McCormack Speaks

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

May 1, 2019
by saadiaahmad001
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MassHealth Yearly Coverage Renewal Process

By Carla Thomas, MPA Student

Applying for MassHealth is time-consuming and can be very stressful on both applicants and their families. The moments of waiting to learn which plan one qualifies for, or especially being denied the very coverage that one is in need of, is all quite a very overwhelming and difficult experience.  After having to go through this crucial application torture comes a yearly renewal process that is a burden for people with severe mental and physical disabilities. Their health and financial status will likely not change, or if they do, it might not make that much of a difference in their eligibility status.

After gathering some information from a phone conversation with a MassHealth agent, I now understand that people do have the option of setting their account automatically, so that the account gets updated yearly on its own and clients don’t have to deal with the extra renewal paper work. I can only wonder if half of MassHealth clients have ever been properly informed of this option.  I understand the sole purpose of having clients renew their coverage yearly is to learn if they have a new address of social security number, if their federal tax return was filled out, if there was a change in immigration or citizenship status — in other words, new information that needs to be updated.  There should be an easier option for people with disabilities and for the elderly.  Either their age or disability could qualify them for not having to go through the renewal process, or maybe it should be less of a burden to them.

Basically, for those who didn’t choose the automatic option, they are on their very own regardless of their health status. They either rely on family help or local community agencies. But, in addition to their daily health struggles, they have to remember to renew their MassHealth yearly, otherwise the coverage might be jeopardized or frozen.  I learned that clients have a 45-day period, giving them enough time to take action and send the renewal paper work.

It sounds like a very easy task for someone like myself who’s somewhat healthy and has no medical barrier.  I can only wish that such a large agency as MassHealth — whose mission is to help people in need — would spare those with severe health issues having to deal with extra paper work yearly.  If you know someone who may need help filling out the renewal application, you can help them connect to a MassHealth representative at 800-841-2900, help them look for an Enrollment Center,  or you can simply help them with the renewal application.

Below is the link from Mass.gov regarding MassHealth’s coverage renewal. If you or your loved ones know seniors or persons with disabilities who are currently receiving MassHealth coverage, please share this information with them.

https://www.mass.gov/how-to/renew-your-coverage-for-masshealth-the-health-safety-net-or-the-childrens-medical-security

March 29, 2019
by saadiaahmad001
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New Leadership Lends New Opportunities for Massachusetts Children

by Michelle Haimowitz, MPA student

While some public policy investments may eventually pay for themselves in savings, few public investments provide as much of a return on investment as early childhood education. For every dollar invested in high-quality early childhood education, local economies receive at least $7 in return.[1] Returns are not only found in educational achievements such as high school graduation rates, but in higher lifetime earnings, reduced teen pregnancy rates, and reduced incarceration rates among graduates of high-quality early learning programs.

Unfortunately, early childhood education does not receive as much public investment as the research shows it should. High-quality early education is dependent on the workforce and teachers in the classroom. However, lack of public investment leads to extreme rates of educator turnover – roughly 30% each year – which impedes children’s ability to learn in a consistent environment.[2] Early childhood educators are paid just a fraction of what their peers in public elementary classrooms make, despite often having the same degrees and credentials. In fact, 59 percent of all Head Start teachers in Massachusetts hold bachelor’s degrees.[3] Yet the average child care worker in Massachusetts makes less than $30,000 per year, less than half of what the average kindergarten teacher makes.[4] This doesn’t just put our children at a disadvantage, but costs the state enormously – nearly 40% of the early childhood workforce in Massachusetts receives some form of public assistance, at a cost of $35.6 million to the state and federal governments.[5]

This crisis is not impossible to solve; the answer is increased state investment in the early childhood education workforce. This year, Massachusetts is in a unique position with new State House leaders at the head of their respective chamber’s Committee on Ways and Means, the key budget writing committee. Representative Aaron Michlewitz and Senator Michael Rodrigues are both in the position to write their first budget, setting priorities for their tenures in these positions and guiding the legislature in determining state investments. Both Senator Rodrigues and Representative Michlewitz now have the opportunity to write a budget that invests in the field and the workforce that we know shows long-term returns to our state – early childhood education. These State House leaders can choose to spend state resources on early educators now rather than spending later in public assistance for those working with our youngest learners. If significant investments are made in early education quality and access – including investments to the Early Educator Rate Reserve, the Head Start State Supplemental Grant, and the Commonwealth Preschool Partnership Initiative – Massachusetts’ children, educators, and economy will be strengthened.

[1] First Five Years Fund. (n.d.). Quality Early Childhood Education: Why It Matters. Retrieved from https://www.ffyf.org/why-it-matters/

[2] Douglass, A. (2017, July 18). Massachusetts early education programs are in peril. The Boston Globe. Retrieved from https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2017/07/18/massachusetts-early-education-programs-are-peril/rlyXHYwkYEKJz66kOtOi5J/story.html?event=event12

[3] Massachusetts Head Start Association. (2018). 2018 Annual Report. Retrieved from https://wwwmassheadstart.files.wordpress.com/2019/01/mhsa-anual-report-2018-online-version.pdf

[4] United States Department of Education. (2016, June 14). Fact Sheet: Troubling Pay Gap for Early Childhood Teachers. Retrieved from https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/fact-sheet-troubling-pay-gap-early-childhood-teachers

[5] Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, University of California, Berkeley. (2016). Early Childhood Workforce Index 2016: Massachusetts. Retrieved from http://cscce.berkeley.edu/files/2016/Index-2016-Massachusetts.pdf

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