Media and Politics

Don’t Let the White House’s Dysfunction Distract You From the Things Trump Is Getting Done

While the media and much of the public have been consumed with the spectacle of dysfunction and failure in the Trump White House—The Mooch, the Russia investigation, and the demise of the Republican Party’s plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act—the administration has quietly succeeded in doing some real damage that has received little attention. In normal times, these actions likely would get more coverage, and that points to a problem of access to vital information as citizens and activists try to adjust to the daily tectonic shifts of Trump.

Here are a few big deal political maneuvers that haven’t received the reporting—or an outcry from a distracted public—that they need and deserve.

Reversing the Ban on Neurotoxic Pesticide

In March, the Trump administration’s Office of Pesticide Programs—which last year received 30 percent of its operating budget from the pesticide-manufacturing industry—canceled the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed ban of chlorpyrifos, a common pesticide used on crops that was derived from nerve gas developed by the Nazis.

The Obama administration had called for the ban after “three long-term, independently funded studies showed the substance was toxic,” according to Reuters. Particularly vulnerable are farmworkers, and the brain development of children, infants, and fetuses.

“Chlorpyrifos has been shown beyond any shadow of a doubt to damage the brains of children, especially those of fetuses in the womb,” said Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician and dean for global health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. The American Academy of Pediatrics also urged EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to reconsider his decision.

Yet Pruitt saw fit to hail the ban reversal as “returning to using sound science in decision-making.”

Dow Chemical—whose CEO leads a White House manufacturers working group—sells the chemical. More than 6 million pounds of it are used annually in the United States on crops like apples, oranges, broccoli, berries, and tree nuts. Two months after Pruitt’s decision, more than 50 farmworkers in cabbage fields were sickened when winds blew the chemical from nearby mandarin orchards.

You can get informed and fight for a chlorpyrifos ban here and here. You can tell grocers to stop buying foods that might have residue from the chemical here. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) has introduced a bill to ban the pesticide.

Nixing Science-Based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs

Last month, the administration cut more than $213 million from teen pregnancy prevention programs and research, eliminating the final two years of funding for 5-year projects. More than 80 institutions across the country lost their funding, and none of the programs provided abortion counseling.

Health officials told the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) that denying funding midway through a grant is “highly unusual and wasteful because it means there can be no scientifically valid finding.”

Some of the programs cut include: work Johns Hopkins University has been doing with American Indian teens to reduce sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy; University of Southern California’s workshops for parents on “how to talk to middle school kids about delaying sexual activity”; the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center program that helps “doctors talk to Native American and Latino teens about avoiding pregnancy”; and Planned Parenthood’s work in five states to bring “rural youths and parents together to share family values, strengthen family bonds, and talk about healthy relationships and sexual health.”

“We’re not out there doing what feels good,” Luanne Rohrbach, associate professor of preventive medicine at USC, told CIR. “We’re doing what we know is effective.”

Despite the fact that the teen birth rate has declined steadily over the past 20 years, the ongoing need for science-based approaches to pregnancy prevention is clear. CIR notes that the rate is still high compared to other industrialized nations, and the decline isn’t as steep in low-income communities. Perhaps that’s why the cuts were made outside the normal appropriations process as the administration pursues an ideologically-driven agenda that is out of step with real public health and education needs.

You can let your elected representatives know how you feel about this decision here.

DACA at Risk

In June, 10 states, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, informed the Trump administration that it must end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program by September 5 or face a lawsuit that would be heard by an anti-immigrant judge who has halted similar initiatives in the past.

Past assurances by a notoriously fickle president to keep DACA intact are hardly sufficient. Even if the administration ignores the deadline, there is little reason to believe Attorney General Jeff Sessions would defend DACA in court. As Representative Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) told The Washington Post, “Jeff Sessions is going to say, ‘Deport them.’ If you’re going to count on Jeff Sessions to save DACA, then DACA is ended.”

More than 780,000 young people, known as “Dreamers,” have been protected from deportation and made eligible to work since DACA’s inception in 2012. Seventy-eight percent of voters believe Dreamers should be allowed to remain in the United States permanently, including 73 percent of Trump voters.

Aside from the moral argument that people who grew up as Americans should be allowed to remain in the country, the Center for American Progress notes the economic case as well. Ending DACA would drain more than $460 billion from the national GDP over the next decade, and remove about 685,000 workers from the economy. Combined, the 10 states that are suing would lose $8 billion annually.

There is an opportunity take this issue out of the hands of extremists like the Texas attorney general and an unpredictable Trump administration. In July, the DREAM Act of 2017 was introduced with bipartisan support from Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

You can let your elected representatives know you want them to support DACA here.

Chemical Accident Prevention and Protection Delayed

After a 2013 explosion at a fertilizer storage facility in West, Texas, killed 15 people, including 12 firefighters, and injured 260—the Obama administration directed the Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen the safety requirements for facilities using and storing potentially toxic or dangerous chemicals.

In January 2017, after four years of deliberations, the EPA finalized its Chemical Accident Safety Rule, which would apply to more than 12,000 chemical facilities across the nation. It included commonsense measures like making information more available to communities to support emergency preparedness, and safety audits.

However, in June, after complaints from the chemical industry that the new rule “may actually compromise the security of our facilities, emergency responders, and our communities,” the Trump administration delayed implementation until February 2019. Even as it did so, it released a fact sheet noting 58 deaths and $2 billion worth of property damage caused by 1,517 facility accidents over the past 10 years.

A coalition of 11 states led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has sued the EPA over the delay. You can tell EPA Administrator Pruitt to implement the new rule here.

Trump is losing many of his high-profile fights. But in dozens of less-noticed ways, his administration is advancing its extreme agenda that exacerbates political and economic inequality. As much of the media remains fixated on the Russia story and the Great Trump Dysfunction, journalists and advocates will need to work harder than ever to make sure the damaging daily actions of this administration aren’t ignored.

This article is a collaboration between TalkPoverty and The Nation.

Alison Cassady, Director of Domestic Energy and Environment Policy at the Center for American Progress, contributed research for this article.

Related

Labor

Texas Just Passed a Law About College Work Study. Here’s Why It Matters.

For a full-time, in-state student at The University of Texas at Austin to pay their tuition by working a minimum wage job, they would need to work more than 17 hours per day, 7 days per week. If students cast off all other trappings of modern life, they would divide their remaining hours between going to class (assuming a standard course load, that’s at least three hours per day), completing assignments (three more hours), sleeping (eight hours, or your risk of stroke increases), and commuting (that’s another hour, if you’re lucky).

That bare-bones schedule adds up to a 32-hour day. And that’s without eating, showering, or any of the extracurriculars—like internships—that get students hired.

For students who work to pay their way through school, an unpaid internship isn’t an option. In Texas, as in other states, these students take work in the retail or food industries to pay their bills. They graduate with a degree, but without the work experience that helps them to compete against their more-affluent peers.

That’s why Texas’s new, deeply-wonky law requiring the state to start collecting more data on state work-study participants is actually a big deal. Simply collecting data won’t amount to much for Texas students—but it’s a first step toward addressing gaps that plague the state’s higher education system.

Low Higher Educational Attainment, Low Financial Aid Investment

Between 1990 and 2010, costs at public four-year institutions in Texas increased by 286 percent—more than double the national rate. Meanwhile, Texas’s higher education attainment rate is below the national average. Less than 1 in 5 Texas eighth graders will eventually complete a higher education degree or certificate in 11 years, with that number plummeting to 1 in 10 for those from low-income families.

That’s at least in part because the state has also failed to invest in student aid at adequate levels, ranking second to last among the most-populous states. Students in Texas are much more likely to have to rely on loans, as opposed to grants, to pay for school than their peers in other states.

The Need for a Degree and a Resume

As college becomes more inaccessible to low-income students, it’s also becoming more important. In less than five years, more than half of jobs in all states will require some type of higher education—including 62 percent of jobs in Texas. At the same time, employers have reduced the number of entry-level positions and the amount of training time they offer. An administrator at Baylor University explained that young workers who previously expected two years of training time when entering a company would “be lucky” to get six months of training. And while previous generations could have expected positions similar to what we now call internships to pay, the use of unpaid internships to fill entry-level work has rapidly risen.

That leaves students who need to earn their way through school in a tight spot, since paid, career-related work is hard to come by. “I’ve never had a problem getting a job,” one University of Texas student explained, “[but] the only jobs that are available to get is like waitressing or … retail.” Similarly, a senior at UT from Dallas had worked all four years of school, and with the additional help of grants, had only accumulated $5,000 in student debt. But because she relied on her own earnings, she had to turn down multiple internships that would have given her experience in her intended field—and potential employers noted problems with a lack of experience on her resume as she launched her post-graduation job hunt.

Given these facts, it is understandable—though perhaps slightly tone-deaf—that Texas employers recently reported not being able to find qualified applicants as a top work-related concern.

Work-Study Could Be a Way Forward

Texas is one of fourteen states with its own work-study program Work study is a form of financial aid that places students in paid work to help manage tuition bills. —the Texas College Work-Study Program (TCWSP)—in addition to the federal program. Traditionally, work-study positions have been limited to on-campus placements like monitoring computer labs, reshelving library books, and running the mailroom. But two years ago, the Texas legislature began requiring that a significant percentage of placements be off-campus, which makes career-oriented work at outside companies a possibility.

The state already collects some data on participating employers, but under the new bill the state will report on participating students, too. That will allow administrators and advocates to track whether employers in the TWSP are mismatched with students’ career paths, and identify where the program is failing to foster career-growth opportunities. That will help students build out their resumes, and it will help administrators recruit companies from industries that are underrepresented in the program.

And, as the program becomes more effective, the popularity of expanding it—both among families and employers—will likely grow.

That’s essential, because work study is one of the few forms of state financial aid in Texas that remains a consistently bipartisan topic. Before Texas’s past legislative session, state leaders directed a 4 percent budget reduction among agencies across the board. In such a political climate, a significant investment in state grant programs was essentially off the table.

Work-study cannot be the only vehicle to increase opportunity for low-income students. But for the many other states facing budget reductions or led by lawmakers disinclined to invest in higher education, the progress in Texas could serve as an example as one important way to do so.

Related

Media and Politics

I Grew Up in Tom Price’s District. The Sex Ed He Promotes Is Dangerous.

Last month, the Trump administration silently slashed $213.6 million from at least 81 institutions working on teen pregnancy prevention. The cuts hit a wide variety of programs: the Choctaw Nation’s initiatives to reduce teen pregnancy in Oklahoma, the University of Texas’ guidance for youth in foster care, and Baltimore’s Healthy Teen Network’s work on an app that could answer health questions from teen girls.

This move came at the recommendation of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), headed by Tom Price. In many ways, it’s on brand with Price’s career as an enthusiastic advocate for restricting women’s choices: He has signed personhood acts that ban emergency contraception and abortion, opposed the Obamacare birth control mandate, tried to defund Planned Parenthood, and defended cuts to Medicaid that would deny millions of low-income women health care.

On an intellectual level, Price’s cuts are frustrating because they represent another piece of a regressive puzzle the Trump administration is assembling in order to control women’s choices. And personally, I’m devastated because I know what these cuts mean to the communities that they will affect.

I attended public school for my entire K-12 education in Tom Price’s former district, where abstinence-only education is the norm. The single day of sex education I received promoted the idea that all sexual acts outside of a heterosexual marriage are dangerous and shameful, and did not make any distinction about whether these acts were consensual or not. It espoused gendered roles that posited women as defenders of their precious virginity, and put the responsibility on women to prevent sex from happening to them. That’s perfectly in line with the content requirements for sex education in Georgia: They consciously exclude information about contraception, coercion, orientation, and HIV/AIDS, and they stress abstinence and marriage.

Because I was lucky, and because I am privileged, I was able to go to a college with real resources—extracurricular trainings, a health clinic, and actual academic courses—that helped me unlearn the detrimental sexual education I received in high school. I got the practical information that I needed, and I started unraveling my skewed concept of consent.

I attended public school in Tom Price’s former district, where abstinence-only education is the norm.

When I attended a “Take Back the Night” rally my freshman year of college, I realized that my abstinence-only education had led me to view myself as responsible for sexual acts committed without my consent. Consequently, I felt shame instead of empowerment to take the steps I needed to recover. This is a common phenomenon for young people that experience abstinence-only education; when all expressions of sexuality are described as negative and shameful, the lines between consensual and nonconsensual acts become blurred.

College gave me a second chance at sex ed, but a lot of people don’t have that opportunity. For rural communities, low-income communities, and communities of color, high school sex education and community-based programs are often the only options available to acquire stigma-free, accurate education about consent, contraception, and sexual health. These populations already face myriad barriers to sex education, including culture, finances, and distance. In my home state of Georgia, there are only four Planned Parenthood clinics—one of the only affordable health centers with enough name recognition that people know to seek it out when they need help—and three of the four are located in the Atlanta metro area in the northwest corner of the state.

Still, teen pregnancy and birth rates are at an all-time low across the country. Georgia has experienced one of the most drastic declines in these rates, from the highest teen birth rate in the United States in 1995 to the 17th in 2015. The grants that Price slashed last week were a part of that story. The target audience of all of these programs are marginalized youth who have a demonstrated need for increased education. And these are the groups that are at the greatest risk for high teen birth rates: Rural counties reported an average birth rate of 30.9 (30.9 teens per 1,000 females aged 15–19), compared with the much lower rate of 18.9 for urban counties. Similarly, black and Latino teenagers experience teen pregnancy at rates twice as high as white teenagers. For these communities, removing teen pregnancy prevention programs that these grants funded will restore the negative effects of abstinence-only education that the grants were originally provided to combat. For example, one of the programs cut was run by the Augusta Partnership for Children Inc., which focuses on reducing teen pregnancy and STI rates in four rural East Georgia counties. In one of these counties, Augusta-Richmond county, the teen birthrate is 22.9 percent higher than the state average.

These cuts can’t be written off as a difference in ideology.
It almost goes without saying that cuts to teen pregnancy prevention programs could reverse the downward trends in teen pregnancy and birth rates. And the Trump administration is attacking other lifelines marginalized groups depend on, too. Funding decreases imposed on safety net programs and Medicaid, both threatened under the Trump and congressional budgets, will significantly impact teen parents who often rely on public assistance for food, housing, and healthcare. Similarly, without sex education and community-based programs funded by HHS, teen parents and youth in general will likely need to turn to Title X providers Title X family planning clinics provide reproductive health care and preventive health services for low-income and uninsured individuals. for contraception, abortion services, and sex education. But President Trump and congressional Republicans have been chipping away at Title X providers too, by rolling back an Obama-era regulation that prevents state and local governments from denying funding to health care providers for “political” reasons—namely, the provision of abortion services.

These cuts can’t be written off as a difference in ideology. I experienced firsthand the powerlessness that results from a shaming, abstinence-focused education, and it can be a matter of life and death for communities already on the margins. I had a second chance at a more holistic education, but it was due to luck and privilege that most folks in Georgia do not have access to. And when we’re talking about pregnancy, HIV/AIDS infection rates, and domestic and sexual violence, luck and privilege shouldn’t be the factors we have to rely on.

Related

Justice

The Movement for Black Lives Is Changing Policing in D.C.

Just a few blocks away from the White House—where President Donald Trump recently called for rougher treatment of people in police custody—the District of Columbia city council is quietly implementing one of the most progressive crime bills in recent history.

The Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results (NEAR) Act of 2016, sponsored by Democratic Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, represents a dramatic and desperately needed shift in how the nation’s capital will approach violent crime. In 2015, D.C. led the country in two categories: murders and police presence. With 119 homicides, it had a higher murder rate than every state in the country; and with six officers for every 1,000 citizens, it was the most heavily policed district in America.

In his office on Pennsylvania Ave, Councilmember McDuffie sports a pink polo beneath a gray tweed jacket. He speaks in perfect prose, with none of the ums and ahs and broken sentences that plague most of us. He believes in the NEAR Act because it addresses the “root causes” of violence.

“You cannot arrest your way out of this problem,” he says.

McDuffie was raised in D.C. in the 1980’s and 90’s, when it was known as the murder capital of the United States. He grew up around the open drug markets; he had friends who were killed in their neighborhoods.

“I’ve seen a person shot, bleeding out in my arms. I’ve seen these things firsthand,” he says. “That is the context I brought to this work.”

McDuffie has also seen the perils of overpolicing. He’s watched police officers “converge on communities of color, stopping people in neighborhoods like mine without probable cause.”

The NEAR Act draws from model programs in Chicago and Richmond by establishing an Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE) in D.C. The ONSE will hire people from within the community—“people who have credibility in these neighborhoods,” McDuffie says. They will identify community members who are at risk of committing violence or becoming a victim of violence, and then offer them trauma-informed therapy, life planning, and mentorship. The bill also provides funds to train police officers on “cultural competency” and how to recognize bias, and it calls for increased data collection on police stops and the use of force.

While he was drafting the bill, McDuffie consulted with local activists who had long called for criminal justice and police reform in the district—including Eugene Puryear, an author and organizer who helped found the Stop Police Terror Project.

Puryear’s energy is contagious; he peppers his caffeinated speech with phrases like “punctuated equilibrium” and “tectonic shifts.” He lauded McDuffie for doing a “deep dive on the issue,” but he also wants to credit the organizers who he thinks helped create the political space for the NEAR Act. He believes that the national Movement for Black Lives—and its local manifestations, such as the Stop Police Terror Project—convinced the council members to care about overpolicing and mass incarceration because their constituents were fired up about these issues.

During the early phases of the Stop Police Terror Project, the group interrupted a speech by Mayor Muriel Bowser, who was pushing a crime bill that would have boosted police presence in the city. The group faced harsh criticism for the action—Puryear says that “everyone said we were band of radicals interrupting stuff with no positive program and no support in the community.”

But when the city council held a public hearing two months later to compare Bowser’s bill to the NEAR Act, nearly everyone who testified did so in favor of the latter. With overwhelming support from the community, the council passed the NEAR Act unanimously in March 2016. But neither the council nor the mayor fully funded the act in the 2017 budget, essentially putting it in limbo.

Once you would say you had any connection to Black Lives Matter, doors were swinging wide open.

Over the next several months, the Movement for Black Lives kept growing. Thousands of protestors demonstrated in 88 cities across the country in the weeks after Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were killed by police officers. When Puryear and the Stop Police Terror Project started knocking on doors to gather signatures to fully fund the NEAR Act, they saw how badly residents wanted action.

“Once you would say you had any connection to Black Lives Matter, doors were swinging wide open,” Puryear said. He knocked on at least 500 doors, and he says that “every person who came to the door signed our petition, bar none.”

The council and the mayor agreed to fully fund the NEAR Act in the 2018 budget, which will go into effect on October 1. And the NEAR Act isn’t alone: Puryear says it’s part of a “cascading series” of local initiatives that came around in this “Black Lives Matter moment.” This includes a body-worn camera program for D.C. police officers and a juvenile justice bill, also sponsored by Councilmember McDuffie, that bans solitary confinement and court shackling for underage defendants.

Puryear believes that social change in the United States comes in spurts—long periods of very little change followed by rapid periods of huge changes. He hopes that we’re in one of those periods now, but he recognizes that progress isn’t inevitable. “What we do really matters,” he says. “The opportunities that are presented can just as easily be lost.” He thinks the next major battle surrounding the NEAR Act is its implementation: “There’s a lot of different ways this can be rolled out within the letter of the law.”

McDuffie agrees, and he says he’s working to make sure the bill gets implemented with the spirit and intent of how it was drafted.

The two models that the NEAR Act is based on have shown promise: Richmond has seen a 76 percent drop in homicides, and the Cure Violence model has curbed violence in pilot programs around the world. It remains to be seen whether the nation’s capital will have similar success—whether the old way of approaching violent crime, with militarized policing and mass incarceration, is finally on its way out.

Related

Media and Politics

Washington State Just Passed a Bipartisan Paid Leave Law. Here’s How We Did It.

About a quarter of new moms return to work two weeks after giving birth. Not because they want to leave their newborn, but because they need their paycheck.

I will never forget the testimony of a young mom from a Seattle suburb. During her pregnancy, she saved up every hour of her limited paid time off so that when her child was born, she would be able to spend every possible precious moment bonding with and caring for her newborn.

But one Thursday, she went into labor prematurely. Her baby boy was placed in intensive care at Seattle Children’s Hospital, and she went back to work on Monday. Her paid time off was so limited that she needed to save it for when her baby could come home. So, every day after work, she drove the 25 miles to Seattle to be with her baby until the hospital visiting hours ended.

Families have to make devastating choices every day because most working people do not get paid family and medical leave at their jobs. In particular, most lower-wage jobs do not offer any paid vacation or sick leave, though it is typically available to highly paid workers.

That’s why I am thrilled that on July 5, Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed the country’s most progressive and comprehensive paid family and medical leave insurance program into law. We built it from scratch, with bipartisan support and significant input from leaders in business, advocacy, and labor.

The new law covers everyone working in our state and is fully portable between jobs. It also includes a progressive benefit structure so that instead of providing a flat percentage of a person’s wage—which would pay lower-wage workers less and higher-wage workers more—the paid time off is graduated based on income. For a minimum wage worker, our benefit provides a 90 percent wage replacement. For higher-wage workers, the benefit caps at $1,000 a week. This ensures that every working Washingtonian, regardless of income, can afford to take the time they need with a new baby, a dying parent, or to recover from a serious illness or accident.

PFMLI_Benefit_Numbers_(2)

Crafting this policy took us a decade. We passed an initial paid family leave program that was never funded because of the Great Recession, but our coalition of lawmakers, advocates, and unions never gave up the goal. When the state’s 2016 ballot initiative campaign to raise the minimum wage and mandate paid sick leave passed easily with broad support, that let us begin serious negotiations again. Early polling indicated that a paid family and medical leave initiative that included a 100 percent employer-funded program would have received even broader support. The business community got similar results when they decided to test public opinion, so they came to the table early in the year to open discussions.

Crafting this policy took us a decade.

Though Seattle has a national reputation for being a progressive bastion, Washington state as a whole is actually quite purple. A Republican-led majority controls the state Senate by only one seat, and Democrats control the state House by only two seats. A young, socially moderate Republican floor leader, Sen. Joe Fain, led the effort to bring his caucus to the table. Fain had a baby boy last year, and he learned firsthand the need to have the time to bond and grow as a family. In state legislatures, relationships across the aisle are still important to make progress on policy.

In an era that feels increasingly divided along partisan lines on so many issues, Americans are overwhelmingly united in support of paid family and medical leave. This is why I believe that Washington’s historic victory must become the model for state-by-state enactment of such laws. The legislation we crafted, with a diverse range of stakeholders and perspectives, provides a roadmap for all states considering paid family and medical leave, whether they are under single-party control or a divided government.

Ultimately, the paid family and medical leave bill received 37 of the possible 49 votes in the Senate and 65 of the possible 98 votes in the House. The conditions for passage in Washington state may have been unique, but the law we produced provides a framework for state-level leadership in a time in which federal Congressional gridlock seems incapable of progress.

Related