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Granite State Rumblings: The Federal Budget Process And A Few Of The Proposed Cuts

BudgetI spent last week in Washington, DC. Two of those days I attended the National Association for the Education Young Children’s (NAEYC) public policy conference. We met with Congressional staff and advocated for programs that support young children and their families. It was a very full couple of days, but time well spent. And I was honored to be with a great team of advocates!

One of the topics we discussed was the Federal Budget. NAEYC put together an informational sheet about the budget which I would like to share with you.

The Federal Budget Process
While there is a traditional budget process, less traditional funding mechanisms have been relied upon by legislators in recent years. The following outlines the traditional budget process, frequently relied upon funding strategies, and additional resources.

The Traditional Federal Budget Process
Traditionally the federal appropriation process has included the following sequence.

Step One: The President’s Budget Request

  • Traditionally the President’s request is submitted to the Congress on the first Monday in February, though the date often changes, especially when a new administration takes office.
  • The President’s budget request details the administration’s position on the full range of federal revenue and spending.
  • The administration uses the budget request to introduce new policies, programs or changes they would like to see enacted.
  • The budget request is a proposal and has no binding authority on Congress.

Step Two: Congress’ Response

  • Creation of a concurrent congressional budget resolution setting the total level of discretionary funding (spending determined by the Appropriations Committee and Congress) for the next fiscal year. While this resolution looks at total federal spending over a 10-year window, it is not binding beyond the approaching fiscal year.
  • Budget resolutions are reviewed by relevant committees and must be approved by the whole chamber.
  • Unlike traditional bills, budget resolutions do not require presidential action and pass with a simple majority.

***(Budget Resolution – a non-binding resolution passed by both chambers of Congress that serves as a framework for budget decisions and sets overall spending limits but does not include funding levels for specific programs.)

Step Three: Congressional Appropriations

  • Once discretionary funding limits have been determined, the funding process moves to the Appropriations Committees in each chamber.
  • The Appropriations Committees determine program-by-program funding levels by addressing 12 separate appropriations bills that are generated by subcommittees covering federal agencies.
  • Appropriations bills are supposed to be passed in “regular order”, meaning the full passage through both chambers by the start of the federal fiscal year on October 1st.
  • As the fiscal year ends, leadership in both chambers often negotiate an omnibus bill, which combines all appropriations bills into one piece of legislation.
  • The final step in enacting program funding consists of the president signing the bills or the omnibus. The president has the authority to veto appropriations bills and Congress can then attempt to override the veto.
  • All appropriation bills are supposed to be fully passed through both chambers by the start of the federal fiscal year (October 1st). Failure to provide appropriations results in a near complete shutdown of federal operations.

***Note: Entitlement programs and other programs that Congress designates as mandatory programs do not rely on the appropriations process.

Alternative Funding Strategies
In recent years Congress has rarely passed appropriations bills as outlined above. Instead, legislators enact a series of continuing resolutions (stopgap measures), which are short-term spending bills that typically maintain funding levels at the previous year’s level in order to avoid a government shutdown.

Should Congress not complete the appropriations process or pass a continuing resolution (CR) by the start of the fiscal year the federal government, with a few exceptions, shuts down. The funding gap created during the time of a government shutdown results in hundreds of thousands of government employees out of work. Unfortunately, the threat of government shutdown is an often-used strategy for elected officials seeking particular priorities be included in or removed from continuing resolutions.

Continuing resolutions usually last for a number of weeks, and are typically renewed when negotiations extend beyond the new deadline. Continuing resolutions can contain policy provisions as well as revisions to funding levels.

Congress also utilizes emergency spending and deficit legislation in order to impact funding changes outside of the typical budget and appropriations process. Emergency funding is commonly associated with ongoing military operations. Unlike most states (all but Vermont), there is no balanced budget requirement included in the U.S. Constitution, permitting the federal government to carry debt year-to-year. As a result, legislation has also been used in an effort to address the federal deficit through the implementation of spending limits.

~Sources: A Brief Guide to the Traditional Budget Process, CBPP: Introduction to the Federal Budget Process, Impacts and Costs of the 2013 Federal Government Shutdown, The President’s Budget Proposal.

GROWING UP GRANITE

Here are the other federal programs benefitting children, in order, among the ten largest are the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the tax exclusion for employer-sponsored health insurance, Social Security benefits for dependents and survivors under 18, child nutrition programs, Title I funding for educating disadvantaged children, and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant.

We learned in the section above that Congress must pass a series of Appropriations bills that fund the work of the Federal Government.  But did you know that both Congress and the President use this process to identify their priorities for the upcoming year?  In recent years, spending has been limited by the use of “sequestration,” a process that automatically makes cuts to all agencies across the federal government without regard to the impact on services.

Most of the impact of sequester is felt in the “discretionary” programs, which includes the majority of programs serving low-income children and their families. Currently, the automatic cuts triggered by the sequester affect both defense related programs and non-defense programs (the latter are known as “non-defense discretionary spending” or NDD). While the sequester was limited in 2014 and 2015, the cuts are scheduled to be in effect as Congress debates the budget for the next fiscal year (FY 2016).

According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, “under current policies, including the sequestration cuts, NDD spending is projected to fall to its lowest level as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) on record in 2016, with data going back to 1962, and will continue to fall thereafter. (Even without the sequestration cuts, NDD spending is projected to reach its lowest level as a share of GDP in 2017). By 2021, if sequestration stays in place, funding for NDD programs will be 18 percent below the 2010 level (adjusted for inflation); 2010 was the last ear before Congress began cutting discretionary funding to reduce the deficit.”

Under current funding levels, the unmet needs of children and families are significant:

  • Only one in six eligible children receives child care assistance that help families work and children be safe and supported in learning and development.
  • Less than half of eligible preschoolers can enroll in Head Start, which provides school-readiness and comprehensive services.
  • Less than four percent of eligible babies and toddlers can enroll in Early Head Start, which ensures a positive developmental foundation for young children.
  • Many children with developmental delays and disabilities are unable to receive early intervention services because of inadequate funding of Part C of IDEA.

If the sequester cuts are allowed to move forward, the impact on early childhood programs will be significant. Programs that have already had to cut hours of service, serve fewer children, limit the services available, cut staff, lower compensation and make do with much less will see even fewer resources available in their states and communities.

The President, in his Budget proposal for FY 2016, recognized both the need for thoughtful investment and the importance of early childhood programs. The President’s budget document invests heavily in early childhood programs to improve outcomes for young children and to support working families. It proposes, first, to end the sequester.

Here’s what you can do.

Make a call or send an e-mail to the offices of our Members of Congress.

Tell them that children need high-quality programs and supports to help them learn, develop, and build the skills necessary to grow strong and healthy in order to succeed in school and life. These programs need to be adequately funded and not threatened by the cuts of sequestration. It is time to end the sequester.

For more information about sequestration: CBPP: Sequestration and Its Impact on Non-Defense Appropriations.

Granite State Rumblings: Protecting Children’s Healthcare Programs Both State and Federal

DA-ST-86-05880

The Children’s Health Insurance Program, CHIP, is often hailed as a model of a successful children’s health care program. It covers 8 million children who are not eligible for Medicaid and whose families cannot afford private insurance. In fact, research has found that since the program’s launch in 1997, the uninsured rate among U.S. children has fallen by half, from 14 percent in 1997 to 7 percent in 2012. ~ Source: The American Public Health Association

From its inception CHIP has enjoyed a large measure of bipartisan support. After all, who wouldn’t support insuring kids? As part of the Affordable Care Act, CHIP was authorized through 2019, though its funding was only extended through 2015. While federal legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate that would extend CHIP funding for an additional four years, given the state of national politics, its reauthorization this year has advocates and state governors worried.

Like Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program is funded jointly by the states and the federal government. Unlike Medicaid, CHIP insures children from families with higher income levels and comes with a significantly better federal matching rate. On average, the federal government pays 57 percent of the costs for Medicaid but 70 percent of the costs for CHIP.

How each state would be affected if CHIP is not renewed varies, since each state runs its program differently. Some states keep their CHIP programs wholly separate from Medicaid; other states have simply expanded Medicaid to encompass CHIP; still others operate a combination of the two depending on income levels.

The eight states that cover all CHIP recipients through Medicaid would see their federal assistance drop to Medicaid levels, costing them about $1 billion collectively, according to Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute. Those states, which are politically diverse and include California, Maryland, South Carolina and New Hampshire, would be required to continue covering CHIP recipients because they’re a part of Medicaid, which is an unlimited entitlement program, not a limited block grant like CHIP.

The 14 states that operate totally separate programs, however, wouldn’t even have the benefit of funding reduced to Medicaid levels. Those states would have to pay the entire cost of the program, which would mean upwards of $5 billion. Since their programs are separate, these states are also not under obligation to continue covering CHIP recipients. For the remaining states, the budget implications vary wildly.

With federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program set to expire in September, children’s health advocates are calling on policymakers to take action on behalf of the millions of children at risk of losing access to affordable and comprehensive care. ~ Sources: Governing the States and Localities, Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, First Focus.

GROWING UP GRANITE

The House Finance Committee has scheduled three public hearings on HB1 and HB2. These hearings provide an important opportunity for all Granite Staters to express the priorities, programs and services that they believe the state should be addressing and funding. Please turn out and offer your testimony to the members of the House Finance Committee. Taking two to three minutes to share your personal stories about the programs and services that support you and your family, that keep your children safe and healthy, that protect your aging parents, and help keep your community strong and vital are critical to help ensure that all Granite Staters have the same opportunities.

The first meeting will be held in Concord this Thursday, March 5th in Rep’s Hall from 4-7 p.m.

The second and third meetings will be held concurrently in Conway and Derry on Monday, March 9, from 5-8 p.m.

  • The Conway hearing will be held in the Kennet High School Auditorium, 409 Eagles Way, North Conway.
  • The Derry meeting will be held at Derry Town Hall, 14 Manning Street, Derry.

If you are unable to attend one of the hearings, then please consider sending your story to the committee via e-mail at: HouseFinanceCommittee@leg.state.nh.us

Here’s an editorial from the Concord Monitor that shows very clearly why your voice is needed at one of the Finance Committee hearings. New Hampshire cannot afford to leave federal funds on the table.

Editorial: Hold placed on federal grants is shortsighted
Sunday, March 1, 2015

Last week, the directors and staff of one agency after another, in a semblance of Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream, cupped their faces in their hands and moaned, “Oh no, we’re Kurked.” And if the fiscally conservative chairman of the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee gets his way, thousands of low-income adults only recently insured under the state’s expanded Medicaid program will follow suit.

For the first time in memory, under Neal Kurk’s leadership, the fiscal committee placed a hold on millions of dollars in hard-won federal grants. The decision will delay some awards, and depending on the committee’s decision, potentially result in a decision not to accept some federal largesse. The number of holds is unprecedented and shortsighted.

State agencies and employees, hoping to meet needs they fear won’t get funded any other way, put a lot of effort into writing grants and securing outside funding. If they succeed only to learn that the committee, or down the line the Executive Council, declines to accept the money, willingness to go the extra mile to find outside money will wane. New Hampshire, which at about 71 cents on the dollar already gets back less of its federal tax payments in federal spending than almost every other state, will become even more the donor state.

Kurk believes the decision to accept federal funds should be made not grant by grant but in the context of the state’s budget process. But New Hampshire is one of a minority of states that still uses a biennial budget. That could lead to inordinate delays in decision-making and the provision of the services the grants were meant to meet.

What Republicans who agree with Kurk really fear is a stampede of agency-accepted Trojan horses, gifts that could commit the state to additional spending. As Senate President Chuck Morse told Monitor State House reporter Allie Morris, taking free money to buy a fire truck is one thing, but who will pay to staff it, fuel it and insure it?

Meanwhile, for want of a fire truck, the barn is lost.

The committee is holding up money that would pay to collect information on violent deaths in the state and, at a time when opioid drug use and overdose deaths are epidemic, an investigator for the state’s drug task force. Other grants on hold were awarded to promote child safety, improve mental health services and help schools develop emergency plans.

Whatever the ultimate fate of the grants, the committee’s hold on them will do less harm than a goal its Republican members hope to achieve: a refusal by the majority party to reauthorize the state’s decision to expand Medicaid to serve low-income adults who aren’t disabled, even though the federal government will pick up 90 percent of the tab.

That decision would cancel coverage for more than 20,000 newly insured residents and make it far harder for them to get non-emergency and preventive health care. That, in our view, is misguided to the point of being immoral. Virtually every other advanced nation considers access to health care a right, not a societal luxury.

The Republican goal, if met, will also mean the loss of more than $300 million per year in federal funds, assuming even more of those eligible sign up under expanded Medicaid. That’s money that won’t be providing health care for low-income New Hampshire residents and good-paying jobs for the people who provide their care.

Looking a gift horse in the mouth and saying “No” is one thing. Hay, after all, can get expensive.

But it’s quite another if that “No” means plowing less land and going hungry or freezing to death on the long walk to the doctor’s office.

Granite State Rumblings: Lawmakers And Residents Agree We Should Do More To Reduce Poverty

(Image by Jenn Durfey FLIKR CC)

(Image by Jenn Durfey FLIKR CC)

A few weeks ago we started to explore the public’s perception of the people who live in poverty. Let’s continue that conversation today with a look at Granite Staters’ perception of poverty in our state.

New study reveals lawmakers & residents agree:
NH government can and should do more to reduce poverty

Most believe 4 in 10 residents are “working but poor”

New Hampshire residents and lawmakers share a common belief that state government can and should do more to keep people out of poverty.  Recent public opinion research commissioned by the Investing in Communities Initiative also found that Granite Staters perceive poverty as a more real and pervasive problem in the state than official statistics indicate.

Melissa Bernardin

Melissa Bernardin

“The research tells us that the public has a very different view of poverty than official statistics suggest,” said Melissa Bernardin, Investing in Communities Initiative Director.  “They see that many of their friends and neighbors are living on the edge and that they, too, face significant economic uncertainty.”

“The good news is that people have hope that we can do something about it,” she said.

The research was conducted over several months in 2014 to gauge public attitudes towards poverty –including its causes, consequences, and potential solutions.  The research included a telephone survey of 600 NH residents, five focus groups, and interviews with a bipartisan cross-section of 69 NH legislators, to see how lawmakers’ views matched up with public opinion.   Myers Research & Strategic Services, a public opinion research firm, conducted the work on behalf of the Investing in Communities Initiative (ICI).  The Initiative is a nonpartisan project founded in 2013 to build capacity among NH organizations that advocate for low-income and vulnerable people.

“The results tell us some very important things,” said Andrew Myers, principal and CEO of Myers Research.  “People understand the difficulties facing low-income families in New Hampshire. They get it. This may be the Granite State, but people don’t have hearts of stone.”

“Most importantly,” he said, “they want state government to do something about poverty.”

According to Myers, “NH residents understand that other actors, such as nonprofit groups and churches, have a role in addressing poverty. Yet, they believe that government is best suited to solve the problem.”

New Hampshire typically ranks well in state-by-state rankings of poverty and economic distress.  The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that 8.7% of state residents fell below the Federal Poverty Line in 2013, less than in surrounding states and well below the national average.  However, survey respondents painted a different picture.  When asked what portion of state residents they think are living in poverty (using their own judgment, without an official measurement), they said that more than a quarter (27%) of the state’s population is poor.  When asked to include the ranks of the “working poor,” they estimated that 37% of the state’s population – almost 4 in 10 people – is “working but poor.”

“From the survey results and focus groups, it’s clear that many people are just a costly car repair away from financial ruin, or know others who are,” said Myers.

Interestingly, lawmakers interviewed perceived a lower level of poverty in the state (18 percent) than their constituents (27 percent).

Still, more than half of the lawmakers – a full 57% — reported having been poor themselves.  Of NH residents surveyed, one in four (25%) said they currently have only one month of savings or less to rely on in case of an emergency.

Even with differing views about the prevalence of poverty, the study found agreement among lawmakers (both Democrats and Republicans) and New Hampshire residents as to perceived causes of poverty and potential solutions.  Residents showed strong support for measures to create pathways out of poverty, such as raising the minimum wage, improving access to job training, as well as improving access to affordable child care that will enable parents to work. In fact, 55% of people surveyed said they want the state government to do more to address poverty.

Among legislators interviewed, 61% said that the state government is not doing enough to address the causes of poverty.  They also pointed to “empowerment” types of solutions that emphasized pathways into the job market, although it should be noted that the set of lawmakers interviewed – while bipartisan — was not statistically representative of those in office today. (See description of methodology, attached.)

According to Bernardin, “Many in the Statehouse agree that government can and should do more – that government support for tools such as job training, child care, mental health and substance abuse treatment will help people find and keep jobs that pay enough to support their families.”

Last week Melissa joined Brady Carlson on NHPR to talk about the research. Please take a few minutes to read, or listen to, that conversation here.

The Investing in Communities Initiative is a nonpartisan project dedicated to strengthening the skills, knowledge and expertise of New Hampshire’s nonprofit advocacy field in support of public policies that foster health, wellness, and improved economic and social conditions for all New Hampshire residents.

For more information, contact Melissa Bernardin at the Investing in Communities Initiative, 603-828-2442.

Granite State Rumblings: Lack Of Public Transportation Makes It Harder For Low Income Workers To Even Get To Work

Snow covered bus stop (image by Richard Masoner FLIKR CC)

Snow covered bus stop (image by Richard Masoner FLIKR CC)

Adid you know 2-10nother Monday and over another foot of snow added to the ever growing snowbanks in New Hampshire and Maine. I consider myself very fortunate however. If I must get to the office, I have a 4 wheel drive vehicle. If the driving conditions are poor, I can choose to work from the comfort of my home. And if I do decide to work from home and the internet goes out preventing me from getting that work done, I have personal days that I can use, so not to miss any pay.

There are many, many people who do not have these advantages. A large portion are low-income, head of household workers who must show up for work no matter the conditions. If they don’t show, they don’t get paid, and may even risk losing their jobs.

This article was posted on a good friend’s FaceBook page this weekend and I think it is an important read for all of us.

A Blizzard of Perspective
By: Barbara Howard

What was a young mother with a toddler doing at 1:00 a.m. at a bus stop on Brighton Avenue? That was what I asked myself early Wednesday morning as I headed home from work.

I worked late preparing Morning Edition for WBUR and was driving home, when I spotted a woman sitting in a bus shelter holding a sleeping child across her lap. I put my car into reverse, backed up, and lowered my passenger side window. I shouted to her: “Are you heading toward Oak Square? Because I’m going that way, and the buses are really slow because of the snow.” She said she was, and I offered her a ride.

I didn’t have a child’s car seat, but certainly this was safer than leaving her sitting on that bench with temperatures in the teens. She piled into the back seat with her sleeping daughter, who was dressed in snow boots and a pink parka. Over the engine, I could hear the girl softly snoring. I cranked up the heat, and we took off toward Brighton.

As we drove, the young mom told me that she had taken several buses that day. She said she works in food services at MIT, had bused to her mother’s Dorchester home after work to pick up her daughter, and had been on buses for two more hours. She said she was waiting for the number 57 bus for the final leg home.

Just before Oak Square, she had me turn right off the bus route and we headed uphill on a very narrow street with cars parked on both sides. I asked her if that turn is where the 57 bus drops her off and whether she normally walks the rest of the way. She said yes. It was a very steep and snowy hill, and I commented that she must have very strong arms to carry her sleeping daughter up that hill. She told me that sometimes she just can’t carry her, especially with all the snow. She said she has to wake up her little girl and make her walk up the hill. “She doesn’t like that,” the woman said.

“How old is she?” I asked.

“Three.”

We traveled about a quarter mile, all up hill. Toward the top, my front wheel drive car could barely move; the wheels were spinning in the snow. At the peak of the hill on the left, the young woman pointed out where she lives: a large brick building that looks like a former school. She told me that it’s a shelter.

With all the snow lately, we’ve rightly heard from commuters about the hassles of getting to and from work, but many of us have options that this mother can only dream of. Last week, I took a taxi to WBUR when the snow was too much, and WBUR put the staff up in a nearby hotel for two nights so that we could cover the blizzard. Now that I’ve dug out my dependable car, which I can afford to have, I can drive myself to and from work. White collar bosses like mine tend to understand if a skilled employee is late because of public transit breakdowns. Not so for low-income heads of households, those who have no choice but to depend on a broken transit system, and who live in fear of being easily replaced.

This young mother, trying to do right by her child, is a reminder that the day-to-day mechanics of being a member of the working poor is a ton of work. Even before clocking in to her job, she faces obstacles most of us never have to think about, and after clocking out, she and her little girl spend hours on buses only to face one last uphill climb. And then they do it all again the next day.

Barbara Howard, a Boston-area broadcaster, won WBUR’s first Peabody Award. She regularly anchors, edits, produces and writes for WBUR, Boston.

Transportation is a major issue in our state, especially in the more rural areas. Read more about this issue below.

Growing  Up Granite

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston conducts a semi-annual New England Community Outlook Survey. It is a survey of service providers’ perceptions of the economic and financial conditions of lower-income communities and individuals in New England and the organizations that serve them.

Below is a portion of the January 2014 survey which shed light on the challenges facing New England’s rural communities:

In each iteration of the New England Community Outlook Survey, the financial well-being of lower-income individuals and families has ranked among the most pessimistic measures. Respondents consistently observe decreasing financial well-being and predict a pessimistic future. This past October (2013) was no different; over half of respondents said the financial well-being of lower-income people in their communities has decreased. Furthermore, the future does not appear to hold much relief, as 88% of respondents predicted a further decrease or no change in the situation. The survey defines financial well-being as the ability to fund basic needs; of course, two of the most basic needs are affordable housing and access to food. Lack of affordable housing and food insecurity are among the top problems facing vulnerable populations. Affordable housing consistently ranks among the top challenges in the New England Community Outlook Survey. Food security is beyond the current scope of the survey; however, the USDA did issue a report on food insecurity and found that in 2012, 14.5% of the households (about 49 million people) in the United States were “food insecure.” New England fares little better with only half of the states reporting rates less than the national average.

New England is dominated both economically and demographically by Boston and its surrounding area, which accounts for 32% of New England’s population3 and 47% of the region’s gross domestic product (GDP). Consequently, those who live outside of the larger cities are often overlooked. There are over 1 million people living in small towns or rural areas in New England, and in many cases, these people face the same challenges as their urban counterparts.

New England’s poverty rate increased from 9.1% in 1999 to 10.5% in 2011, mirroring a nationwide increase during the Great Recession. During the same time period, the rural poverty rate in New England rose from 10.5% to 12.6% in 2011. It is important to note that Massachusetts’ more-buoyant economy masks a more concerning picture for the rest of the region. A more dismal picture emerges from the data on individual states.

Maine, comprising almost half of the land mass in New England, has 9% of the population but 43% of the region’s rural population. The poverty rate in 2011 in Maine was 12.8%, but in rural Maine poverty topped 15%. In several Maine zip codes, more than one in three residents live beneath the poverty threshold.  While effective poverty reduction in urban areas often provides basic needs through programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and housing vouchers, in rural areas, these solutions may not have the same impact.

Responses to the Community Outlook Survey consistently indicate that availability of affordable housing is a pressing issue for both rural and urban lower-income communities.  Both urban and rural survey respondents rank affordable housing the second most important challenge for lower-income communities after job availability. Nine out of 10 rural respondents saw the availability of affordable housing decrease or stay the same over the past six months, and most of those respondents do not see any relief in the near future.

There are solutions that work in rural areas.

Maine Housing launched an initiative to help lower-income people replace pre–1976 mobile homes with newer, more energy-efficient manufactured homes. The program includes low-cost credit for the homeowners as well as a $30,000 grant to ease the financial burden.

In New Hampshire, the Community Loan Fund recognizes that rural and small town affordable housing does not mean developing new buildings but has turned to affordable manufactured housing as a possible solution. Through a variety of programs—from low-cost manufactured home mortgages for resident-owned communities to matched savings to help people save for their first home purchase—the Community Loan Fund has directed more than $150 million to rural New Hampshire.

Part of the financial well-being definition is the ability to fund basic needs, primarily housing and food and health care, but also may include household utilities, child care, and other needs. The most widespread food assistance program is SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps). It remains the primary source of food assistance for the poor in America. For rural populations, the challenge, as with affordable housing, is related to the distributed nature of the population. Rural populations in Maine are on average two miles farther from the closest SNAP outlet than their urban counterparts. In a rural setting, with fewer public transport options, and fewer direct routes, two additional miles could mean the difference between a short walk and a long drive.

Some areas (albeit sparsely populated) are more than 20 miles from the closest affordable food provider. Households in rural Maine zip codes are 1.3 times more likely than their urban counterparts to receive SNAP assistance; thus, the people most at risk have the least access. This is just one example of the differential access to public programs between urban and rural populations. Recent changes to the SNAP program as a result of the decline in government funding due to the sequester threaten to further erode the assistance it provides to all lower-income individuals and families.

Distance to snap

Granite State Rumblings: Talking Poverty (Part 1) — The Public Perception Of People Who Live In Poverty

I spent 4 days last week in several workshops listening and talking about poverty. The themes that ran through each workshop were basically the same. What is poverty? What are the causes of poverty? What are the pathways out of poverty? What is the public’s perception of the people who live in poverty?

In future newsletters I will attempt to address all four of the above questions. But let’s start with the last question first.

There seemed to be a recurring opinion of a few attendees at each conference -

If people want to escape poverty, all they need to do is get themselves motivated and get a job. The economy is getting better and there are jobs available for those who want them.

Is it really that simple?

The following article by Neil Irwin and published in June in The New York Times helps to shed some light on the topic.

Growth has been good for years. So why hasn’t poverty declined?
by Neil Irwin

The surest way to fight poverty is to achieve stronger economic growth. That, anyway, is a view embedded in the thinking of a lot of politicians and economists.

“The federal government,” Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “needs to remember that the best anti-poverty program is economic growth,” which is not so different from the argument put forth by John F. Kennedy (in a somewhat different context) that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

In Kennedy’s era, that had the benefit of being true. From 1959 to 1973, the nation’s economy per person grew 82 percent, and that was enough to drive the proportion of the poor population from 22 percent to 11 percent.

But over the last generation in the United States, that simply hasn’t happened. Growth has been pretty good, up 147 percent per capita. But rather than decline further, the poverty rate has bounced around in the 12 to 15 percent range — higher than it was even in the early 1970s. The mystery of why — and how to change that — is one of the most fundamental challenges in the nation’s fight against poverty.

The disconnect between growth and poverty reduction is a key finding of a sweeping new study of wages from the Economic Policy Institute. The liberal-leaning group’s policy prescriptions are open to debate, but this piece of data the researchers find is hard to dispute: From 1959 to 1973, a more robust United States economy and fewer people living below the poverty line went hand-in-hand. That relationship broke apart in the mid-1970s. If the old relationship between growth and poverty had held up, the E.P.I. researchers find, the poverty rate in the United States would have fallen to zero by 1986 and stayed there ever since.

“It used to be that as G.D.P. (Gross Domestic Product) per capita grew, poverty declined in lock step,” said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at E.P.I. and an author of the study. “There was a very tight relationship between overall growth and fewer and fewer Americans living in poverty. Starting in the ′70s, that link broke.”

Now, one shouldn’t interpret that too literally. The 1959 to 1973 period might be an unfair benchmark. The Great Society social safety net programs were being put in place, and they may have had a poverty-lowering effect separate from that of the overall economic trends. In other words, it may be simply that during that time, strong growth and a falling poverty rate happened to take place simultaneously for unrelated reasons. And there presumably is some level of poverty below which the official poverty rate will never fall, driven by people whose problems run much deeper than economics.

But the facts still cast doubt on the notion that growth alone will solve America’s poverty problem.

If you are committed to the idea that poor families need to work to earn a living, this has been a great three decades. For households in the bottom 20 percent of earnings in the United States — in 2012, that meant less than $14,687 a year — the share of income from wages, benefits and tax credits has risen from 57.5 percent of their total income in 1979 to 69.7 percent in 2010.

The percentage of their income from public benefits, including Medicaid, food stamps, Social Security and unemployment insurance, has fallen in that time.

The fact that more of poor families’ income is coming from wages doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re getting paid more, though. In fact, based on the E.P.I.’s analysis of data from the Census Bureau, it appears that what income gains they are seeing are coming from working more hours, not from higher hourly pay.

Indeed, if you adjust for the higher number of hours worked, over the 1979 to 2007 period (selected to avoid the effects of the steep recession that began in 2008), hourly pay for the bottom 20 percent of households rose only 3.2 percent. Total, not per year. In other words, in nearly three decades, these lower-income workers saw no meaningful gain in what they were paid for an hour of labor. Their overall inflation-adjusted income rose a bit, but mainly because they put in more hours of work.

The researchers at E.P.I. also looked at demographic factors that contribute to poverty, including race, education levels and changes in family structure (such as the number of one-parent versus two-parent households). This look at the data also shows rising inequality as the biggest factor in contributing to the poverty rate, dwarfing those other shifts.

Debates over what kind of social welfare system the United States ought to have are always polarizing, from the creation of the Great Society in the 1960s to the Clinton welfare reforms of the 1990s to the Paul Ryan budgets of this era. Conservatives tend to attribute the persistence of poverty, even amid economic growth, to the perverse incentives that a welfare state creates against working.

But the reality is that low-income workers are putting in more hours on the job than they did a generation ago — and the financial rewards for doing so just haven’t increased.

That’s the real lesson of the data: If you want to address poverty in the United States, it’s not enough to say that you need to create better incentives for lower-income people to work. You also have to devise strategies that make the benefits of a stronger economy show up in the wages of the people on the edge of poverty, who need it most desperately.

And we need to stop blaming the poor for being poor.

New Report Show NH Tax Policy Hurt Low Income Families Most

New Analysis: Low-Income Taxpayers in New Hampshire Pay Three Times the Tax Rate Paid by the Wealthiest Granite Staters

CONCORD, NH – A new study released today by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) finds that the lowest income Granite Staters pay an effective tax rate that is three times that paid by the state’s wealthiest residents. The report, titled Who Pays? A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States, factors in all major state and local taxes, including personal and corporate income taxes, property taxes, sales and other excise taxes.

“This report provides important context for New Hampshire policymakers as they endeavor to build the next state budget,” said Jeff McLynch, executive director of the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute (NHFPI). “Our tax system asks much more of those individuals who are least able to pay, making it even harder for them as they struggle to get ahead. Policymakers should explore reforms that will make the tax system more fair to hard working Granite Staters.”

 Who Pays? examines how state and local tax systems affect non-elderly individuals and families at all income levels and finds that New Hampshire’s low- and middle-income residents pay a significantly higher percentage of their income in taxes than those in the top one percent. NHFPI has published an updated fact sheet to provide context for the Granite State. Key findings for 2012 include:

  • Individuals and families that comprised the poorest fifth of taxpayers in New Hampshire, on average, paid 8.3 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes.
  • Individuals and families in the middle of the income distribution, those with incomes between $44,000 and $70,000, paid 6.6 percent in taxes.
  • The top 1 percent of income earners experienced an average effective tax rate of 2.6 percent, with an average income of slightly more than $1.3 million.

New Hampshire’s tax structure will be the focus of a panel discussion at NHFPI’s upcoming conference, Building a Better Budget: Meeting Today’s Needs, Preparing for Tomorrow. Participating panelists include Carl Davis, senior policy analyst for ITEP. Building a Better Budget will be held on Friday, January 23, 2015 from 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord, NH. The event registration fee is $45. Pre-registration is required via the NHFPI website; online registration is available through January 14. Complete details and links to register may be found at  www.nhfpi.org/nhfpi-policy-conference.

The New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to exploring, developing, and promoting public policies that foster economic opportunity and prosperity for all New Hampshire residents, with an emphasis on low- and moderate-income families and individuals. Learn more at www.nhfpi.org.

Granite State Rumblings: Cutting Poverty In Half In Ten Years

Since 2010, the Half in Ten campaign has tracked its progress toward achieving its goal of cutting poverty in half in 10 years by examining 21 different indicators of economic security and opportunity.

Here are the top 12 key indicators from this year’s report.

1. POVERTY RATE

About 45.3 million Americans lived below the poverty line last year. The percentage of people with incomes below the poverty line—$18,552 for a family of three in 2013—fell from 15 percent in 2012 to 14.5 percent in 2013. These measures do not account for the impact of the Earned Income Tax Credit, nutrition assistance, and other noncash benefits on income.  For example, if SNAP benefits had been counted as income, the U.S. Bureau of the Census estimates that about 3.7 million fewer people would have had income below the poverty line in 2013. For a measure of poverty that includes most of these benefits, subtracts certain expenses, and uses a somewhat different poverty threshold, see Indicator 2.

To substantially reduce the share of Americans living below the federal poverty line, policymakers need to focus on job creation, investment in people, and improving the minimum wage and other labor standards. The poverty rate remains high today due in large part to an excess of poorly compensated jobs. We need to turn bad jobs into good ones by increasing the minimum wage, supporting the efforts of poorly compensated workers to join unions, and ensuring that all workers have basic benefits such as paid sick leave. Finally, to increase economic security and strengthen our nation’s balance sheet, we need to make our tax system more progressive.

2. SUPPLEMENTAL POVERTY RATE

Using the Census Bureau’s supplemental poverty measure, the poverty rate was 15.5 percent in 2013, down from 16 percent in 2012. The supplemental poverty measure counts more benefits as income than the official poverty measure, subtracts some work-related and medical expenses, and uses an updated poverty threshold.

Social Security benefits, for example, made it possible for 27 million   Americans to live above the supplemental poverty line, including
1.6 million children. At the same time, commuting and child care expenses pushed 6 million Americans below the supplemental poverty line.

Shifting to the supplemental poverty measure produces a much lower rate of deep poverty overall and for most groups. The supplemental poverty measure is a reminder of the important role that work supports, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, play in reducing poverty and the costs associated with working, particularly for parents caring for minor children. Alongside more jobs with better wages, work supports that reduce work expenses and supplement the wages of poorly compensated workers should be maintained and strengthened to reduce poverty over the next decade.

3. INCOME INEQUALITY

Income inequality remained high in 2013. The 40 percent of households with the lowest incomes received only 11.5 percent of overall income in 2013, a share not significantly different than in 2012. The top 5 percent of households took in 22.3 percent of overall incomes, about the same share as in 2011.

The real incomes of low- and middle-income households have yet to return to their pre-Great Recession levels and are also not much different today than in 1980. At the same time, higher income households—particularly those in the 5 percent of the distribution—have seen substantial gains since 1980.

As with poverty, reducing inequality will require a renewed commitment to full employment and tax fairness; the strengthening of labor standards, such as the minimum wage and the right to bargain collectively; and investments in people’s health and well-being.

4. ON-TIME GRADUATION RATES OF HIGH SCHOOL FRESHMAN

The on-time high school graduation rate measures the percentage of students who enter high school as freshmen and graduate within four years. Over the most recent 10-year period, the on-time high school graduation rate increased by 8.3 percentage points, rising from 72.6 percent in the 2001-02 school year to 80.9 percent in the 2011-12 school year. The on-time high school graduation rate has now increased for six straight years.

On-time graduation rates have increased for all racial and ethnic groups. But there continue to be substantial disparities by race in on-time graduation rates: Rates for whites and for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are substantially higher than for blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans.

5. ECONOMIC INCLUSION OF YOUNG PEOPLE

In 2013, 5.89 million youth—15.1 percent—were neither in school nor employed. The percentage of youth not in school and not working increased for the first time since 2009. While there was a modest increase between 2012 and 2013 in the number of out-of-school youth who were employed, there was an even larger increase in the number of youth not enrolled in school.

To increase the share of youth in education, employment, or training, Congress should allow young workers who do not have children to receive the Earned Income Tax Credit, increase investments in summer and transitional jobs for youth, and adopt President Obama’s proposals to increase access and completion of postsecondary education and training, including his proposal for new College Opportunity and Graduation Bonus grants.

6. YOUNG ADULTS AGES 25 TO 34 WITH AN ASSOCIATE’S DEGREE OR HIGHER

The percentage of young adults ages 25 to 34 that have an associate’s degree or higher increased slightly by .7 of a percentage point between 2013 and 2014; it has increased by slightly more than 4 percentage points since 2008.

In October 2013, slightly less than half of 20- to 21-year-olds were enrolled in college. To further increase the educational attainment of young adults, Congress should expand access to higher education by increasing Pell Grant and Federal Work-Study investments and ensuring that working and nontraditional students are able to access financial aid.

7. UNEMPLOYMENT RATE

The unemployment rate continued to decline in 2014, falling from 7.2 percent in September 2013 to 5.9 percent in September 2014. Unemployment rates vary considerably by ethnicity, with blacks and Latinos much more likely to be unable to find work than whites and Asians.

Reducing unemployment needs to be Congress’s top priority. Policies that would create jobs and move us in the direction of full employment include ending harmful austerity policies, making immediate investments in public infrastructure, and creating transitional public jobs for youth and the most-disadvantaged workers.

8. EMPLOYMENT RATE OF PEOPLE WITH A DISABILITY

Among the 15.5 million people ages 16 to 64 with disabilities in 2013, about 4.1 million—26.8 percent—were employed, compared to 70.7 percent of people in the same age range with no disability. There was no change in the employment rate for working-age people with disabilities in 2013.

Adults with disabilities who are in the labor market are much more likely to be unemployed than adults without disabilities. For example, among people with a high school diploma but no college education, 11.3 percent of workers with disabilities are unemployed compared to 7.3 percent of workers with no disability. People with disabilities have much higher poverty rates regardless of whether they are employed or not.

9. PAY OF WORKERS IN SERVICE OCCUPATIONS

About 14 percent of U.S. workers work in one of the five categories of service occupations: health care support, protective services, food preparation, personal care and service, and building and grounds cleaning and maintenance. Median weekly earnings for full-time workers in these service occupations in 2013 were $493 or about $25,000 annually. Adjusted for inflation, there was little or no change in service occupation pay between 2012 and 2013. But since 2003, real median wages for service workers have fallen by about 3 percent.

Stagnant and falling wages for service workers have occurred despite ongoing gains in productivity. Policies that would help on this front include increasing the federal minimum wage to at least $10 per hour, encouraging greater union participation among poorly compensated workers, and halting attacks on the basic rights of workers.

10. SHARE OF POORLY COMPENSATED WORKERS WITH ACCESS TO PAID SICK LEAVE

Only about 34 percent of workers in the bottom quarter of the wage distribution had access to paid sick leave in 2014—the same as in 2013. Poorly compensated workers are much less likely to have paid sick leave than other workers. For example, workers in the second quarter of the wage distribution—between $11.75 and $17.64 per hour—are twice as likely to have paid sick leave as those in the bottom quarter.

Congress should ensure that all workers are able to earn paid sick leave. As an important step toward this goal, the proposed Healthy Families Act would ensure that all workers in the United States in firms with at least 15 employees are able to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Nearly half of the 30 million workers who would be able to earn paid sick leave under the act are in the bottom 25 percent of wage earners.

11. SHARE OF POORLY COMPENSATED WORKERS WITH ACCESS TO AN EMPLOYER-SPONSORED RETIREMENT PLAN

Only about 41 percent of workers in the bottom quarter of the wage distribution—$11.75 an hour or less in 2014—had access to an employer-sponsored retirement benefit plan. The change between 2013 and 2014 was not statistically significant.

Poorly compensated workers who have access to retirement plans are much less likely to participate in them. To improve the retirement security of poorly compensated workers, Social Security should be strengthened for them, as well as adults who spent part of their working years caring for children or elderly parents.

12. GENDER WAGE GAP

In 2013, median annual earnings for women working full-time and year-round were $39,157. That figure is 78.2 percent of the median annual earnings of for men working full-time and year-round:

$50,033. The gap did not change significantly between 2012 and 2013. Moreover there has been little progress in closing the gender wage gap since 2001.

Unequal pay means lower earnings for women and higher poverty rates for both married couples and female-headed households. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, boosting women’s pay to men’s levels would cut the poverty rate for all working women in half, and the total increase in women’s earnings would amount to more than 14 times the current public spending on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, block grant program. Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act would reduce the gender wage gap.

Policies such as increasing the minimum wage, expanding investments in child care, and improving pay for workers in female-dominated occupations such as care work would help narrow the gender wage gap.

“We will not find agreement on every policy, to be sure, and debates about best approaches can and should happen. But people of all political stripes must recognize the national threat poverty poses and the unacceptable costs of inaction. Poverty is not a Democratic or Republican issue: it’s an American issue.”  – Senator Cory Booker

Kuster Volunteers at Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter

Kuster strongly supports federal efforts to strengthen hunger relief programs 

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Nashua, NH – On Friday, November 21, Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02) visited the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter to volunteer, tour the agency’s new facility, and learn about the organization’s work to ensure that every Nashua resident has a warm place to find food and shelter this holiday season. The visit also provided an opportunity for Congresswoman Kuster to hear about ways she can help support hunger relief efforts at the federal level.

The Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter has been helping serve the local Nashua community since its founding in 1981. The shelter offers both hunger relief programs and services to help individuals get back on their feet.

“During the holiday season, it’s truly incredible to see so many volunteers giving their time and energy to support their community and help people in need. I applaud the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter for creating a safe place where vulnerable people in Nashua can come to stay warm and get a good meal,” said Congresswoman Kuster. “I feel lucky to have the opportunity to help out and see the inspiring work they do here. In Washington, I will continue to work to ensure organizations like this have the support they need to keep serving the people of this community.”

Kuster has been a strong supporter of federal efforts to benefit food banks and soup kitchens, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, programs that support local farmers and farmers markets, and the Meals on Wheels program. She also introduced the Hunters Feeding the Hungry Act with Congressman Don Young (AK-AL), a bipartisan bill that would provide a tax credit to hunters who donate game to food charities. Additionally, Kuster supported the America Gives More Act to permanently extend the food donation tax deduction, which rewards small businesses that donate excess food to qualified nonprofits.

Congresswoman Kuster is the first New Hampshire Representative to serve on the Agriculture Committee in decades, which has jurisdiction over many hunger relief programs.  She worked across the aisle to successfully pass a Farm Bill last year, and she continues to fight for our local farmers in Washington, many of whom assist in the Granite State’s hunger relief efforts by donating fresh, nutritious food to local food charities and farmers’ markets that serve low-income populations.

Granite State Rumblings: 10 Ways To Cut Poverty And Grow The Middle Class

Happy Family ( FLIKR CC David Amsler)

Happy Family ( FLIKR CC David Amsler)

I spend a lot of time writing and working on poverty related issues and to some it may seem that I have little interest in talking about or protecting the middle class. This is not case. Issues that affect those living in poverty and policies that help move individuals out of poverty all relate to and have a direct impact on the middle class. A large and stable middle class has been central to America’s wealth and stability for decades. To help make the case, I am sharing a recent brief from Rebecca Vallas, Associate Director of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress and Melissa Boteach, Vice President of Half in Ten and the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center.

The Top Ten Solutions to Cut Poverty and Grow the Middle Class

The Census Bureau released its annual income, poverty, and health insurance report yesterday, revealing that four years into the economic recovery, there has been some progress in the poverty rate as it fell from 15 percent in 2012 to 14.5 percent in 2013, but there was no statistically significant improvement in the number of Americans living in poverty.
Furthermore, low- and middle-income workers have seen little to no income growth over the past decade, as the gains from economic growth have gone largely to the wealthiest Americans.

With flat incomes and inequality stuck at historically high levels, one might assume that chronic economic insecurity and an off-kilter economy are the new normal and that nothing can be done to fix it. But there is nothing normal or inevitable about elevated poverty levels and stagnant incomes. They are the direct result of policy choices that put wealth and income into the hands of a few at the expense of growing a strong middle class.

The good news is that different policy choices can bring different outcomes. When the government invests in jobs and policies to increase workers’ wages and families’ economic security, children and families see improved outcomes in both the short and long term.

Here are 10 steps Congress can take to cut poverty, boost economic security, and expand the middle class.

1. Create jobs

The best pathway out of poverty is a well-paying job. To get back to prerecession employment levels, we must create 5.6 million new jobs. At the current pace, however, we will not get there until July 2018. To kick-start job growth, the federal government should invest in job-creation strategies such as rebuilding our infrastructure; developing renewable energy sources; renovating abandoned housing; and making other common-sense investments that create jobs, revitalize neighborhoods, and boost our national economy. We should also build on proven models of subsidized employment to help the long-term unemployed and other disadvantaged workers re-enter the labor force.

In addition, the extension of federal unemployment insurance would have created 200,000 new jobs in 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Indeed, every $1 in benefits that flows to jobless workers yields more than $1.50 in economic activity. Unfortunately, Congress failed to extend federal unemployment insurance at the end of 2013, leaving 1.3 million Americans and their families without this vital economic lifeline.

2. Raise the minimum wage

In the late 1960s, a full-time worker earning the minimum wage could lift a family of three out of poverty. Had the minimum wage back then been indexed to inflation, it would be $10.86 per hour today, compared to the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour and indexing it to inflation—as President Barack Obama and several members of Congress have called for—would lift more than 4 million Americans out of poverty. Nearly one in five children would see their parent get a raise. Recent action taken by cities and states—such as Seattle, Washington; California; Connecticut; and New Jersey—shows that boosting the minimum wage reduces poverty and increases wages.

3. Increase the Earned Income Tax Credit for childless workers

One of our nation’s most effective anti-poverty tools, the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC, helped more than 6.5 million Americans—including 3.3 million children—avoid poverty in 2012. It’s also an investment that pays long-term dividends. Children who receive the EITC are more likely to graduate high school and to have higher earnings in adulthood. Yet childless workers largely miss out on the benefit, as the maximum EITC for these workers is less than one-tenth that awarded to workers with two children.
President Obama and policymakers across the political spectrum have called for boosting the EITC in order to right this wrong. Importantly, this policy change should be combined with a hike in the minimum wage; one is not a substitute for the other.

4. Support pay equity

With female full-time workers earning just 78 cents for every $1 earned by men, action must be taken to ensure equal pay for equal work. Closing the gender wage gap would cut poverty in half for working women and their families and add nearly half a trillion dollars to the nation’s gross domestic product. Passing the Paycheck Fairness Act to hold employers accountable for discriminatory salary practices would be a key first step.

5. Provide paid leave and paid sick days

The United States is the only developed country in the world without paid family and medical leave and paid sick days, making it very difficult for millions of American families to balance work and family without having to sacrifice needed income. Paid leave is an important anti-poverty policy, as having a child is one of the leading causes of economic hardship. Additionally, nearly 4 in 10 private-sector workers—and 7 in 10 low-wage workers—do not have a single paid sick day, putting them in the impossible position of having to forgo needed income, or even their job, in order to care for a sick child. The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or FAMILY Act, would provide paid leave protection to workers who need to take time off due to their own illness, the illness of a family member, or the birth of a child. And the Healthy Families Act would enable workers to earn up to seven job-protected sick days per year.

6. Establish work schedules that work

Low-wage and hourly jobs increasingly come with unpredictable and constantly shifting work schedules, which means workers struggle even more to balance erratic work hours with caring for their families. Ever-changing work schedules make accessing child care even more difficult than it already is and leave workers uncertain about their monthly income. Furthermore, things many of us take for granted—such as scheduling a doctor’s appointment or a parent-teacher conference at school—become herculean tasks. The Schedules That Work Act would require two weeks’ advance notice of worker schedules, which would allow employees to request needed schedule changes. It would also protect them from retaliation for making such requests—and provide guaranteed pay for cancelled or shortened shifts. These are all important first steps to make balancing work and family possible.

7. Invest in affordable, high-quality child care and early education

The lack of affordable, high-quality child care serves as a major barrier to reaching the middle class. In fact, one year of child care for an infant costs more than one year of tuition at most states’ four-year public colleges. On average, poor families who pay out of pocket for child care spend one-third of their incomes just to be able to work. Furthermore, federal child care assistance reaches only one in six eligible children.

Boosting investments in Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grant, as well as passing the Strong Start for America’s Children Act—which would invest in preschool, high-quality child care for infants and toddlers, and home-visiting services for pregnant women and mothers with infants—will help more struggling families obtain the child care they need in order to work and improve the future economic mobility of America’s children.

8. Expand Medicaid

Since it was signed into law in 2010, the Affordable Care Act has expanded access to high-quality, affordable health coverage for millions of Americans. However, 23 states continue to refuse to expand their Medicaid programs to cover adults up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level—making the lives of many families on the brink much harder. Expanding Medicaid would mean more than just access to health care—it would free up limited household income for other basic needs such as paying rent and putting food on the table. Having health coverage is also an important buffer against the economic consequences of illness and injury; unpaid medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy. Studies link Medicaid coverage not only to improved health, improved access to health care services, and lower mortality rates, but also to reduced financial strain.

9. Reform the criminal justice system and enact policies that support successful re-entry

The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world. Today, more than 1.5 million Americans are behind bars in state and federal prisons, a figure that has increased fivefold since 1980. The impact on communities of color is particularly staggering: One in four African American children who grew up during this era of mass incarceration have had a parent incarcerated.

Mass incarceration is a key driver of poverty. When a parent is incarcerated, his or her family must find a way to make ends meet without a necessary source of income. Additionally, even a minor criminal record comes with significant collateral consequences that can serve as lifelong barriers to climbing out of poverty. For example, people with criminal records face substantial barriers to employment, housing, education, public assistance, and building good credit. More than 90 percent of employers now use background checks in hiring, and even an arrest without a conviction can prevent an individual from getting a job. The “one strike and you’re out” policy used by public housing authorities makes it difficult if not impossible for individuals with even decades-old criminal records to obtain housing, which can stand in the way of family reunification. Furthermore, a lifetime ban—for individuals with felony drug convictions—on receiving certain types of public assistance persists in more than half of U.S. states, making subsistence even more difficult for individuals seeking to regain their footing, and their families.

In addition to common-sense sentencing reform to ensure that we no longer fill our nation’s prisons with nonviolent, low-level offenders, policymakers should explore alternatives to incarceration, such as diversion programs for individuals with mental health and substance abuse challenges. We must also remove barriers to employment, housing, education, and public assistance. A decades-old criminal record should not consign an individual to a life of poverty.

10. Do no harm

The across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration—which took effect in 2013—slashed funding for programs and services that provide vital support to low-income families. Sequestration cost the U.S. economy as many as 1.6 million jobs between mid-2013 and 2014. Some relief was provided this January, when Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, but many important tools to help low-income individuals and families pave a path to the middle class—such as adult and youth education and training programs, child welfare, and community development programs—were on a downward funding trend even before sequestration took effect.

As Congress considers a continuing resolution to fund the federal government past October 1 and avoid another government shutdown, it should reject further cuts to programs and services such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, which provides vital nutrition assistance to pregnant women and mothers with new babies. Thereafter, Congress should make permanent the important improvements made to the EITC and the Child Tax Credit as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which are set to expire in 2017. And it should avoid additional cuts to vital programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, which suffered two rounds of deep cuts in 2013 and 2014.

Conclusion

It is possible for America to dramatically cut poverty. Between 1959 and 1973, a strong economy, investments in family economic security, and new civil rights protections helped cut the U.S. poverty rate in half. Investments in nutrition assistance have improved educational attainment, earnings, and income among the young girls who were some of the food stamp program’s first recipients. Expansions of public health insurance have lowered infant mortality rates and reduced the incidence of low birth rates. In more recent history, states that raised the minimum wage have illustrated the important role that policy plays in combating wage stagnation.

There is nothing inevitable about poverty. We just need to build the political will to enact the policies that will increase economic security, expand opportunities, and grow the middle class.

GROWING UP GRANITE

The NH Center for Public Policy Studies recently released their report, “What is New Hampshire?” 2014 Edition. Here is just a small piece of the report and here is where to go find and read the rest of it!

New Hampshire is navigating a series of shifting economic, demographic, social and political forces. Among the new trends shaping the state into the 21st Century: an aging population; increasing racial and ethnic diversity; a shift away from the high-growth economic model of the past; and continued demand on the state budget for public services. While the implications of these and other challenges are still unclear, they do raise critical policy questions explored in this report.

Throughout its history, New Hampshire has worn many identities: agricultural outpost on the edge of New England; bustling engine of the Industrial Revolution; oasis for nature-seeking tourists; haven for tax-fleeing transplants. In the early years of the 21st Century, New Hampshire is still evolving amid shifting economic, demographic, social and political forces.

Among the new trends shaping the “new” New Hampshire: an aging population; increasing racial and ethnic diversity; a shift away from the high-growth economic model of the past; and continued demand on the state budget for public services

While the implications of these and other challenges are still unclear, they do raise critical policy questions, including:

  • Economy: New Hampshire suffered the effects of the Great Recession less severely than many other states, but slow job growth continues to gnaw at the state’s economy. As of the summer of 2014, New Hampshire lagged behind the nation and the rest of New England in recovering jobs lost during the recession. What is the state’s economic development plan, especially in relation to demographic trends that show New Hampshire’s population growth slowing in coming years? What specific industries or regions of New Hampshire will help shape the state’s economy in coming years? What regional approaches to economic development will find greatest success?
  • Demographic change: While New Hampshire is consistently rated one of the best places in the country to raise children, our population as a whole continues to age. Meanwhile, our school enrollment continues on a decade-long decline, and several measures of youth well-being in the state show worrisome trends, including rising levels of childhood poverty. What are the implications of these developments on education policy, housing, public services and transportation?
  • Health care: New Hampshire’s health policy landscape faces great uncertainty amid recent reforms at the national level, as well as continued rises in cost and the continued aging of the state’s population. What impact will the shifting health marketplace have on New Hampshire’s economy and the well-being of its residents?
  • Long-term planning: State policymakers face a long list of critical issues in coming years: public infrastructure investment, education finance, corrections spending, health care, and energy policy, among others. Many of these require a long-term perspective and an understanding of multi-year trends. How will the state – which has a two-year budget cycle and a two-year term for all major state offices – manage to plan decades into the future?

This report is our annual survey of the major policy issues and critical questions shaping our future. The data explain where New Hampshire has been, forecast where it is heading, and explore how current trends and policy choices facing the state will affect the well-being of its citizens.

Granite State Rumblings: Census Data Shows Many Are Being Left Behind

Homeless women poverty (Franco Folini CC FLIKR)

New Census Data Confirm Too Many
Granite Staters Are Still Being Left Behind:

Wrongheaded Policy Choices Will
Leave Even More on the Brink

Too many Granite Staters are still being left behind even as our economy continues to recover, four years after the end of the Great Recession. Data released last week by the Census Bureau show poverty remains stubbornly and unacceptably high, and too many Americans are struggling to find a job, pay their rent, and feed their families.

We are clearly not doing enough as a country to make progress on reducing poverty. Our safety net programs are effective in keeping millions of people out of poverty and in keeping many from becoming more deeply poor. But they do not reach everyone in poverty, and recent cuts to these programs have left them less able to help the number of people who need it. Further automatic funding cuts or wrongheaded budget proposals, as well as plans that claim to fight poverty by turning social service programs into block grants, would actually increase poverty and only make the situation worse. We need more investments in the programs that keep our neighbors from falling even deeper into poverty, not less.

Years after the Recession Ended, Millions are Still Struggling

While the recession officially ended in June of 2009, millions of Americans have yet to see any relief. In 2009, 14.3 percent of the country was poor. State and local data for 2013 released by the Census Bureau on September 18 show that in New Hampshire, 8.7 percent of people were poor in 2013 – roughly the same as in 2009 when 8.5 percent were poor. For a family of four, that means living on an income under $23,834. The share of households with income under $25,000 has grown, while the share of households making $50,000 or more has fallen.1 This survey found that 15.8 percent of the country was poor, a higher percentage than the national data released earlier in the week. 2

There are also 6 million more people living in near-poverty than in 2009; one-third of the nation and nearly one-quarter of New Hampshire live below twice the federal poverty level, or less than $47,668 for a family of four.3 Those who work are not immune to poverty, either; 12.9 percent of families headed by part-time or part-year workers are poor,4 and 29.4 of similar families are near poor.5 We’ve long known how important education is in fighting poverty, and the Census Bureau data reinforce that – In New Hampshire, one out of six people who have not finished high school is poor.6 For the U.S., one out of four people with education below a high school degree is poor, while one out of seven with a high school degree and one out of 20 with a college degree are poor.7

Children remain the age group most disproportionately poor – roughly one in five children in the country is poor. The child poverty rate in New Hampshire in 2013 was 10.2 percent. This is a decrease of 5.3 from 2012 and a 0.6 percent decrease from 2009. Yet, it is important to note that with the small sample size of New Hampshire, these are estimates and the large decrease could partly be due to error.8 In a ranking of 2013 child poverty rates of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, New Hampshire ranked 51st with the lowest child poverty rate.9 Numerous previous studies have shown that children who grow up poor are more likely to suffer from poor health, developmental delays, behavioral problems, and lower academic achievement. They are also more likely to be unemployed as adults.10 Poverty statistics are far worse for children of color – nationally, more than one out of three African American children and nearly one out of three Hispanic children are poor.11 In a country where half of our children are children of color and where they are a growing percentage of the population, these are very worrying statistics.

Inequality has also grown since the recession. Between 2009 and 2013, inequality as measured by the Gini index rose by 1.7 percent.12 The income of the top 1 percent of U.S. earners grew by 31.4 percent, while incomes for the other 99 percent grew only by 0.4 percent.13 The wealthiest are getting richer and enjoying more tax breaks and loopholes, while those at the bottom are struggling to stay afloat – and in many cases, to stay in their homes. In New Hampshire, 37.9 percent of tenants are paying 35 percent or more of their income on rent.14 Nationally, 42.5 percent of renters pay more than 35 percent of their income in rent, well over the official definition of families overburdened by rent costs (30 percent).

In addition to the Census Bureau data, other data also depict a nation in which too many are left behind, even years after the recession officially ended. In 2009, the year the recession ended for the  statisticians, the national annual unemployment rate was 9.3 percent.15 The official unemployment rate declined to 7.4 percent in 2013, and dropped further to 6.1 percent nationally in August of 2014. But there are still 9.6 million people who are unable to find a job. Nearly 7.3 million workers are working part-time because they can’t find a full-time job or because their hours have been cut back,16 and still millions more have given up looking for a job altogether because they believe none exists for them.

Unemployment declined in New Hampshire from 6.2 percent in 200917 to 5.3 percent in 201318, and was 4.4 percent in August 2014. 19 According to data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture this month, here in New Hampshire, one in 10 households struggled to put food on the table (were “food insecure”), compared with one in seven U.S. households in 2013. The number of people struggling against hunger remains dramatically higher than it was before the Great Recession. In 2007, before the recession, 36.2 million people were in a food insecure household (12.2 percent). In 2013, 49 million faced hunger (15.8 percent).20 Another recent study notes that one in seven Americans rely on food pantries and meal programs to feed themselves and their families.21 Again, the statistics were worse for African American and Hispanic households and for households with children.22

One bright spot in our nation’s picture is health insurance. A new report from the Urban Institute shows that the number of uninsured adults fell by 22.3 percent from September 2013 to June 2014, with most of this drop coming from low- and middle- income adults. In states that implemented the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, the uninsured rate dropped 37.7 percent. The uninsured rate for low- income adults remains high, at 31.7 percent, but it’s much higher in non-expansion states (40.0 percent) than in expansion states (23.1 percent).23 In New Hampshire, over 140,000 people remained uninsured in 2013.24

What We Can – and Must – Do to Reduce Poverty

Clearly, more must be done to lift up the millions of Americans who have been left out of the recovery. Strong federal programs create jobs, grow the economy, reduce inequity, and keep millions out of poverty. In 2013, 3.7 million people were kept out of poverty when benefits they receive from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) were counted as part of their income. Similarly, unemployment insurance kept 1.2 million people out of poverty last year,25 and unemployment insurance expansions during the Great Recession prevented roughly 1.4 million foreclosures.26 The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit lifted 10.1 million people, including 5.3 million children, out of poverty in 2012.27 In New Hampshire, 17,000 people and 9,000 children were kept out of poverty by these credits each year, on average, during 2010 to 2012.28 Children from families that  benefit from the EITC also do better in school and end up working and earning more as adults. 29

Other federal legislation can also break down the barriers that leave millions of Americans in dire conditions. Raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would lift nearly 6 million people above the poverty threshold and help the families of nearly 14 million children,30 all while saving $4.6 billion in SNAP expenditures31 and adding $33 billion in new economic activity. 32 In fact, 12.8 percent of New Hampshire’s children have at least one parent who would benefit from this raise.33 Raising the federal minimum wage for tipped workers is just as important; poverty rates for tipped workers are roughly twice as high as rates for workers overall. However, the average poverty rate for female tipped workers in the eight states where employers must pay their tipped employees the regular minimum wage is 33 percent lower than in states with the $2.13 per hour tipped federal minimum cash wage.34 Unfortunately, New Hampshire is not one of these states.

Without these programs, the number of those in poverty would be much higher. We know these programs work for those who are able to access them, but limited funding means that too many aren’t able to get the help they need to move up. Stopping cuts to these proven programs should be the first step. Nearly 100 human needs programs that require annual appropriations saw their funding cut by more than 10 percent since 2010, adjusted for inflation. Some important low-income programs have been cut very deeply: heating and cooling assistance for low-income households was cut 38 percent over this period; juvenile justice programs were slashed by one-third or more; child welfare services were cut by more than one-third; the public housing capital fund was cut by 31 percent.35

As we’ve previously noted, access to quality education is critical in fighting poverty, but federal education programs have been cut by almost $40 billion since 2010.36 The 2013 sequester cuts resulted in 57,000 fewer children enrolled in Head Start.37 In New Hampshire, the sequester resulted in 176 fewer children in Head Start, as well as $1,734,000 in cuts to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and $2,368,000 in cuts to Special Education Grants.38 Housing vouchers lifted 2.8 million people — including 1 million children — above the poverty line in 2012,39 but only one in four households eligible for federal rental assistance receives it because of limited funding. Additionally, sequestration cuts caused the loss of 70,000 housing vouchers in 2013,40 which left 311 fewer households in New Hampshire with this assistance.41 Only one in six eligible children receives subsidized child care.42 More than eight in ten low-wage workers have no paid sick leave, forcing them to go without pay to take care of themselves or a sick family member.43 Expanding Medicaid provides health coverage for millions, many for the first time, but too many states have chosen the self-inflicted wound of refusing to extend coverage to their low-income neighbors. And the House has voted more than 50 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act altogether.44

Beyond halting cuts, we need additional investments in these programs to be able to reach those who haven’t yet been helped and remove the barriers that prevent all Americans from getting a fair shot to fulfill their potential. Too many aren’t able to access these lifesaving programs because of limited funding. Closing tax loopholes and ending tax breaks that allow corporations to avoid paying their fair share will provide necessary revenues for these investments. The House Ways and Means Committee approved $614 billion in unpaid tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy in 2014.45 The House- passed budget, introduced by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI), would provide at least $200,000 to each millionaire in FY 2015 alone and would increase Pentagon spending by $483 billion over sequestration levels.46 Tax reductions for the rich create few jobs. In fact, research of countries around the world – including the U.S. – found that cutting taxes for the wealthy does not lead to economic growth; instead, it leads to higher levels of inequality.47 It’s not that we as a country can’t afford to make the investments we need to increase jobs for all and help our struggling neighbors; it’s that we’re choosing not to.

Some Proposals that Purport to Fight Poverty Will Actually Increase It

In addition to providing tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires, budgets drafted by Chairman Ryan and adopted by the House over the past several years would drastically cut human needs programs that keep people out of poverty. Specifically, the House budget would slash SNAP by $137 billion, which would cut or end food assistance for millions of low-income families. The budget would gut Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program by $732 billion, drop 170,000 children from Head Start and 200,000 moms and children from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), repeal the Affordable Care Act and swell the ranks of the uninsured by at least 40 million, and on and on. All told, 69 percent – or $3.3 trillion – of the budget cuts in the most recent House-passed budget come from programs for people with low or moderate incomes.48 At the same time, the plan slashes taxes for the rich and super-rich by about $5 trillion.49 Just like his budgets, Chairman Ryan’s recently-released plan to fight poverty will actually do more harm than good, driving more people into poverty and driving the already poor further down.  His plan would allow states to opt for a block grant of up to 11 safety net programs, including SNAP and numerous housing assistance programs. SNAP’s current effectiveness at reducing poverty comes from its ability to respond to increased need during hard times.  But Ryan’s block grant would largely end that flexibility. Historically, most block grants have received fewer and fewer funds over time, resulting in reduced benefits and services.50 He promised that total funding to states taking the grant would not decrease, despite the fact that his budget proposes drastic cuts for most of the programs he would pool in the grant.

Rep. Ryan says we need customized and personalized case management for each person needing aid. Some people would almost certainly benefit from these services, but they are expensive. Increased costs for case management will have to come from cuts in other services. His plan eliminates the Social Services Block Grant, despite the fact that it provides $1.7 billion in services to children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.51 His plan would exclude working poor immigrant families without a Social Security number from receiving the Child Tax Credit for their children, despite the fact that as many as 5.5 million low-income children would be affected, 80 percent of whom are U.S. citizens (a similar bill that passed the House in July would do this as well).52 His plan would require work in exchange for benefits, despite the fact that there are still two job seekers for every job available,53 with the situation far worse in many low-income communities, leaving many more out in the cold.

Congress Needs to Make the Right Choices to Move Us All Forward Together

We need more investments, not less, in programs that help people move up and out of poverty. Massive cuts like those in the House budget and wrongheaded policies like those in Rep. Ryan’s plan will not reduce poverty – they would increase it.  At a time when poverty, unemployment, and food insecurity remain stubbornly high and our economy continues to leave too many behind, we need more investments in the programs that help our neighbors from falling even deeper into despair. Only this will lead to a shared economic growth and a shared prosperity for all, not just the wealthy and big corporations.

This report was prepared by Every Child Matters in New Hampshire and the Coalition on Human Needs.

1 American Community Survey data for 2013, accessed by the Coalition on Human Needs, September 2014.
2 American Community Survey (ACS) data for 2013, accessed by the Coalition on Human Needs, September 2014. In order to maintain consistency with related state data, this report uses ACS findings, which differ somewhat from the Current Population Survey (CPS) Annual Social and Economic Supplement data released by the Census Bureau on September 16. National CPS data give some reason to hope that poverty rates will show future improvement, as their more recent time window captures end-of-year improvements in employment and income.
3 American Community Survey data for 2013, accessed by the Coalition on Human Needs, September 2014.
4          http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/cpstables/032014/pov/pov06_100.htm
5          http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/cpstables/032014/pov/pov06_200.htm
6 American Community Survey data for 2013, accessed by the Coalition on Human Needs, September 2014.   7 Census Bureau Current Population Survey and American Community Survey data for 2013, accessed by the Coalition on Human Needs, September 2014.
8     http://scholars.unh.edu/carsey/221
9 American Community Survey data for 3013, accessed by the Coalition on Human Needs, September 2014.
10          http://futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/docs/07_02_03.pdf
11 Census Bureau Current Population Survey and American Community Survey data for 2013, accessed by the Coalition on Human Needs, September 2014.
12            http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2014/demo/p60-249.pdf
13        http://eml.berkeley.edu/~saez/saez-UStopincomes-2012.pdf
14 American Community Survey data for 2013, accessed by the Coalition on Human Needs, September 2014.
15      http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat01.pdf
16       http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t08.htm
17      http://www.bls.gov/lau/lastrk09.htm
18      http://www.bls.gov/lau/lastrk13.htm
19      http://www.bls.gov/web/laus/lauhsthl.htm
20        http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1565415/err173.pdf
21            http://help.feedingamerica.org/HungerInAmerica/hunger-in-america-2014-full-report.pdf
22        http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1565415/err173.pdf
23        http://hrms.urban.org/briefs/taking-stock-at-mid-year.pdf
24            http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2014/demo/p60-250.pdf
25            http://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2014/demo/p60-249.pdf
26      http://www.nber.org/papers/w20353
27      http://apps.cbpp.org/3-5-14tax/?state=US
28        http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=4097
29       http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3793
30             http://www.oxfamamerica.org/static/media/files/Working-Poor-in-America-report-Oxfam-America.pdf
31              http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/report/2014/03/05/85158/the-effects-of-minimum-wages-  on-snap-enrollments-and-expenditures/
32          http://www.epi.org/publication/bp357-federal-minimum-wage-increase/
33          http://www.epi.org/publication/raising-federal-minimum-wage-to-1010/
34            http://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/tipped_minimum_wage_worker_wage_gap.pdf
35             http://www.chn.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Shrinking-Funding-Since-2010-plus-FY-15-Updates-   Attachment.pdf
36           http://cef.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Education-Budget-cuts-since-2010.pdf
37              http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/budget/report/2014/04/09/87430/how-the-ryan-budget-fails-our-  economy-by-failing-economics/
38      http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BUDGET-2014-PER/pdf/BUDGET-2014-PER.pdf    and  http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2015/assets/topics.pdf
39        http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=4098
40             http://www.offthechartsblog.org/why-and-how-congress-should-restore-lost-housing-vouchers/
41        http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3586
42             http://www.clasp.org/resources-and-publications/publication-1/Olivia-CCDBG-testimony-3-25-final.pdf
43          http://www.nationalpartnership.org/issues/work-family/paid-sick-days.html
44              http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2014/03/21/the-house-has-voted-54-times-in-four-years-    on-obamacare-heres-the-full-list/
45 http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-
bin/cpquery/?&dbname=cp113&sid=cp113CY1L4&refer=&r_n=hr509.113&item=&&&sel=TOC_150983&
46              http://www.chn.org/human_needs_report/chn-chairman-ryans-budget-plan-passes-house-hitting-poor-harder-  ever/
47                http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/budget/report/2014/04/09/87430/how-the-ryan-budget-fails-our-
economy-by-failing-economics/
48              http://www.chn.org/human_needs_report/chn-chairman-ryans-budget-plan-passes-house-hitting-poor-harder-  ever/
49             http://taxvox.taxpolicycenter.org/2012/03/23/paul-ryans-budget-plan-more-big-tax-cuts-for-the-rich/
50             http://www.offthechartsblog.org/history-suggests-ryan-block-grant-would-be-susceptible-to-cuts/
51       http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view&id=3765
52           http://www.chn.org/human_needs_report/chn-ryan-poverty-plan-increase-poverty/
53         http://stateofworkingamerica.org/charts/job-seekers-ratio-total/

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