Let Them Go Hungry?

It appears there is a new federal policy to let old people and children go hungry.

House Republicans succeeded in passing a Farm Bill last week by a vote of 216-208 by divesting funding for food stamps from federal agricultural policy. It was the first time food stamps had not been a part of the farm bill since 1973. Food stamps, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), historically constitute about 80 percent of the funding in a Farm Bill.

 Forty-seven percent of all  SNAP participants were children in fiscal year 2010, according to the  the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)(See Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households: Fiscal Year 2010. (2011). USDA FNS)

Long Term Unemployed

Meanwhile, the long term unemployed continue to lose benefits under the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program (EUC)  as a result of budget cuts under the so-called Sequester.- the automatic $85 billion across-the-board spending cuts in the federal budget for fiscal 2013 that took effect March 1.

 Recipients of  EUC benefits across the nation have seen their benefits reduced by a minimum of 10.7 percent weekly because of the sequester, according to the National Employment Law Project.  That’s a minimum!  North Carolina was dropped from the program altogether leaving thousands in the lurch.

The loss of EUC benefits has had a disparate impact upon older workers. The National Employment Law Project reports that older unemployed workers suffer the highest percentage of long-term unemployment of all age groups, with more than half of unemployed workers ages 45 and older out of work for longer than 27 weeks. In 2007, less than one in four unemployed older workers was out of work for more than half a year.

Food Insecure

 The USDA says  16.7 million children under 18 in the United States lived in households in 2011 where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life.   Food insecurity is harmful to any individual but can be devastating for  children due to their increased vulnerability and the potential for long-term consequences. 

In 2011, approximately 22 percent of American children – 16.1 million children – lived in poverty. (See DeNavas-Walt, C., B.D. Proctor, J.C. Smith. (2012). Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2011. U.S. Census Bureau)

 Current federal farm and food aid policy expires on Sept. 30.  If Congress fails to pass a new bill in time American farmers will fall back to a 1949 law governing the industry, which are exprected to lead to steep price increases on items such as milk.  Republicans reportedly want make massive cuts in food stamp funding.


Corporations v. Long-Term Unemployed

Picture of America’s Priorities

Two reports came out last week that paint a graphic portrait of America’s questionable priorities.

 The General Accounting Office (GAO) reported that for tax year 2010 (the most recent information available), profitable U.S. corporations paid U.S. federal income taxes amounting to about 13 percent of the pretax worldwide income that they reported in their financial statements. This is, of course, well below the U.S. statutory corporate tax rate of  35 percent. 

 The second report was from the National Employment Law Project, which found that  across-the-board federal budget cuts known as sequestration have resulted in a 15 percent loss of federal benefits to the nation’s long-term unemployed.  The average weekly payment for workers who have been out of a job longer than six months was cut from $289 to $246.  That reflects a total loss of $172 in their monthly income.

 “Congress’s first priority should be job creation and restoring opportunity through work for the millions who remain unemployed,” said NELP Executive Director Christine Owens. “Yet Congress has made an uphill climb for the long-term unemployed even steeper.”

 The federal budget cuts took effect in March and cut $2.4 billion from the benefits paid to the long-term jobless under the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program. The program pays jobless benefits to unemployed workers who have exhausted state unemployment benefits, which typically have a 26-week limit.

Maryland was among the states facing the deepest cuts because of the sequester. Average weekly benefits there were slashed from $325 a week to $253 — a 22 percent cut.

 Besides Maryland, the states with the highest-percentage reductions for EUC benefits are New Jersey, where payments are down 22.2 percent; Montana, where they are down 19.6 percent; and Connecticut, where they were slashed by 19.2 percent

In North Carolina, lawmakers chose to end all federal EUC benefits on July 1. The move cut off emergency jobless payments to an estimated 70,000 people, even though the state has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the nation.

Who are they?

The nation’s unemployment rate includes individuals who are in the labor market but does not capture underemployment—the eight million part-time workers who would rather be working full-time. Additionally, there are 6.8 million discouraged workers who want to work but who have stopped looking. NELP estimates there are 27 million unemployed or underemployed workers—over two times more than the official number. 

Here is a NELP chart that sheds light on the characteristics of the long-term unemployed: :

National Employment Law Project
National Employment Law Project

NELP reports that older unemployed workers suffer the highest percentage of long-term unemployment of all age groups, with more than half of unemployed workers ages 45 and older out of work for longer than 27 weeks.

 Older unemployed workers, many with mortgages and families to support, cannot save for retirement and are more likely to fall back on already strained disability, medical, and income support programs.

 According to NELP, the United States is  approaching the sixth straight year of continuous high unemployment.


Wage Theft Goes Unpunished

If you rob a liquor store and get caught, you may serve time in prison.

But nothing much happens when an unscrupulous employer steals money from an employee’s paycheck.

That’s the sad conclusion of a national report recently released by the Progressive States Network (PSN), entitled,  Where Theft is Legal: Mapping Wage Theft Laws in the 50 States.

The PSN report finds that state laws are grossly inadequate to combat the epidemic of “wage theft” by unscrupulous employers in the United States. Some states levy no fines at all for wage theft, according to the report, while most others invoke penalties smaller than a speed­ing ticket.

 Wage theft is the systemic non-payment of wages that owed to workers.

The PSN estimates that more than 60% of low-wage workers suffer wage violations each week. On average, the PSN reports, low-wage workers lose $51 per week to wage theft, or $2,634 per year.  For low-wage workers, that amounts to 15% of their annual income, at average earnings of $17,616 per year.

The problem also costs states millions of dollars each year in lost revenue.  Yet, according to PSN, the vast majority of states have few, if any, protections against wage theft.   “Our comprehensive survey of state laws … reveals that 44 of the 50 states (plus Washington, DC) do not receive passing grades on combat­ing the wage theft epidemic,” states the PSN report.

Even states that ranked highly in the PSN survey –  New York and Massachusetts –  received barely passing grades.

Two states — Alabama and Mississippi — scored zero points in the survey, indicating they essentially offer workers no protection at all against wage theft.

Wage theft typically occurs when employers misclassify workers as exempt employees under federal or state wage and hour laws to avoid paying overtime. For example, a cashier may be called a manager even though he or she has no management duties.. Or employers fail to pay workers the minimum wage or cheat them of earned benefits.  Subcontracting employers often try to shirk their responsibilities under wage-and-hour law by claiming that a temp agency or another inter­mediary is actually the sole employer responsible for wage payment.

The PSN reports the ability of the federal and state governments to enforce wage and hour laws has sharply declined in recent years.

The U.S. De­partment of Labor (USDOL) has only one enforcement agent for every 141,000 workers, down from one per 11,000 workers in 1941.  The PSN reports that state revenue shortfalls and layoffs have resulted in less than 15% of the enforcement coverage offered by state agencies several decades ago.

In 2008, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) and a team of advocates, policy groups, and academic research centers surveyed workers in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York and  found:

  •  64% of low-wage workers experience wage theft each week.
  • 26% are paid under the legal minimum wage.
  • 76% of workers owed overtime go unpaid or underpaid.

Since the NELP report, New York passed the Wage Theft Prevention Act of 2010, which is considered to be the strongest state law in the country, with beefed up anti-retaliation provisions, requirements for notification, and a remedy that allows workers to recover damages.

Founded in 2005, the PSN provides coordinated research and strategic advocacy tools to state legislators and their staffs, empowering these decision-makers to adopt progressive policies.