14 May, 2009

Guess the Story

A few questions to go with this photo from the NYTimes:
1) How old are these individuals?
2) What are they doing?

Here's a link to the story.

While a program to open up careers in law enforcement and the military to young adults doesn't bother me that much, what does is the idea of running kids - yeah, 14 year-olds are still kids, regardless of what they think - through military-style, tactical drills involving immigration raids and terrroist attacks. Nothing like developing the fear and loathing of the other at an early age. One drill involved someone wearing "traditional Arab dress" another involves chasing down "illegal border crossers". It just bothered me on a lot of levels...


13 May, 2009

Recent Input Streams

Utterly Addicted to: Philosophy Bites podcast by David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton (available free on iTunes or at their website)

Reading: Poverty, Justice, & Western Political Thought by Vaughan;
Challenges in Human Rights: A Social Work Perspective ed. by Reichert
Just Finished: Unfaithful Angels: How Social Work Has Abandoned Its Mission by Specht & Courtney
On Deck: World Poverty & Human Rights by Pogge; Human Rights in Arab Thought, ed. by Jayyusi; Global Justice: Seminal Essays, ed. by Moellendorf & Pogge; Banker to the Poor by Yunus; Out of Poverty by Polak; Poverty & Power by Royce; reports on implementing a rights-based approach to development and US foreign aid reform by Oxfam America

Listening to: A fair amount of John Tavener, especially The Protecting Veil; Lou Reed; The Photographer by Philip Glass; Le Voyage de Sahar by Anouar Brahem; Nina Simone; Chet Baker; Waylon Jennings

Just Watched: the new Star Trek in IMAX (LOVED it!); The Thin Man (Where's my Nick?); Metropolis; Modern Times; Rashamon; The Bicycle Thief


End the Food Stamps Ban on Drug Felons

Here is an op-ed I wrote with a friend and fellow grad student, Rebecca Tulis, in support of a bill in the Texas legislature that would remove the ban on food stamp benefits for former drug felons. We tried to get it published with several papers, but apparently hunger and food stamps for those reentering society aren't as sexy as other topics. I hope Rep. Naishtat will introduce a similar bill in the next session. Stuck in the House Calendars Committee, the bill is likely dead for this session.

The woman, dressed in a tank top and shorts despite the sharp grey chill of the waiting room at the Human Services Commission office snapped to attention, following the movements of the man behind the desk.

“Don’t call my name,” she chanted beneath her breath, “Don’t call my name.”
Another woman leaned over and asked what was the matter.

“I won’t get it,” she said, not taking her eyes off the man behind the desk, her face morphing from hardness to desperation. “They got signs all over about background checks. I just got out,” she said. “Dope charge.”

Texas is one of 17 states that maintain the lifetime ban on food stamps for those convicted of a drug felony. No other felony charge prevents an individual from receiving food stamps. With little debate in Congress, the ban was included as part of the Welfare Reform Act passed in 1996. States have the option to alter or abolish the ban, but must pass legislation to do so.

House Bill 612, authored by Representatives Naishtat (D-Austin), Walle (D-Houston), and Allen (D-Houston), would remove the ban for those convicted of a drug felony who are currently enrolled in or have successfully completed community supervision following release and/or a drug treatment program.

The lifetime ban is absolute. It does not matter if a person has served their sentence. It does not matter if a person has completed drug rehab and managed to stay clean. It does not matter if a person has done everything society has asked of them. It does not matter if that person is later employed then laid off. That person will never be able to receive the help they need to prevent them from going hungry.

The ban on food stamps hurts women and children. A 2005 report from the General Accounting Office regarding denial of federal benefits to drug felons states that women are more affected by the food stamps ban than men. According to the GAO, of all drug offenders released in 2001 in states with the full ban, 27% of women and 15% of men would have otherwise qualified for food stamps.

According to statistics from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (THHSC), of the 3 million Texans who received food stamps benefits last month, over half were children under the age of 18. While the children of those excluded from receiving benefits under the ban may still receive food stamps benefits, the loss of a parent’s benefits affects the whole family by forcing them to stretch their tight budget even further. Thus, the ban effectively punishes innocent children.

By preventing people from getting the help they need legally, the ban increases the chances for recidivism and a return to dangerous lifestyles, including returning to abusive partners and relapsing into drug use. Overcoming drug addiction is difficult enough and proper nutrition is important in the treatment process. If our legal system is truly based on the idea of rehabilitation, then reentry must be recognized as a part of that long and difficult process. Passing this bill will greatly assist people to fully reintegrate into society.

Redirecting people denied food stamps under the ban to churches and food banks is not an answer. They are already stretched too thin. Food stamp benefits are 100-percent federally funded; states pay only administrative costs. Unable to get help from federal programs, people will turn to state programs, creating an additional burden on state resources. In addition, the switch from paper coupons to electronic debit cards and other measures reduce the risk of fraud.

It may come as a surprise to many, but providing food stamps is good for the economy. According to the USDA, every $1 in food stamps benefits generates nearly $2 in economic activity. Passage of the bill would extend food stamps benefits to an additional 7,000 people each year. According to THHSC statistics, the average monthly benefit payment to households in April was roughly $300. Based on that figure and the USDA estimate, about $4.2 million dollars could be pumped into our state’s economy each month courtesy of the feds – with no strings attached.

When he signed the bill ending the food stamps ban in California in 2004, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote: “With my signature California will assist individuals in becoming self sufficient, provide care for their children and overcome their drug addiction while adding millions of federal dollars to our economy. For these reasons I support this measure.”

HB 612 has broad support in Texas, including The Travis County Reentry Coalition, The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, The Center for Public Policy Priorities, The Capital Area Food Bank, and The Texas Catholic Conference.

This bill is not about rewarding criminal behavior or irresponsibility. This bill is about helping people who have paid their dues feed themselves and their families and to reenter society.

“Just because someone isn’t eligible, the hunger doesn’t go away,” said Nancy Walker, Legislative Director for Rep. Naishtat.

Back at the food stamps office, the woman sitting anxiously in the waiting room finally heard her name called.

“De-NIED,” she said, walking past the others in the waiting room with a sigh and pushing her way out the door.

The other woman shook her head. “It doesn’t matter what she did,” she said. “If she needs help, she should get help.”

Hopefully, someday in Texas she will.

12 May, 2009

The Texas Death Penalty: Is Justice Served?

Another great film made by friends - Scott Davis, Jessica Cohen & Amber Murray-Zarr - for our social policy course this semester. Well worth your 10 minutes.


Person With Legos Bests the Fourth Estate

My roommate sent me a link to this piece from Wired regarding the work of Legofesto, which is so many things rolled into one big, angry, creative and ultimately wonderful response to the media's failure to adequately cover the issue of torture and other matters. Be sure to check out Legofesto's Flickr page, which includes recreations of the death of a protester, which involved police use of force, at recent the G20 summit in London.


House Bill Awaiting Vote, Senate Bill on the Move

Though HB 1893, which would allow concealed weapons to be carried on college and university campuses, is on the House agenda for a floor vote it did not come up for a vote today. However, the legislation's Senate twin, SB 1164, made it out of the State Affairs Committee today. This means that if you oppose the idea of guns on campus, including child care centers on our campuses (as confirmed by a response to my last post), then call your Representative and Senator and tell them NO on HB 1893 and SB 1164.


10 May, 2009

Shame on you, Texas

Really, the idea that allowing people to bring guns into school is one thing, charging rape victims for their rape kits - evidence that must be collected for their case - is a whole other level of awful. Shame on the Attorney General and anybody else in power who thinks this is acceptable.


Guns in Our Schools Coser to Reality

House bill 1893, which would allow concealed handgun licensees (CHL) to carry concealed guns into classrooms and buildings at our state's colleges and universities, will go to a vote Monday in the Texas House of Representatives. If it passes there it will go to the Senate for a vote and then on to Governor Perry, who has vowed to sign it into law.

If you care, please come down on Monday and make your voice heard. We'll be going door to door educating House members about issues not considered under this sweeping legislation. What about the elementary school on our campus (and undoubtedly others)? What about the child care facility in my department's building? What about chemical labs, where you are not even allowed to bring your mobile phone for fear of causing a spark? There is a bar on our campus, will the existing ban on concealed weapons in a bar apply or not? What about the dorms? How will a resident in a dorm store their gun? Will visitors be allowed to keep their gun on them or have to turn it in at the desk? Will residence hall advisers, students who live in the dorm and oversee students, be trained on how to deal with gun issues?

We'll also be sitting in on the House session in the gallery, wearing our school colors, to hopefully remind the Reps. that it will be students, and the currently-gagged faculty and staff, who will be affected by this bill. If you are studying for finals, come study in the gallery with us. Please come down to the Capitol and join us!

This is bad policy at its worst.
Call your Representatives - find their contact info at the Texas Leg website - and let them know that guns do not belong in our schools. Tell them NO on HB 1893.