McCormack Speaks

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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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

February 19, 2019
by saadiaahmad001
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Cliff Effects Webinar Draws in Over 250 Listeners From Around the Country

by Caitlin Carey, Doctoral Candidate of Public Policy and Public Affairs

On Tuesday, January 29th, the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Center for Social Policy hosted a webinar called, Cliff Effects: Turning Research into Action for Economic Mobility. The webinar highlighted the latest research on cliff effects from the Center for Social Policy and focused on how research is being deployed for policy and workforce practice.

Center for Social Policy Director Susan Crandall, along with Werby Intern, Magaly Vanessa, Saenz Somaribba, and PPPA doctoral student Caitlin Carey, presented their latest findings on cliff effects in Hampden County, Massachusetts, including an overview of policy solutions.

Michael Cole, Director of Budget and Analytics for the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance, presented on the Learn to Earn Initiative and the CommonCalc Benefits Navigation Tool. With input from a CSP prototype, the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance is developing the CommonCalc Tool in order to better help workforce development providers assist program participants in getting over the benefits cliffs.

Milissa Daniels at Holyoke Community College, one of the five Learn to Earn grants recipients, spoke on the success to date of the medical assisting program. Anne Kandilis, Springfield WORKS/Working Cities Challenge Director, Economic Development Council of Western Mass, shared her findings from the Springfield WORKS initiative in which employers partnered with local workforce development providers ton increase employee retention. She also shared a detailed example of a family facing cliff effects, developed in partnership with the Center for Social Policy, entitled “Christina’s Dilemma.”

Abhidnya Kurve, Policy Associate & Coordinator for the On Solid Ground Coalition, spoke about On Solid Ground, which is cross-sector coalition of families and advocates, with the Center for Social Policy as the lead research partner. She highlighted new legislation to address housing stability and economic mobility for families living in Massachusetts.

According to Crandall, accessible webinars such as this that inform both the public and policymakers are an essential part of the Center for Social Policy’s mission. She commented, “I am thrilled that our Center for Social Policy research on cliff effects is being successfully deployed to develop tools, enhance practice, and influence policy for economic mobility. As an applied research center working at the intersection of employment practice and public policy, it is exactly what we aspire to do.”

February 19, 2019
by saadiaahmad001
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Being Black in America: Reflecting on Where We Are on the Way to Where We Are Going

by Olanike Ojelabi, Doctoral Student, Department of Public Policy and Public Affairs

As African Americans living in America, we have come a long way! From slavery to emancipation to a Black president who served two terms, to many other great accomplishments by Black iconic leaders and individuals for America. This progress made by peoples and communities of African descent is commendable; yet, the health of America’s democracy is questionable if there remain stark disparities in equity and social justice for all.

More than 100 years ago in 1903, W.E.B. Du Bois- a civil rights activist who died in Africa- specifically in Accra, Ghana- was a vanguard pan-Africanist, Black sociologist, historian, and the first African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard. Du Bois wrote “The Souls of Black Folk” [1] and many of his words in this groundbreaking book resonates with the experiences of many peoples of African descent in America today. In his first chapter “Of Our Spiritual Strivings,” DuBois highlights this unasked question – How does it feel to be a problem? For Du Bois, Whites couldn’t ask this real question to him directly. Du Bois contended that between him (Blacks) and this other world (America), there remained an invisible line, making it difficult to attain equality. Du Bois would say that despite being free, peoples of African descent remain constrained by the veil – a metaphor for color line that makes it difficult to achieve a relative level of success in America.

Du Bois’ concerns then are still valid today. Racial segregation, discrimination, and inequality are not yet a thing of the past. They pervade many institutions saddled with the responsibility to serve all Americans. An encounter with one institution can affect opportunities in another institution, making it more difficult for many African Americans to succeed. For instance, African Americans are only 13.4% of America’ population; yet, they are over-represented in the criminal justice system, accounting for 40% of the more than 2 million people in it [2]. Our encounter with the criminal justice system can lead to loss of voting right, job, housing, and educational opportunities. These systems, the type of interactions among them, and the conscious or unconscious racialized policies in place continue to enhance racial nuances that have consequential effects for peoples and communities of African descent and America [3].

The school system, that ought to nurture the intellectual capacity of American children, is another example. Through policies and practices like the zero-tolerance policies, this same system fosters the journey of many Black kids into the criminal justice system in a phenomenon known as the school-to-prison pipeline [4]. According to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights [5], Black students, even preschoolers, are disproportionately suspended from school. While Black students represent only 16% of student enrollment, they account for 31% of students subjected to a school-related arrest. This is concerning especially when compared with White students who represent 51% of enrollment, but only 39% of those subjected to a school-related arrest . This systematic racism tends to make us oblivious of the persistence of racism, but the experiences and effects linger in our society, even much more in the lives of African Americans who live in this reality.

W.E.B. Du Bois concludes his book with hopes for the future. This will be a future where all Americans irrespective of their identity can be assured equality and justice. We celebrate Black history month in remembrance and appreciation of great Americans – and Africans – like Du Bois, but the joy of celebration will become greater if we celebrate in the realization of their hopes- an America for all. So, let America and all its people rise for racial justice. We can make Black history month celebrate both accomplishments of Blacks in America, and the equality and justice that all Americans have truly achieved!

 

Footnotes

[1] W.E.B. Du Bois. (1903). The Souls of Black Folk. Chapter One “Of our spiritual strivings,” https://www.gutenberg.org/files/408/408-h/408-h.htm

[2] Wagner P., and Rabuy, B. (2019). Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2017. Prison Policy Initiative https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2017.html

[3] Grant-Thomas, A., and Powell, J.A. (2009). “Structural Racism and Color Lines in the United States,” in A., Grant-Thomas and G., Orfield (Eds.). Twenty-First Century Color Lines: Multiracial Change in Contemporary America (pp. 118-142). Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

[4] Cole, N.L. (2019). Understanding the School-to-Prison Pipeline. ThoughtCo.

https://www.thoughtco.com/school-to-prison-pipeline-4136170

[5] U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. (2014). Civil Rights Data Collection: Data Snapshot (School Discipline). U.S. Department of Education. https://ocrdata.ed.gov/Downloads/CRDC-School-Discipline-Snapshot.pdf

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