McCormack Speaks

July 9, 2020
by jackli001
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Black Lives Matter – A Juneteenth Post by Center for Social Policy

On this Juneteenth, we celebrate the end of slavery. But the horrific and painful lynching of George Floyd proves that Black people are not afforded the same inalienable rights as white people. I have taken the time to learn about the murders of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, and many others who were senselessly killed by those we entrust to enforce the law. I send my condolences to their families and communities for the senseless and tragic loss of their lives.

While the Center for Social Policy has always focused on uncovering the root causes of inequities – racial, gender, and class – recent events prompted me to deepen my understanding of systemic racism. After losing myself in many book lists focused on racial injustice, I realized I could start with books already on my shelf, waiting to be read. I began with Stacey Abrams Lead from the Outside, which is both a memoir and a how-to on how Abrams created and achieved her many successes in law, politics, publishing, and non-profits. I recommend Lead from the Outside for anyone seeking to understand the barriers Black women face, the extraordinary hurdles they are forced to overcome, and strategies they can apply to create pathways to leadership.

To learn more about racial injustices and law enforcement, I watched 13th, a documentary which centers around the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which outlaws slavery except as a punishment for a crime. It graphically depicts, from the Civil War to the present day, how the law has been grossly and unfairly applied to Black Americans. It reveals how the law has been used to justify ongoing murder, mass criminalization, prison labor, and the growing prison industry. Next up, also already on my bookshelf, I plan to finish The New Jim Crow, which focuses on how the criminal justice system operates as a means of racial control, stripping prisoners and returning citizens not only of their basic right to vote, but also of their access to housing, employment, and public benefits.

Of course, it is understanding this intersection – the need for public benefits due especially to high housing costs combined with low paying jobs – that is the focal point of the Center for Social Policy. Workers in these low-pay jobs such as frontline healthcare employees or grocery cashiers have been rebranded as “essential workers” or “heroes.” No matter how essential their labor is to our basic needs of health and food, these jobs rarely pay a living wage, offer health benefits, paid leave, flexible schedules, or other benefits that those of us non-essential workers who are privileged to work from home take for granted. It is important to remember that these essential workers are disproportionately people of color.

As a result of these low quality jobs, many essential workers are at greater risk for food insecurity and homelessness. Consequently, they need to rely on public benefits to meet basic financial needs. The challenge of balancing public benefits with income is nearly impossible, due to the benefits cliff, where a small increase in income leads to a loss of critical supports, such as housing assistance.

Our research at CSP intends to end this “incarceration by social policy” that disproportionately traps Black Americans, especially Black mothers. Transformational change is needed, starting at the federal level, and it must go hand-in-hand with reforms in criminal justice. Without it, the freedom of Blacks from slavery and death will not go far enough, as families of color will still be unable to climb the economic ladder as they watch their white peers gain a hand up each step of the way.

What does Black Lives Matter mean for the Center for Social Policy, an applied research center? Our work includes research, evaluation, technical assistance, tools, and guides. Many of our projects already focus on racial equity, but now we commit to going deeper and being more intentional with each and every project. Specifically, every project CSP undertakes will follow these guidelines:

  • Continue to center the voices of Black people and other people of color, who are impacted by economic hardship, so that our work is grounded in their lived experience. In this way, our analysis will ensure that policies and practices will not create unintended consequences for Black people.
  • Increase the use of racial equity frameworks, employing tools and assessments such as those created by Race Forward. In that way, we will be better equipped to identify and develop solutions to better address systemic racism.
  • Specifically request that partners and key stakeholders include persons of color during the research process. Our work frequently involves interviewing community and business leaders. For these projects, we will request our interview targets include at least one interviewee of color as part of the process.
  • Continue attempts to disaggregate data by race, but now share more technical details when race data are not available. Sometimes race and ethnic data are not available because it is not provided by respondents or because doing so could cause concerns about identifying specific individuals, thereby destroying anonymity. But often it is not provided by public government agencies who are either not tracking it, or may have the data but refuse to share it. In those cases, we will provide more information about the ways the data were requested and why it was not provided.

The work is not easy. As an example, since we know that people of color are disproportionately poor, and that systemic racism is deeply embedded in our institutions and systems, we have designed a research study that explores the relationship between employment and public benefits from a racial lens. The planned study is both quantitative and qualitative, centering the voice of impacted Black families. The goal is to develop policy changes that will alleviate identified cliff effects to encourage family stability and economic mobility.

But over the past few years, the study was rejected by three funders, and it did not fit the criteria for two other funders we were targeting.

We will keep trying. Black families deserve more than merely a right to live and freedom from slavery. Black families deserve the right to live without violence, without health disparities, without economic hardship, and so much more.

In Justice,

Susan Crandall

Director, Center for Social Policy

June 8, 2020
by jackli001
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Ubuntu – Poem by James Whitacre

James Whitacre, PhD Student in Global Governance and Human Security & Research Associate, Center for Governance and Sustainability

Ubuntu 2020 Event

For me, the poem “Ubuntu” marks a moment of solidarity in our Pan-African Graduate Scholars Association. While we have different research areas as Africanists, Africans, and African American Africans, “Ubuntu” explores a place some call home. Through a geophysical-psychology blend (Kano’s granite, etc), the poem grounds itself in Nigeria’s regional socio-cultural realities. Paying tribute to difference (because unity is not uniformity), the poem highlights a shared human orientation to the current Covid-19 scourge. A mirror peck of the ocean which is Ubuntu’s traditional meaning, this contemporary poem invites readers to transcend our “selves”, use our hearts, and contemplate our interconnection to our communities and the human whole.

One Professor,

With roots to one place,

Where 500 languages live,

In the hearts of 200 million people,

Whose feet walk, where soil speaks,

Loose sand Norths,

Granite in Kano,

Red Savannas,

Forest Souths,

Many people, sharing an orientation,

To the coming and going,

of droughts and floods.

 

Nigeria…

Now a land of who lives and who dies,

Because of a disease named after a crown,

One Professor,

With roots to one place,

Taught me one word,

Which our whole world needs now more than ever,

while we wait out this common drought:

Ubuntu. Ubuntu. Ubuntu.

“I am because you are.”

January 31, 2020
by jackli001
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National Academy of Social Insurance Recognizes McCormack School Professor’s Innovative Proposal

By McCormack Graduate School

Photo of Christian Weller, Professor, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

Social Security is a bedrock benefit in the United States, but are there opportunities to innovate to better serve older Americans?

Christian Weller, PhD, a McCormack Graduate School Professor in the Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs, is researching solutions to support older unemployed workers who frequently face age discrimination or severe health issues – but who don’t yet qualify for full Social Security benefits.

“The current system is particularly pernicious for [these workers],” said Dr Weller. “This is because the United States’ disability insurance system is the strictest in the world and often excludes workers who, in reality, cannot reasonably work longer.”

In December, Dr. Weller was awarded and recognized by the National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI), in collaboration with AARP, for his proposal: “A New Bridge Benefit under Social Security,” co-authored with Rebecca Vallas, a disability policy expert at the Center for American Progress, and Stephanie Lessing, a doctoral student in the McCormack Graduate School’s Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs.

“We are proposing to add a new benefit to Social Security, one that would be higher than early retirement benefits but below full retirement benefits,” said Dr. Weller. “It will build a bridge into full retirement for workers who need to leave the labor force early.”

To pay for this new benefit, the team of experts calls for an end to the current system of tax deductions and exclusions for retirement savings. Dr. Weller says, “The federal government should use that money to create progressive universal savings credits and transfer some of that money to Social Security to pay for the benefit.”

The team believes older adults will achieve three major benefits should the proposal be enacted:

  • Gaining financial security – The chance of ending up in poverty due to no fault of their own would be sharply reduced for older workers who can no longer work.
  • Reducing hardships – Cut the likelihood that people will experience material struggles such as an inability to pay their rent.
  • Promote passive saving – Lower-income workers would get more help saving for retirement from the tax code than is currently the case.

The proposal was one in a package of four policy ideas that, together, begin to address problems associated with retirement insecurity. The four winning proposals, each of which was awarded $20,000, were selected through a process of blind reviews by a panel of judges, with the complementary nature of the proposals a key consideration.

The recognition reflects Professor Weller and his co-authors’ expertise in tax policy as well as the McCormack School’s focus on effective government social equity at the local and global levels. Dr. Weller continues to apply his extensive research on retirement income, wealth inequality and economic policy through the Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs’ academic programs.

“Older workers still face a lot of labor market discrimination,” said Dr. Weller. “They often have no other choice than to accept permanently reduced early retirement benefits. In the past five years, the labor market has improved for older workers. The time to prepare for an increase in older worker’s economic vulnerability is now.”

May 15, 2019
by saadiaahmad001
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An Act to Protect the Commonwealth from Dangerous Persons

by Jessica Lambert, MPA student

On January 15, Governor Baker re-filed An Act to Protect the Commonwealth from Dangerous Persons. This legislation was in response to the tragic police officer deaths of Yarmouth Police Officer Sean Gannon and Weymouth Police Officer Michael Chesna. Both of these officers were killed by offenders with prior criminal records, one of whom had a long history of violence. These officers’ lives would have been spared, if Massachusetts had already adopted proper criminal justice legislation with regards to dangerous individuals.

The proposed bill includes provisions impacting our current criminal justice and courts system. It empowers law enforcement and judges to make better informed decisions with regards to withholding bail for certain individuals who have a prior history of dangerous and illegal behavior. This legislation would address the fact that in Massachusetts, “prosecutors are permitted to ask a judge to hold a defendant because of the danger the defendant poses to the community only in a limited number of cases, and under a set of procedures that do not provide the district attorneys or the courts with the information they need to make fully informed decisions” (Baker, 2018). This ties law enforcement’s hands behind their backs. District attorneys and judges are only allowed to hold individuals on the basis of dangerousness to the community in certain cases and without a full criminal history.

The Baker-Polito administration put forth a number of common sense policies to reform these processes. With regards to the court system, “this legislation expands the list of offenses which can provide grounds for a dangerousness hearing, and it also follows the long-standing federal model in including a defendant’s history of serious criminal convictions as grounds that may warrant a dangerousness hearing (Baker, 2018).” It essentially allows for the court to have all the information on a defendant when deciding whether or not that individual should be released on bail. This legislation will stop dangerous individuals from re-entering society when they are a danger to their communities. “It also ensures that a person who a court determines is a danger or who violates his or her conditions of release is held until the time of trial or other disposition of the case, rather than being released after a defined period (Baker, 2018).” This will ensure that dangerous individuals are held indefinitely until they can be given a fair trial so that they don’t hurt anyone else in the interim.

With regards to law enforcement, this bill also gives the police a more concrete way to deal with probation violations and with individuals who commit felonies. For example, allowing the police to act on and arrest “a person who they observe violating a condition of release (Baker, 2018).” Under current law, police are not allowed to do this, and officers essentially watch as criminals continually violate the pre-conditions of their release without being able to take action Additionally, the legislation, “extends the requirement that police take the fingerprints of people arrested for felonies to all people arrested, regardless of the charge, to ensure that decisions about release can be made with knowledge of a person’s true identity and full criminal history (Baker, 2018).” This allows law enforcement to make sure that they have the full history of a person who commits a felony to determine whether or not they are a danger to the community.

I would argue that this legislation offers common sense policies to protect the people and first-responders of the Commonwealth from dangerous individuals. Just a small amount of justice for the Gannon and Chesna families.

References

Baker, C. (2018). An Act to Protect the Commonwealth from Dangerous Persons. https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2018/09/06/Dangerous%20Persons%20Letter%20and%20Bill%20Text.pdf

May 15, 2019
by saadiaahmad001
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Criminal Justice Reform Needs More Money and More Mental Health and Drug Use Resources

by Alexandra Traganos, MPA student

Bill S.2371 was signed into legislation in April of 2018. A year later not much has changed. Can the criminal justice system really be reformed? And how so?

Bill S. 2371 ensures that law enforcement agencies that are responsible for firearms licensing, and state agencies that license child care providers, have access to sealed criminal records [1].  The legislation’s goal is to provide opportunities to break the cycle of incarceration, strengthen support for victims, and end the criminalization of poverty.

It does touch upon the opioid epidemic, but not enough. The state needs more money to reform the system and a lot more needs to be focused on mental health and drug use. These issues need to be tackled head on.

With more than 2,000 opioid overdoes a year [2] and 21,000 people incarcerated between jail and prison– what more can the courts do? Pre-trial diversion programs cost the system well over hundreds of thousands of dollars and not enough research has been done to see if there effective. Most defendants have little to no support system, which is why they re-offend. Something needs to be fixed.

Criminal justice reform is often aimed at cleaning up the states court system. But in my opinion, its agencies like the Department of Mental Health (DMH) and the Department of Public Health (DPH) that really need the cleaning up.  There needs to be more available resources to reduce recidivism, which in return, affects the court system. This could include anything from free mental health evaluations for defendants to giving the homeless on “meth mile” Narcan. The state needs to start allocating more of its budget to these agencies.  This would minimize cases in the court system, reducing re-offending. Bill S.2371 should have had more emphasis on the Department of Mental Health and the Department of Public Health rather than the Trial Court.

Much has been done to waive fees, bail reform, eliminate mandatory minimums, and increase the use of diversion [3] – but that isn’t enough. That is all court-based.  In Suffolk County alone, eighty-five percent of people that are incarcerated have drug or alcohol offenses. More than forty-two percent have mental health issues [3]. If the state was more pro-active than re-active, maybe these numbers would be lower. If more help was aimed at tackling mental health and drug issues, crime rates would be down, and social reform wouldn’t be as much of an issue. There would be less foot traffic in the courts and more in recovery programs.

[1] https://malegislature.gov/Bills/190/S2371

[2] https://www.mass.gov/inmate-and-prison-research-statistics

[3] https://www.brennancenter.org/blog/massachusetts-sets-example-bipartisan-criminal-justice-reform

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