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.”

January 27, 2020
by jackli001
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PhD Student Allyson Bachta Represents McCormack School at MLK Memorial Breakfast 2020, Shares Her Experience

By Allyson Bachta, PhD Student in Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance

Photo of Allyson Bachta, CRHSGG PhD StudentPhoto of MGS Community at 50th Year MLK Memorial Breakfast

This January 20th, politicians, religious leaders and the Greater Boston community, came together at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center to honor MLK at the longest running celebration of its kind in the country. The theme for this year’s 50th anniversary event was “The Struggle Continues: Moving Forward Together.” In a passionate speech made by U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley, we were reminded that the Civil Rights Movement is not over!

Representative Pressley’s remarks brought me back to Spring Break 2019, when I traveled South to trace the journey of Martin Luther King Jr. from Boston University PhD student to one of the most well recognized and respected freedom fighters of all time. Carrying copies of “Stride Toward Freedom”[1] and “A Call to Conscience,”[2] I visited historical sites and read summaries of events in situ from his perspective. Arriving on the steps of his parsonage in Montgomery, Alabama, I was chosen by the tour guide to unlock the front door of the home that he shared with Coretta Scott King and his children during the time that he was pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. This was the same community where he was “spontaneously” and unanimously nominated to lead and organize the year-long bus boycott associated with the arrest of Rosa Parks. Legend has it that this was a pre-planned nomination made by a community elder that occurred after he arrived late to a meeting from running copies on the mimeograph (Never miss a staff meeting, am I right?). Essentially, this small decision changed the course of history as we know it.

To get to the door, I had to step around the paver memorializing the spot where a bomb was left on January 30, 1956 in order to claim the set of keys dangling from the tour guide’s hands. I was overwhelmed and awed at being allowed to touch and open the same door that MLK and his family walked through every single day. Those that know me well would not be surprised to learn that just like every other door lock that I have ever encountered, I wasn’t able to open it on the first try. After some help entering the home, we walked past a reproduction of Coretta’s piano, through the dining room with its large pocket doors, past the long table where the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was formed, into the library his church built for him so that he could spend more time with his family while finishing his dissertation, and into the kitchen, where red silk flowers Coretta received from Martin a month before his assassination were centered on their original Formica kitchen table.

It was at this same table where I was seated that King himself sat to “think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward”[3] one night after receiving yet another phone call at home threatening his life. At this same table where I sat, perhaps in the very seat that I occupied, he prayed: “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”[4] While surrounded by these touchstones of the Civil Rights movement, in my inclination to respectfully canonize its participants, at times I have easily lost focus on the fact that they were ordinary people who did extraordinary things, in the face of real fear. But, Martin Luther King Jr was not fearless, or tireless, or without human fault.

Within our own backyard we have the opportunity to remember not only the collaboration between Coretta Scott King and Martin Luther King as married partners who met while attending Boston area colleges, but of the urgent need for policy change in addressing the existence and perpetuation of systemic racism and poverty. While these issues were at the very heart of the Civil Rights Movement, more than fifty years later, systemic poverty is still reinforced and perpetuated by inappropriate and ineffective policies and the wealth gap continues to grow across the country.

In that moment of kitchen table prayer, Martin tells of becoming overwhelmed with peace and hearing an inner voice that told him to “Stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth…”[5] So, I ask you: where and how will you stand up for righteousness and truth? What steps can you take within your studies, research, teaching, and leadership to continue the work that MLK began as a student in the Boston area? How will you push through the fear and exhaustion that comes with the effort of making systemic change? What will you say that needs saying to stop people from “being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression?”[6] Just like my trouble with doors locks, we will most definitely not be successful on the first try and we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help from others when we meet resistance.

“I want to say that in all of our actions, we must stick together. Unity is the great need of the hour, and if we are united, we can get many of the things that we not only desire but which we justly deserve. And don’t let anybody frighten you. We are not afraid of what we are doing, because we are doing it within the law. There is never a time in our American democracy that we must ever think we are wrong when we protest…” – Martin Luther King Jr

“Joy is a necessary act of resistance.” – Representative Ayanna Pressley


Allyson Bachta is a current Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance student. She has earned an M.S. in Global and International Education from Drexel University, an M.Ed in Science Curriculum and Instruction and a B.S. in Exercise Physiology, both from the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Her research interests include:

Peace education initiatives in conflict/post-conflict societies
Truth and reconciliation commissions
Community dialogue for collective action and restorative justice
Non-violent social movements
Intercultural communication


References

[1] King, Martin Luther. Stride Toward Freedom. 3rd ed. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2010.

[2] Carson, Clayborne, and Kris Shepard, eds. A Call to Conscience. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing, 2001.

[3] King, Stride Toward Freedom, 125.

[4] Ibid, 125.

[5] Carson, Clayborne. “The Violence of Desperate Men.” In The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr, 63–82. New York City, NY: Warner Books, 1998, 77.

[6] King, Martin Luther. “First MIA Mass Meeting.” First MIA Mass Meeting. December 5, 1955.

December 18, 2019
by jackli001
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Climate for Cooperation

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

Photo of Jack Whitacre

While news reports dramatize US-China relations as prickly at best, an unsung story of cooperation moves steadily forward. Science is helping to build bridges while diplomacy struggles.

Indeed, climate change, with its disdain for national boundaries, will often require international responses, and may therefore be a key driver of global collaboration, led by scientists.

One example: GOA-ON (Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network) — a global effort to measure the increasing acid content of the ocean includes a large number of organizations – governmental and NGOs worldwide, with the U.S. and China taking leading roles. U.S. organizations include Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Carnegie Institution for Science, along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The state Oceanic Administration of China is also involved, as are Tianjin University and the Yellow Sea Fisheries Research Institute.

As news outlets give the impression that trade negotiations between the U.S. and China are perpetually on the brink either of success or collapse, scientists from both countries – and many others — are working together steadily to measure acidification in a variety of marine environments, and limit its potentially disastrous effects on organisms small and large.

The focus of my own research is on wetlands, including coasts, which also often require collaborative approaches. Strategies for bringing this about were explored earlier this year at a workshop organized by McCormack Graduate School, Tufts, B.U. and MIT. The workshop looked in part at science diplomacy and the implementation of multilateral environmental agreements. Dean David Cash and Associate Professor Maria Ivanova were among the lead presenters.

GOA-ON, the collaborative looking at ocean acidification, is a perfect case study of mostly non-governmental actors – namely scientific actors — setting and shaping research agendas, standards, and international cooperation through novel partnerships and communities of practice. Such efforts are on the rise, and that is good news.

May 15, 2019
by saadiaahmad001
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Massachusetts Expands Protections and Rights for LGBT Groups

by Michael DiFranza, MPA student

Massachusetts has long been ahead of the curve in providing rights and protections for LGBT people compared to other states. In 2004 Massachusetts became the first state to recognize same-sex marriage.[1] Recently several new laws have been passed to extend protections in the state.

This April, MA legislature banned ‘ex-gay’ conversion therapy for youths. Conversion therapy is a practice that is aimed at changing an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This practice is widely rejected by most major medical and psychological institutions like the World Health Organization, the American Psychological Association, and the American Medical Association. Conversion therapy is dangerous, because it can be a psychologically traumatic experience for LGBT youths. This bill passed with bipartisan support and went into effect on April 8th.[2]

On April 25th the MA legislature passed a bill that legally allows individuals to change the sex designation on their birth record. Individuals are not limited to “female” and “male,” but are also given the option to designate as “X,” which would indicate that they do not identify as the other two options; they are another gender, or an undesignated gender. There is no requirement for health-care and medical-related documentation or a proof of name change.

Some states, such as Alabama, allow you to change your sex designation on your birth certificate only after you under-go sex reassignment surgery and legally change your name.[3] The individual, or their guardian, if they are a minor, must provide an affidavit under the penalty of perjury that the person is changing their designation to conform to their gender identity, and not for fraudulent reasons.

Driver’s licenses, learners permits, ID cards, and liquor licenses will now reflect changes in sex designation, with the “X” designation now an option on these forms of ID in Massachusetts. Plans are being put in place to change all forms of documentation issued by state agencies to include the “X” designation for gender. This bill will take effect on January 1, 2020.[4]

In 2016, MA Ballot Question 3 upheld civil rights protections for LGBT people. This prohibited discrimination based on gender identity.[5] Massachusetts had to provide these protections because currently federal civil rights laws do not. Most of the states in the U.S. do not extend protections to transgendered people. This means in large portions of the U.S. someone can be fired from a job, evicted from a home, or refused service at a business based on their gender identity.[6] Extending protections at the federal level will be critical in preventing discrimination against LGBT groups in the future. Until then state level protections must become more comprehensive in order to compensate for the lack of federal protections.

[1] “HILLARY GOODRIDGE & Others vs. DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH & Another.” GOODRIDGE vs. DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH, 440 Mass. 309, 2003, masscases.com/cases/sjc/440/440mass309.html.

[2] Johnson, Chris. “Massachusetts Becomes 16th State to Ban ‘Ex-Gay’ Therapy for Youth.” Washington Blade: Gay News, Politics, LGBT Rights, 8 Apr. 2019, www.washingtonblade.com/2019/04/08/massachusetts-becomes-16th-state-to-ban-ex-gay-therapy-for-youth/.

[3] Ala. Code § 22-9A-19(d) (2004).

[4] “Bill S.2213 An Act Relative to Gender Identity on Massachusetts Identification.” Bill S.2213, 25 Apr. 2019, malegislature.gov/Bills/191/S2213.

[5] Galivn, William Francis. “2018 Information For Voters.” Elections: 2018 Information For Voters, 2019, www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/ele18/ballot_questions_18/quest_3.htm.

[6] Human Rights Campaign. “State Maps of Laws and Policies.” Human Rights Campaign, 2019, www.hrc.org/state-maps

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

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