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Social Work Silent as Proposed Legislation Strips Their Peers in Puerto Rico of Democracy

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Legislation that voids millions of American citizens of its Constitutional right to have a democratic government has been introduced to the House claiming to help Puerto Rico overcome its fiscal problems. Rep. Sean Duffy of Wisconsin introduced H.R. 5278, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act known as PROMESA, a bipartisan bill that claims to hold the “right people accountable for the crisis,” while shrinking the size of government and creating an independent oversight board to help get Puerto Rico into fiscal health.

This bill states that PROMESA “holds supremacy over any territorial law or regulation that is inconsistent with the Act or Fiscal Plans.” This bill eliminates any illusion of democracy in the colony and comes with harsh austerity measures, as well as the “authority to force the sale of government assets,” yet somehow forgets to address economic development for the island.

PROMESA states that the President of the US will appoint every member of the oversight board whose responsibilities include ensuring the payment of debt obligations, re-structure the workforce, reduce or freeze public pensions while supervising the entire budget of the Commonwealth government, its pension system, public authorities, leases and contracts with union contractors and collective bargaining agreements. It also includes a provision to lower the minimum wage in the island to a paltry and laughable $4.25.

Nearly all economists agree that a reduction in the minimum wage would only cause Puerto Ricans to have even less purchasing power and coincidentally happens to be a great way to keep a nation poor, more dependent on the US, and thus, sadly, impotent and unlivable.

The proposed bill states that if the governor or legislature of Puerto Rico isn’t in agreement with any recommendation, the oversight board can take any “action as it determines to be appropriate” to implement its recommendations. Under PROMESA, anyone who obstructs the oversight board or its decisions can be imprisoned.

An oversight board is a point of contention in Puerto Rico as it faces local elections this November. As different groups lobby in favor or against of PROMESA, others like different groups of the private sector lobby in favor of allowing Puerto Rico to declare bankruptcy. Still, despite a promise by Paul Ryan to take action before March 2016, Congress has yet to take meaningful action that will tackle the root of the real problem.

Meanwhile, over 7,000 social workers are at the front lines living and seeing firsthand the effects of the ongoing economic crisis and its social effects. However, social services are currently dwindling due to austerity measures as over 50% of children live in poverty in Puerto Rico. Social work positions get eliminated due to budget cuts; new openings for case managers, service coordinators, and social technicians are the trend. These positions call for the same academic preparation as a social worker despite paying $7.25, the federal minimum wage. The Colegio de Trabajo Social, a leading organizing group of the profession in Puerto Rico, is against an oversight board.

While many wait for Congress to act, thousands of Puerto Ricans leave the island each week for the United States in hopes of better opportunities as their beloved island undergoes a humanitarian crisis that has yet to resonate with Americans on the mainland, especially the social workers who are bound to fight for social justice.

Migration waves are not new to Puerto Rico. Shortly after Operation Bootstrap, a 1948 economical project that sought to develop the island into an industrial nation, showed signs of slowing down, officials concluded that the problem was an oversupply of labor: population growth needed to be controlled. One of the ways to achieve this, besides the mass sterilization of women without their knowledge, was by promoting better opportunities and working conditions in the US.

Between the 1950s and 1970s, over 250,000 Puerto Ricans left the island, primarily for New York City. Sixty years later, as a new migration wave brings a new generation of Puerto Ricans to the United States due to an ongoing humanitarian crisis, it’s disheartening the lack of support social work organizations in the US have given to its peers in Puerto Rico.

While much has been said about the $72 billion dollar debt Puerto Rico has amassed since the enactment of its Constitution in 1952, one thing remains the same: average Puerto Ricans are suffering. Pensions are on the brink of insolvency, social services are being eliminated, schools are being closed, and unemployment hovers around 12.2% — more than double that of the mainland, and a number that doesn’t even take into account those who have given up on finding a job entirely and are now part of the informal economy.

To understand this, the island’s economy must be understood as one based on tax incentives and entirely dependent on United States policies, since the inception of Operation Bootstrap in 1948. These tax incentives lost relevancy at the end of the 1950s due to an increase in average salaries of manufacturing and the inability to compete with the new markets that were now open to the US after the implementation of the “General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.” As a result of the oil embargo of the 1970s, Puerto Rico’s economy started to shrink. To prevent economic collapse, the government absorbed the jobs lost in the private sector, making it the primary employer on the island.

It was during this decade that the decline of the economy lead the central government to incur extreme debt in order to finance the island’s burgeoning industrialization. Keep in mind, Puerto Rico didn’t then — and still doesn’t today — have the power to negotiate its commercial treaties, maritime tariffs and duties, or to negotiate prices for purchasing oil. As a colony, it is entirely dependent on any restrictions and limitations placed on it by the United States government.

Instead of addressing these issues as the result of a structural problem, two federal patches were implemented: the approval of Section 936 of the Internal Revenue Tax Code in 1976, and food stamps for Puerto Ricans in 1977. The elimination of section 936 under President Clinton resulted in the closing of important manufacturing companies and thus contributed to the loss of thousands of specialized and high-paying jobs.

When finally fully phased out in 2006, Section 936 catapulted Puerto Rico into a deep economic recession in which all important economic indicators waned. When the Great Recession hit the mainland two years later, only furthering a retraction of the country’s GDP, Puerto Rico’s already battered economy was unable to recover. Lacking the autonomy to set its own fiscal and monetary policy, it had little choice but to wait for its colonizer to act.

When social conditions worsen and violence increases, more people are in need of services, which result in higher stress, burnout and turnover for social workers. It’s at a time like this, when social workers are needed and the government must supply the resources needed for them to do their work.

As a response, social workers in Puerto Rico have proposed Bill 2705, “Law of Social Work Professionals in Puerto Rico,” which would temper and regulate the profession to the current reality of the island. The bill would establish academic requirements and promote the highest ethical standards to achieve social justice, the defense and implementation of human rights while caring for the best interest of Puerto Rico’s citizens. So far, very few if any social work organizations in the United States have lent their support to their peers in Puerto Rico, not even those in cities with high population of Puerto Ricans.

After all, social workers in Puerto Rico are bound by the same National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics as we are in the United States. We must uphold standard six of the Code, which establishes our ethical responsibilities to the broader society. Puerto Ricans are American citizens and as such social workers and social work organizations have a moral obligation to stand by them and join their fight.

Puerto Rican Social Worker living in New York City whose heart remains in La Isla Bonita.

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Child Welfare

Parental Medicaid Expansion Translates into Preventive Care for their Children

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When low-income parents enroll in Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) state expansion program, their children have considerably better odds of receiving annual preventive care pediatrician visits, according to a new analysis by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and Johns Hopkins University.

This “spillover effect,” explained in a study published online today and scheduled for the December issue of the journal Pediatrics, demonstrates that the potential benefits of Medicaid expansion extend beyond the newly covered adults.

“These findings are of great significance given the current uncertainty surrounding the future of the ACA and Medicaid expansions authorized by the law,” said senior author Eric T. Roberts, Ph.D., assistant professor in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Health Policy and Management. “Lawmakers crafting policy proposals that could curtail Medicaid benefits or eligibility should recognize that such efforts would not just limit the receipt of health care services by low-income adults, but also by their children.”

The ACA provided states the opportunity to expand Medicaid coverage to all low-income people at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. So far, 31 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid coverage.

Roberts and his colleagues identified 50,622 parent-child pairs from data collected in the 2001 through 2013 Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys, a nationally representative survey administered by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services that includes detailed information on family structure and demographics, including health insurance status and health care use.

They discovered that children of parents who had recently enrolled in Medicaid had a 29 percent higher probability than children of unenrolled parents of receiving their well child visit, which is recommended annually for children age 3 and older, and more frequently for infants and toddlers.

During the visits, the children are examined for growth and development and given immunizations, and their caregivers are guided on proper nutrition and child behaviors. Studies have shown that children who get well child visits are more likely to receive all their immunizations and less likely to have avoidable hospitalizations. The U.S. has persistently low rates of well child visits, particularly in low-income families.

“There are many reasons that parental Medicaid coverage increases the likelihood of well child visits for their children,” said Roberts. “It could be that insurance enhances the parents’ ability to navigate the health care system for themselves and their children, increasing their comfort in scheduling well child visits. Medicaid enrollment could be a sort of ‘welcome mat,’ in which eligible but previously uninsured children are enrolled after their parents gain coverage. It also could be that parental Medicaid coverage frees up more money to provide preventive services to their children, because even copays can be a deterrent to medical care among low-income people.”

Maya Venkataramani, M.D., is lead author on this research, and Craig Evan Pollack, M.D., M.H.S., is a coauthor. Both are from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

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Fearless: How One Financial Expert Faced Her Fear Of Public Speaking

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Pamela Yellen and Richard Branson

When you are on a collision course to face your fears in order to achieve your future career goals, what will you do? Do you run and hide, drag your feet and hope things will blow over, or will you dawn your Super Woman cape and address the elephant in the room?

Today’s woman wears many hats and it should come as no surprise that with all of the role-changes, fear and anxiety can be a bit challenging for some. Add to that a career path that is rooted in public speaking and you could have a recipe for disaster as the challenges faced with respect to public speaking are high. Communication, in general, tends to be challenging for women on both a personal and professional level for various reasons, but why do we seem to struggle a bit more with public speaking?

Sweaty palms, a racing heart, or feeling like a frog is lodged in your throat. Those psychosomatic symptoms can be a real bummer and for many women, they never achieve their full potential due to their overwhelming fear of public speaking. To shed light on this common problem, we turned to financial expert and two-time New York Times bestseller, Pamela Yellen, who knows all too well about overcoming the fear of public speaking.

We wanted to know how someone who had garnered enough support to raise $25,000 in funds for the American Cancer Society and was fearless enough to dawn a gold-sequined leotard while riding on an elephant struggled with fear and anxiety that almost halted her career pursuits. “You can be a risk taker and still be afraid to get up in front of more than a couple of people.”

Despite the risks Pamela has taken in her life, it wasn’t until she decided to go in a different direction and develop a more professional career as a financial services consultant and public speaker that she was prompted to deal with her “paralyzing stage fright.” Once she conquered her fears, she went on to help others face their fears relating to financial security and grace us with Bank on Yourself: The Life-Changing Secret to Growing and Protecting Your Financial Future and The Bank On Yourself Revolution: Fire Your Banker, Bypass Wall Street, and Take Control of Your Own Financial Future.

To help quell her fears and set her on the path to success, Pamela got busy and ushered in the help of a mentor. When asked if she felt like the mentoring approach and feedback would have set her on a different path had her mentor been a female, she chuckled, “I guess we’ll never know, but I will tell you that I was a bit intimidated by him and he was a very strong, demanding, no-nonsense kind of guy. I think maybe I needed that [approach] at that time.” She also acknowledges her abilities to develop and lead people to reach their potential, developing strategies to avoid foreseeable obstacles, and her natural curiosity to challenge conventional wisdom as key strengths that have contributed to her success.

So what do you do when all eyes are on you and it seems as if the world is judging you? According to Pamela, “You can choose are you gonna sit there and stand there and worry about what they’re gonna think about you or are you going to focus on the fact that you have value to give them.”

Having a clear focus is important when taking on any task, especially something as intimidating as public speaking.Once you choose to change your focus to the value that you bring to your client or an audience, you can begin to approach public speaking differently. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you will never have a nervous moment again. Pamela stated she “still gets plagued by a lack of confidence every now and then” but despite a few hang-ups, she has still persisted and has been quite successful in pursuing her goals.

Speaking of womanhood, we would be remiss not to address the obstacles faced by women in addition to the generalized fear many have regarding public speaking. How does one persist when it seems like odds are stacked against women? Being a woman has made her somewhat of an easier target to negative criticism and has been a cause of hesitancy along her journey.

Given many of the patriarchal norms and stereotypes assigned to women that continue to shape much of society, it’s easy to see how despite all of her success, remnants of fear and anxiety can still rear their ugly head. There is little doubt that being a woman presents its own set of problems when speaking out and sometimes against the status quo.

When asked about her thoughts on being a woman in such a male-dominated field, Pamela stated, “people attack me regularly because I go against the conventional financial wisdom.” She also offered an inspiring quote from her mentor, Dan Kennedy, “It’s been so profoundly powerful for me ‘If you’re not offending someone by noon every day then you’re not doing much.'” Despite her critics, like a true superhero, Pamela still persists and we are thankful for it.

Switching gears, the interview would not have been complete without garnering some financial advice from the guru herself. Money and financial security or lack thereof can be a great cause of fear and anxiety for anybody. Understanding that a large part of overcoming fear or anxiety involves doing something different, rather it be challenging yourself or learning something new. Pamela’s book encourages you to do both.

With no regard to socio-economic status, age, or income, Bank On Yourself allows consumers to achieve their goals and take control of their financial situation by avoiding Wall Street while challenging financial institutions and their tactics.

While different groups have benefited from Pamela’s books, advice, and financial expertise; by far the group that has benefited the most have been the baby-boomer generation. “I think a lot of baby boomers and women have benefited from my books because the baby-boomers are the ones or the group that no longer has guaranteed pensions from their companies and their basically on their own to save for their own retirement.” For those still reeling from the Recession, looking to recover from slow economic growth, or gain financial freedom Pamela advises “if you’re not comfortable with the idea of never being sure that you’ll have you know a certain amount of money for retirement you need to look at safe and guaranteed methods of saving for retirement.”

Rather it is public speaking, finances, or career guidance; no matter how successful, when it comes to certain things, fear and doubt can set in and if left unaddressed will find a permanent home in our lives. To learn more about some of these safe financial methods and get a free and safe wealth building report, you can visit www.bankonyourself.com.

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Ninety-Two Percent of Caregivers Are Financial Caregivers

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A Merrill Lynch study, conducted in partnership with Age Wave, finds that the 40 million family caregivers in the U.S. spend $190 billion per year on their adult care recipients. Despite the financial, emotional and functional challenges in this life stage, preserving the dignity of their loved one is their primary goal. The vast majority of caregivers (91 percent) are grateful they could be there to provide care, and 77 percent say they “would gladly do so again.”

“As tens of millions of people take on caregiving responsibilities each year, supporting those caring for our aging population has become one of the most pressing financial issues of our lifetime”

Family caregivers are America’s other social security, providing the bulk of long-term care today. The aging of the baby boomers will result in unprecedented numbers of people in America needing care. As a caregiving crunch is upon us, “The Journey of Caregiving: Honor, Responsibility and Financial Complexity” offers an in-depth look at Americans’ financial and emotional journeys during this life stage. This study marks the beginning of a new, multiyear research series from Merrill Lynch and Age Wave that will examine five distinct life stages: early adulthood, parenting, caregiving, widowhood, and end of life.

As the first of the series, this study examines the responsibilities, sacrifices, and rewards of caregiving – a life stage that nearly all Americans will participate in, as a caregiver, care recipient or both. This study comprehensively explores the topic of financial caregivers – a role largely unexamined, yet held by 92 percent of caregivers. Financial caregiving involves contributing to the costs of care and/or coordinating or managing finances for a care recipient.

The study is based on a nationwide sample of more than 2,200 respondents, including 2,010 caregivers. Key findings about their caregiving journey include: Paying bills from their recipient’s account (65 percent), Monitoring bank accounts (53 percent), Handling insurance claims (47 percent), Filing taxes (41 percent), Managing invested assets (21 percent).

  • Much more than hands-on care. Providing emotional support (98 percent), financial caregiving (92 percent), household support (92 percent) and care coordination (79 percent) far outweigh physical care (64 percent).
  • Financial costs – with little discussion of their ramifications. Seventy-five percent of financial contributors and their care recipients have not discussed the financial impacts of these contributions.
  • Caregiving for a spouse vs. for a parent. A spouse is 3.5 times more likely to be the sole caregiver looking after a care recipient and is more likely to spend more out of pocket on care-related costs. Their caregiving journey is also different in terms of the obligations and financial interdependencies they hold with their loved one.
  • Caregiving gender gap. Both for cultural and biological reasons, women are more commonly caregivers for spouses and parents, averaging six years of caregiving in their lifetime versus four years for men. As a result, women are disproportionately impacted by the challenges of caregiving, including struggling to balance responsibilities and making career sacrifices. And then, more find themselves alone and without someone to care for them when needed.
  • Responsibilities extend beyond the care recipient’s life. Sixty-one percent of the time, caregivers expect their role will end with the death of their loved one. However, the complexities of financial, legal, and other aspects of caregiving often continue for months or even years.

“As tens of millions of people take on caregiving responsibilities each year, supporting those caring for our aging population has become one of the most pressing financial issues of our lifetime,” said Lorna Sabbia, head of Retirement and Personal Wealth Solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “Greater longevity is going to have a profound impact on the caregiving landscape and calls for earlier, more comprehensive planning and innovative solutions to address the health and long-term care needs of our loved ones.”

Financial caregiving: Navigating complexity and responsibility
The study finds that 92 percent of caregivers are also financial caregivers, and are contributing to and/or coordinating finances for their loved one. In fact, after two years of receiving care, 88 percent of care recipients are no longer managing their finances independently.

Financial caregiving is often far more complex than simply contributing to the recipient’s care. Financial caregivers are responsible for a wide variety of tasks, including:

  • Health care rises as top challenge. Respondents find that navigating health insurance expenses is the top challenge of financial caregiving (57 percent).
  • Uncharted territory. An estimated 49 percent of financial caregivers don’t have the legal authorization to perform their role.
  • Guidance and resources lacking. Sixty-six percent of caregivers feel they could benefit from financial advice.

Costs and compensations of caregiving
While some aspects of caregiving may feel like a burden, those surveyed also tell us it is a blessing. Contrary to all we hear about the stress and sacrifices of caregiving, for many caregivers, the role is also often associated with a range of positive experiences and rewards. Caregivers describe a complex, demanding yet often nourishing journey – defined by honor, gratitude, fulfillment, purpose, and strong family bonds.

Costs:

  • Nearly three quarters of respondents say they’ve made numerous sacrifices as a caregiver – whether familial or professional.
  • Fifty-three percent have made financial sacrifices to compensate for caregiving expenses. Thirty percent of caregivers say that they have had to cut back on expenses, and 21 percent have had to dip into personal savings.
  • Two in five caregivers under the age of 64 have made sacrifices at work due to caregiving responsibilities, including reducing their hours (17 percent) and leaving the workforce (16 percent).

Compensations:

  • Caregivers feel rewarded knowing they are doing something good for someone they love – 61 percent say the greatest benefit of providing care is the sense that they have “done the right thing.”
  • Seventy-seven percent say they would gladly take on being a caregiver for a loved one again.
  • Forty percent report a strengthened bond between themselves and the care recipient, and 24 percent say caregiving brought their family closer together.
  • Eighty-six percent say watching their loved one’s health struggle was a motivator that caused them to place more value on taking care of their own health.

“Caregiving is one of today’s most complex life stages, throughout which hard work, high stress and heavy obligations intertwine with honor, meaning and resilience,” said Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D., CEO and founder of Age Wave. “This experience becomes even more emotionally complex and financially challenging when caring for loved ones suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. Even with that added burden, this study reveals that 65 percent say that being a caregiver brought purpose and meaning to their life.”

The crucial role of employers
Employers can play an integral role in supporting caregiving employees during this demanding life stage. While 84 percent of employers say caregiving will become an increasingly important issue in the next five years, only 18 percent strongly agree that their workplace is currently “caregiving-friendly”– underscoring the need for new approaches and solutions across the workforce.

“Meaningful, well-designed employer benefits can make a crucial difference in helping caregivers navigate the high stress of caring for a loved one and help them balance these responsibilities with the rest of their working and financial lives. Just as child care has been an issue in the past that led to revolutionizing HR benefits, the aging of the population means we need to consider how caregiving is becoming an increasingly important issue for employers and employees,” said Kevin Crain, head of Workplace Solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “These should include resources and programs focused on addressing caregiving complexities and employee networks that facilitate support from experts and peers.”

According to Crain, “Bank of America Corporation is committed to meeting the needs of caregivers in today’s transforming world. Companywide initiatives dedicated to addressing the needs of our country’s aging population and those of their caregivers include combatting elder financial fraud, increased awareness of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease, and implementing caregiving best practices through training and resources for its financial advisors and corporate clients. The company supports our employees who are caregivers through a variety of resources including access to emergency back-up care for adults and children, professional elder care assessments, elder care law services, and an internal Parents and Caregivers employee network.”

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