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Politics

Why the New ‘No Labels’ Think Tank Group Needs Social Work Students

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by Deona Hooper, MSW

Co-Founder No LablesI am always on the look out for solution focused ideas, and the new “No Labels” bipartisan think tank group appears promising especially in the midst of continued congressional grid lock. As an avid MSNBC watcher, I have to admit my ambivalent relationship with Morning Joe who often tends to lean center right in the ideological musings on the show.  This show, more than anything, makes me take to Twitter to spout my discontentment with their disillusioned guests’ insights on current economic and social policy.  When No Labels Co-Founder, Mark McKinnon, came on the show to discuss the vision and mission of  the bipartisan think tank group, I was thoroughly impressed with the forward thinking relayed in the interview. Mark McKinnon tends to be Republican in his views, so I thought its nice to hear someone in the GOP not talking crazy.

Then last week, I was looking at the Rachel Maddow Show when I heard Cory Booker talking about the work he is doing with No Labels. This really got my attention because now No Labels is providing the visual of a true bipartisan effort. Recently, The Washington Post published an article by opinion blogger, Jennifer Rubin, entitled “No labels, No Relevance“.  This “opinion blogger” inferred that No Labels would be less of a  joke if it had not listed Jon Huntsman as one of its 24 Problem Solvers dedicated to finding bipartisan solutions. Fortunately for most Americans and President Obama, the GOP no longer embrace compassionate conservatism. If they did, Jon Huntsman or Chris Christie would probably be president. Most Americans want to see bipartisan efforts and collaborations which are rarely seen in our current political climate.

Then, I starting thinking  how can I help support No Labels, and how can the social work profession support the No Labels agenda. The social work profession has helped shape every piece of historic legislation that weaves together the social safety net for our most vulnerable populations. Social Welfare reform is going to happen, but it should not occur without input from the social workers who implement and experience the challenges in these programs as a result of  inefficient delivery of services. There are approximately 760 Schools of Social Work in the United States who are steeped in the tradition and education of improving outcomes for those who are the most vulnerable while using evidence based practices. Cuts to entitlement reforms can be done to help reduce the budget without eliminating needed programs. It would be a benefit to No Labels to reach out to social work students, leaders, and organizations to join this bipartisan movement in its effort to keep moving forward. For more information on No Labels, you can visit their website here. Also, I have attached below the video by the co-founder explaining the mission of the organization, and a joint interview with Jon Huntsman and Cory Booker.

Deona Hooper, MSW is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, and she has experience in nonprofit communications, tech development and social media consulting. Deona has a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Management and Community Practice as well as a Certificate in Nonprofit Management both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Immigration

Why Social Workers Should Care About DACA

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Photo Credit: Stephanie Keith/Reuters

The announcement made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions regarding the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on September 5th should be a call to action for social workers. DACA is a program for youth that arrived in the United States before the age of 16 and have lived in the United States since June 15th, 2017.

DACA was enacted as an Executive Order under the Obama Administration to give these individuals who were brought illegally to the United States as children a chance to be a part of society. These young people are given the ability to apply for a driver’s license, to legally work in the United States, and increases educational opportunities. Most importantly it allows those individuals under the program to come out of the shadows.

DACA recipients are part of our country, and this is perhaps the only country they have ever really known. Many came to the United States as infants and have contributed to their communities in meaningful ways. A study from 2016 points to the economic benefits of the DACA program.

A reported 6% have started their own businesses and many business owners have reported wanting to hire more DACA recipients. Some are working as teachers. Many DACA recipients have reported increasing their civic participation as a result of the program and some DACA recipients even act as emergency responders. One recent example includes a DACA recipient in Texas who tragically died while rescuing those impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

DACA has been challenged by the Attorney Generals of nine states, spearheaded by Texas. Tennessee, however, has dropped out of the lawsuit as a result of negative pushback. Several prominent Republicans have denounced the ending of DACA and House Speaker Paul Ryan asked the Trump Administration to give Congress time to work on a legislative solution. Meanwhile, Attorney Generals in several other states are now suing to maintain the program.

As it stands, DACA recipients will lose the current benefits they have within six months and face possible deportation if a legislative solution is not reached. This will impact 800,000 individuals currently in the program. How does this impact social work? Social workers serve in many capacities in the social services and may likely encounter those who are under the DACA program, including the school system and in college settings.

Most importantly, as social justice is a core value of our profession it is evident that we must align with upholding this program. Social workers should be on the front lines to advocate for this population. Those who have been given the opportunity to show their potential under DACA have thrived. Even DACA, however, does not go far enough in that it creates no path for citizenship, which is why the Dream-Act is needed. Living under DACA gives its recipients many crucial benefits, but ultimately leaves them as second-class citizens.

What can we do now? We must continue to organize politically and let our opinions be known to our elected officials. As a professional organization, we should place pressure on our legislators. We must organize our local chapters and mobilize student social workers. We must continue to educate others. Finally, with so many domestic and international crises looming we must not lose our empathy or capacity for hope.

As former President Obama recently wrote in response to the DACA decision, “What makes us American is our fidelity to a set of ideals – that all of us are created equal; that all of us deserve the chance to make of our lives what we will; that all of us share an obligation to stand up, speak out, and secure our most cherished values for the next generation. That’s how America has traveled this far.”

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Global

Grenfell Tower: Three Months On

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If you aren’t still angry about the Grenfell Tower tragedy, you probably haven’t been listening. For (perhaps international) readers who have not yet heard this story – the story of an inferno in a London tower block. The story of a hellish injustice, and it both starts and ends with inequality.

The fire at Grenfell broke out back in June 2017. The nation’s horror was bright, the smoke still choking our words, and the broken building breaking our hearts. And yet, in the wake of Grenfell’s black ashes, the nation’s indignation has been sparked by other tragedies. However, Grenfell has not been forgotten.

Allow us to go from the beginning.

The affluent borough of Kensington, West London, is known for hosting numerous high-end eateries and shops, alongside the famous Royal Albert Hall. On average a person will pay a cool £2m for a house here – which suits those who earn the area’s mean salary of nearly £123k, but perhaps not those who earn the median (which is about a quarter of that). Kensington and Chelsea reportedly the most unequal borough in the country.

Grenfell Tower is – was – a block of 129 flats. Within it lived young artists, working adults, older adults (some with dementia), people with disabilities, schoolchildren. It housed the whole colourful spectrum of life, from infancy through to retirement. Read about the residents. Learn their names; learn their stories. The Grenfell Action Group, established in 2010 to defend “the rights of the residents of Lancaster West Estate”, repeatedly warned that the building in which these people lived was unsafe.

The Grenfell Action Group did the best they could – created a community collective, campaigned, gathered evidence and shared stories. Nobody listened. The tower, built in the 1970s, received a “refurbishment” in 2014.  Cheap combustible cladding was used to cover the outside of the building – largely reported as a way to improve the appearance of the tower, for wealthier local residents. Their home was airbrushed with death.

Leaked documents suggest that the cladding was deliberately downgraded (from fireproof to combustible) to save £300,000, at a time when the council was actually in surplus of around £2.74 million. They had also recently given the rich (who payed full council tax) a £100 tax rebate in their “overachieving efficiency drive”.  The cladding material is banned in continental Europe and the United States – in late June, Chancellor Philip Hammond suggested it may even be banned in the UK.

The Grenfell Action Group tried, again and again, to bring fire risks to the attention of those with the power to spare their lives. That particular post ends with chilling prophecy: “ONE THING IS CERTAIN – THEY CAN’T SAY THEY HAVEN’T BEEN WARNED.“A fire risk assessment back from 2012 noted a range of out-of-date fire safety checks. The cladding was unsafe. Rubbish and waste blocked fire exits.  Reports to the government dating back to 2000 suggested that non-combustible external cladding should not be used on buildings. It’s all there.

The fire started in a flat on the 4th floor, apparently due to a malfunctioning refrigerator, around midnight on the 14th June. Approaching 1 AM, the first call to firefighers came in. Eventually, around 40 fire engines with around 200 firefighters were tackling the blaze. Despite their best efforts, it was not enough. Of course, the cladding was not responsible for the onset of the fire. However, it accelerated the blaze phenomenally. It wasn’t until 5pm the next day that firefighters reached the top floor.

However, it cannot be understated how much the power of the Grenfell community shone through – from offering shelter, food and taxi rides, to supporting grieving and traumatised individuals, to helping each other escape from the tower itself. Humanity was not lost from the side of the residents and locals. It wasn’t lost from the rest of the public. The Grenfell community was always there. It was never a blight. It was home.

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, initially suggested it would take three weeks for survivors to be found a new “home”. Later, this was recast as a promise offers that everyone would have offers of housing. As of 1st August 2017, only 45 “offers of accommodation” were made, with 12 families being rehoused. Some survivors ended up searching for private accommodation such as one man because his wife couldn’t leave the hospital until they had a home to go to. Others are now currently “bidding” for council housing.

As of the end of August, Freedom of Information requests have suggested that £4.2 million was spent by the council on hotels for survivors. And that’s not the only money in questionable status. Around this time, over half of the funds raised by charities after the fire were “available” for distribution. However, just over two-fifths of the money raised by charities to support survivors of the fire has actually reached the intended recipients. There was over a £16 million shortfall as of early August, but there have been some improvements since then.

The Metropolitan police have confirmed that the Grenfell Tower “tragedy” amounts to corporate manslaughter. Note how the “tragedy” is referred to as an “incident” or “disaster”, because heaven forbid we actually mention the people who created this situation.

Sir Moore-Bick, Judge presiding over the inquiry into the fire has suggested that his work will not give survivors the justice they deserve. The scope of the inquiry is only allowed to ask questions about the fire, but not the context of how flammable cladding was purchased for prettiness).  Residents have not been consulted on the inquiry, and the  – despite promises from the Prime Minister that they would be. So what now? How do we help?

We have the charity football match Game4Grenfell, the “Bridge Over Troubled Water” charity single with various celebrities and other public characters offering their support, condolences, and sympathies. We have empathetic stories about the futures missed, the A-levels passed, the art displays. We also have first-person accounts bluntly calling out what amounts to a context social cleansing which created this tragedy.

“I want to urge everyone in the media with the power to do it to give the individuals who work with and for you the space to do something, anything, in the wider community we communicate with.” – Journalist John Snow

What you are reading, then, is an article trying to harness media power. Firstly, it’s an article trying to prevent Grenfell’s ashes fading away in the wake of other, more recent tragedies and governmental abuses. Secondly, it’s an article to say: charity intervention is still not going to change the underlying causes.

When we do our post-mortem, we can’t just think about the specifics of the blaze. We need to include the socio-cultural fuel: poverty, inequality, contempt for the poor, an ignorance of people’s lived experiences. For example, the Grenfell Action Group documented first-hand what was going on, yet their stories which still has fewer views that mainstream second-hand sources.

Do we live in a country where tax rebates are paid for in blood money? Do we live in a country where we unashamedly let empty, million-quid houses lounge comfortably next to our crowded, deathtrap towers? Do we live in a country which still has nearly 230 other high-rise buildings at risk due to cladding?

Are you angry now?

Follow Grenfell Media Watch online, write to your MP, keep tabs on what the people in power are doing. Keep asking where the charity money has gone. Stop demonsing the poor, and/or immigrants, and/or people on benefits. Accept that, through no fault of their own, whole swathes of our society need a bit of a leg-up. If you hear other people doing the demonising, call them out. Read people’s own stories, in their own words, and believe them. Amplify the voices of people who are perfectly able to speak for themselves.

Grenfell is cold, but our hearts aren’t. Let us show more solidarity and support than just our sympathy and disbelief. Let’s continue to stand alongside each other.

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Politics

9 Answers To Burning Questions About Social Security

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Since you began working for the man (your company), you’ve forked over a portion of every paycheck to the man (the government) in the form of Social Security Taxes. You haven’t had a choice in this matter.

Yes, a few semi-crackpots have told you that you can not pay these taxes if you disavow your SSN, but these types of people usually end up in standoffs with the government in remote locations.

So what exactly is Social Security Taxes? Who do they benefit? Why do you pay them? And where the heck did this policy come from?

You have burning questions and I have answers.

In this post, I am going to spell out the who, what, and why of Social Security. We’ll answer your burning questions in a way that doesn’t confuse you or bore you senseless.

Sound good?

Let’s get started.

Question #1: Where Did Social Security Come From?

 

On August 14, 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act. Originally the bill was going to be called the “Economic Security Act,” but it was changed to the equally boring “Social Security Act” when it was being evaluated by Congress.

Those guys have never been known for their creativity or liveliness.

Ernest Ackerman received the first payment ever – a whopping 17 cents. Even back in 1935, this was not a particularly large sum. Presumably, he saved this money so he could purchase a single beer after he retired.

The program was already a rollicking success!

Question #2: What Is The Purpose Of Social Security?

Most people think of Social Security as just a retirement program. This makes sense given that you can’t collect it before age 65 without a penalty. But, it also provides some life insurance and disability protection as well.

Let’s say that, God forbid, you are in a terrible roller derby accident. It can happen to anyone.

If you didn’t survive your accident, your dependents would receive benefits from Social Security. If you were severely disabled, you would also receive some compensation through what you had already contributed. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has done an extensive study on the data and statistics on Social Security benefits, and I will be sharing them with you.

In 2016, approximately one-fifth of the 60 million people who received Social Security benefits were either disabled or dependents of deceased workers.

Now that you have this knowledge, you can go all out in your next roller derby tournament.

Question #3: Who Is Eligible For Social Security Benefits?

 

If you’ve worked for 10 years or more, you’re probably eligible. In order to receive the minimum income of $1,260 per quarter, you need to have 40 credits (or quarters) of coverage.

There are a few odd exceptions to this. Pastors have the option of choosing to not opt-in to Social Security. Federal employees hired before 1984 can’t participate and railroad workers usually get benefits through a different system.

As long as you don’t fall into one of those categories, you should be solid.

Question #3: What Determines How Much You Receive In Benefits?

The amount you end up receiving is based on the amount you earned over the course of your life. The more you earned and paid in taxes, the higher the amount (not percentage) you receive.

Let’s say you’re a high-flying CEO earning a cool six-figure salary. You will pay a percentage of your salary in Social Security taxes, up to a maximum taxable amount of $118,500. When you retire (or are pushed out by a younger, better looking executive), you will receive benefits based on your earnings and what you paid in taxes.

But here’s the thing: the higher your earnings, the lower percentage you earn in benefits. In other words, if you make 45 percent of the average wage, Social Security will replace about half of your income. If you earn more, Social Security will replace a lesser percentage. It’s a progressive benefit.

As you get older, your benefits will be adjusted based on the cost of living. This is to prevent you from sinking into poverty and being forced to panhandle for change.

If you start drawing benefits early, you will receive a reduced amount.

Question #4: Why Is Social Security Important?

 

When you see that chunk of change being removed from every paycheck, it can be tempting to think that Social Security is just a waste of your money. But it’s not.

First, it’s an almost guaranteed retirement plan. The Social Security Administration estimates that 97 percent of people aged 60 – 89 receive benefits or will receive them. This functions as a safety net for retirees.

Second, it’s available to all people, no matter how much they earned. Unlike some programs, where you get the shaft depending on your earnings, everyone has access to Social Security funds.

Social Security matters for the United States, especially as the Baby Boomer generation hits the retirement age. Without it, many people would be left high and dry with very little in their bank account.

Question #5: Can You Live Off Social Security Benefits After You Retire?

Unfortunately, Social Security doesn’t pay enough to let you purchase a Lamborghini or a house in the Hamptons. In fact, the benefits are actually smaller than many people realize.

In 2016, the average benefit was only about $16,000 per year. Unless you’ll be living in a shack and eating noodles, that’s probably not enough to survive.

And, to make things worse, the replacement rate for wages is falling. In 2016, Social Security replaced about 39 percent of past wages, but it’s going to fall to about 36 percent in the future.

That being said, Social Security will still replace a significant portion of most people’s income and shouldn’t be discounted.

Question #6: Is Social Security Important For People Other Than Retirees?

 

It sure is. It matters to a lot of children in the United States. In 2014, more than 6 million kids lived in homes that received some form of social security income. This includes dependents of retirees, deceased workers, and the disabled.

You may not like giving up money for Social Security but think about the kids. You care about kids, right? RIGHT?

Social Security is also very important for minorities. Why? Because they often have less opportunity to save money and earn pensions. For those 65 and older, Social Security is 90% of income for Asian Americans, 45% for African Americans, and 52% for Latinos.

Finally, Social Security is critically important for women. It’s common knowledge that women earn less than men, take more time out of the workforce, and live longer than men. This combination makes it critically important to women, especially those who survive their spouses. In fact, about 97% of survivor beneficiaries are women.

Question #7: What Would Happen To Retirees If They Didn’t Have Social Security?

Just how important is Social Security to the elderly? Without it, 40% of those 65 or older would be below the poverty line. That is a huge number of people and will continue to grow as the Baby Boomer generation ages.

With Social Security in place, only 10% of those retirees are below the poverty line.

Social Security is really important to a lot of people.

In fact, 61 percent of elderly people rely on Social Security for the majority of their income. For one-third of those people, it represents 90% or more of their income.

Removing Social Security would create a massive problem for those who are relying heavily on the benefits to keep them afloat.

Question #8: Will The Social Security System Continue As Is?

 

That’s a bit of a dicey question. The Social Security Board of Trustees has said that, unless things change, funds will begin declining and 2020 and become depleted in 2034. When they are depleted, benefits will be paid out a reduced rate.

That reduced rate will start at around 79% and decline to 73% by 2089.

Of course, it’s not likely that you’ll be alive in 2089 unless science finds a way to dramatically increase the human lifespan. However, your kids will be alive, so this does affect them.

Let’s hope they fix things before then.

Conclusion

Clearly, Social Security isn’t a perfect system. It doesn’t have a huge payout after retirement and that payout will probably be smaller in the future. But it does play an enormous role in our society. Without it, millions of people would be in poverty.

Additionally, it functions as a safety net of sorts, so that if something does happen to you, you’ll receive at least some income.

Should you plan on living off Social Security? Of course not. But you can count on receiving something after age 65, and that’s a huge benefit.

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