Criminal justice advocates scored a big win Monday with President Obama’s announcement of new measures aimed at easing reintegration of returning citizens—individuals released from state and federal prisons—who number more than 600,000 annually.
As part of a broader plan to tackle mass incarceration, Obama ordered federal agencies to delay inquiries into criminal backgrounds in a bid to prevent employment discrimination against formerly incarcerated people.
His directive is expected to move the government closer to “banning the box”: ending the hiring practice that requires prospective employees to disclose past felonies on job applications.
The president also called on Congress to take a lead from those states, cities, and private companies that have already chosen to ban the box, by considering bipartisan legislation that would outlaw the practice for federal hiring, including hiring by federal contractors.
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Nineteen states from every region of the country have implemented these “fair chance” laws, according to a database compiled by the National Employment Law Project (NELP).
More than 100 cities have similar laws on the books. New York City’s Fair Chance Act, which was passed by its city council in June, kicked in on October 27, effectively opening new doors for the estimated 2.5 million residents there who have criminal records.
Alyssa Aguilera, political director at VOCAL-NY, told Rewire the Fair Chance Act is “the most progressive fair chance hiring policy in the country”—partly because it goes beyond federal jobs and contractors and applies to private sector workplaces with four or more employees, and also because it “bans the box” not only from job applications, but even in interviews until a tentative hire offer has been made.
Shortly after Obama’s speech Monday, in which he also announced educational grants totaling $8 million to be distributed over three years to returning citizens, Twitter lit up in support for #BanTheBox, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) tweeting: “A criminal record shouldn’t mean a life sentence of poverty.”
For millions of returning citizens, however, this has long been the case.
An April 2015 fact sheet produced by the NELP revealed that men with a criminal record comprise 34 percent of unemployed men between 25 and 54 years of age, while a former inmate at the peak of their working life could expect to earn $192,000 less than a person who had never been incarcerated.
Banning the box is expected to give returning citizens a fair break, but some feel it falls short of larger goals within the movement to reform the criminal justice system.
“We applaud all the steps Obama is taking to try to ease re-entry of people back into society,” Mujahid Farid, director of the NYC-based organization Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP), told Rewire. “But we don’t think what he is doing is going far enough.”
Farid, who himself was incarcerated for 33 years, said the president’s heavy focus on so-called nonviolent offenders is too narrow to effectively tackle the issue of mass incarceration, adding, “nothing is going to be solved until we get to the root of the problem, which is the punishment paradigm in this country.”
“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It's part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”
Donald Trump made some controversial changes to his campaign staff this week, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) noted his commitment to better housing policies.
Trump Hires Controversial Conservative Media Figure
Republican presidential nominee Trump made two notable additions to his campaign staff this week, hiring Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon as CEO and GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager.
“I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win,” said Trump in a Wednesday statement announcing the hires. “I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again.”
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Both have been criticized as being divisive figures.
Conway, for example, previously advised then-client Todd Akin to wait out the backlash after his notorious “legitimate rape” comments, comparing the controversy to “the Waco with David Koresh situation where they’re trying to smoke him out with the SWAT teams.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Conway is also “often cited by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim organizations such as the think tank Center for Security Policy and NumbersUSA.”
Under Bannon’s leadership, “mainstream conservative website” Breitbart.com changed “into a cesspool of the alt-right,” suggested the publication’s former editor at large, Ben Shapiro, in a piece for the Washington Post‘s PostEverything. “It’s a movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism.”
Speaking with ABC News this week, Kurt Bardella, who also previously worked with Bannon at Breitbart, alleged that Bannon had exhibited “nationalism and hatred for immigrants, people coming into this country to try to get a better life for themselves” during editorial calls.
“If anyone sat there and listened to that call, you’d think that you were attending a white supremacist rally,” said Bardella.
Trump’s new hire drew heated criticism from the Clinton campaign in a Wednesday press call. “The Breitbart organization has been known to defend white supremacists,” said Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager. After pointing to an analysis from the SPLC linking Breitbart to the extremist alt-right movement, Mook listed a number of other controversial positions pushed by the site.
“Breitbart has compared the work of Planned Parenthood to the Holocaust. They’ve also repeatedly used anti-LGBT slurs in their coverage. And finally, like Trump himself, Breitbart and Bannon have frequently trafficked in all sorts of deranged conspiracy theories from touting that President Obama was not born in America to claiming that the Obama Administration was ‘importing more hating Muslims.’”
“It’s clear that [Trump’s] divisive, erratic, and dangerous rhetoric simply represents who he really is,” continued Mook.
Kaine Outlines Plan to “Make Housing Fair”
Clinton’s vice presidential nominee Kaine wrote an essay for CNN late last week explaining how the Clinton-Kaine ticket can “make housing fair” in the United States.
“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It’s part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Kaine. “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”
Kaine shared the story of Lorraine, a young Black woman who had experienced housing discrimination, whom Kaine had represented pro bono just after completing law school.
“This is one issue that shows the essential role government can play in creating a fairer society. Sen. Ed Brooke, an African-American Republican from Massachusetts, and Sen. Walter Mondale, a white Democrat from Minnesota, came together to draft the Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination in the housing market,” noted Kaine, pointing to the 1968 law.
“Today, more action is still needed. That’s why Hillary Clinton and I have a bold, progressive plan to fight housing inequities across America—especially in communities that have been left out or left behind,” Kaine continued.
The Virginia senator outlined some of the key related components of Clinton’s “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda,” including an initiative to offer $10,000 in down payment assistance to new homebuyers that earn less than the median income in a given area, and plans to “bolster resources to enforce Fair Housing laws and fight housing discrimination in all its forms.”
The need for fair and affordable housing is a pressing issue for people throughout the country.
“It is estimated that each year more than four million acts of [housing] discrimination occur in the rental market alone,” found a 2015 analysis by the National Fair Housing Alliance.
No county in the United States has enough affordable housing to accommodate the needs of those with low incomes, according to a 2015 report released by the Urban Institute. “Since 2000, rents have risen while the number of renters who need low-priced housing has increased,” explained the report. “Nationwide, only 28 adequate and affordable units are available for every 100 renter households with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income.”
What Else We’re Reading
CBS News’ Will Rahn penned a primer explaining Trump campaign CEO Bannon’s relationship to the alt-right.
White supremacists and the alt-right “rejoice[d]” after Trump hired Bannon, reported Betsy Woodruff and Gideon Resnick for the Daily Beast.
Clinton published an essay in Teen Vogue this week encouraging young people to fight for what they care about, learn from those with whom they disagree, and get out the vote.
“In calling for ‘extreme vetting’ of foreigners entering the United States, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested a return to a 1950s-era immigration standard—since abandoned—that barred entry to people based on their political beliefs,” explained USA Today.
Trump wants to cut a visa program “his own companies have used … to bring in hundreds of foreign workers, including fashion models for his modeling agency who need exhibit no special skills,” according to a report by the New York Times.
A Koch-backed group “has unleashed an aggressive campaign to kill a ballot measure in South Dakota that would require Koch-affiliated groups and others like them to reveal their donors’ identities.”
“A simple tax deduction is not going to deal with the larger affordability problem in child care for low- and moderate-income individuals," Hunter Blair, a tax and budget analyst at the Economic Policy Institute told Rewire.
In a recent speech, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested he now supports policies to made child care more affordable, a policy position more regularly associated with the Democratic Party. The costs of child care, which have almost doubled in the last 25 years, are a growing burden on low- and middle-income families, and quality options are often scarce.
“No one will gain more from these proposals than low- and middle-income Americans,” claimed Trump in a speech outlining his economic platform before the Detroit Economic Club on Monday. He continued, “My plan will also help reduce the cost of childcare by allowing parents to fully deduct the average cost of childcare spending from their taxes.” But economic experts question whether Trump’s proposed solution would truly help alleviate the financial burdens faced by low- and middle–income earners.
Details of most of Trump’s plan are still unclear, but seemingly rest on addressing child care costs by allowing families to make a tax deduction based on the “average cost” of care. He failed to clarify further how this might work, simply asserting that his proposal would “reduce cost in child care” and offer “much-needed relief to American families,” vowingto tell the public more with time. “I will unveil my plan on this in the coming weeks that I have been working on with my daughter Ivanka … and an incredible team of experts,” promised Trump.
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An adviser to the Trump campaign noted during an interview with the Associated Press Monday that the candidate had yet to nail down the details of his proposal, such as what the income caps would be, but said that the deductions would only amount to the average cost of child care in the state a taxpayer resided in:
Stephen Moore, a conservative economist advising Trump, said the candidate is still working out specifics and hasn’t yet settled on the details of the plan. But he said households reporting between $30,000 and $100,000, or perhaps $150,000 a year in income, would qualify for the deduction.
“I don’t think that Britney Spears needs a child care credit,” Moore said. “What we want to do is to help financially stressed middle-class families have some relief from child-care expenses.”
The deduction would also likely apply to expensive care like live-in nannies. But exemptions would be limited to the average cost of child care in a taxpayer’s state, so parents wouldn’t be able to claim the full cost of such a high-price child care option.
Experts immediately pointed outthat while the details of Trump’s plan are sparse, his promise to make average child care costs fully tax deductible wouldn’t do much for the people who need access to affordable child care most.
Trump’s plan “would actually be pretty poorly targeted for middle-class and low-income families,” Hunter Blair, a tax and budget analyst at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), told Rewire on Monday.
That’s because his tax breaks would presumably not benefit those who don’t make enough money to owe the federal government income taxes—about 44 percent of households, according to Blair. “They won’t get any benefit from this.”
As the Associated Press further explained, for those who don’t owe taxes to the government, “No matter how much they reduce their income for tax purposes by deducting expenses, they still owe nothing.”
Many people still may not benefit from such a deduction because they file standard instead of itemized deductions—meaning they accept a fixed amount instead of listing out each qualifying deduction. “Most [lower-income households] don’t choose to file a tax return with itemized deductions,” Helen Blank, director of child care and early learning at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), told Rewire Tuesday. That means the deduction proposed by Trump “favors higher income families because it’s related to your tax bracket, so the higher your tax bracket the more you benefit from [it],” added Blank.
A 2014 analysis conducted by the Congressional Research Service confirms this. According to its study, just 32 percent of tax filers itemized their deductions instead of claiming the standard deduction in 2011. While 94 to 98 percent of those with incomes above $200,000 chose to itemize their deductions, just 6 percent of tax filers with an adjusted gross income below $20,000 per year did so.
“Trump’s plan is also not really a solution that deals with the problem,” said Blair. “A simple tax deduction is not going to deal with the larger affordability problem in child care for low- and moderate-income individuals.”
Those costs are increasingly an issue for many in the United States. A report released last year by Child Care Aware® of America, which advocates for “high quality, affordable child care,” found that child care for an infant can cost up to an average $17,062 annually, while care for a 4-year-old can cost up to an average of $12,781.
“The cost of child care is especially difficult for families living at or below the federal poverty level,” the organization explained ina press release announcing those findings. “For these families, full-time, center-based care for an infant ranges from 24 percent of family income in Mississippi, to 85 percent of family income in Massachusetts. For single parents the costs can be overwhelming—in every state annual costs of center-based infant care averaged over 40 percent of the state median income for single mothers.”
“Child care now costs more than college in most states in our nation, and it is an actual true national emergency,” Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, CEO and executive director of MomsRising, told Rewire in a Tuesday interview. “Donald Trump’s new proposed child care tax deduction plan falls far short of a solution because it’s great for the wealthy but it doesn’t fix the child care crisis for the majority of parents in America.”
Rowe-Finkbeiner, whose organization advocates for family economic security, said that in addition to the tax deduction being inaccessible to those who do not itemize their taxes and those with low incomes who may not pay federal income taxes, Trump’s proposal could also force those least able to afford it “to pay up-front child care costs beyond their family budget.”
“We have a crisis … and Donald Trump’s proposal doesn’t improve access, doesn’t improve quality, doesn’t lift child care workers, and only improves affordability for the wealthy,” she continued.
Trump’s campaign, however, further claimed in a statement to CNN Tuesday that “the plan also allows parents to exclude child care expenses from half of their payroll taxes—increasing their paycheck income each week.”
“The working poor do face payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare, so a payroll tax break could help them out,” reported CNN. “But experts say it would be hard to administer.”
Meanwhile,Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton released her own child care agenda in May, promising to use the federal government to cap child care costs at 10 percent of a family’s income.
A cap like this, Blank said, “would provide more help to low- and middle-income families.” She continued, “For example, if you had a family with two children earning $70,000, if you capped child care at 10 percent they could probably save … $10,000 a year.”
Clinton’s plan includes a promise to implement a program to address the low wages many who work in the child care industry face, which she calls the “Respect And Increased Salaries for Early Childhood Educators” program, or the RAISE Initiative. The program would raise pay and provide training for child-care workers.
Such policies could make a major difference to child-care workers—the overwhelming majority of which are women and workers of color—who often make poverty-level wages. A 2015 study by the EPI found that the median wage for these workers is just $10.31 an hour, and few receive employer benefits. Those poor conditions make it difficult to attract and retain workers, and improve the quality of care for children around the country.
Addressing the low wages of workers in the field may be expensive, but according to Rowe-Finkbeiner, it is an investment worth making. “Real investments in child care bring for an average child an eight-to-one return on investment,” she explained. “And that’s because when we invest in quality access and affordability, but particularly a focus on quality … which means paying child-care workers fairly and giving child-care workers professional development opportunities …. When that happens, then we have lower later grade repetition, we have less future interactions with the criminal justice system, and we also have a lower need for government programs in the future for those children and families.
Affordable child care has also been a component of other aspects of Clinton’s campaign platform. The “Military Families Agenda,” for example, released by the Clinton campaign in June to support military personnel and their families, also included a child care component. The former secretary of state’s plan proposed offering these services “both on- and off-base, including options for drop-in services, part-time child care, and the provision of extended-hours care, especially at Child Development Centers, while streamlining the process for re-registering children following a permanent change of station (PCS).”
“Service members should be able to focus on critical jobs without worrying about the availability and cost of childcare,” said Clinton’s proposal.
Though it may be tempting to laud the simple fact that both major party candidates have proposed a child care plan at all, to Rowe-Finkbeiner, having both nominees take up the cause is a “no-brainer.”
“Any candidate who wants to win needs to take up family economic security policies, including child care,” she said. “Democrats and Republicans alike know that there is a child care crisis in America. Having a baby right now costs over $200,000 to raise from zero to age 18, not including college …. Parents of all political persuasions are talking about this.”
Coming up with the right way to address those issues, however, may take some work.
“We need a bold plan because child care is so important, because it helps families work, and it helps them support their children,” the NWLC’s Blank said. “We don’t have a safety net for families to fall back on anymore. It’s really critical to help families earn the income their children need and child care gives children a strong start.” She pointed to the need for programs that offer families aid “on a regular basis, not at the end of the year, because families don’t have the extra cash to pay for child care during the year,” as well as updates to the current child care tax credits offered by the government.
“There is absolutely a solution, but the comprehensive package needs to look at making sure that children have high-quality child care and early education, and that there’s also access to that high-quality care,” Rowe-Finkbeiner told Rewire.
“It’s a complicated problem, but it’s not out of our grasp to fix,” she said. “It’s going to take an investment in order to make sure that our littlest learners can thrive and that parents can go to work.”