De-Prioritizing Social Studies Education Was a Huge Mistake

Noelia Rivera-Calderón, Law & Public Policy Scholar, JD Anticipated May 2019

As a former middle school teacher, I can’t resist starting with a little pop quiz:

  1. In which core school subject can you learn to distinguish between fact and opinion, analyze international relations, practice media literacy and source analysis, understand differing points of view and bias, consider how history has impacted race relations, and be trained to become civically and politically involved?
  2. Which core school subject (not counting the “non-core,” but still important, classes of art, music, etc.) has been substantially de-prioritized by schools nationwide in the wake of both the Bush era’s No Child Left Behind and the Obama era’s Race to the Top and Common Core State Standards initiatives?

If you answered Social Studies to both (which you should have if you read the title of this post), you are correct. And I hope you’re also among the one-third of Americans that can name the three branches of government. And the one-fifth of Americans who know that the First Amendment protects freedom of religion. And the eight percent of U.S. high school seniors who can correctly identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War.

In the national push to improve educational outcomes that resulted in No Child Left Behind, English and Math were emphasized above all, and relentlessly evaluated with standardized testing. In response, schools naturally restructured their teaching to emphasize what was going to be tested. More time for Math and English meant not only less time for electives, but also less time for the core subjects of Science and Social Studies. Then, with the growing realization that the U.S. was also lagging behind other countries in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM), Science was increasingly added to the roster of standardized tests.

The more recent Common Core State Standards, which are intended to encourage consistent and rigorous instruction leading to college and career readiness, only cover English and Math. All of the above initiatives have led schools to de-prioritize Social Studies. In Pennsylvania, for example, Social Studies remains the sole core subject without a mandated standardized test—which I note only because standardized tests can be viewed as a measure of a school subject’s importance to policymakers. Nationwide, more than a third of schools decreased Social Studies class time in response to No Child Left Behind.

The effect of this de-prioritization is greater than the attention-grabbing headlines about how little we know about history and government (which of course are also problems). The big picture is that the national narrative has shifted: Social Studies Education is no longer seen as important, but as an extra, an indulgence. That means that, increasingly, Facebook takes the place of classroom discussions of current events and important national discussions. More often, there is no teacher whose job it is to guide students in source analysis and help provide context for national trends—there is a lot of fake news, but no one to teach students how to identify it. And now that we know the substantial impact that fake news had on the 2016 election—for both Democrats and Republicans—how can we minimize the importance of the Social Studies Education that could have mitigated its effects?

Social Studies Education addresses a number of fundamentals: knowledge of the nation’s history, awareness of world affairs and geography, an understanding of economics, and, above all, the development of an informed and involved citizenry. But more than that, Social Studies Education exists to help students answer the fundamental questions of who they are and how they got here, in the context of who we all are and how we all got here. It is both a window and a mirror: a tool to understand the world through its (global) and your (personal) history, and a tool for recognizing how you fit into the larger community through civic engagement.

The quality and effectiveness of existing Social Studies Education is an issue all on its own, but it is further compounded without a clear local, state, and national message that the subject is as important as English, Math, and Science. If Common Core Standards are what policymakers agree on at the moment, let’s have the difficult national discussions about what standards for Social Studies should look like. If we are concerned about the civic engagement gap affecting marginalized youth, schools must be provided with resources that enable them to focus on civics education and not solely on Math and English. If we are concerned about the influence of fake news on civic discourse and effective democracy, let’s make one of our approaches increased media literacy education, which is a natural fit for Social Studies classrooms. And, as I hear so often from so many, if we are concerned with increasing political and social polarization in the U.S., we must provide significant time for students to grapple with issues of multiperspectivity, fact, opinion, and bias.

De-prioritizing Social Studies Education was a huge mistake, but it’s not too late to renew its place in the core curriculum. Social Studies should be added to the Common Core State Standards, and to the standards and testing used by states that do not rely on Common Core. For the future, while Common Core and standardized testing may fall out of favor, this core subject should remain.

Joint Filing and Tax Reform

Hope Kildea, Law & Public Policy Scholar, JD Anticipated May 2019

With the passage of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the federal legislature grappled with changes to some fundamental aspects of our tax system. Talks of eliminating deductions for charitable contributions, medical expenses, and student loan interest put into question the values reflected in our tax code. One area of our tax structure that was not addressed through the TCJA was filing status. The Internal Revenue Code recognizes five filing statuses: single, head of household, married filing jointly, married filing separately, and qualifying widow or widower. When married taxpayers file jointly, the Internal Revenue Code recognizes them as a single unit and pools their income. A taxpayer’s filing status, together with her taxable income, determines her tax liability for a given year.

A guiding principle behind our current tax structure is the idea that similarly situated taxpayers should be taxed the same way, a concept known as horizontal equity. Under the current tax system, many taxpayers experience a penalty or bonus when they get married. Spouses who earn comparable incomes are likely to experience a marriage penalty, meaning their combined income is taxed at a higher rate than their individual incomes would have been taxed if they were unmarried and filing separately. Married couples with one taxpayer earning most or all of their household income are likely to experience a marriage bonus. The spouse earning the majority of the income would have been taxed at a higher rate when filing as a single person than when she files jointly with her spouse.

This system is intended to treat married couples with the same joint income equally, regardless of how that income is distributed between spouses. As a result, married and unmarried couples with similar incomes are treated differently. The decision to create separate filing statuses for married couples reflects a choice to prioritize horizontal equity amongst married couples over equity between married and single taxpayers. Perhaps it is time to reconsider this decision.

By prioritizing equity amongst married couples, the Internal Revenue Code penalizes married couples with the least ability to pay. Married couples where one spouse earns all of the household income benefit most from joint filing, as they are most likely to experience a tax bonus after marrying. These couples also benefit from the domestic labor that a spouse who is not working outside the home is able to provide. Because these domestic services have value, they are considered imputed income for those who do not have to pay others to provide them, such as couples with two spouses working outside the home. For example, childcare is a non-deductible expense for spouses with two working parents. Married couples with one spouse who can look after their children full-time benefit from not having to pay taxes on the value of that child care, in addition to the benefits they enjoy from the marriage bonus. While on its face, joint filing seems to treat married couples equally, the Internal Revenue Code disadvantages couples with two working spouses by ignoring other factors that affect a couple’s ability to pay taxes.

Joint filing perpetuates gender inequality in households where both spouses work. By imposing a marriage penalty on couples with a second income earner and not taxing the imputed income enjoyed by couples with a single income earner, joint filing incentivizes the creation of family units with a single income-earning spouse. In heterosexual marriages, women are more likely to stay home to perform domestic labor than their male spouses. By relying on an outdated model of an ideal family unit—a heterosexual breadwinner-homemaker nuclear family—joint filing creates barriers for many women who would like to work outside the home.

Regardless of its effects, joint filing raises the question of whether a tax system should concern itself with marital status at all. “Married filing jointly” status is based on a perspective of married couples as a single unit. Although married couples have been able to include separate incomes on a single return as far back as 1913, the Internal Revenue Code did not adopt a joint filing status until 1948. At that time, the concept of marriage was limited to heterosexual couples, and women were not popularly recognized as autonomous beings with individual income earning capabilities. This perspective is now out of step with current understandings of marriage. In a time when both spouses in a marriage are seen as individual actors with income-earning abilities, is there really any reason to treat them as a single unit? While married couples may very well decide to pool their income, this decision is a personal one. Such personal decisions, such as whether to marry and how to share income, should be up to individuals and not result in tax rewards or penalties.

Under a system of mandatory individual filing, taxpayers are taxed separately, without regard to their marital status. Such a system would restore horizontal equity amongst married couples as well as between married and unmarried couples. By eliminating joint filing, couples would no longer experience a tax bonus or penalty upon marriage. Likewise, the tax liability of married couples would more accurately reflect their ability to pay. By ignoring marital status, the Internal Revenue Code could eliminate government interference in inherently personal choices, such as the decision to marry or share income with a partner. Mandatory individual filing would also promote simplicity in our tax system by eliminating the need for separate tax brackets for married couples.

Considering the role of House and Senate Republicans in the recent efforts towards tax reform, it is unsurprising that the TCJA did not consider a change to the tax code’s treatment of marital status. As an institution, marriage has historically been defined in the U.S. by conservative ideals. Changes to the government’s treatment of marriage are unlikely to come from Republican members of Congress. Rather than eliminating the tax consequences of marriage, the TCJA furthers existing disparities in the tax code’s treatment of married versus unmarried couples. By creating narrower tax brackets and eliminating the personal exemption, the TCJA promotes marriage incentives for all but the highest income earning couples.

The tax code is more than a system of collecting revenue. It is a reflection of our country’s values. Our tax system contains incentives and penalties based on our expectations of how people should act. With the passage of the TCJA, I think it’s time we asked ourselves: how should our social values shape the tax consequences of marriage? Is marriage as an institution still the cornerstone of our social and personal lives? Should we continue to treat it as such? The passage of the TCJA will not be the end of tax reform. Moving forward, our country will need to consider how our tax system values marriage.

Nigeria Must Do More To Protect Its Children

Miriam Abaya ’17, Law & Public Policy Fellow 

In April 2014, 276 girls were kidnapped from a boarding school in Chibok, Nigeria by Boko Haram. The kidnapping sparked the global social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls. Today, 163 girls have either escaped or been released, leaving 113 unaccounted for. Nigerian parents have pled and protested, demanding that the Nigerian government do more to find their daughters. Four years later, on February 19, 2018, Boko Haram insurgents kidnapped 110 girls in Dapchi, adding to the number of missing girls and heartbroken parents.

At the time of the Chibok kidnapping, Nigeria was preparing for the 2015 presidential elections. President Goodluck Jonathan waited two weeks before he addressed the attack and refused international help in rescuing the girls. Then-candidate Muhammadu Buhari used the Boko Haram insurgency and President Jonathan’s failures as one of his talking points, promising to counter Boko Haram if he were elected president. Specifically, he promised to address the capacity of law enforcement and establish a “Serious Crime Squad” to combat insurgencies, kidnappings, armed robbery, and many other security concerns throughout the country. It was these promises, among others, that led the Nigerian people to elect Buhari in 2015. Buhari’s election represented the first peaceful transfer of power in Nigeria’s history, and a new era of hope for the security and unity of the country.

Given Buhari’s criticism of Jonathan’s lack of action in response to the Chibok kidnapping and his role in the release of some of the kidnapped girls, one would think that he had evaluated the weaknesses in the military’s ability to respond to such attacks. One would think that his government would ensure the protection of boarding schools in the North, particularly girls’ schools. One would think that Buhari would have followed through on his promise to create a special unit to combat kidnappings and other security threats in the country. But it would appear the Nigerian government has learned nothing.

The Nigerian government had a weak response to the Dapchi kidnapping from the beginning. The government wrongly reported that some of the kidnapped girls had been rescued, when that was not, in fact, the case. It is worth noting that Buhari, unlike Jonathan during the Chibok kidnapping, immediately issued a statement calling the kidnapping a “national disaster” and stating that the government would dispatch a fact-finding delegation, troops, and surveillance aircraft find and rescue the girls.

However, this attack could not have been entirely unforeseen. The girls were taken from the all-girls Technical College in Yobe state, a clear target for an insurgency whose platform includes the elimination of western education, particularly for girls. Yobe borders Borno state, the launching point of Boko Haram militants. Despite this, the military withdrew soldiers from key checkpoints in Dapchi last month, leaving the school and girls vulnerable to an attack.

In the face of this current crisis, the Nigerian government is responding as best as it can to find the kidnapped girls. However, the government must self-reflect and evaluate its emergency response mechanisms. The military must develop a strategy to determine which locations are most vulnerable and need protection, particularly when there are women and children at risk. Most of all, the government must, rather than claiming Boko Haram’s defeat, admit that Boko Haram is still very much a threat to the safety and security of the Nigerian people. Until the government takes Boko Haram more seriously and acts accordingly, Nigerian families will continue to suffer loss.

Reflections on Race and School Discipline

Noelia Rivera-Calderón, Law & Public Policy Scholar, JD Anticipated May 2019

We all know we are doing school discipline wrong. We see the statistics on racial disparities in discipline: Black and Latino students are suspended and expelled at significantly higher rates than white students. When it comes to finding solutions, though, well-intentioned but misguided policies from all points in the political spectrum—from zero tolerance to suspension bans—end up leaving us little better than we started, taking one step forward and one step back. We must acknowledge the complexities inherent in reforming school discipline, avoiding what seem to be the easy answers, and we must listen to the perspectives of all parties with a stake in school discipline reform, including parents, students, teachers, and community members. Because of my own history and varied experiences, I come to the issues in race and school discipline from multiple perspectives: as Program Director of the School Discipline Advocacy Service (SDAS), which provides advocacy for students in Philadelphia going through formal and informal disciplinary processes; as a former Philadelphia middle school teacher; and before everything, as a former Philadelphia student.

As a student, while I was not in trouble in school very much, owing both to my painful shyness and my desire to prove myself as a first-generation immigrant, I did get in trouble a couple of times. When I was in first grade, I didn’t speak English very well yet, and, because of my limited English proficiency, I misunderstood a direction that was written on the board and did a workbook exercise incorrectly. The teacher saw that another student, who was literally in the opposite corner of the class from me, had made the same mistake, and started screaming about how one of us must have copied their work from the other one. She sent us both out of the room, not to return until one of us admitted our dishonest behavior. I tried, in my broken English, to explain that I hadn’t understood the direction, but she wouldn’t hear it. (This is, by the way, a teacher who later asked me to come to school “in my native costume” so the other students would know what Puerto Ricans looked like.) At the time I was mortified at having been placed in the hallway like a “bad kid” where everyone could see me, so I took the blame so I could go back to class.

This experience of being sent out to the hallway and given detention unfairly is, in the grand scheme of things, not a big deal, but it did demonstrate something I ended up learning in law school as I started researching school discipline: teachers and administrators, given large amounts of discretion, tend not to give the benefit of the doubt to students of color. Where there is some subjectivity and discretion involved, some ambiguous misbehavior, some sense of “disruption,” teachers and administrators are more likely to punish Black and Latino kids than white kids. However, when white kids are subjected to school discipline, it is more likely to be for more objective offenses—bringing a weapon to school versus the more subjective “being disruptive in class” or, in my case, “failing to follow directions.”

I have also been on the other side of school discipline, as a teacher. I was in situations every day where I had to evaluate the safety of my classroom, the effects of students’ behavior, and what disciplinary measures I needed to take to make sure that my classroom was a safe place where students could learn without unnecessary distractions. I think that being in a safe school where you can learn is a privilege that too few children have, so I considered maintaining discipline to be one of the very best things I could do for my students. I felt that holding students accountable for their actions, so they could learn that their actions have consequences and that they needed to be more thoughtful in the future, was a vital part of aiding their development as members of society. Part of showing someone that they matter as a person is showing them that their behavior matters, and that they are worthy of being held to high standards.

As a teacher I have (very rarely) recommended that a child be expelled, but have made those recommendations for serious fights, once when one student punched another and continued to beat the other student on the floor. I felt that this student may not have been ready to be in that particular school environment. And when my other students, who came to this school in part because it was known to be safe and who had been shaken by the experience, saw that this student was not going to be expelled (the final decision of the school’s board) and said “that’s not fair,” there was nothing I could tell them.

These days in education circles, you hear a lot about “restorative discipline,” which is basically a contrast to “exclusionary discipline.” Exclusionary discipline, like suspensions and expulsions, involves excluding children from the learning environment; with restorative discipline, you work with the child to instead restore them to the learning environment by restoring their relationships with those whom their behavior hurt. Statistically, children of color are subjected to exclusionary forms of discipline much more than white children. Restorative discipline should be the goal, but actual restorative discipline is misinterpreted a lot in ways that can actually do more harm than good. It is interpreted, often, as “just stop suspending kids,” leading some to call for all-out suspension bans. The problems are that 1) some actions are harder to restore than others, and blanket school discipline policies never make sense; 2) you cannot ban one practice without replacing it with another—restorative discipline requires extensive, time-consuming training which school districts are not always able or willing to pay for even if they do implement a suspension ban; and 3) sometimes kids are not always ready to be restored, and in those cases there must be alternatives. Being restored means to take ownership for one’s actions, to apologize and to make amends, and to change the behavior, and sometimes kids are not ready to sincerely do that. In those situations, restoration cannot and should not be forced, and exclusionary punishment must be available as an option because it at least can maintain school safety for serious offenses while showing the child and the school community that the behavior is not to be tolerated in school.

School discipline must be fair to be meaningful. First, school and district codes of conduct should be written in a way that removes as much ambiguity and room for discretion as possible when defining charges—there should be no “causing a disruption” or “failure to follow directions” as a basis for punishment; that has to be more specific. In the same way that we expect to know what conduct is illegal before we are arrested for it, students should be very clear on what behavior is expected of them so they will not be impacted by the implicit bias of an educator given a large amount of discretion. To further limit the impact of implicit bias, we badly need to diversify the teaching profession. Second, we need to understand what restorative discipline actually is, not use it as an excuse to tolerate harmful behavior, and we need to recognize that there is a legitimate time and place for forms of exclusionary discipline. We need to hold schools accountable for implementing fair discipline through programs like SDAS, so we can push for restorative discipline where it makes sense—for example, in a case I participated in with a child who accidentally brought a box cutter to school, not threatening to hurt anyone with it, and who apologized and agreed to ensure it would not happen again. Finally, we need to have this conversation in a way that acknowledges that behavior matters and that being held to a high standard shows that each child, as a person, matters. We should be neither allowing discretionary discrimination nor making misguided excuses for student misbehavior. School discipline need not be nonexistent; it just needs to be fair.

Price of Innocence: Philadelphia’s 30% Bail Fee

Cameron Redfern, Law & Public Policy Scholar, JD Anticipated May 2019

There are currently 6,700 people in Philadelphia’s jails. Of those individuals, 30% are being held pre-trial – one in four are being held on a cash bail amount that they are unable to pay. 8.1% of Philadelphia’s jail population is being detained because they cannot afford to pay $5,000 or less. The cash bail system is purported to serve the purpose of ensuring the reappearance of defendants and keeping dangerous offenders off the street until they can be permanently detained after trial. Instead, Philadelphia’s cash bail system is a systematic attempt to place the city’s defendants in a financial trap that they cannot escape from.

According to Philadelphia City Council at a November 3, 2017 Bail Fund Hearing, the city collected $2.95 million in fees assigned to individuals who posted bail in the past year alone. Many of these individuals were required to pay a fee of 30 % of their posted bail, even after their case was dropped or they were acquitted. The foundation for this fee lies in a combination of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia laws. Section 234 of the Pennsylvania Code, Rule 528(c) provides that a 10% deposit of one’s full bail requirement can be paid by a criminal defendant if that amount is “sufficient to ensure the defendant’s appearance and compliance.” This 10% rule is fairly standard throughout the country. If a criminal defendant fails to appear after posting their required 10%, the entire amount may be forfeited even if charges are eventually withdrawn. If a defendant uses a bail agency to post their 10%, as many do, they will automatically lose 10% of the amount posted, regardless of the outcome of their trial, as the “cost” of the agency putting up the remainder of the fee.

This 10% statewide rule, is compounded by Philadelphia’s additional 30% fee. Following state procedures, when a person is accused of a crime in Philadelphia they must pay the Court Clerk 10% of their overall bail assessment. Under Philadelphia’s Rules of Criminal Procedure 528(A), the defendant will then be accessed a “fee” that is at a minimum 30% of their deposit paid for release. This accessed fee is between $10 and a maximum amount of $1,500. The remaining 70% of the defendant’s deposit will be returned to them if they appear, however, the 30% fee they paid for their freedom will be kept regardless of the outcome of their trial. Philadelphia’s 30% fee allows a person to be found innocent of a crime but spend months in jail and, forced to pay for the privilege of being wrongly accused.

There are currently no clear guidelines outlining where the money taken from these individuals is funneled. It is speculated, based on conversations with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, that the $2.95 million in fees collected in Philadelphia may be going to the general fund.

According to the open budget of the city of Philadelphia, the fourth largest portion of the city’s general fund goes towards the city’s prisons. The proposed budget for the prison system in the Fiscal Year 2017 is $258,831,670. This means that at least a portion of money being collected from individuals who have been acquitted or whose case has been dropped is going directly back into the system that wrongfully detained them.

The current cost of maintaining 6,700 people in Philadelphia’s jails has taken its toll. Due to the broken cash bail system, the city pays roughly $40,000 a year per inmate, including those who are simply being detained due to their inability to pay. The Philadelphia City Controller estimates that the city would save $75 million annually if the cash bail system was ended.

If the City of Philadelphia passes Bill 160868, a ballot measure will be provided to amend the City’s Charter in order to create a Criminal Justice Reinvestment Fund. This would allow the savings from a reduced prison population to go towards criminal justice reform programs. Reform measures could include the creation of day reporting community service centers. Having day reporting centers would allow the city to increase the number of people it releases with no cash bail posting while still ensuring that they are being monitored for reappearance.

In the interim before this change can be made, the new District Attorney, Larry Krasner, should set an office-wide policy that the use of cash bail should be limited to the most extreme of cases based, on the accused’s criminal history or the nature of the offense for which the defendant is charged. According to District Attorney Krasner’s campaign platform, it will be a goal of his office to implement alternatives to cash bail for those charged with nonviolent offenses. D.A. Krasner has also commented that the success of ending cash bail in Washington D.C. will be the touchstone for Philadelphia’s changes.

America’s system of bail is designed to ensure that defendants reappear and that the most dangerous of defendants cannot be released to commit further crimes before their current trial. The imposition of a 30% fee that does nothing more than take money from citizens with no substantiation of where the money goes is unjustified. The use of cash bail and the application of a 30% fee must be ended in Philadelphia.

 

 

 

Safe Injection Sites in Philadelphia: Caring About People, No Matter What

Jasper Katz, Law & Public Policy Scholar, JD Candidate May 2019

In 2016, 907 people died as a result of heroin overdoses in Philadelphia.

In 2017, that number is projected to hit 1,200.

As a response to these tragedies, Philadelphia recently decided to move forward in creating a safe injection site (SIF), a place where people who use drugs can do so under medical supervision in case of an overdose. Philadelphia has some of the cheapest and purest heroin available, and our response to this crisis must match the need. Harm reduction, and safe injection sites more specifically, allow us to respond effectively with kindness, care, and compassion.

The importance of this step cannot be overstated. Creating a safe injection site is one way to utilize the philosophy of harm reduction, a philosophy that prioritizes meeting people where they are and listening to them about where they want to go. Harm reduction says that people always deserve kindness, care, and compassion, no matter what.

Caring for and about someone unconditionally is a powerful thing, and it is this philosophy that has motivated Philadelphia to move forward with SIFs. These sites have been saving lives in Vancouver and across the globe for years. Vancouver actually has the longest-running safe injection site in North America, and in the 14 years since it opened, there have been 6,600 overdoses at the site, but not a single death.

Safe injections sites are also not, strictly speaking, illegal. As Temple Law Professor and Director of the Center for Public Health Law Research, Scott Burris, has said, they exist in a bit of a grey area, and the main thing lacking is political will. Harm reduction advocates have been promoting safe injection sites for years, but they often have to battle stigma surrounding drug use. SIFs, and the philosophy of harm reduction more broadly, call into question our opinions and beliefs about the people who use drugs. They make us think about what our responsibilities are to the people around us and how we want to and think we should fulfill those responsibilities; those are certainly not questions with easy answers.

However, we have seen the results of treating drug use with punishment instead of compassion. The war on drugs has only created a new drug crisis, and people are still dying every day. Our view of the demographics impacted by the current drug crisis has changed the response: during the crack-cocaine epidemic, we believed that the communities impacted were mostly communities of color, specifically low-income Black communities. Our response was swift and deadly, decimating communities that are still reeling today.

Now, in the midst of another drug crisis, we see the victims as young white kids from the suburbs, and the conversation has shifted to one about harm reduction. In the long term, this is a good thing. Harm reduction allows us to ask those impacted what they need right now; it allows us to respond to a crisis with compassion, patience, and an ability to meet someone where they are, instead of where we think they should be. It allows for programs like Philadelphia’s Prevention Point, which has distributed clean needles and life-saving drugs that reverse the effects of an overdose since the late 1990s. It gives the people who use drugs more time: using drugs and being alive has to be better than not using drugs because you’re dead.

I am relieved that the conversation is shifting from punishment to harm reduction, however slowly and imperceptibly that shift might be happening. I wish it had happened sooner and earlier; I wish we had listened to the people who thought to have this response in the 1980s; I still wish we were doing a better job of executing this response now, because people are still dying.

Philadelphia has made incredible progress over the past few weeks, and the announcement that we are moving forward in creating a safe injection site is an important step forward. I hope we continue to use this momentum to listen to the people most impacted, and create the programs and resources they say they need.

 

Why Philadelphia Needs Just Cause Eviction Protections

Lisa Burns, Law & Public Policy Scholar, JD Candidate May 2018

In 1893, the great American journalist Talcott Williams lauded the promise of Philadelphia, which he called “not a city of palaces for the few, but homes for the many.” Williams’s egalitarian vision of the city was based on the iconic Philadelphia row houses that allowed workers of all classes to own their own homes inside the city limits. The possibility of middle- and working-class individuals’ homeownership in one of the nation’s preeminent cities remains just as alluring over 100 years later.

Yet the reality of homeownership is still out of reach for many residents, particularly given that Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate among America’s top ten most populous cities. Currently, about a third of Philadelphia residents rent their homes. The demographics of renters reflect those of the city as a whole: increasing numbers of young people and families, as well as older residents and those living on a low or fixed income. In order to fulfill its promise to all, renewed development in Philadelphia must be accompanied by protections for the city’s most vulnerable. Just cause eviction protections are important steps towards cementing Philadelphia as the city of homes for the many. Therefore, Philadelphia City Council must pass Good Cause Bill No. 170854.

Just cause eviction laws require landlords to assert some good cause, such as a failure to pay rent or a violation of the terms of the lease, in order to evict tenants. Variations on just-cause eviction laws have been implemented across the country, in cities from Los Angeles to Chicago and in states such as New Jersey. The Good Cause Bill, which provides just cause eviction protections to Philadelphia renters, was introduced by Councilmembers Jones, Gym, and Parker on October 5th and is currently pending in committee. This Bill would require landlords to give notice and good cause to tenants they wish to evict, and allows existing tenants first option to renew the lease.

“Good cause” is defined in City Council’s Bill as the failure to comply with a material provision of the lease or other reasonable rules for use of the property set by the landlord. Under this Bill, proposed rent increases do not constitute good cause without proper notification and option for the existing tenant. Importantly, the bill requires 30-day notice of eviction to allow tenants the opportunity to challenge a landlord’s assertion of just cause before the Philadelphia Fair Housing Commission.

The Bill in its current form is an important foundational protection, but it is missing vital safeguards for certain segments of society. When considering long-term renters, it is important to acknowledge the elderly and disabled and their caretakers, as well as others who live on a low or fixed income. Therefore, just cause eviction protections should be crafted with these populations in mind.

For example, City Council should amend Bill No. 170584 to provide protections to surviving tenants. A surviving tenant in need of protection is someone who is not listed on the lease, but has lived in the property for at least a year. These surviving tenants should be given the ability to remain in the property by receiving first option to sign onto the lease if the original tenant vacates the property due to death or illness. The last thing an elderly widow needs after the death of her partner is concerns about homelessness. This amendment would provide the elderly and people living with disabilities an extra measure of security against sudden evictions.

In addition, the Bill should specify that tenants who require live-in home health aides will not have these aides treated as guests in violation of the lease as long as they notify their landlord of the aide’s presence. Without this protection, it would be possible for a landlord to claim that the just cause for an eviction is the presence of a necessary home health aide in violation of lease guest policies. Philadelphia must support the needs of all its residents, especially their right to critical healthcare. A provision explicitly protecting the rights of tenants who require home health aides is an important step in supporting the aging and disabled populations of the city.

Finally, the Bill should provide a private right of action for tenants who are evicted because the owner wants to sell the property, but does not follow through with the sale. This provision would act as an enforcement mechanism so that landlords do not evict tenants under false pretenses in order to evade the just cause law. Although landlord-owners should undoubtedly have the right to sell their properties for profit, they should not use that ability to infringe upon the basic rights of their lease-abiding tenants. Giving tenants a private right of action to enforce the law would create a measure of equilibrium in the power imbalance between landlords and tenants.

Philadelphia is at a critical moment in its history. As the city races towards revitalization, attracting more residents and new construction, the rights of renters must be at the forefront of City Council’s agenda. Runaway development at the expense of the city’s most vulnerable would be a shameful way to dishonor the legacy that Williams so perceptively catalogued over 100 years ago. Just cause eviction protections must be made law in Philadelphia.

The Cruelty of Ending Temporary Protected Status

Shannon McGuire, Law & Public Policy Scholar, JD Candidate May 2019

Eight years ago last week, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti, killing anywhere from 220,000-300,000 people, displacing over a million from their homes, and leading to a cholera outbreak. In 2016, Hurricane Matthews devastated the country’s recovery efforts. The endless struggles Haitians have endured from these natural disasters make reports about the President’s vulgar and offensive comments about countries like Haiti even more painful. Yet many are not familiar with a change in the administration’s policies that gave effect to the President’s sentiments long before these insults escaped his lips.

On November 20, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced its decision to terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for Haiti and subsequently ended the same designation for El Salvador seven weeks later. The harmful effects of these policies on immigrant families and our economy are unknown to those unfamiliar with our immigration system or its history.

Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, is a humanitarian aid program that President Bush, Sr. signed into law in 1990 that originally gave protection from deportation to those fleeing war in Central American countries. TPS has given hundreds of thousands of individuals legal immigration status, authorization to work, and a Social Security Number after war or natural disaster ravaged their home countries. Since its creation, administrations have extended TPS designation to citizens from Nepal, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Sudan, to name a few. As the name itself implies, TPS is only temporary and must be renewed by the administration every few years, which both Republican and Democratic administrations have done in years past. To be eligible for TPS, an individual from a designated country must apply to renew their status with USCIS periodically, paying $495 each time and maintaining a clean criminal record without felonies or more than one misdemeanor.

The Trump administration’s treatment of TPS has changed drastically. The number of individuals receiving lawful immigration status is evaporating with each new announcement by DHS to terminate TPS designation for different countries. House Republicans and Democrats have been pleading with the administration to continue this protection for recipients who have become part of their communities:

“Failing to renew TPS would needlessly tear apart families and communities across the country . . . TPS holders from Honduras and El Salvador have become valued and important members of our communities. They have started families, opened businesses, and contributed to this country in countless ways. They are part of the fabric of America.”

Yet, despite Florida lawmakers and even the Haitian government asking the administration to renew TPS for Haiti, DHS still terminated Haiti’s designation and told the 59,000 Haitian TPS recipients that they must find another immigration status, leave the U.S. by July 2019, or face deportation. The Haitian communities in Florida and New York were devastated by the news.

Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and its citizens rely heavily on the money that family members in the U.S. send back home to help after this decade’s crippling natural disasters. Not only does this policy affect those living in Haiti, but it also affects the lives of TPS recipients living in the U.S. who have been thrown into uncertainty. Haitian TPS recipients have given birth to 27,000 children that are U.S. citizens. After the designation expires, there will be households where citizen children can remain in the U.S., but their parents could be deported. In addition, 23 percent of Haitian TPS recipients hold mortgages. What will become of their home investments after they are forced to leave?

The effects on the Salvadorian community are just as grim. Over half of the 250,000 Salvadorian TPS recipients have lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years, during which time they bought homes, opened businesses, and started families. Thirty-four percent of these recipients hold mortgages. They have given birth to 192,700 U.S. citizen children. Hundreds of thousands of lives are being upended with no promise of a legislative solution from Congress.

Some may believe sending TPS recipients home will make more job opportunities for U.S. citizens, but this is ill-informed. If history is our guide, these policies will not help low-skilled nor high-skilled American workers and will likely leave behind negative economic impacts. This justification merely stems from the myth that immigrants steal American jobs. One Harvard economist states, “[W]hile immigrants represent about 15 percent of the general U.S. workforce, they account for around a quarter of entrepreneurs and a quarter of investors in the U.S.”

But there is a glimmer of hope for TPS recipients living in the Ninth and Sixth Circuits. Federal court decisions in these circuits created an opportunity for some to “adjust status” to Lawful Permanent Resident. In non-immigration terms, some may be able to apply for a green card. Those living in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, Alaska, Arizona, California, or Hawaii can apply to become a permanent resident through their spouse or adult child who is a U.S. citizen. Unfortunately, USCIS’s policy manual limits the rulings to these two circuits and has not allowed the rulings to be applied elsewhere. TPS recipients in the other 42 states have few alternatives.

This administration’s change in TPS policy is backed by the same anti-immigrant policies that reduced our acceptance of refugees from nearly 100,000 to only 45,000 and ended DACA, kicking the ball to Congress to use the futures of hundreds of thousands as a bargaining chip for a wall on the southern border. Simply put, the President and his administration are a walking contradiction. DHS says TPS recipients should find another immigrant status, while USCIS blocks them from doing so. DHS says these countries have recovered from natural disasters and war and that TPS is no longer necessary, then the President reportedly turns around and refers to the countries using an expletive during immigration reform negotiations. The President claims he has “great heart” for the 800,000 DACA recipients whose lives hang in the balance, yet his administration cares little about the thousands of citizen children born to Haitian and Salvadorian TPS recipients. The administration’s change in TPS designation is just one part of a series of immigration policies that are sending a clear message: immigrants do not belong here.

These policies are irresponsible and senseless.

Those are the thoughts that rip through my heart every time I read another anti-immigrant policy out of the White House. These policies reflect a total disregard for the lives that they needlessly traumatize with uncertainty—the children who are spending the holidays with only one parent because their hard-working, law-abiding father or mother was deported; the college students who have no idea if they will be able to receive education loans next semester because the future of DACA is unclear; the mothers who own homes, work two jobs, but do not know if their families can stay in the country their children call home; Haitian and Salvadorian communities all over the U.S. who are told “prepare to leave”, as if that is an easy option. Families are being torn apart and livelihoods upended.

Insecurity. Fear. Injustice. That is the legacy this administration will leave for immigrant families.

 

Homelessness in Philadelphia: A Few Suggestions

Lee Begelman, Law & Public Policy Scholar, JD anticipated May 2019

It’s officially 2018, and the East Coast started off the year competing for a record. Unfortunately for those of us who live on the East Coast, the record being sought after was for “Longest Streak of Days Below Freezing.” Fortunately, I guess, we ended up tying for third-longest streak. Nevertheless, it’s been mightily cold in Philadelphia so far this winter, and its only mid-January. But while most of us are able to cope with extra blankets and hot chocolate, the same cannot be said for our neighbors who have no shelter to call their own.

When Philadelphia’s temperatures fall below freezing, thousands of our neighbors’ lives are at stake because Philadelphia has a tragic homelessness problem. According to the city’s 2016 statistics, about 15,000 people, including families, access city shelters each year. In 2015, homelessness outreach organizations engaged 6,500 individuals living on streets, in abandoned buildings, cars, train stations, and other places not fit for human habitation. At various points in the year, city officials conduct a “Point in Time” count, when officials and volunteers walk around the city getting a rough approximation of the city’s unsheltered individuals on a given night. The city’s January 2016 “Point in Time” count found over 700 unsheltered Philadelphians: that’s 700 men, women, children, and likely some non-human companions who had no choice but to spend the night outdoors.

Project HOME, a Philadelphia homelessness advocacy non-profit that also builds affordable housing, names several predominant causes of homelessness, including poverty from a shortage of jobs or a lack of jobs that pay livable wages; disparity between housing costs and minimum wage and earned benefits; lack of affordable transportation; lack of affordable housing and inadequate housing assistance; lack of affordable healthcare; domestic violence; and inadequate support for mental health care and substance abuse challenges. As Philadelphia’s opioid crisis worsens and more individuals come to Philadelphia for its supply of pure, cheap heroin, our homeless population only grows; Liz Hersh, director of the city’s Office of Homeless Services, estimates that three-fourths of the homeless population has a substance-abuse or mental health disorder.

There are some small but positive steps the city has taken in recent years to help. The city recently announced that, in collaboration with Project HOME, a $1.4 million service center for the city’s homeless population will be constructed in Suburban Station’s underground concourse. Projected to open in January 2018, the new “Hub of Hope” will feature medical, psychiatric and legal services, showers, and laundry, though it will only stay open until 7 p.m. most days. In a smaller, but still impactful step, the University City District (UCD) decided to buck the trend of “defensive architecture”—the strategy employed by cities to keep people experiencing homelessness from laying down or being comfortable in public spaces, like park benches—and instead opted to provide large, comfortable, and welcoming furniture in its redesigned Porch outside 30th Street Station or a transit bench at 47th Street and Baltimore Avenue. UCD has also started to offer Mental Health First Aid training for its “ambassadors” who patrol their public spaces, and encouraged ambassadors to connect people experiencing homelessness who appear in-need of assistance to Project HOME and other city resources.

The city is definitely aware of its homelessness problem and has made an effort to improve the lives of people experiencing homelessness, making the city a more welcoming and hospitable place for both our own citizens and our out-of-town visitors. But, of course, more can be done. I have three ideas.

First, we need to re-conceptualize the way we think about homelessness. It is common and intuitive to try to tackle the problem by increasing the number of beds and shelters in the city; after all, if there are more beds, then fewer people will be turned away and forced to sleep outdoors. Danny Farrell of HELP USA (and an acquaintance of mine) has a different idea. His nonprofit administers a program in New York City called “Homebase,” which focuses on those at risk of homelessness by prioritizing efforts on keeping people in their homes. They provide a variety of assistance, from short-term financial help to landlord-tenant dispute mediation: “We keep it simple — see the ball, hit the ball. [If] someone has an option, do everything you can to keep them from losing that option,” he said during testimony at a hearing in front of City Council in March 2017. Of course, Philadelphia should also continue to ensure people in need have access to shelter, but the “Homebase” approach could prevent even more people from losing their homes.

Second, Philadelphia should steal a simple but impactful idea from across the Atlantic. On the first day of November in France, a policy called “trêve hivernale,” or “winter break,” begins. Until March 31st, landlords are forbidden from evicting tenants and cannot turn off access to gas or electricity. This year, France passed the Equality and Citizenship Act, which further extends the policy to apply to all “inhabited places,” which includes makeshift shelters. The measure ensures that individuals are not forced to reckon with extreme weather, on top of the burden of homelessness. The National Coalition for Homelessness estimates that 700 Americans experiencing homelessness die from hypothermia each year; Philadelphia can lessen its contribution to that tragic statistic with just a single piece of legislation.

Finally, and perhaps more ambitiously, Philadelphia should install public restroom facilities in at least a handful of popular areas. I live near the Convention Center, and frequently walk down 12th Street under the Convention Center underpass: people sleep there every night, and they have no choice but to take care of their business on the street or against the wall. Not only is the smell horrible (especially on hot days), but it is just appalling to me that our public officials do not see any urgency to remedy that fact that human beings in our city are forced to live in such filth and squalor, right next-door to thousands of feet (if not more) of empty space in the Convention Center.

I say that public restrooms would be ambitious not because it would be cumbersome to set up, but because it would likely result in the most public backlash. I would imagine that many people would understandably oppose public restrooms, either worried that they would encourage vagrancy, or have the same fate of Philadelphia’s streets and trash cans and not be cleaned sufficiently. To the first potential objection, I would say that homelessness is a reality of urban life, especially in a capitalist society with a papier-mâché safety net. And for the second, I have seen other cities with public restrooms, namely Paris and Denver. They were not so bad! They made for much cleaner streets, and as a tourist I especially was impressed. I am sure that if I had to go without proper shelter for a night or more, I would greatly appreciate living in a city that provided such simple accommodations as a sink and an actual toilet. And regularly maintained public restrooms could go a long way in resolving our “Filthadelphia” reputation. It should be a win-win for everyone.

There would of course be so much more I would encourage our city to do to ensure that no one even has to consider sleeping on the street or in a park for any amount of time. But Philadelphia is just one city—a cash-strapped one at that. Even if Philadelphia had a larger and richer tax base, bolstering the safety net cannot be done unilaterally by individual cities, but truly requires a national, societal effort. That being the case, I hope that Philadelphia can take at least a few small steps to incrementally improve the lives of at least one population of its citizens.

Ajit Pai’s Defense of Net Neutrality Repeal Fails to Make Good Arguments

Devon Roberson, Law & Public Policy Scholar, JD anticipated May 2019

“The FCC just voted to restore the long-standing, bipartisan approach to protecting Internet freedom.” This was the official word from the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Twitter account, announcing the repeal of the 2015 regulation codifying “net neutrality” into law. “The internet wasn’t broken in 2015,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said. “We weren’t living in a digital dystopia.” This is true. But what Mr. Pai seems to be forgetting is that the Internet wasn’t broken in 2015 because the net has always been neutral, long before the 2015 regulation.

Net neutrality is the principle that those who provide Internet access (Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, such as Comcast and Verizon) have to treat all web traffic equally. For example, Comcast would not be allowed to block CBS’s streaming service because it competes with NBC, which Comcast owns. It also means ISPs cannot create “fast lanes” for websites who can afford to pay more. Verizon cannot ask Netflix to pay a fee to get their content to be delivered to consumers at higher speeds.

In his defense of repeal the net neutrality rules, Mr. Pai said, “At the dawn of the commercial Internet, President Clinton and a Republican Congress agreed that it would be the policy of the United States ‘to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet . . . unfettered by Federal or State regulation.’” But this ignores the very basic fact that the Internet was still, as a practical matter, neutral all through the 1990s and early 2000s. The Internet didn’t require federal regulation because it was simply impossible to discriminate against different types of web traffic. That technology was not developed until 2003, when internet security companies created a “firewall” that could filter out harmful viruses.

Almost immediately after this technology was developed, ISPs discovered a new use for it: they could now block websites that competed with their own services. In 2004, Madison River Communications was fined by the FCC because they blocked customers from accessing Vonage, which provided internet phone services that competed with Madison River’s own phone company. This technology also allows ISPs to “throttle” different sites, either speeding up or slowing down the speed at which the content is delivered. Several ISPs have been accused of throttling Netflix, for example.

Mr. Pai obviously believes that a non-neutral net is what is best for the future of the Internet. Why, then, did he choose to be deliberately misleading, rather than just making his case? The fact is that there are real and legitimate arguments against net neutrality. This “heavy-handed regulation”, as Mr. Pai calls it, increases compliance costs and raises the already high barrier to entry for new companies. In an industry devoid of competition, preventing new start-up ISPs could be detrimental in the long-term.

There’s also the fact that just a few sites, like Netflix and YouTube, make up the vast majority of web traffic. On our highways, we ask 18-wheelers to pay higher tolls because they cause more wear and tear on the roads. Why shouldn’t ISPs be allowed to charge Google and Facebook for the cost of their infrastructure?

Proponents of net neutrality argue the Internet should be a “dumb pipe” that merely gives access to the Internet without caring what content you view. Analogies are often made to electricity: electric companies don’t care what you use electricity for, they just send it to your house. However, electricity companies still charge consumers for how much electricity they use. Today, a heavy Internet user pays the same as a light user. Why should a grandmother who only uses the Internet to send emails to her grandkids have to pay the same amount for Internet as a person who streams content and plays online video games from multiple devices simultaneously? Wouldn’t it be better if grandma can just pay for the services she uses instead of subsidizing the Internet for other people who use more bandwidth?

These are just a few of the very real and legitimate arguments against net neutrality that have become lost in the outrage. Instead, Mr. Pai focused on increasing investment. At a time when companies like Comcast are more profitable than ever before, Mr. Pai thinks the only thing stopping them from investing is net neutrality. If only Comcast could charge Netflix millions in fees to speed up their content at the expense of other content, then Comcast would at last invest in building infrastructure.

Mr. Pai and others seem to think that even if there are bad actors after net neutrality is gone, there are two important ways to punish bad-behaving ISPs: the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the free market.

Mr. Pai “retweeted” an FTC commissioner, expressing the sentiment that the FTC has been restored as the rightful watchdog of uncompetitive practices. This is problematic for several reasons. First, after-the-fact enforcement can do real damage to Internet start-ups. If a new website has their site blocked from users, it may take months before the FTC can get around to punishing the wrongdoer. By that time, the new start-up could be out of business. Additionally, if websites are slowed down or sped up, consumers may not notice that it is because their ISP is throttling the content. This leads to frustrated consumers and delayed enforcement. Lastly, the FTC does not specialize in telecommunications services like the FCC does. Thus, the FCC should be the agency regulating these companies.

The free market is also not an adequate remedy. Millions of households have no choice of ISPs. Because building Internet lines to homes is so expensive, not many companies can afford to build them. This means only a small handful of companies (Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, and Charter) control virtually all of the Internet access in the country, creating an oligopoly. Chances are that if one of these companies starts blocking websites or throttling content, the others will follow. Even if consumers have a choice between two of these big companies, that choice may not matter if all companies determine it is in their best interests to be non-neutral.

The FCC and Mr. Pai are wrong about the effects of repealing net neutrality, but the 2015 rules also don’t adequately address the good arguments against it. Ultimately, this issue demands Congressional action. There are several possible solutions, and Congress owes it to consumers and companies to investigate the issue fully and debate solutions that balance the interests of consumers, content companies, and ISPs. They should focus on ensuring predictability in the market to encourage investment, guarding against anti-competitive practices, increasing competition, and protecting consumers. They should look to policies like “local loop unbundling”, which drastically increases the number of ISPs and makes net neutrality a non-issue in other countries. This is an issue where the American people should demand the most of their lawmakers. Congress should hold hearings and listen to experts, consumer groups, content providers, and yes, even the ISPs. The only solution is the one everyone can agree on.