In Focus

Jul 6, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Supreme Court Upholds Race-Conscious Admissions for Higher Education

By: Clarence Okoh

The Supreme Court of the United States recently issued its highly anticipated ruling in Fisher v Texas, upholding the constitutionality of the University of Texas’ race-conscious admissions practice. The 4-3 decision ensures that colleges and universities can continue to use affirmative action policies to promote access to higher education for communities of color. As our nation’s workforce becomes more racially diverse and the educational requirements of quality jobs are elevated, people of color need expanded access to higher education to ensure that our economy is vibrant, equitable, and inclusive.

This is the second time that the Court has ruled on this case; the first ruling, a 7-1 decision, came in 2013 when the Supreme Court sent the case back to a lower court to apply a more rigorous evaluation in determining the constitutionally of Texas’ program. The June 23 ruling affirms that the program does in fact meet this higher standard and further underscores the critical role of racial diversity in shaping positive learning environments.

Recent data on postsecondary enrollment demonstrate the need for continued efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in higher education. Despite decades of minority undergraduate growth, representation remains disparate across institutions. Additionally, some of these longer-term growth trends have been marked by more recent declines in some communities of color.  The National Center for Education Statistics found that between 2010 and 2014, total African American enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions declined by 8.1 percent, and total American Indian and Alaska Native enrollment declined by 22.1 percent which represent particularly large declines relative to the change in overall population for these groups. As noted in an amicus brief submitted by the Kirwan Institute—with support from CLASP, 2025 Network for Black Men and Boys, and other Black male achievement initiatives—inequities in access to higher education will persist or worsen without admissions practices that are both holistic and race-conscious. 

While the Fisher decision should be celebrated, optimism over the Court’s ruling should be tempered by recent developments impacting communities of color. On the same day as the Fisher decision, the Supreme Court jeopardized the futures of millions of immigrant families with its ruling in U.S. v Texas, which effectively invalidated President Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents program (DAPA). While Fisher represents a clear victory for racial equity in higher education; there is still much work to do to fully demonstrate that lives of people of color truly matter. 

Jun 28, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

California Uncapped: Maximum Family Grant Repeal is a Win for Low-income Families

By: Nia West-Bey

This week, California finally ended an unjust policy that was on the books for more than two decades.  On June 27, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the state budget for FY 2017, which included a provision repealing the Maximum Family Grant (MFG), or “family cap” policy, which denied California families receiving TANF cash assistance an increase in benefits when they had a new baby.  This change will assist the families of up to 130,000 additional low-income children in 95,000 families who were previously denied help under the MFG rule.

Of the 17 states that had family cap policies in place, California was the largest—and with the highest child poverty rate in the nation of 27 percent, California was home to 48 percent of all children living under family caps nationwide.  The states’ low-income families are disproportionately families of color, with these families most adversely impacted by the MFG.

California’s repeal recognizes decades of research showing that family cap policies do not lower birth rates, but overwhelmingly drive vulnerable families into deeper poverty.  It also recognizes the accumulating evidence that a family’s circumstances during a baby’s infancy have a major impact on the child’s long-term health, learning, and development.  In addition, the repeal rejects racist and sexist stereotypes of low-income women’s reproductive and economic choices.  The repeal will allow low-income families to receive much needed support during the especially vulnerable period of infancy and help families to buy necessities such as diapers and clothing not covered by other public benefits.

The MFG provisions were particularly problematic for young parents, because mothers under 18 were required to live with a parent or guardian in order to receive assistance, but barred from assistance if that parent or guardian had been receiving aid for the last 10 months.  The MFG also promoted the use of particular birth control methods, without adequate attention to side effects and risks of long term use, especially for young women.  For young parents in particular, the repeal of the MFG means that young first-time mothers will no longer be prevented from obtaining assistance because their parent or legal guardian is receiving assistance, and birth control will no longer be tied to receipt of cash aid. 

Like all new parents, low-income parents deserve to raise their children in dignity and health with the help they need to give their babies the best possible start.  The evidence about infant development suggests that this start in life is crucial not only for the families themselves, but for all of us. With this repeal, California has helped to create a more equitable start for more than 100,000 low-income children and their families and will most likely reap long-term economic benefits from a generation that has some added protection from living their earliest days in deep poverty.  This change is a victory for the advocates and lawmakers who have long fought for this repeal, but most importantly for California’s children and families.  Hopefully, California’s example will encourage the 16 other states that still have family caps in place to end these harmful policies once and for all.

May 11, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Using a Two-Generation Lens to Tackle Harmful Policies: California’s MFG

By: Nia West-Bey

Applying a two-generation framework to lifting families out of poverty requires addressing the needs of children and parents together as a family. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) has the potential to be a critical two-generation program for low-income families but too often fails to live up to that potential.  One of the keys to success when considering two-generation systems change is to identify and end harmful policies that impact multiple generations in a family.

Unfortunately, California’s Maximum Family Grant (MFG) policy, also known as a “family cap,” has been harming low-income families for more than two decades.  Passed in 1994 and implemented in the context of 1996’s federal welfare reform legislation, the MFG limits the amount of cash assistance that families can receive under TANF by denying an increase in aid for a new baby if anyone in the family (adult or child) has been receiving cash aid for the 10 months prior to the birth of that baby.   The few exceptions to this rule require proof that the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, or of the failure of long-acting birth control methods. There is only a short list of eligible methods--one of which has not been available for over a decade.

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