Trump administration moves to eliminate food stamps for 700,000 of his constituents. (He’s a Christian.)

The US Department of Agriculture has finalised a rule tightening work requirements for government food assistance.

Emma Goldman Quote: “Ask for work. If they don’t give you ...
With the implementation of a new work requirement rule, the US government could potentially take food assistance away from nearly 700,000 Americans 

The administration of United States President Donald Trump on Wednesday said it will make it harder for states to keep men and women in the country’s food stamp programme, a move that is projected to end benefits for nearly 700,000 people.

Trump has argued that many Americans receiving food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, do not need it given the strong economy and low unemployment. The programme provides free food to 36 million Americans.

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The administration has finalised a rule that tightens guidelines on when and where states can waive limits on how long certain residents can receive benefits. The changes will move more “able-bodied” adults into the workplace, said US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

“States are seeking waivers for wide swaths of their population[s], and millions of people who could work are continuing to receive SNAP benefits,” he told reporters.

The US generally limits the amount of time that adults can receive food stamps when they are aged 18-49 and who do not have dependents or disability benefits. The limitations are usually three months within a 36-month period unless the adults meet certain work requirements.

States can apply for waivers to this time limit due to tough economic conditions. However, counties with an unemployment rate as low as 2.5 percent have been included in waived areas, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the agency that runs SNAP.

The USDA is stiffening guidelines defining where recipients can reside to be eligible for waivers and standards for demonstrating whether an area has enough jobs to justify a waiver.

The US unemployment rate was 3.6 percent in October.

“We need everyone who can work to work,” Perdue said.

But critics say the moves will hurt poor Americans.

“This is an unacceptable escalation of the administration’s war on working families, and it comes during a time when too many are forced to stretch already-thin budgets to make ends meet,” said US Congressional Representative Marcia Fudge, an Ohio State Democrat.

The administration has sought to tighten requirements for food stamps without congressional approval after the US Congress blocked a Trump-backed effort to pass new restrictions through the Farm Bill last year.

The latest rule will take effect next year and save the government $5.5bn over five years by removing about 688,000 people from the food stamps rolls, said Brandon Lipps, a USDA deputy undersecretary.

“For those impacted, it will mean less nutritious meals or meals that are skipped altogether,” said Cassie Ramos, policy associate for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group.

Portland councilors must decide how many homeless people new out-of-sight shelter can hold

The City Council has to set the capacity so the shelter can be designed, but advocates for the homeless fear the city could abandon its 30-year commitment to taking in anyone in need of shelter.

Portland city councilors are facing a decision on the capacity of a new homeless shelter planned for the Riverton neighborhood, a key but sensitive step that is raising questions about the city’s decades-old pledge to shelter anyone in need.

A City Council committee is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a recommended capacity, which the full city council will ultimately determine and city staff will use as they design and prepare to operate the new shelter.

A draft resolution, discussed by the Health & Human Services and Public Safety Committee on Oct. 29, calls for “adequate capacity to handle occasional overflow.” It does not mention any limits on the number of people coming from outside Portland to seek a bed – a controversial restriction that has been discussed previously and could be raised again as the discussion moves to the full council.

In practical terms, the council needs to set a capacity so a new shelter can be designed. However, any attempt to do so could be seen as walking back the city’s 30-year commitment to shelter anyone in need. That commitment has led communities surrounding Portland and beyond to rely on the city’s shelter as safety net.

City officials have talked for many months about building a 150-bed shelter, but that number has not been formally endorsed by the council. At a previous meeting, one councilor suggested setting the capacity higher than the 150 beds, given that the city’s existing adult shelter and overflow spaces have routinely exceeded 200 people a night in recent years.

Another councilor suggested punting the sensitive capacity discussion to the full council.

“We’re going to have to build a shelter with a finite amount of beds,” City Councilor and committee member Brian Batson said at a recent meeting. “Of course, there will be overflow.”

Committee members Batson and Councilor Pious Ali did not respond requests for interviews on Monday. Councilor Belinda Ray, who chairs the committee, said she was not available.

City officials are working on plans to build a new shelter to replace its existing shelter on Oxford Street in Bayside, which they say is outdated and unsafe for both staff and guests.

The existing shelter is a former three-story apartment and attached auto garage, where people sleep on floor mats. It routinely exceeds its 154-person capacity, forcing the city to find overflow space. An additional 75 floor mats are set up at Preble Street and additional space in the city’s general assistance office are also used when needed.

The council voted in June to build a new homeless shelter on Riverside Street, a move that continues to be opposed by area residents and homeless advocates who fear that the new location is too far from services and jobs on the peninsula. Men and women staying at the current shelter also have expressed concerns about the new location and its distance from downtown, even predicting that people will find places to sleep outside rather than travel back and forth to Riverside.

City staff have said they plan to offer a shuttle service to supplement an existing bus route to help clients make it to their appointments.

Unlike the current facility, the new shelter is expected to include a host of onsite services, including a soup kitchen, medical clinic, community police station and areas for counseling. It also will have actual beds, rather than floor mats.

The committee took up a potential capacity limit at its last meeting, but was unable to reach an agreement.

Ali wanted more information about what the city will do when people arrive at the shelter after the cap has been reached before he decides how to vote. He suggested that the committee let the council as a whole set the capacity.

Up until now, city staff has been using informal advice given by the council last year to create a shelter with up to 150 beds, plus space for an additional 25 beds for overflow. But advocates have pointed out that demand for beds already routinely exceeds that amount.

There has been a reduction in the number of adults seeking shelter over the last two years. The average number of people seeking space at the Oxford Street Shelter so far in 2019 has been 208, compared to 216 in 2017. But the demand varies widely, from a high of 271 on two nights in January and February to a low of only 135 beds one night in August.

The slight drop in average nightly use has come as shelter staff have issued more criminal trespass orders to prevent individuals who break rules from returning. The orders, which can prevent someone from using the shelter for up to a year, increased by 50 percent last year, from 84 in 2018 to 126 through early October. However, trespass orders dropped by nearly 28 percent at other community shelters, from 86 to 62.

A breakdown of trespass orders provided to council showed that 43 were issued after an assault on a guest, 19 after an assault on a staff member, 16 issued after a threat to staff and 10 because of hate speech.

City Manager Jon Jennings said Oct. 22 that move is part of its efforts to protect staff from increasingly violent behavior fueled by an increase in methamphetamine use. “It certainly is a much more threatening behavior,” Jennings said.

Batson, a nurse at Maine Medical Center, said he’s seen a rise in aggressive behavior because of meth as well, calling it “a very real thing.”

Officials at the nonprofit social service provider Preble Street did not respond to requests for an interview on Monday about the capacity debate. Donna Yellen, the nonprofit’s deputy director, said at an Oct. 8 committee meeting that there were still periods over the last year when more than 250 people were in the city’s emergency shelter.

Yellen said that one of the reasons Maine regularly has lower rates of unsheltered homeless people when compared to other states is largely because Portland’s commitment to help anyone in need.

“Please, give considerable community process before changing this policy that will absolutely change the face of our city and it will become one that none of us will be proud of,” she said.

Ray, the chair of the council committee, said at the Oct. 29 meeting that setting a capacity at the new shelter would also help the city solicit financial support from the state and from other communities in the region that rely on Portland’s shelter to help residents. She did not think that city staff would ever allow people in need to go without shelter.

“We are everybody’s overflow,” Ray said. “Setting a cap helps to give us leverage to get other people involved in a way we haven’t been able to in the past.”

“State of Emergency”: Special Report on California’s Criminalization of Growing Homeless Encampment

OCTOBER 25, 2019

TOPICS

Ending the Punishment of Poverty: Supreme Court Rules Against High Fines & Civil Asset Forfeiture

FEBRUARY 21, 2019

In a major victory for civil liberties advocates, the Supreme Court has unanimously ruled to limit the practice of civil asset forfeiture—a controversial practice where police seize property that belongs to people suspected of crimes, even if they are never convicted. On Wednesday, the court ruled the Eighth Amendment protects people from state and local authorities imposing onerous fines, fees and forfeitures to generate money. The case centered on an Indiana man named Tyson Timbs, whose Land Rover was seized when he was arrested for selling drugs. The vehicle was worth $42,000—more than four times the $10,000 maximum fine Timbs could receive for his drug conviction under state law. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Timbs’s favor. Writing on behalf of the justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “The historical and logical case for concluding that the 14th Amendment incorporates the Excessive Fines Clause is overwhelming.” We speak with Lisa Foster, co-director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center. Her organization filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case. Foster is a retired California judge. She served in the Justice Department during the Obama administration and led the department’s efforts to address excessive fines and fees.

Escobares, Texas: Life in the poorest city in the US

In the tiny city of Escobares, Texas, 62% of residents live below the poverty line.

That’s the highest rate of any US city with more than 1,000 people, according to the 2016 US Census Bureau survey.

Directly on the US-Mexico border, the city struggles with crime and unemployment.

But local officials say they’re trying hard to lift Escobares out of the cycle of poverty.

Video produced by: Cecilia Barria and Mohamed Madi

 

 

Supreme Court blocks Louisiana abortion clinic regulations

Chief Justice Roberts joins court’s four liberals to block Louisiana from enforcing law, pending full review of the case

Protesters on both sides of the abortion issue gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC during the 2018 March for Life [Susan Walsh/AP Photo]
Protesters on both sides of the abortion issue gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC during the 2018 March for Life [Susan Walsh/AP Photo]

A divided Supreme Court stopped Louisiana from enforcing new regulations on abortion clinics in a test of the conservative court’s views on abortionrights.

The justices said in a 5-4 decision late Thursday that they will not allow the state to put into effect a law that requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberals in putting a hold on the law, pending a full review of the case.

President Donald Trump‘s two Supreme Court appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, were among the four conservative members of the court who would have allowed the law to take effect.

Kavanaugh wrote a dissenting opinion in which he said the court’s action was premature because the state had made clear it would allow abortion providers an additional 45 days to obtain admitting privileges before it started enforcing the law.

If the doctors succeed, they can continue performing abortions, he said. If they fail, they could return to court, Kavanaugh said.

The law is very similar to a Texas measure the justices struck down three years ago. Roberts dissented in that case.

OPINION

American women’s right to choose is in danger

Ashley Andreou,Alexander Urry
by Ashley Andreou,Alexander Urry

But the composition of the court has changed since then, with Kavanaugh replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy, who voted to strike down the Texas law.

Restrictions would close clinics, providers say

Louisiana abortion providers and a district judge who initially heard the case said one or maybe two of the state’s three abortion clinics would have to close under the new law. There would be at most two doctors who could meet its requirements, they said.

But the federal appeals court in New Orleans rejected those claims, doubting that any clinics would have to close and said the doctors had not tried hard enough to establish relationships with local hospitals.

In January, the full appeals court voted 9-6 not to get involved in the case, setting up the Supreme Court appeal.

The law had been scheduled to take effect Monday, but Justice Samuel Alito delayed the effective date at least through Thursday to give the justices more time.

The justices could decide this spring whether to add the case, June Medical Services v Gee, to their calendar for the term that begins in October.

‘Pro-life’ justices

Trump had pledged during the campaign to appoint “pro-life” justices – judges who are opposed to abortion rights – and abortion opponents are hoping the more conservative bench will be more open to upholding abortion restrictions.

READ MORE

Under Trump, states step up effort to restrict abortion access

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Trump called for legislation to limit what he and anti-abortion rights activists describe as “late-term abortion”.

While such legislation at the federal level is unlikely, research at the Guttmacher Institute shows that about 20 states already have laws in place that restricts abortion after about 20 weeks post-fertilisation.

Since Trump came to power, a number of states have also introduced measures that seek to restrict abortion access.

Other states, including New York, have passed laws to ensure that abortion access would still be protected if the Supreme Court were to overturn parts or all of Roe v Wade, a 1973 decision that blocks states from prohibiting abortion.

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Sen. Bernie Sanders Proposes Expanding Estate Tax for Wealthiest Americans

Guest bernie cln

Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders introduced legislation Thursday that would lower the threshold for paying estate tax on inheritance, which is now at $11 million after the passage of the 2017 tax bill. The measure would lower the amount to $3.5 million of assets, after which the estate tax would apply—the same level as in 2009. The change would only affect the richest 0.2 percent of Americans, and the revenue would help pay for social programs like Medicare for all.

The measure comes after other high-profile Democrats introduced their own tax proposals on the wealthiest Americans. Last week, 2020 presidential hopeful Senator Elizabeth Warren proposed her “ultra-millionaire tax” on the top 0.1 percent, while freshman congress-member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been advocating for a 70 percent top marginal tax rate.