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“A New American Ethos”: In America These Days, You Can Never Be Punished Enough

We will call her Jane Doe.

We really have no choice, given that that’s the only identification found in the court document. Jane is 57, a Jamaica-born permanent U.S. resident living in New York City. She is a licensed nurse and a mother. She is also a convicted felon.

In 2000, Jane, trying to raise two young daughters on $15,000 a year and an $80 weekly child-support check, was recruited by her then-boyfriend for an insurance scam. They staged a car accident and tried to collect on a claim.

It didn’t work. Jane was convicted on fraud charges and sentenced to 15 months in prison. She was released in 2004.

That’s when her ordeal began.

Her debt to society paid, Jane set out looking for work. She was rehired by a former employer and worked there two years. Then the state Office of Professional Discipline suspended her license for two years for professional misconduct — not because she had done anything wrong, but because of the old conviction.

In the years since, Jane has found barricades on every avenue of gainful employment. Job interviews and even job offers mysteriously evaporate when employers learn about her record. She tried to get a business license to start her own company, only to be rejected twice because of it.

Last year, Jane tried to have her record expunged. Judge John Gleeson denied the request a few days ago, explaining that Jane doesn’t meet the legal standard. But Gleeson — the same judge who sent her to prison — then did something extraordinary. He appended to his 32-page opinion a “federal certificate of rehabilitation.”

Understand: There is no such thing. The official-looking document carries no legal force. It’s just something Gleeson had made for Jane so she can show prospective employers that a federal judge considers her rehabilitated. He says a woman who was convicted once, a long time ago, of a nonviolent crime from which she saw no profit and for which she has served her time, ought not be punished for it the rest of her life.

“I had no intention,” wrote Gleeson, “to sentence her to the unending hardship she has endured in the job market.”

If you consider this a heartwarming story, you miss the point.

Yes, Gleeson did a good and generous thing. One hopes it has the desired effect. But it is unconscionable that Jane Doe’s situation ever reached this extreme.

The shift of American penal philosophy from rehabilitation to punishment has had many disastrous effects: prison overcrowding, mass disenfranchisement, fatherless homes. But the most self-defeating effect is embodied in denying ex-felons employment once they’ve served their time. If you deny them the ability to do lawful work, what obvious option is left?

Granted, there are sometimes good reasons to deny a given ex-felon a given job; no daycare should hire a newly released child molester, for example. But what Jane Doe is facing is rooted less in common sense caution than in a new American ethos where punishment never ends.

That should be anathema to a nation of second chances. Lawmakers must enact reforms that curb the power of employers to discriminate against former felons — or that incentivize their hiring. Questions about criminal records should not be allowed on job applications; a person should have the chance to make a good impression at the job interview without being automatically ruled out for doing some stupid thing a long time ago.

Jane Doe was lucky to have Gleeson on her side, but she shouldn’t have needed him. She did something stupid, yes, but she was duly punished for it.

Except that in America these days, you can never be punished enough.


By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, March 21, 2016

March 22, 2016 Posted by | Convicted Felons, Criminal Justice System, Non-Violent Crimes | , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Surprise, Surprise”: The Real Numbers On ‘The Obamacare Effect’ Are In, Now Let The Crow Eating Begin

After years of negative speculation on the part of the opponents of Obamacare, hard data is finally coming in with respect to the anticipated negative side-effects of the law.

The results are guaranteed to both surprise and depress those who have built their narrative around the effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act.

Let’s begin with the meme threatening that healthcare reform will lead to a serious decline in full-time employment as employers reduce workforce hours to below 30 per week in the effort to avoid their responsibility to provide health benefits to their employees.

It turns out that there has, in fact, been no such rush to reduce work hours. Indeed, numbers released last week reveal that precisely the opposite is taking place.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of part-time workers in the United States has fallen by 300,000 since March of 2010 when the Affordable Care Act was passed into law. What’s more, in the past year alone—the time period in which the nation was approaching the start date for Obamacare—full-time employment grew by over 2 million while part-time employment declined by 230,000.

And it gets even more interesting.

Despite the cries of anguish over the coming destruction of private sector work opportunities at the hands of Obamacare, it turns out that the only significant ‘cutter’ of work hours turns out to be in the public sector where cops, teachers, prison guards and the like are experiencing cuts in work time as cities, states and universities seek to avoid the obligations of the health reform law.

Correct me if I am wrong, but is it not the very same folks who strenuously oppose Obamacare who are constantly screaming for smaller government? Are these not the same people who have, for as many years as I can recall, been carping about swollen government payrolls?

But the false narrative that has been peddled to make us believe that the private sector can’t wait to lower our hours of employment turns out not to be the only false note being played by anti-Obamacare forces.

For months now, we have been pounded with the story of the millions of Americans who have lost their non-group, individual health insurance policy due to cancellations forced by Obamacare.

Yet, a new study just out by Lisa Clemons-Cope and Nathaniel Anderson of the Urban Institute tells a very different story.

How many times have readers, along with television and radio audiences, read or heard me point out that few ever expected to hang onto their individual insurance policy for longer than a year or two following date of purchase? Long before there was Obamacare, it was always clear that when someone purchased an individual health instance policy, it was pretty much a given that they would either be moving on to an employer provided group plan when they get a job or that their policy would respond to the ordinary, pre-Obamacare changes that occurred from year to year and result in the consumer having to purchasing a new plan after a short period of time.

Indeed, it was this very reality that made it clear to those who follow the health insurance industry that Obama’s “If you like your policy you can keep your policy” proclamation was a near impossibility for those participating in the individual marketplace. This simply wasn’t the way the individual market worked.

The Urban Institute study bears this out, noting that “the non-group market has historically been highly volatile, with just 17 percent retaining coverage for more than two years.”

While Obamacare foes have been quick to jump on this statistic when it comes to condemning the President for uttering his promise that you could keep your insurance if you are happy with your policy, the same people have somehow managed to miss the reality that a huge percentage of those who received cancellation notices last year were going to get that notice even if the Affordable Care Act had never existed.

But that is not all that critics have been missing as they’ve sought to exploit the supposed high number of cancellations they claim are due to Obamacare.

To find out just how many people have really been put into an insurance fix, the Urban Institute’s Health Reform Monitoring Survey, in December of 2013, asked people between the ages of 18 and 64 the following question:

“Did you receive a notice in the past few months from a health insurance company saying that your policy is cancelled or will no longer be offered at the end of 2013?”

The following bar published in Health Affairs provides the results—


Note that the number of people who saw their policy cancelled because it did not meet the Obamacare minimum requirements was 18.6 percent—dangerously close to the 17 percent of individual policyholders who were losing their individual market policies pre-Obamacare.

Also note that the 18.6 percent equates to roughly 2.6 million people whose plans were cancelled as a result of Obamacare—a number well below the estimates of 5 million or considerably more being tossed about by Obamacare opposition.

So, what happens to these folks who saw their health insurance policy cancelled?

According to the Urban Institute researchers :

“While our sample size of those with non-group health insurance who report that their plan was cancelled due to ACA compliance is small (N=123), we estimate that over half of this population is likely to be eligible for coverage assistance, mostly through Marketplace subsidies. Consistent with these findings, other work by Urban Institute researchers estimated that slightly more than half of adults with pre-reform, nongroup coverage would be eligible for Marketplace subsidies or Medicaid.”

So what does this data tell us?

As a result of at least half of those cancelled being able to either enroll in a Medicaid program or receive subsidies on the healthcare exchanges, many—if not most—will now find health care coverage at a price lower than previously paid while greatly improving the quality of coverage.

Still, roughly one million people will have to replace their cancelled policy with something that may cost them more. This is not a good thing but it is far, far less dramatic than what we’ve been hearing. It is also a part of the expected upheaval that has always—and will always—result from the passage of reforms designed to benefit the greatest number of people. Traditionally, those who are disadvantaged in this way find that things are sorted out in amendments to the initial legislation, amendments that can only result when Republicans in Congress stop playing politics and begin the serious work of making the law better for Americans.

There is another problem noted in the study—

Because of the amount of focus placed on scaring the you-know-what out of people when it comes to the alleged dire effects of Obamacare rather than educating them, people remain in the dark as to what is available on the exchanges or via the state Medicaid programs.

Per the Urban Institute study—

“Yet making the best enrollment choice may be difficult for consumers. HRMS findings show that many people are not aware of the new state Marketplaces, few know whether their state is expanding Medicaid, and many lack the confidence to enroll, make choices, and pay their premiums.”

Once again, politics trumps policy and the critical needs of those our elected officials are sworn to serve.

I highly encourage everyone—whether friend or foe of healthcare reform—to take a look at the study cited above and the BLS statistics. While most all would agree that there are some repairs that need to be made to the Affordable Care Act, workable fixes designed to benefit the public and improve American healthcare cannot happen so long as politicians, pundits and special interests are devoted to lying about what Obamacare means and what it does not mean to the American public.

Facts matter—even when they screw up an effective disinformation campaign.

UPDATE: Monday, 12:15pm EST:

The news just keeps on coming.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index is out this morning and reveals that 15.9 percent of American adults are now uninsured, down from 17.1 percent for the last three months of 2013 and has shown improvements in every major demographic group with the exception of Hispanics who did not advance.

That translates roughly to 3 million to 4 million people getting coverage who did not have it before.

According to Gallup, the number of Americans who still do not have health insurance coverage is on track to reach the lowest quarterly number since 2008.

This is one statistic that is going to be tough for Obamacare critics to overcome.

By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, March 10, 2014

March 11, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Way Off Base”: Busting Zombie Obamacare Myths

The Republican effort to defund or delay health care reform at any cost has kept alive many misconceptions and false claims about the Affordable Care Act. This roundup of Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ work on issues related to health reform and the federal government shutdown provides a large dose of reality.

A delay in the individual mandate is neither harmless nor fair: Let’s start with the big one: that a one-year delay in the individual mandate requiring everyone to acquire health insurance as long as it is affordable is harmless and fair because the Obama administration delayed for a year the requirement that large employers provide health insurance or pay a penalty. I discussed some flaws in that argument in an earlier post on this blog.

In CBPP’s shutdown roundup, Edwin Park reiterates why a delay in the individual mandate is neither harmless nor fair. It’s not harmless because it would cause 11 million more Americans to remain uninsured in 2014 and result in higher premiums in the individual market for many others, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It also would disrupt the new health insurance exchanges and likely delay the availability of coverage through the exchanges.

It’s also not fair to equate delay of the individual mandate to a delay in the employer requirement. Park highlights an Urban Institute analysis which showed that the employer delay would have only a small effect on the coverage gains expected under the ACA and which concluded that it would “be dangerously wrong” to assume a similarly small effect from a delay of the individual mandate. Similarly, CBO estimates that delaying the employer requirement would increase the number of uninsured by less than 500,000 – a far cry from the estimated 11 million increase from delaying the individual mandate.

The ACA will not likely cause a significant shift to part-time work: The employer responsibility provision whose implementation was delayed until 2015 requires larger employers (those with at least 50 full-time-equivalent workers) to offer health coverage to their full-time employees (those working 30 or more hours a week) or pay a penalty. Critics claim that we could already see a shift to part-time work in the data before the announced delay. Some have argued that the cutoff for defining full-time work should go from 30 hours a week to 40.

In CBPP’s shutdown roundup, Paul Van de Water shows that data this year provides scant evidence of a significant shift toward part-time work and that there’s every reason to believe that the ultimate effect will be small as a share of total employment. Van de Water shows, however, that raising the threshold from 30 to 40 hours a week would expose a significant number of workers to a reduction in hours.

Medical device manufacturers are unlikely to lose from the ACA despite a tax: A strong lobbying effort is underway to repeal the ACA’s 2.3 percent tax on certain medical devices such as coronary stents, artificial knees and hips, cardiac pacemakers, irradiation equipment and imaging technology. In the CBPP roundup, Paul Van de Water explains why that tax, which helps pay for extending health coverage to millions of uninsured Americans, is sound and the arguments against it are not.

First, the tax does not apply to wheelchairs, eyeglasses and other devices that the public generally buys at retail and for individual use. Second, the tax is levied on equipment that manufacturers will likely see a boost in revenue from due to the increase in health coverage afforded by the ACA. As Van de Water points out, a study by Wells Fargo Securities finds that health reform will increase device sales by 1.5 percent in 2014 and by 3.6 percent cumulatively through 2022 – enough to offset the tax.

Finally, this is a highly profitable industry, and the stock prices of the top device manufacturers have generally outperformed market averages since the tax was introduced this year.

The ACA is a major piece of legislation with many interrelated moving parts, and there will be some glitches along the way as it’s implemented. But the criticisms we’re hearing in the current budget fight are way off base.


By: Chad Stone, U. S. News and World Report, October 4, 2013

October 5, 2013 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Individual Mandate | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Withdrawing Unemployment Insurance Will Not Solve Job Crisis

1. The Long-Term Unemployed Are in Dire Financial Shape.

Eliminating unemployment insurance will make matters much worse for those who are already experiencing a financial disaster. In 2009, the Heldrich Center conducted a national survey of workers who lost a job during the recession. When we re-contacted them in August 2011, we found that 4 in 10 were still unemployed or working part time and looking for full-time jobs. Among that group, three quarters had been out of work for more than six months. Fully half had been jobless for more than two years. Their financial condition is dire. They have not only reduced spending on things they would like to have, like vacations and clothing, but also on things they need, such as food, transportation, and healthcare. Sixty percent have sold possessions and borrowed money from family or friends.

2. UI Benefit Support Makes Re-employment More Likely, Not Less.

Eliminating UI will lead to less job seeking, not more. Our surveys found that–compared to people without UI support–those receiving UI spent more time each week going to job interviews and job fairs, networking with friends and colleagues, and scouring the Internet and newspapers for job openings. Enrollment in UI programs keeps workers in the labor market. They get more advice, encouragement, and training. And, job seekers on UI are required to regularly report to state employment agencies about their job search activities.

3. Cutting UI Benefits will drive up the cost of other government programs.

Without UI payments, more unemployed workers will drop out of the labor market and fall into other government safety-net programs. Seven in 10 of the long-term unemployed workers in our study described their financial condition as flat-out “poor.” Yet, the average UI benefit of $1,200 per month–less than the $1,400 average monthly cost of housing in America–is often the vital source of income that enables them to pay their mortgage and feed their family. Withdrawing UI will not solve the job crisis in America, but it will drive up spending in other federal programs, such as food stamps, disability insurance, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Unemployed workers–who would much rather get a job than get a check from the government–will be driven to these programs as a last resort.


By: Carl E. Van Horn, U. S. News and World Report, December 9, 2011

December 10, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Economy | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Americans Don’t Turn Their Backs On Americans In Need

As our economy struggles to regain its footing after the worst recession in the lifetime of most Americans, some Republicans in Congress seem determined to erect barriers to economic recovery. They threatened the full faith and credit of the United States. They brought our government to the brink of a shutdown. They have consistently failed to offer meaningful legislation to encourage job creation. And most recently, they refused to ask our nation’s wealthiest individuals and corporations to pay their fair share toward our national security and other vital public services.

Now, in the midst of the holiday season, many unemployed Americans and their families are left wondering if Republicans will once again undercut consumer demand and business confidence. At the end of December, the federal unemployment insurance programs will begin to shut down, despite the fact that there are still roughly 6.5 million fewer jobs in the economy today than when the Great Recession started in December of 2007. As a result, over 6 million will have their benefits terminated by the end of 2012.

My legislation, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act, would ensure that this does not happen.

Termination of extended federal unemployment coverage would deal a devastating blow to Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and who depend on this lifeline until they can again make ends meet. And make no mistake—allowing these families to fall through the safety net would also hurt our economy. Depriving jobless Americans of the money they need to put food on the table, shoes on their children, and keep a roof over their head will cut consumer demand for thousands of local businesses and increase the number of home foreclosures. According to the Economic Policy Institute, cutting off unemployment benefits would cost over 500,000 jobs.

Nonetheless, some Republicans suggest we cannot afford to maintain assistance for the unemployed. That’s right, the same crowd that continues to promote big tax breaks for the wealthiest few, while preserving multinational corporate tax loopholes, argues that helping the unemployed is just too high a mountain for our country to climb.

These are the same Republicans who blame unemployment on the unemployed. Never mind that unemployment insurance replaces less than half of a worker’s former wages and the average unemployment check fails to get a family of four above 70 percent of the poverty level. There are over four unemployed workers for every job opening, meaning that even if every single available job was taken by an unemployed worker there would still be over 10 million of our fellow citizens without work.

As Congress debates my bill, I hope representatives don’t recall just the numbers, but the real people behind them, people like Lynnette, an unemployed worker: “I’m fifty now. It’s the first time I’ve drawn unemployment in my life. I’m tired, I’m demoralized. It was extremely hard for me to get where I was. I strived and fought and suffered. I paid more than my share of dues. I did everything I was supposed to do…Please extend the benefits. Please be aware that this country didn’t suddenly become filled with lazy folks who don’t want to work.”

Americans don’t turn their backs on Americans in need. The time to extend this critical program that serves as a lifeline for so many families is now.


By: U. S. Rep Lloyd Doggett, 25th District of Texas, U. S. News and World Report, December 9, 2011

December 10, 2011 Posted by | Congress | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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