingerprints are screened against the U.S. Department of Defense biometric database, which includes fingerprint records captured in Iraq and other locations.
  • If not already halted, this is the end point for cases with security concerns. Otherwise, the process continues.

6 – Medical check:

  • The need for medical screening is determined
  • This is the end point for cases denied due to medical reasons. Refugees may be provided medical treatment for communicable diseases such as tuberculosis.

7 – Cultural orientation and assignment to domestic resettlement locations:

  • Applicants complete cultural orientation classes.
  • An assessment is made by a U.S.-based non-governmental organization to determine the best resettlement location for the candidate(s). Considerations include:
    • Family; candidates with family in a certain area may be placed in that area.
    • Health; a candidate with asthma may be matched to certain regions.
  • A location is chosen.

8 – Travel:

  • International Organization for Migration books travel
  • Prior to entry in the United States, applicants are subject to:
    • Screening from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s National Targeting Center-Passenger
    • The Transportation Security Administration’s Secure Flight Program
  • This is the end point for some applicants. Applicants who have no flags continue the process.

9 – U.S. Arrival:

  • All refugees are required to apply for a green card within a year of their arrival to the United States, which triggers:
    • Another set of security procedures with the U.S. government.
  • Refugees are woven into the rich fabric of American society!

Safe travels and enjoy your Thanksgiving and dinner table conversations!

Granite State Rumblings: Wages, Child Care And The Working Poor

If you have been following the Presidential candidate debates, you are beginning to hear some very important policy differences not only between the two parties, but between the candidates themselves. One of those differences is quite evident when the talk turns to low and stagnant wages for the working poor.

The Democrats are in agreement that the minimum wage should be increased, though they differ on how high, based on their comments at the debate last Saturday evening. The Republican candidates have mainly talked about other ways of addressing stagnant wages and income inequality. Plans that have been discussed include cutting business taxes to spur more job growth and opportunities for jobs with higher rates of pay, boosting worker productivity, more technical job training, and an overhaul of higher education.

While all of these ideas may be valid, there is one issue for low-income workers that remains, even as they see incremental increases in their wages, or an increase in the minimum wage – Work Support Programs – also known as public assistance programs. Work supports help close the gap between low earnings and the cost of basic expenses.

But, public assistance for the working poor isn’t designed to allow parents the opportunity to incrementally increase their wages to work toward self-sufficiency.

In many cases, as a parent’s earnings increase and they rise above the poverty level, they begin to lose eligibility for assistance programs such as child care subsidies, housing subsidies, food stamps, and health care coverage, even though they are not yet self-sufficient.

I saw this play out way too often for many of the single moms at the child care center where I worked. In some cases even as little as a fifty cent increase in wages could mean a budget breaking rise in her out of pocket child care cost. The raise she had worked so hard to achieve would not cover the increase, so she was left with the decision of turning it down, trying to dig deeper in an already stretched budget, or finding less expensive (and lower quality) care for her child(ren) while she worked. This is called the Cliff Effect, and it results in many women refusing pay increases, rather than lose their shelter, lose their quality child care so that they can work, or have to give up health care or meals for themselves. The dream of self-sufficiency becomes the reality of assistance dependence.

Colorado Public Radio has been exploring the lives of Colorado children who are living in poverty. The story below is part of that work.

Why Getting Ahead Often Feels Like Falling Behind When You’re Poor

BY MEGAN VERLEE/ CPR NEWS

Call it poverty’s “glass ceiling.”

Longmont resident Tracey Jones grows vegetables from her garden to feed her family in the summer. Since Jones started making too much to qualify for food stamps, she’s had more trouble keeping food on the table.

The way many public benefit programs are structured, even minor increases in income can result in a big loss in assistance. That’s sometimes so large a loss that it can send families tumbling backwards just when they thought they were finally getting ahead.

Longmont resident Tracey Jones knows all about the phenomenon, often called the “cliff effect.” She’s been living at its edge for several years now.

In the past few years, she’s moved from unemployment to a rewarding full-time job as a certified nursing assistant for a hospice program. But in some ways she’s lost as much as she’s gained. Food stamps, for one thing. When she started making too much to qualify, Jones had to turn to food banks. And she took up gardening, “to take a little bit of the edge off my food insecurity.”

As her income has risen, Jones has lost other benefits too. Her big worry currently is Medicaid. She went through a major surgery a few months ago, and in the weeks leading up to it kept getting conflicting letters about whether or not she was still covered.

“I got three notices in one week,” Jones said. “‘Oh, you have insurance, yay!’ Two days later: ‘You do not have insurance.’ Then the end of the week: ‘You need to fill out this paper for your insurance.’ I don’t know. At this point, I’m just praying it all works out.”

This uncertainty has permeated her life for years — it’s the dark side to her improving income.

“It doesn’t make sense to me. It’s kind of like you get punished for trying to get out of poverty,” Jones said.

Programs Offer Perverse Incentives

The cliff effect stems from the fact that most government assistance programs have hard and fast income limits: start making even a little more than the cut-off and a person stands to immediately lose a lot of benefits.

Jessica Valand oversees job training programs through Colorado’s Department of Human Resources. The way she sees it, both policy makers and the poor themselves value work over assistance, but the way the system is set up, it ends up encouraging the exact opposite.

“If someone wants to give me a dollar raise, or even a $2-an-hour raise, but I know that that $2-an-hour raise is not going to make up for the $1,500 in child care subsidy I’m going to lose, what is my incentive to keep going?” Valand said.

Many don’t keep going. When the Women’s Foundation of Colorado and the Bell Policy Center asked focus groups of poor single mothers whether they’d ever turned down a raise or extra hours at work because they were afraid of losing their benefits, about a third said yes.

“In any given month, a woman may need to monitor very closely the hours she’s working to make sure she’s always maintaining her eligibility,” says the Foundation’s Louise Myrland. The group considers the cliff effect a women’s issue because the impacts often fall most heavily on working mothers and their children.

Official concern about the cliff effect has picked up steam in recent years, as data has shown that despite the improving economy, many working poor appear to be stuck relying on public benefits.

“It’s like, how did we get people this far, and they can’t get to the next step?” said Jefferson County Human Services Director Lynn Johnson.

But while there may be increasing agreement that the cliff effect is a problem, the solution won’t come cheap. In order to taper higher income people off of benefits more gently, the government will either have to increase overall funding for programs, or put more limits on the total number of people they can serve.

“Are we here to be just the safety net, the handout? Or is it a handout and up and off?” asks Johnson, who thinks easing the fiscal cliff would save money in the long term. “The more successful people are moving out of our system, the more money we should have to invest.”

Jefferson County is one of 10 counties taking part in a new state experiment to try to fix the fiscal cliff in one big program: child care assistance. Instead losing their entire subsidy when they hit a hard and fast income limit, families in these counties just have to pay a slowly increasing chunk of their daycare costs out of pocket. Bell Policy’s Rich Jones lobbied the Legislature to invest in this pilot effort. He said the idea is to turn the benefits cliff into more of a gentle slope.

“As you move further up the economic ladders, you still get some support, but you get a lot less. And then you gradually work your way off,” Jones explains.

The child care assistance pilot only started over the summer, but anecdotal reports suggest it’s so far succeeding in its goal of allowing families to earn more money without worrying they’re about to be crushed by a giant new daycare bill.

Two Families Stuck On The Cliff

Nicole Davis found out about the cliff effect the hard way. Nearly a decade ago the preschool teacher and her husband George, who worked in manufacturing, made getting off of all public assistance their goal. They succeeded, but that success almost destroyed their family.

“A lot of times we would have time to decide which bills that we wanted to pay. And sometimes it would mean that George or I would go without meals,” said Davis, recalling life without any government benefits. “When we realized we weren’t brining in enough money to pay rent … we went to the church for help and they basically said, ‘you need to get on assistance!'”

Instead, Davis and her young children ended up homeless. It took years for the family to work their way back to stability.

Today, the Wheat Ridge resident says she’s stopped even thinking about trying to make it to self-sufficiency. The cliff is just too daunting.

“I am intrigued myself by the fact that our family tried to get off of all the services and all the things that happened when we were getting off,” she said. “I’m surprised by what happened.”

For another Wheat Ridge mother, Sheila Lucero, the benefits cliff has turned life into a balancing act.

After struggling through the Great Recession, things have been looking up for the Lucero’s; Sheila’s husband Ian is an HVAC contractor and the housing boom means lots of work. But they’ve been making sure his income stays low enough to keep qualifying the family for Medicaid.

Lucero believes in small government; it’s painful to her to rely on taxpayer money. But she puts up with it for her children’s sake.

“You know, we’re not proud of being in this situation, but we definitely need our kids to have their check-ups and stuff,” Lucero said. “The cliff effect just puts people back where they were, or in a worse position, and it makes them not want to try.”

As an increase in the minimum wage is discussed and debated at both the federal and state level, now is a good time to start the discussion and debate about benefit eligibility levels. Hard working parents should not be penalized for trying to do better for their families.

GROWING UP GRANITE 

Here are several opportunities to discuss class and classism in our state, a conversation that can be both difficult and challenging, but so very necessary. These workshops are hosted by a coalition of NH organizations.

Exploring Class and Classism in New Hampshire Building Unity in our Community

  • Why is class often so difficult to talk about? How does class impact your work?
  • What is your class story?

Discuss these questions and more at Class Action’s New Hampshire open workshops hosted by a coalition of NH organizations.  Class Action has spent 11 years developing creative ways of asking questions, sharing personal experiences and helping people to engage with issues of class in a meaningful way. Their workshops are highly interactive, engaging and focused on learning from one another in the room. All workshops are on a sliding scale, $75 – $20. Scholarships available. To inquire, please send us an e-mail.

Dates and Locations

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Berlin, NH

Hosted by: North Country Listens and Women’s Rural Entrepreneurial Network

Register

Friday, December 4, 2015

Claremont, NH

Hosted by: United Valley Interfaith Project and Rethink Health

Register

Friday, December 11, 2015

Manchester, NH

Hosted by Investing in Communities, NH Citizens Alliance and New Futures

Register

Saturday, December 12, 2015 

Pittsfield, NH 

Hosted by Investing in Communities, NH Citizens Alliance and New Futures

Register

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