• Why Mayor de Blasio's Broadband Push Needs to Go Further—and Faster

    Aug 27, 2015Matt LazoRobert Godfried

    On July 16, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new initiative to bring free broadband service to 16,000 New Yorkers living in five public housing developments in the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx.

    On July 16, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new initiative to bring free broadband service to 16,000 New Yorkers living in five public housing developments in the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. In partnership with President Obama’s ConnectHome initiative, the de Blasio administration has committed an investment of up to $10 million dollars for five New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments. Earlier this year they pledged $70 million to provide free and low-cost internet service for low-income communities. They will start with a demonstration project in the NYCHA’s Queensbridge North and South Houses, which together make up the largest public housing development in the nation.

    This is a groundbreaking and forward-thinking policy and one for which Moustafa  Elshaabiny and I advocated in 10 Ideas for Equal Justice, an undergraduate policy journal published by the Roosevelt Institute. We found that low-income New Yorkers find it difficult to access job opportunities, information resources, and vital social communications such as email and Facebook. They rely on public services such as libraries or a number of NYCHA- and nonprofit-run programs, such as Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and Digital Vans, to obtain Internet access. However, these services are usually time-limited or temporary and are often only available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m, directly conflicting with the less-than-flexible work schedules of low-income residents. Therefore we called on the NYCHA to mandate that Internet service be provided for all residents of NYCHA Housing Developments via the Housing Quality Standards being implemented by the de Blasio administration.

    De Blasio’s policy aims to bring “Internet service of at least 25 Mbps [Megabits per second] for all residents” to the five targeted developments. His administration is setting the minimum according to the FCC Broadband Speed Benchmark. While this is an ambitious goal for a community that previously had no broadband access, it is not enough. It is important to note that there is no clarification as to whether the 25 Mbps is per resident or per household. Furthermore, this minimum service is far below the city’s average of 56 Mbps. While de Blasio stated that residents can pay for faster speeds, this undermines his goal of promoting internet equity at a minimum or free cost to low-income residents. In fact, de Blasio has emphasized that low-income residents cannot afford even a basic home broadband plan, hence his plan to provide it for free. It seems counterintuitive to suggest they can choose to pay for an upgrade.

    In my 10 Ideas entry, we called on the NYCHA to collaborate with the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications to determine the appropriate bandwidth requirement.Tenants would have the opportunity to directly communicate their digital needs, such as daily hours needed for online homework, to NYCHA. NYCHA can also hold open forums or conduct surveys to better understand tenant’s broadband width need.  This method would be superior to that currently being used by the de Blasio administration, as it would allow residents to determine what bandwidth actually meets their needs.

    Another concern with the plan laid out by the de Blasio administration is that although Sprint is named as the provider, the specifics of the contract have not yet been made clear. As a result, we don’t know how the city plans to finance the continuous service cost, or how it will insure that Sprint maintains the broadband infrastructure and services. The contract should incorporate safeguards against broadband service deterioration and regulations that encourage keeping up to date with the latest broadband services demand.

    In the modern age, internet access is the great equalizer. Yet the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications reported that 36 percent of households below the poverty line do not have Internet access at home. Our city leaders now recognize that this contributes to a “homework gap” and economic immobility, as low-income residents rely on limited public services for job searches and educational resources. In other words, the internet is a critical service, not a luxury. We must recognize as a society that we cannot address inequality without first bridging this digital divide.

    Matt Lazo is the Policy Change coordinator for Roosevelt @ CCNY and a 10 Ideas author. Robert Godfried is a member of Roosevelt @ Columbia and Roosevelt's 2015 Summer Institute.

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  • Four Crazy Economic Ideas You Might Hear at Tonight’s GOP Primary Debate

    Aug 6, 2015Roosevelt Institute

    The Republican presidential candidates will have their first televised debate of the 2016 cycle tonight. Here's what they're likely to say about the economy:

    1. Cutting taxes on big corporations and top earners is the best way to grow the economy.

    The Republican presidential candidates will have their first televised debate of the 2016 cycle tonight. Here's what they're likely to say about the economy:

    1. Cutting taxes on big corporations and top earners is the best way to grow the economy.

    All the candidates on stage tonight at the GOP primary debate will express some flavor of “trickle-down economics”—the failed idea that low taxes for the most well-off is the best policy for economic growth. Through a series of policies implemented over the past 35 years, we have already tried this tax-cutting strategy—in fact, some would say we are still in the midst of a 35-year trickle-down experiment—and as a result economic growth and business investment have slowed while inequality has risen.

    To defend their position, Republican candidates will point out that America’s nominal corporate tax rate is among the highest in the world, but this is misleading. American corporations pay an effective tax rate of just 12 percent. Such a low rate could be justified if corporations were using the proceeds to fund productive investment, but the evidence does not support a connection between lower tax rates and higher investment. Today, U.S. corporations are holding more than $2 trillion sitting in offshore tax shelters, and a growing body of research shows that excess profits are used to enrich shareholders rather than improve a company’s long-term prospects for success.

    Taxes on top incomes have fallen precipitously, from nearly 70 percent in 1980 to 39 percent today. While top earners have benefited from lower rates and a growing share of deductions and have captured nearly all of the economic gains of the recovery, median wages and family incomes have stagnated.

    Thirty-five years of evidence is clear: the main result of cutting taxes at the top and for big corporations is more inequality, not more economic growth.

    2. Supply-side policies will make the economy grow at 4 percent and solve America’s economic problems.

    Jeb Bush and Chris Christie pledged to boost the economy to 4 percent growth. Historically, the United States has grown at an average annual rate of 2.9 percent, typically only growing above this trend when the economy is coming out of recession.

    As we’ve seen, growth is not synonymous with broadly rising economic wellbeing. U.S. economic growth from 1979 to 2007 certainly benefited the top 1 percent of households, who saw incomes increase by 275 percent; however, compensation for the median households increased just 15 percent over this time—largely because families are working more hours, not because wages are broadly rising. 

    The deck is stacked against candidates pledging 4 percent growth: The Congressional Budget Office forecasts that U.S. growth will slow to 2.1 percent by the end of the decade as the native-born labor force ages and shrinks. Not only is a 4 percent growth goal unprecedented in advanced economies like the U.S., but there is no credible way to reach 4 percent without building a more inclusive economy.

    3. The United States is nearing a Greek-style debt crisis and needs more spending cuts.

    The United States is not Greece. Greece’s main pitfalls were being part of a fundamentally flawed European monetary union, combined with Europe’s fundamentally flawed policy response to the financial crisis: sharp public spending cuts that plunged Greece’s economy into a tailspin, causing it to contract by 25 percent, and ballooned the debt burden, which is on track to exceed 170 percent of GDP by 2022.

    Yes, the United States has debt, but at an eminently manageable level. And unlike Greece, which does not control the euro, the United States issues government bonds in a currency over which it has monetary policy control. More importantly, it matters a lot what we spend borrowed money on: war and tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, or investments in education, infrastructure, and science that would strengthen our long-run potential for growth.

    4. The Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank financial reform are crippling the economy and must be repealed.

    A well-functioning economy needs healthy people to drive innovation and growth and a well-functioning financial system that efficiently channels savings into investment without causing systemic crises. Before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, America lacked for both.

    The ACA extended health care to 16 million people and lowered health costs for those with public and private insurance. Repealing the ACA would cast millions out from the health care system, raise health care costs across the board, kill the hallmark improvements that ended restrictions on people with pre-existing health conditions, and increase federal budget deficits by $137 billion.

    Americans are still suffering the hangover of the financial crisis and housing market collapse that led to $8 trillion in lost household wealth, double-digit unemployment, and a taxpayer-subsidized bailout of the world’s largest financial institutions. Five years after Dodd-Frank, many new rules intended to prevent such a catastrophe from happening again are still yet to be implemented due to rampant opposition, such as the rule for corporations to publish CEO pay ratios.

    Photo by Gage Skidmore

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  • Bush Didn't Misspeak: The GOP Wants to Dismantle Reproductive Health Programs

    Aug 5, 2015Andrea Flynn

    Last night Jeb Bush made a slip of the tongue that let us know just where he stands on reproductive health. “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues,” he said at an event in Nashville. In a way, he’s right: We actually need much more than half a billion dollars to fully meet the need for publicly funded reproductive health services.

    Last night Jeb Bush made a slip of the tongue that let us know just where he stands on reproductive health. “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars for women’s health issues,” he said at an event in Nashville. In a way, he’s right: We actually need much more than half a billion dollars to fully meet the need for publicly funded reproductive health services. Bush has since backtracked on his comment, which came on the heels of Senate Republicans’ failed attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, but we should not be fooled. His remarks and the recent furor that led to said defunding attempt are a clear illustration of the resentment GOP lawmakers and candidates have for our nation’s reproductive health programs, and reflect their resolve to diminish them.

    It’s important to consider Bush’s remarks and the attacks on Planned Parenthood in the political context of the past four years. As Elizabeth Warren indicated in her impassioned speech before the Senate this week, over the past five years Republican state lawmakers have passed nearly 300 new restrictions on reproductive health access. In the first quarter of 2015, lawmakers in 43 states introduced a total of 332 provisions to restrict abortion access, which is increasingly out of reach for women throughout the country. Republicans have voted more than 50 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which has dramatically improved women’s health coverage and access. In the fall of 2013, the party orchestrated a costly government shutdown motivated by their opposition to the ACA’s contraceptive mandate. And in June, House Republicans proposed eliminating funding for Title X, the federal family planning program.

    When conservatives talk about “women’s health” funding, they aren’t talking about funding for abortion. Federal law already prohibits public dollars from being spent on abortion or abortion-related care. They’re talking about funding for family planning and other reproductive health services (pregnancy counseling, cancer screenings, STD treatment, etc.), which mainly comes through Medicaid and Title X, two programs that are consistently in conservative crosshairs.

    There are no two ways about it: Funding for public reproductive health programs is far below where it should be. Today funding for Title X is 70 percent lower than it was in 1980 (accounting for inflation). If funding for this program had kept up with inflation over the last 35 years, the current funding level would be $941.5 million. In 2015, Congress appropriated $286.5 million for Title X (down from $317 million in 2010).

    Congress approved these funding decreases (and Republican senators have proposed even further cuts while their House colleagues have proposed complete elimination of Title X) despite a growing need for services. The Guttmacher Institute reports that between 2000 and 2010, the number of women who needed publicly funded contraceptive services and supplies grew by 17 percent and by 2013 had grown by an additional 5 percent (an additional 918,000 women). Guttmacher attributes this to an increase in the proportion of adult women who are poor or low-income; the current U.S. public family planning program is only able to serve approximately 42 percent of those in need. Turns out “half a billion” isn’t quite enough.

    "Title X-funded health centers provide essential preventive care to millions of women and men across the country and are often the only source of health care they receive all year," said Clare Coleman, President and CEO of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association. "The network of publicly funded family planning providers has long been underfunded despite a growing need for these vital services."

    Title X-funded clinics—of which some, but not all, are Planned Parenthood providers—are the backbone of the nation’s reproductive health care system, ensuring that low-income individuals, young people, immigrants, and women of color are able to access affordable, quality reproductive health services. Every year, nearly 5 million individuals rely on these providers for birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, pregnancy testing, and a range of other preventive services. In 2012, Title X clinics helped women avert 1.1 million unintended pregnancies that would have otherwise resulted in 527,000 unplanned births and 363,000 abortions. In addition to the extraordinary health benefits, Title X is smart economics. It’s estimated that every dollar invested in family planning yields a taxpayer savings of $7.09, and that Title X-funded clinics save more than $5 billion annually in pubic spending.  

    Conservative lawmakers have spent much more time in recent years finding ways to restrict access basic health care than they have solving the actual problems that plague women and families like pay inequity, low wages, weak worker protections, and a lack of work–family benefits. If recent events are any indication, they’re not going to veer from that course now. Jeb Bush’s recent remarks, the hoopla over Planned Parenthood, and the relentless assault on reproductive health and rights is a clear reminder of where issues central to women and families fall on the priority list of conservative lawmakers: dead last.

    Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter at @dreaflynn.

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  • Planned Parenthood Vote Highlights the GOP's Broken Moral Compass

    Aug 4, 2015Andrea Flynn

    Senate Republicans failed yesterday to advance a bill that would have defunded Planned Parenthood, but their crusade against the organization and others like it is far from over.

    Senate Republicans failed yesterday to advance a bill that would have defunded Planned Parenthood, but their crusade against the organization and others like it is far from over. Speaking in support of the legislation she sponsored, Iowa Senator Joni Ernst said the Planned Parenthood videos have “shaken the moral compass of our country." But given that members of the “pro-life” party are willing to shut down the government over reproductive health access even as they ignore and exacerbate the actual crises that threaten our families and communities, we must question the alignment of the compass they’re following.

    The video saga has now been proven to be complete nonsense. Two state investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrongdoing. Planned Parenthood is not, as the video’s editors portrayed, harvesting fetal tissue for profit, and their donation of such tissue and their compensation for related costs is, it turns out, perfectly legal. In fact, some of the senators leading this crusade (including Mitch McConnell) signed the very piece of 1993 legislation that legalized tissue donation. There are a number of issues shaking the moral compass of this country, but Planned Parenthood is not one of them.

    Child poverty should shake our moral compass. Today, 22 percent of all children live in poverty, including 40 percent of Black children, and almost half live in low-income families. The U.S. child poverty rate is higher than all but one other OECD country. Poor children are more likely to drop out and perform poorly in school, to have developmental delays, and to experience behavioral, physical, and socioemotional problems. Yet conservatives still love to hate on the safety net programs that help keep these kids and their families afloat. In recent years, they have threated to cut funding for SNAP (food stamps) and WIC (the supplemental nutrition program that serves nearly 10 million low-income women and children) and have opposed legislation that would make it more affordable for low-income kids to go to college.

    Maternal mortality should shake our moral compass. Today, more U.S. women die in childbirth and from pregnancy-related causes than at almost any point in the last 25 years, and the U.S. is one of only seven countries to see its maternal mortality rate increase over the last decade. Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, and in some communities experience a maternal mortality rate equal to that in some Sub-Saharan African countries. But instead of expanding access to quality, affordable, and comprehensive health care, conservatives are busy closing clinics that predominantly serve women of color, low-income women, and young women. They remain steadfast in their refusal to participate in Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which would extend coverage and care to millions more low-income women. And they are still intent on repealing the ACA in its entirety, despite the fact that it has brought coverage to more than 16 million individuals.

    Structural racism should shake our moral compass. The conservatives accusing Planned Parenthood of devaluing human life have been pretty quiet on the systemic violence and discrimination against communities of color. Where’s the outrage over Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, and the countless others who have died at the hands of law enforcement? Where’s the outrage from the supposed “pro-family” party over the school-to-prison pipeline that has torn apart families and communities across the country? Where’s the outrage over our imbalanced and unjust criminal justice system? Where is the space for these lives under the conservative pro-life umbrella?

    Pay inequity should shake our moral compass. The gender pay gap in the United States is alive and well, with women still making 78 percent of the earnings of white men (Black and Latina women make 64 and 56 percent, respectively). This gap results in a significant loss of income for women and their families over the life cycle and contributes to the high rates of poverty among women and single mothers as well as children. If equal pay were realized, it would mean a raise for nearly 60 percent of U.S. women and two-thirds of single mothers. The increase in earnings would expand access to health care, food and housing security, and educational opportunities, and would have countless long-term benefits for children. But GOP senators have voted four times since 2012 to block the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would make it easier for employees to identify and address pay inequities. They are also consistently opposed to raising the minimum wage, a move that would benefit more than one-fifth of all children in the United States.

    Income inequality—today greater than at any point since the Great Depression—should shake our moral compass. Thanks to our broken economic rules, the incomes of the top 1 percent increased by as much as 200 percent over the past 30 years while the net worth of the poorest Americans has decreased and stagnant wages and increased debt have pushed more middle-class families into poverty. After the 2008 recession, millions of Americans lost their homes, their jobs and their health care, and they are still struggling to regain their footing. The vast majority of Americans now believe a middle-class lifestyle is well beyond their reach. Yet conservatives continue to support the very policies that got us here in the first place: tax cuts for the wealthy; the erosion of unions and labor protections; and corporate structures that encourage a short-term focus on stock prices instead of long-term investments in growth and innovation.

    The inability of individuals to access basic health services should shake our moral compass. Conservatives insist their efforts would not actually impact health access, because Planned Parenthood’s funding would simply be reallocated to other providers. But there are not actually enough providers to fill the void that would be left by Planned Parenthood. As Senator Patty Murray said, “you can’t pour a bucket of water into a cup.” Even with Planned Parenthood and the gains of the ACA, conservative laws have left women across this country reeling. We need more Planned Parenthoods and more of their sister clinics, not fewer.

    Conservatives insist they care about the health of women and their families, but their actions indicate otherwise. They have proposed the elimination of Title X, the nation’s only program dedicated to providing family planning care and services. They are threatening—for the third time in four years—to shut down the federal government over reproductive health funding. They continue to support legislation that is closing clinics across the country, cutting access not only to abortion but also to basic preventive health services. The list goes on. This party is more interested in advancing its antiquated, harmful agenda than it is in the health of women—and men, young people, immigrants, trans folks, and low-income families—who rely on Planned Parenthood and other such providers. Their moral compass needs a good shaking up. 

    Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter at @dreaflynn.

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