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A Black History Month Reflection on Key Leaders in the Fight for Civil Rights

As we approach the closing days of Black History Month, now is a good time to reflect on the memories and positive stories associated with the 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. But the work started by many of those we honor this month is far from over.

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Cash Assistance is a Critical Part of Reproductive Justice

The conversation on reproductive justice has been front and center in many spaces following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. Many advocates, organizers, and policymakers have united across issue areas to support reproductive rights—specifically access to safe, affordable, and accessible abortion. However, economic insecurity and poverty are incompatible with reproductive justice.

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Challenges to Just and Effective 988 Implementation

Youth and young adults currently face an unprecedented mental and behavioral health crisis that has led to an increase in youth suicide rates, mental and behavioral health concerns, and disconnection from school and work. This series of fact sheets explores the challenges and missed opportunities to effectively implement the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and transform our country’s existing mental and behavioral health crisis response system.

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Making USDA More Equitable

In 2022 Elizabeth Lower-Basch was appointed to serve on the USDA Equity Commission, which released its final report today at a meeting where she served as a panelist. In a blog, Elizabeth shares her reflections on the Commission’s work and its 66 recommendations for improving equity in the USDA’s many policies, practices, and programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

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This new report examines the pivotal role of Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) in addressing the educational needs of students of color, particularly Black immigrants, amid systemic inequities in postsecondary education.

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CLASP in the News & Partner Blogs

FEBRUARY 21, 2024 | THE HOPE CENTER 

Why we need to rethink the term “student-athlete”

FEBRUARY 14, 2024 | INSIGHT INTO DIVERSITY

Op Ed: SCOTUS Ruling Disproportionately Impacts Opportunities for Black Males

Upcoming Events

February 28: Christian Collins will give a virtual guest lecture to graduate students in the Sports Administration program at UNC-Chapel Hill on his Equal Play, Unequal Pay report. The lecture will also focus on the unique ways that college athletics and public policy intersect.

Recent Events

February 22: Isha Weerasinghe presented to a cohort of 13 state legislators who are part of the Future Caucus on the importance of addressing maternal mental health.

February 13: The Biden-Harris Administration brought together nearly 90 young people from across the nation for the first-ever interagency Youth Policy Summit: Cultivating Possibilities. New Deal for Youth Changemakers and members of CLASP staff served on the youth planning committee, helped with preparation, moderated panels and discussions, and attended the event.

 


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By Elizabeth Lower-Basch

For the past two years, I have had the honor of serving on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Equity Commission. Section 1006 of the American Rescue Plan directed the USDA to create this commission, building on President Biden’s January 2021 Executive Order 13985 On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government. At today’s USDA equity summit, the Commission released its final report, which contains 66 recommendations for improving equity within USDA’s programs, policies, and practices.  

For the first several meetings of the Equity Commission, I wasn’t sure what I had to contribute. I was appointed to the Commission as a policy expert, presumably because of my deep knowledge of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and previous experience working in the federal government. But we immediately dove deeply into issues related to agriculture that I knew nothing about. I spent a lot of time reading the background materials we were given and making notes of questions that I needed to ask. 

As a Commission, we reviewed multiple reports dating back to 1965 that documented concerns with inequity and discrimination at USDA and made recommendations. In reading those reports and other background materials and listening to my fellow members of the commission and its agriculture subcommittee, I learned about the lasting harm caused by historical discrimination and understood why this was where we started. For example, I learned how under “base acres,” seemingly identical plots of land are worth different amounts, depending on how much payments they qualify for from USDA, which in turn depends on what crops were planted on them in the 1990s – a period when USDA has been proven in court to have been discriminating against Black and Native American farmers. 

Eventually, I told myself that if USDA didn’t want us to also make recommendations about the nutrition programs – which account for more than two-thirds of all USDA spending – they wouldn’t have put me on the Commission. So, while I learned from my counterparts about agriculture, rural development, and research and extension programs, I shared with them about the inequities in SNAP and other nutrition programs, and the relationships between federal policy and state administration. 

I am proud of the work that we did as a Commission. Our 66 recommendations address how to institutionalize equity across the Department, including language access, improving the customer experience, procurement, and ensuring that the Office of Civil Rights has the necessary resources to do its job. The recommendations cover how USDA works with farmers, ranchers, and producers; with farmworkers and their families; with land-grant universities; and with all residents of rural America.  For example, we recommended equitable funding for “minority-serving institutions” that are land grant colleges and universities but that have never received comparable funding to those that were first funded in 1862, resulting in inequitable access to technical assistance as well as education. 

The Commission’s recommendations also address the nutrition programs that serve more than 40 million people.  We recommended legislative actions to reduce inequities, including lifting restrictions based on immigration status, providing equitable access to residents of Puerto Rico and other insular territories, ending the time limit on benefit receipt for unemployed people who are not living with dependent children, and removing the ban on SNAP assistance for people with previous drug felony convictions. We also made administrative recommendations, including supporting state agencies in consulting with participants to improve the experience of applying for and receiving benefits. 

Recognizing the critical roles that immigrants play in our agriculture and food systems, the Commission also called for clear and accessible pathways to citizenship.  We included recommendations to ensure that all farmworkers receive equitable compensation and labor protections, and that farmworkers and their families can access food and housing. 

But if the report we released today is the final result of the Commission, I will consider it a failure. The Equity Commission will be a success only if these recommendations have an impact on policy and practice—not just now but lasting into future administrations. Some of our recommendations are beyond the power of USDA to adopt without Congressional authorization. Because Congress did not pass a Farm Bill in 2023 but instead extended current law for a year, there is an opportunity to begin incorporating recommendations from this report into law as soon as this year. 

Our final report is out, but the Equity Commission members’ terms last through this year. Our job now is to make sure that this is not just another report with good intentions, but one that leads to overdue and lasting change. 

By Priya Pandey

Rx Kids, an exciting new program in Flint, Michigan for pregnant people and newborns, began enrollment in January 2023. The first citywide maternal and infant cash prescription program in the nation, Rx Kids will provide every pregnant Flint resident with a one-time payment of $1,500 followed by $500 payments per month for the first year of their child’s life–with no strings attached. These payments will be critical in addressing poverty, housing and food security, health and well-being, and maternal and infant health outcomes. Experts predict that this program will have tremendous long-term impacts and could hopefully inspire other localities to take similar action. 

The conversation on reproductive justice has been front and center in many spaces following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. Many advocates, organizers, and policy makers have united across issue areas to support reproductive rights, specifically access to safe, affordable, and accessible abortion. However, the framework of reproductive justice goes deeper than the right to seek an abortion. 

“Reproductive justice” was first coined by Black women in 1994 to illustrate the ways inequality and systemic factors shape people’s decisions around childbearing and parenting. The term seeks to highlight the ways that disparate policies, societal conditions and norms, and structural factors limit reproductive options for pregnant people, women of color, Indigenous people, immigrants, and other marginalized communities. This includes access to contraception; paid family and medical leave; family-sustaining wages and good jobs; food security; housing; and maternal health. Ultimately, reproductive justice is about access and shifting the power, resources, and structural change needed for addressing the well-being of all women and pregnant people.  

Part of the reproductive justice framework includes the right to “parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities” and raise children with dignity in safe, healthy, and supportive environments, free from violence and harm. Rampant economic insecurity and poverty are therefore incompatible with reproductive justice. Achieving reproductive justice requires that people of all backgrounds be well-supported in raising the children they have regardless of their income, race, zip code, ability, or national origin. Rx Kids is the latest local initiative that reflects a nationwide interest in guaranteed incomes, and also illustrates a core priority of the reproductive justice movement: the right to raise children in a safe environment. 

The prenatal and first months of life are critical for a baby’s early years  lifelong health and development. This time is also when families struggle the most financially. Pregnant people and new parents are incredibly vulnerable to periods of economic distress that could be caused by loss of work, unanticipated leave, health challenges, and the unexpected costs of welcoming a child into the world. Providing cash payments and other material supports to pregnant people and new parents helps achieve reproductive justice and can have positive impacts on both the infant and parent’s overall well-being. Unrestricted monthly cash payments provide people with direct, flexible, and dignified assistance that supports stability and long-term financial prosperity. Research has shown that when people receive cash, they spend it on necessities such as food, utilities, and housing. Unrestricted cash assistance programs uplift their participants and provide them with autonomy. Research suggests that these programs, including the expanded 2021 Child Tax Credit, enhance participants’ well-being, self-determination, and financial stability. 

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant is an underutilized source of support for children in families with low incomes. But because the block grant can be used for so many other things and ongoing TANF cash assistance brings restrictive rules and administrative burden, TANF assistance reaches only a small fraction of those who are eligible—who, in turn, are only a fraction of families with low incomes. Rx Kids, which is funded through a mixture of TANF and private funding, underscores how TANF could provide far more. Experts predict that Flint’s Rx Kids program will impact everything from health to reading scores and graduation rates–and much more. Every child deserves a strong start in life no matter what circumstances they were born into. More states and localities should look for opportunities to use TANF and other sources of funding to reduce poverty during and following pregnancy, which will in turn realize a central goal of the reproductive justice movement.

Short-sighted, Punitive Proposal to Dismantle Asylum Would Harm Children, Families

Earlier this week, CLASP issued a statement urging Congress to reject harmful legislation that would gut the U.S. asylum system and funnel billions of dollars to harmful border enforcement measures, and for the Biden Administration to reverse course and stand up for immigrant communities. Just yesterday, the Senate blocked the measure, although the passage of harmful immigration policies is still possible. Regardless, CLASP will continue to fight against such efforts that imperil the well-being of children and families.

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New Direct File Tool Pilot Will Ease Tax Filing for Many

During this year’s 2023 tax filing season, the IRS will test a new, free online tax filing tool that promises to help more tax filers access credits that they are eligible for, like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit.

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Are We Listening? Youth Mental Health Challenges are Rooted in Racism and Discrimination

Young people of color experiencing poverty have noted how racism and discrimination are root causes and key traumas that adversely impact their mental health.

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Amicus Brief Details the Harm of DACA Rescission on U.S. Citizen Children

CLASP helped lead the development of an amicus brief to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in the case regarding the legality of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

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On January 31, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024. This bipartisan tax proposal would make a meaningful step toward a fully refundable and inclusive Child Tax Credit.

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CLASP in the News

FEBRUARY 6, 2024 | YAHOO! FINANCE

Food Stamps: How Does SNAP Employment and Training Relate to Your Benefits?

FEBRUARY 2, 2024 | ETHNIC MEDIA SERVICES

The Enduring Harm of U.S. Deportations

FEBRUARY 2, 2024 | EL DIARIO NUEVA YORK

Cupones de alimentos SNAP: Más solicitantes cualificarían si USDA elimina requisito de entrevista

FEBRUARY 1, 2024 | ACTION NEWS JAX

‘We need that support;’ Jacksonville Black business owners concerned with money spent elsewhere

Recent Events

February 6: Indi Dutta-Gupta spoke at “In This Together: A Cross-Partisan Action Plan to Support Families with Young Children in America,” a Capitol Hill panel discussion hosted by Convergence Center for Policy Resolution.

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By Josephine Nesbit, Yahoo Finance

EXCERPT: 

According to the Center for Law and Social Policy, SNAP E&T programs are classified as either mandatory or voluntary. People who are assigned to a mandatory E&T program and do not participate in it can lose their SNAP benefits.

Read the full article here.

By Ashley Burnside 

During this year’s 2023 tax filing season, the IRS will test a new, free online tax filing tool in 12 states. The Direct File tool promises an important opportunity to make tax filing easier and cheaper and help more tax filers access credits that they are eligible for, like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). 

The Direct File tool will use easy-to-understand language, be mobile-friendly, and is available in Spanish. Users can save information in the tool and come back to it later, and customer service representatives will be available to help answer questions and to provide technical support.  

Funding to evaluate the viability of a Direct File tool implemented by the IRS was provided through the Inflation Reduction Act. After publishing a report summarizing their findings in May 2023, the IRS announced its plans to launch the pilot program in 2024. The pilot will help the agency understand taxpayers’ experiences with using the program and evaluate any customer service and technology needs. 

The Scope of the Direct File Pilot Program 

This year’s limited, two-phase pilot will give the IRS the opportunity to improve the program as needed. The first phase will only be available to federal government employees, which will allow the IRS to update the software as people begin using it on a smaller scale. After this phase, the Direct File tool will gradually be made available to more members of the public. The agency is hoping to make the tool more widely available by mid-March. 

Tax filers can check their eligibility for the Direct File tool on this IRS website. The Direct File tool pilot will be available to tax filers in twelve participating states who have relatively simple returns. Tax filers filing with specific kinds of income will be eligible to participate in the pilot, including those who have W-2 wage income, Social Security and/or railroad retirement income, unemployment compensation, and interest income of $1,500 or less. Tax filers claiming the EITC, CTC, and/or the Credit for Other Dependents and those who have student loan interest and/or educator expenses can participate. Only filers who are taking the standard deduction can participate. Independent contractors who receive 1099s will not be eligible to use the Direct File tool. The tool will be available to filers who use Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) and meet the other eligibility criteria. 

The Direct File tool only covers federal returns. Eight states that will be participating in the pilot do not have a state income tax: Florida, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming. (Alaska was previously included in the list of states participating in the pilot program due to the state not having a state income tax, but the state will no longer be participating due to complications with Alaska residents receiving state dividends.) Washington state will direct eligible tax filers who use the Direct File tool to the state program application for the Working Families Tax Credit, which is the state’s EITC. 

Arizona, California, Massachusetts, and New York, all of which are participating in the pilot program, do have state income tax. Residents of these states will be able to file state returns through a state-sponsored partner software. Arizona and New York will partner with Code for America to provide a state e-filing tool for people who use the Direct File tool, which will have the option to transfer the data from the federal return into the state return. Tax filers in California will be directed to the state’s existing direct filing system, called CalFile, after they fill out the federal Direct File return. Federal data will not be imported from the Direct File tool, but some California data will be pre-populated. In Massachusetts, filers will use the state’s existing direct filing system, called MassTaxConnect, to file their state return. MassTaxConnect will import information from the Direct File tool into the state return.  

Why the Direct File Program is Important  

Offering a Direct File tool will promote equity in our tax code by making it easier and cheaper to file taxes, especially for communities that face barriers to filing taxes. Filing taxes can be especially burdensome for people with very low incomes, people of color, immigrants, people who speak English as a second language, and people with disabilities. In addition, research has concluded that people of color face a greater risk of missing out on claiming the EITC. The Direct File tool is one way to promote equity and to reduce barriers to filing taxes and claiming credits.  

We Should Promote and Invest in Direct File 

Once the pilot program starts, it will be essential that tax assistance clinics and advocates, lawmakers, and media raise awareness of the program and the impact that it is having. People who care about financial equity must help shape the narrative of how Americans view the IRS and the process of filing their taxes each year – the process should not require money for filers with simple returns or take significant time and create headaches. For tax filers who live in the 12 participating states, it’s important to advertise the Direct File program to other community members to ensure that everyone knows that they may be eligible to use this free tool. Finally, lawmakers must continue investing in the IRS to ensure that programs like the Direct File tool become a permanent fixture in our tax filing system.  

 

 

By Marielis Acevedo Irizarry, El Diario

EXCERPT:

A mediados de enero, grupos como The National Student Legal Defense Network, Center for Law and Social Policy y California Student Aid Commission le pidieron al Departamento de Agricultura de Estados Unidos (USDA) que elimine el requisito de entrevista bajo el argumento de que el proceso es uno burocrático y desalienta a potenciales beneficiarios a continuar el proceso.

Read the full article here.

This statement can be attributed to Indivar Dutta-Gupta, president and executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy.

Washington DC, January 31, 2024—The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) applauds today’s passage by the U.S. House of Representatives of the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024. This bipartisan tax proposal makes a meaningful step toward a fully refundable and inclusive Child Tax Credit (CTC).

Although the bill’s enhanced CTC falls short of what children deserve, our partners at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimate that 400,000 children would escape poverty in the bill’s first year. In addition, some 3 million children in poor households would have their families’ incomes raised.

The bill isn’t perfect, and we’ll continue to fight for a fully equitable CTC that is even stronger than the successful pandemic-era 2021 credit. For now, we urge the Senate to pass this bill without any modifications that would reduce CTC payments for families with low or moderate incomes.

By Paul Bass, New Haven Independent

EXCERPT:

Two leading anti-poverty advocacy groups — the Center on Law and Social Policy and Center on Budget and Priorities — issued statements in favor of the compromise. They argued that the compromise takes an ​important first step” by increasing payments that cover 16 million of an estimated 19 million children left behind by the expiration of the credit. Read their statements here and here.

Read the full article here.

This statement can be attributed to Indivar Dutta-Gupta, president and executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy.

Washington DC, January 16, 2024—Given the unconscionable spike in child poverty rates after the end of the powerful enhanced Child Tax Credit (CTC) in 2021, CLASP supports the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024. This bipartisan tax proposal makes a meaningful step toward a fully refundable and inclusive CTC.

While the bill’s version of the CTC falls short of what children deserve, and what Congress correctly enacted for 2021, it will significantly reduce poverty and racial inequality compared to current law. About 19 million children don’t currently receive the credit’s maximum benefit because their parents’ earnings are too low. Our partners at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) estimate that the bill would help 80 percent—or roughly 16 million—of those children. The changes would also promote racial equity, given that the children who don’t receive the full credit are disproportionately Black and brown. Racial inequities like those related to basic living standards for children continue to undermine our nation’s potential, costing many communities of color and our nation dearly.

CBPP estimates that in the policy’s first year, 400,000 children would escape poverty and an additional 3 million in poor households would have their families’ incomes raised.

CLASP continues to urge Congress to enact a fully equitable CTC that is even stronger than the 2021 credit, with improvements such as including children with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, as I testified in July. This compromise is a down payment toward a fully refundable and inclusive CTC, one that our nation urgently needs. We’ve turned our back on millions of children who are again experiencing poverty. Passing this bill will position advocates for children and families well to fight for a truly just and evidence-based credit in 2025 when many of the provisions of the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act expire.

 

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)