Tag Archive: poverty

Reed Gusciora on Marriage Equality

Back in 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution affords equal protection to same-sex couples. As a result, the state legislature created civil unions, but was not willing to pass same-sex marriage. This “separate but equal” arrangement was tried, but was rife with unequal treatment, even though the law put civil unions and opposite-sex marriage on the same plane. (See the testimony at this site by scrolling to “Testimony from Citizens” for some compelling and poignant stories of why civil unions don’t work.)

As a result, in February of this year, both houses of the New Jersey legislature passed a historic bill that would end marriage discrimination in the state and allow same-sex marriage. Governor Christie, never one to pass up an opportunity to please his right-wing base, vetoed the bill within 24 hours of its appearing on his desk. He politicized the issue, calling for a referendum on this fundamental civil rights issue.

At the time of the veto, the legislature did not have enough votes to override, but one thing it did have is time. It has until the end of the current legislative session in January, 2014 to get 12 assemblypersons and 3 senators to switch and vote to override.

The other thing the legislature had is momentum. Attitudes toward marriage equality are changing for the better, and are changing quickly. The prime sponsors of the bill – S1 and A1 – continue to work behind the scenes to convince those who voted against equality (mostly Republicans) to vote their conscience instead of going lock step with the governor.

But now things have changed.

More – including the complete interview with Assemblyman Gusciora and Garden State Equality’s Steven Goldstein’s reaction – below the fold.

The Forgotten Victims of Violence

When 20 children were viciously murdered, the nation simultaneously grieved and initiated a call to action. Yet, the reaction was quite different when 67 people were viciously murdered. For the most part, those victims were ignored, and very few people are addressing the root cause of that violence.

Those 67 victims are the latest count (and may be higher by the time this is posted) of the people murdered in Camden this year.

The situations are, of course, different. The Connecticut murderer was a single deranged individual whose motive will never be known for sure. The Camden murders have come from a variety of motives from domestic violence to drug deals gone bad.

Stricter gun laws are essential and would have reduced the number of people killed in Camden and Connecticut. Maybe the Connecticut murderer’s death count would have been less if he was only able to purchase magazines with five rounds. Maybe some of the carnage in Camden could have been reduced if vengeance were taken out by knife attacks instead of the more lethal and efficient guns. So the push for more effective gun control is necessary. But it is not sufficient.

Labor Day and the Myth of Playing by the Rules

Some thoughts on the United Way’s new ALICE study from NJPP president Gordon MacInnes:

Productivity is up, but wages are down.

Corporate profits and retained earnings are up, but family income is down.

Your neighbors who “play by the rules” – those who work full-time to support their families and give their kids a better chance than they had – are sliding backwards on this Labor Day.  

Reversing Progress: New Jersey Taxing Working-Poor Further Into Poverty

njppwhiten is communications director for our friends at New Jersey Policy Perspective. – promoted by Rosi

New Jersey is in unenviable company. It is one of just three states that has raised income taxes on working-poor families in recent years, making it harder for these families to work their way toward the middle class, according to the annual report on state income tax trends released this week by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Taxing the incomes of working-poor families makes no sense, and is contrary to decades of bipartisan efforts at both the federal and state levels to help such families work their way into the middle class, the Center’s report shows.

Teachers on the Edge of Poverty

Cross-posted from Jersey Jazzman.

Bruce Baker has an important post up about the Opportunity Scholarship Act – New Jersey’s voucher bill. Basically, the way the bill is now written, it would be little more than a massive giveaway of tax funds to yeshivas in Lakewood and, to a lesser degree, Passaic; somewhere on the order of $67 million. All voucher supporters should have to answer to Bruce’s arguments here.

But his post also struck me for this:

NJOSA would provide scholarships to children in families below the 250% income threshold for poverty. The text of the bill indicates that eligible children are those either attending a chronically failing school in one of the districts above or eligible to enroll in such school in the following year (which would seem to include any child within the attendance boundaries of these districts even if presently already enrolled in private schools).

Here’s the language of the bill on eligibility:

“Low-income child” means a child from a household with an income that does not exceed 2.50 times the official federal poverty threshold for the calendar year preceding the school year for which an educational scholarship is to be distributed.

What does that translate into for a dollar amount? Well, the poverty level for a family of four in the contiguous 48 states is $22,350. 250% of that is $55, 875.

Deborah Howlett on the Minimum Wage

The Senate Labor Committee held a hearing today on legislation to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $8.50. The minimum wage has not been increased in three years, and full time workers being paid at that rate earns only about $15,000 a year in one of the highest cost-of-living states in the nation. The bill being considered addresses this issue by tying the minimum wage to the consumer price index so that the impact of cost-of-living increases is reduced.

I spoke with Deborah Howlett, President of New Jersey Policy Perspective, after she testified before the committee. In this video, Howlett talks about why we need this increase and how it will benefit the entire state, not just those covered by the proposed law.

Poverty, Schmoverty

Childhood poverty bothers ACTING Education Commissioner Chris Cerf: he’s worried the little waifs might be ripping him off:

In New Jersey and across the nation, the number of students living in poverty is determined by how many of them qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, a federal program run by the Department of Agriculture. But the count is not just about the federally subsidized meals – schools with poor students in the lunch program receive up to 57 percent more state aid than their peers.

Citing growing concerns with the program’s susceptibility to fraud and error, acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf is calling for a governor-appointed task force to study whether there’s “an alternative way to measure New Jersey’s at-risk student population.” The move has the potential to shift where the money goes in the state school system, rekindling New Jersey’s long debate over school funding for needy children.

“It is hardly a well kept secret that (free and reduced lunch counts) are inaccurate and even at times fraudulent,” Cerf said in an e-mail to The Star-Ledger Saturday. “We owe it to school districts and taxpayers alike to explore whether there are better ways to identify disadvantaged children.”

See, something horrible happens when these little grifters or their schools fake the poverty level: they get more money for education! And then the state might have to stop giving tax gifts to millionaires and corporations! Can you imagine?!

But wait – the long con is even worse than that:

A Conversation with Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll

To be an effective advocate for progressive causes and social issues, it is important that you know your opponents. Understanding their positions, especially those coming from smart people with whom you may disagree, will help you hone your position and strengthen your arguments.

With that in mind, Joey Novick and I travelled to Morris Township earlier today to have a conversation with Republican Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll. Carroll is a libertarian in the Ron Paul mode, and while most of his views are outside of what we may consider the mainstream, he is firmly entrenched in his principals. Our discussion included slavery, marriage equality, the voting rights act, anti-bullying legislation, medical marijuana, and what to do about Camden’s crime and poverty. Some of Carroll’s thoughts may be surprising or even shocking.

Star Ledger Needs to Check Their Facts

I was very disappointed to start my New Year off this morning by reading a fact-less and biased op-ed piece in The Star Ledger about the Voucher Bill. It had already lit up the Twitter and Facebook feeds long before I had my first cup of coffee, with Save Our Schools NJ and NJParents1 posting fact-filled responses.

It is reprehensible and irresponsible for the state's largest newspaper to publish such a work of fiction. Anyone could do a quick Google search to find plenty of evidence to refute their claim that vouchers offer 'a lifeline for poor kids'. I do hope Politifact New Jersey does their homework on this one. 

This is not a Democrat vs. Republican or state vs. NJEA issue. This is an issue of our government offering false hope to families of struggling students, financial aid to struggling private and parochial schools, and tax breaks to big corporations. This program that has been tried in various cities around the country for 20 years with no measurable success does nothing to address the crushing effects of poverty on a child's ability to learn. And according to both the US Census Bureau and the NJDOE, poverty, or lack thereof, is a major factor in a child's success in school.

If Trenton is serious about helping struggling students, why not let corporations give those tax breaks to programs that will help the poor live decent lives including affordable health insurance, housing, jobs, and ESL classes? Or how about giving that money directly to the school districts not only to invest in measures that have been proven to work such smaller class sizes, rich, deep curriculums, and strong half day pre-K and full day kindergarten programs, but to help them buy much needed materials and fix broken down, dilapidated buildings?

Newspapers are supposed to uncover the truth, not perpetuate lies. The Star Ledger can and should do better.

As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, "You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts."

This is Flemington, my town, in tony Hunterdon

We may have all come on different ships.

But we’re in the same boat now.

                    – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hunterdon – bucolic, small-towny, rich farmland dotted with McMansions. This is the kind of place Forbes Magazine has recognized and pointed people to for years. We make lists like 4th-richest county in America (richest in NJ), America’s Best Places to Raise a Family – 7th best in the country.

Now they’re calling Hunterdon the new face of food stamps. Hunterdon, where the median household income is $98,000 a year, just saw a spike in food stamp usage in 3 years of 514%. Flemington, my town, is the county seat, a small town with more empty storefronts than it used to have and its anchor, the historic Union Hotel, shuttered. People who live in Flemington generally make considerably less than those in the surrounding burbs of Raritan Twp and Readington. But this has always been a middle-class town.

CNN just came to town to interview people at the Flemington Food Pantry, which has also seen a surge in use, and in usefulness. It’s a wake-up call, for anybody still needing one, of what’s happening to the middle-class.  For some people suddenly unable to make it, it’s bewildering, they’re not prepared, and they never thought they’d “be there”. To be sure, the numbers here started out low. And there are places in New Jersey where poverty is more deeply settled, where people have been struggling for years, for so long that some of the rest of us have forgotten to think much about that. This is what OWS has been about – and Occupy Trenton, and Newark. The census now tells us about half of us are low-income or living in poverty now, a statistic still sinking in, for me. But not for everybody.

If you can spare it, a food bank donation is a great way to honor whatever you’re celebrating this season.

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