Head Start Turns 50

The Gilmer Free Press

This year marks a historic milestone for Head Start: its 50th anniversary. Since it was created 50 years ago, Head Start has provided more than 32 million children with comprehensive early learning experiences, including school readiness, health, mental health, nutrition, and family engagement supports. This year alone, that number will be over a million.

Thanks to the work done every day at Head Start centers across America, children’s lives have been changed. Millions of kids will learn to love reading and graduate on time; they will grow up a little more secure, stay out of trouble with the law, and find jobs.

I’m passionate about Head Start for many reasons, but one of them is personal: Head Start helped me.

In my rural home town of Hinton, it was one of the only early educational opportunities around. With an excellent teacher, Mrs. Rita Pack, I learned to love learning, and that love has stayed with me my whole life.

That’s a foundation that all children can have.

Today, more than 16 million children in the United States live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level. And that includes a disproportionate amount of children of color: nearly 40 percent of black children and 35 percent of Hispanic children.

In light of these facts, and on this historic anniversary, now is the time to rededicate ourselves to the cause of a head start for those children who need it most. By strengthening the program—through new grants, performance standards, and the funding increases in President Obama’s budget—we can continue to keep this promise to our nation’s children. Our budget proposal requests over $10 billion to provide more children with more intensive high-quality Head Start services. That is over $1.5 billion over this year’s enacted budget and a nearly $4 billion increase over the course of President Obama’s time in office. 

Additionally, we’ve announced that Blanca Enriquez, a Head Start leader with 28 years of experience, will also be joining the Office of Head Start as director later this month. She is an excellent addition to our team and we are excited to have her.

Head Start and Early Head Start are crucial to fighting poverty and building up our next generation. They were founded on the principles that education is the door to opportunity; that poverty doesn’t have to be a family legacy; and that everyone, no matter their background, deserves a shot at a productive life. That is the core of the American Dream.

Here’s to serving our nation’s children for another 50 years and beyond! Happy anniversary, Head Start!

~~  Sylvia Mathews Burwell, HHS Secretary ~~

West Virginia Will Fight For Coal in Court

The Gilmer Free Press

West Virginia has long been a “coal state.” Since coal was discovered in 1742 in what is now Boone County, the state has depended on coal as a fuel source, a major taxpayer and, most importantly, one of the largest jobs providers.

But those critical jobs are at risk right now due to a number of different factors including economic issues, geological constraints and political pressures from the federal government. While our Office cannot fight geology or increased competition from foreign mines, we can fight back against anti-coal regulations being pushed by the Obama Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

On April 16, our Office will appear in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for oral arguments on a lawsuit challenging the EPA’s proposed rule limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants.  West Virginia is the lead state in this lawsuit because we believe the EPA is pushing illegal and onerous regulations in an attempt to make it economically impossible for the nation to continue to burn coal. It is imperative for West Virginia’s deep opposition to these regulations to be heard.

The lawsuit, which was joined by a bipartisan group of 11 other state attorneys general, says the EPA knowingly ignored the clear language of the Clean Air Act when it entered into an agreement in 2011 to settle a threatened lawsuit by environmental groups and certain states. In the settlement, the EPA agreed to create guidelines under one section of the Act for states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from already operating coal-fired power plants. However, in 2012, the EPA enacted national emission standards under a different section of the Act on the same power plants. The Clean Air Act prohibits the EPA from enacting double regulations on the same existing power plants under those two different sections of the Act. Our lawsuit seeks to have the settlement agreement nullified and the proposed regulations scrapped.

Our Office also is leading a bipartisan group of more than a dozen states as intervenors supporting another similar lawsuit that seeks to declare the EPA’s proposed emission regulations illegal under the same reasoning. That lawsuit says since existing coal-fired power plants are already regulated under national standards, they cannot now also be regulated on a state-by-state basis.

The two lawsuits take different approaches to reach the same goal: to have the court void the proposed regulations now so states, such as West Virginia, can stop spending millions trying to come into compliance with an illegal rule that will not survive court review. The Court has combined the suits for the April 16 hearing.

We recognize that courts typically decline to review rules that have been proposed but not yet finalized, but this case is unique because EPA has proposed a rule that is so clearly illegal that even the agency itself admits that the rule violates the “literal” terms of the Clean Air Act.  An agency should not be permitted to threaten to impose a rule that it knows will never survive judicial review, in order to scare utilities, power plants, and coal mines into closing their doors in anticipation of the rule being finalized.  It is an abuse of power that directly harms West Virginia and other coal-producing and coal-burning states.

When I ran for Office in 2012, I promised that I would fight back against federal overreach and work tirelessly to protect West Virginians. I have not strayed from that promise, and I won’t in the days, weeks and months to come. The Office of the Attorney General will use every legal tool possible to stop this flagrant overreach by EPA in order to protect the hard working families of West Virginia.

~~  Patrick Morrisey is the Attorney General of West Virginia ~~

Double-Standard of Making the Poor Prove They’re Worthy of Government Benefits

The Gilmer Free Press

Poverty looks pretty great if you’re not living in it. The government gives you free money to spend on steak and lobster, on tattoos and spa days, on — why not? — cruise vacations and psychic visits.

Enough serious-minded people seem to think this is what the poor actually buy with their meager aid that we’ve now seen a raft of bills and proposed state laws to nudge them away from so much excess. Missouri wants to curtail what the poor eat with their food stamps (evidence of the problem from one state legislator: “I have seen people purchasing filet mignons”). Kansas wants to block welfare recipients from spending government money at strip clubs (in legalese: any “sexually oriented business or any retail establishment which provides adult-oriented entertainment in which performers disrobe or perform in an unclothed state for entertainment”).

Then there are the states that want to drug-test welfare recipients — the implication being that we worry the poor will convert their benefits directly into drugs.

Sometimes these laws are cast as protection for the poor, ensuring that aid is steered in ways that will help them the most. Other times they’re framed as protection for the taxpayer, who shouldn’t be asked to help people who will squander the money on vices anyway.

But the logic behind the proposals is problematic in at least three, really big ways.

The first is economic:

There’s virtually no evidence that the poor actually spend their money this way. The idea that they do defies Maslow’s hierarchy — the notion that we all need shelter and food before we go in search of foot massages. In fact, the poor are much more savvy about how they spend their money because they have less of it (quick quiz: do you know exactly how much you last spent on a gallon of milk? or a bag of diapers?). By definition, a much higher share of their income — often more than half of it — is eaten up by basic housing costs than is true for the better-off, leaving them less money for luxuries anyway. And contrary to the logic of drug-testing laws, the poor are no more likely to use drugs than the population at large.

The second issue with these laws is a moral one:

We rarely make similar demands of other recipients of government aid. We don’t drug-test farmers who receive agriculture subsidies (lest they think about plowing while high!). We don’t require Pell Grant recipients to prove that they’re pursuing a degree that will get them a real job one day (sorry, no poetry!). We don’t require wealthy families who cash in on the home mortgage interest deduction to prove that they don’t use their homes as brothels (because surely someone out there does this). The strings that we attach to government aid are attached uniquely for the poor.

That leads us to the third problem, which is a political one. Many, many Americans who do receive these other kinds of government benefits — farm subsidies, student loans, mortgage tax breaks — don’t recognize that, like the poor, they get something from government, too. That’s because government gives money directly to poor people, but it gives benefits to the rest of us in ways that allow us to tell ourselves that we get nothing from government at all.

Political scientist Suzanne Mettler has called this effect the “submerged state.“ Food stamps and welfare checks are incredibly visible government benefits. The mortgage interest deduction, Medicare benefits and tuition tax breaks are not — they’re submerged. They come to us in round-about ways, through smaller tax bills (or larger refunds), through payments we don’t have to make to doctors (thanks to Medicare), or in tuition we don’t have to pay to universities (because the G.I. Bill does that for us).

Mettler’s research has shown that a remarkable number of people who don’t think they get anything from government in fact benefit from one of these programs. This explains why we get election-season soundbites from confused voters who want policymakers to “keep your government hands off my Medicare!“ This is also what enables politicians to gin up indignation among small-government supporters who don’t realize they rely on government themselves.

Mettler raises a lot of concerns about what the submerged state means for how we understand the role of government. But one result of this reality is that we have even less tolerance for programs that help the poor: We begrudge them their housing vouchers, for instance, even though government spends about four times as much subsidizing housing for upper-income homeowners.

That’s a long-winded way of saying that these proposed laws — which insist that government beneficiaries prove themselves worthy, that they spend government money how the government wants them to, that they waive their privacy and personal freedom to get it— are also simply a reflection of a basic double-standard.

~~  Emily Badger ~~

A Global Wake-Up Call for the U.S.?

The Gilmer Free Press

This past month may be remembered as the moment the United States lost its role as the underwriter of the global economic system. True, there have been any number of periods of frustration for the United States before and multiple times when U.S. behavior was hardly multilateralist, such as the 1971 Nixon shock ending the convertibility of the dollar into gold. But I can think of no event since Bretton Woods comparable to the combination of China’s effort to establish a major new institution and the failure of the United States to persuade dozens of its traditional allies, starting with Britain, to stay out.

This failure of strategy and tactics was a long time coming, and it should lead to a comprehensive review of the U.S. approach to global economics. With China’s economic size rivaling that of the United States and emerging markets accounting for at least half of world output, the global economic architecture needs substantial adjustment. Political pressures from all sides in the United States have rendered the architecture increasingly dysfunctional.

Largely because of resistance from the right, the United States stands alone in the world in failing to approve International Monetary Fund governance reforms that Washington itself pushed for in 2009. By supplementing IMF resources, this change would have bolstered confidence in the global economy. More important, it would come closer to giving countries such as China and India a share of IMF votes commensurate with their increased economic heft.

At the same time, pressures from the left have led to pervasive restrictions on the infrastructure projects financed through the existing development banks — which consequently have receded as infrastructure funders, even as many developing countries have come to see infrastructure finance as their principal external funding need.

With U.S. commitments unhonored and U.S.-backed policies blocking the kinds of finance other countries want to provide or receive through the existing institutions, the way was clear for China to establish the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. There is room for argument about the tactical approach that should have been taken once the initiative was put forward, but the larger question now is one of strategy. Here are three precepts U.S. leaders should keep in mind.

First, U.S. leadership must have a bipartisan foundation, be free from gross hypocrisy and be restrained in the pursuit of our self-interest. As long as one of our major parties is opposed to essentially all trade agreements and the other is resistant to funding international organizations, the United States will not be in a position to shape the global economic system.

Other countries are legitimately frustrated when U.S. officials ask them to adjust their policies — only to then insist that state-level regulators, independent agencies and far-reaching judicial actions are beyond their control. This is especially true when many foreign businesses assert that U.S. actions raise real rule-of-law problems.

The legitimacy of U.S. leadership depends on our resisting the temptation to abuse it in pursuit of parochial interest even when that interest appears compelling. We cannot expect to maintain the dollar’s primary role in the international system if we are too aggressive about limiting its use in pursuit of particular security objectives.

Second, in global as well as domestic politics, the middle class counts the most. It sometimes seems that the prevailing global agenda combines elite concerns about matters such as intellectual property, investment protection and regulatory harmonization with moral concerns about global poverty and posterity while offering little that speaks to those in the middle. Approaches that do not serve the working class in industrial countries (and the rising urban populations in developing ones) are unlikely to work out well in the long run.

Third, we may be headed into a world where capital is abundant, deflationary pressures are substantial and demand could be in short supply for quite some time. In no big industrialized country do markets expect real interest rates to be much above zero in 2020 or for inflation targets to be achieved. In the future, the priority must be promoting investment, not imposing austerity. The present system places the onus of adjustment on borrowing countries. The world we are now in requires a symmetric system in which pressure is placed on surplus countries as well.

These precepts are just a beginning. There are questions about global public goods, about acting with the speed and clarity that the current era requires, about cooperation between governmental and nongovernmental actors and much more. What is crucial is that the events of the past month will be seen by future historians not as the end of an era, but as a salutary wake-up call.

~~  Lawrence Summers - A professor at and past president of Harvard University. He was treasury secretary from 1999 to 2001 and economic adviser to President Obama from 2009 through 2010 ~~


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