By: Emma Kiesling, Adam Graubart
Bold vs. Old Recap: Part 2 of 5
Over the course of the day, three U.S. senators, two of whom are also Democratic presidential candidates, pitched their ideas for reviving America’s middle class.
In conversation with Darrick Hamilton of the Kirwan Institute at Ohio State, Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) began by articulating the importance of critical governmental programs in his father’s success. Booker also explained a couple bold proposals aimed at tackling pervasive racial income and wealth gaps: baby bonds and a housing-aware tax credit. Baby bonds would grant every American newborn their own account from the government that would accrue value over time and turn into a pool of startup funds once a child reaches adulthood. Such a program would grant every child in America the means to finance their initial professional or personal pursuits, regardless of socioeconomic status. Booker also proposed creating an additional tax credit for renters spending more than 30% of their income on housing. The tax credit provides another source of income for families who face the threats of eviction, displacement, or homelessness as they navigate rapidly increasing rents in America’s urban centers. As Washington, D.C. faces its own “affordable housing crisis," we found this policy proposal for low to middle-income renters particularly encouraging and intriguing. Hearing about the prospect of this tax credit on the federal level raised the question whether the DC Council and other city legislatures could likewise create housing-aware credits for municipal or state taxes, reducing the burdens associated with soaring rents.
Next, Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) was joined in conversation by Felicia Wong of the Roosevelt Institute. Both women hail from the San Francisco Bay area, and the conversation began as a reflection of their home state’s progressive influence on our national policymaking. Harris recounted her experiences fighting for homeowners crippled by the 2008 subprime mortgage loan crisis as California’s attorney general. Harris compelled 5 banks to cede over $25 billion for California homeowners when they had initially been offered only a fraction of that amount. The presidential hopeful also described a sweeping earned-income tax credit (EITC) proposal that would make up to $500 per month available for low-income Americans. Many of the beneficiaries of this proposal currently lack any savings, and when faced with an emergency expense, they turn to payday lenders who charge up to 1,000% interest on loans. The plan is her own answer to growing racial inequality in America, and we look forward to hearing more about her strategy to pass and implement such a massive expansion of America's social safety net.
Finally, fresh off his Dignity of Work tour, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) spoke about the need to reclaim progressive populism. He declared, “The dignity of work should unite all of us,” expressing that choosing between appeals to social Democrats and workers who want a respectable, decent-paying job represented a false choice. To restore dignity in the lives of working people, Senator Brown emphasized that we must similarly “overhaul the tax code” to prioritize people over corporations. He proposed giving people a once-annual advance on the earned income tax credit, citing that 40% of Americans lack $400 in the case of an emergency. Brown expressed a vision for our country that took root during the mid-twentieth century – that dignity of work requires a combination of a sturdy social safety net and substantial worker power. The speech was a striking throwback to liberalism, and Brown made sure to emphasize that a pro-worker policy platform – one that restores workers’ control over their lives, their schedules, and their voice in industry – rejects our contemporary divisiveness. He proclaimed, “Populism is never racist, populism is never anti-Semitic.”
In his second inaugural address, President Franklin Roosevelt declared, “we will never regard any faithful law-abiding group within our borders as superfluous. The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” It appears that Senators Booker, Harris, and Brown internalized this duty, and they appear willing to creatively utilize our tax code as a means to reduce our stark social and economic inequalities.
By: Emma Kiesling, Adam Graubart
Bold vs. Old Recap: Part 1 of 5
Last Thursday, we had the pleasure of participating in the Bold vs. Old conference at Union Market. The event, hosted by the Roosevelt Institute, Community Change, the Economic Security Project, and the Hewlett Foundation convened noteworthy leaders to discuss progressive policy proposals. During the course of the day, we listened to talks with Stacey Abrams, Mehrsa Baradaran, Senator Sherrod Brown, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, and many other progressive leaders and intellectuals. We also heard from two presidential hopefuls: Senator Cory Booker and Senator Kamala Harris. While the star-studded lineup proved exciting, we particularly enjoyed the policy-oriented focus of the event. Throughout the day, we learned that embracing the bold does not necessarily require rejecting the “old.” Rather, we need to replace our present cynicism with a restored faith in our public institutions. On topics ranging from postal banking to Medicare for All to the Green New Deal, we repeatedly reflected on how combining our resources and intellect presents the vast potential to establish a prosperous society for every American.
In a series of posts this week, we will review some of the most noteworthy policy lessons discussed during the conference. In doing so, we will reflect upon the momentous opportunities that exist in rehabilitating our trust in government’s capacity to serve our common welfare.
Part 1: Reviving Union Power
The day’s first panel included Mary Kay Henry of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Palak Shah of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), and Andrea Dehlendorf of the Organization United for Respect (OUR). Henry emphasized that recent labor wins for fast food workers and teachers across the nation were achieved through loopholes against the general grain of written law. To truly achieve labor rights in the United States, the panel agreed that we need to rewrite the rules so that workers have a voice on corporate boards, as well as the basic right to form unions in the first place.
Unionization is gaining popularity in our current moment, noted Dehlendorf, but it is largely unavailable among the majority of the private sector workers. For instance, Shah, speaking on behalf of domestic workers, noted that the industry faces a unique moment of dangerous market concentration—but also great opportunity. Here the term “monopsony” was introduced to describe sites like sitter.com, handy.com, and care.com, which are gaining larger shares of the labor market and, thereby, power over wages, working conditions, and unionization. As domestic care markets begin to concentrate, Shah argues, so too should workers set their own base rules to escape the “wild west” of the current market.
In the early twentieth century, America’s unions possessed a vast influence in the policy realm, including collaboration with the Roosevelt Administration to architect and pass the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which established the minimum wage, overtime pay, and the 40-hour work week. Starting with President Ronald Reagan’s interference with the air traffic controllers’ strike in 1981, Americans have borne witness to a decline in union power accompanied with general wage stagnation and a concentration of wealth in the upper strata of our society. Reinvigorating collective bargaining rights under federal law—restoring the power of the unions as they existed before neoclassical economics dominated our policy space—represents the best pathway to ensuring that laborers have a voice for their individual and collective interests, especially as the content of our work continues to evolve.
By: Raagini Chandra
On Tuesday, Feb. 19th Roosevelt at GW held a Fireside chat by the name of “Who is our Transportation Built For?” We hosted a panel which included David Alpert, Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST); Nancy Augustine, faculty member at George Washington University and research consultant for urban policy, planning, and administration issues; and Andrew Small, freelance writer in Washington DC and author of the CityLab Daily newsletter. The discussion consisted of each panelist speaking about how inclusivity in public transportation affects people from all backgrounds and walks of life.
Since 2014, public transit ridership in the District has been on the decline, which is significant considering that D.C. has the second highest ridership in the country, despite the city ardently neglecting to build a subway system until the 1970s. The panel then went on to examine the different types of public transportation offered by the district and how each form affects different groups of people. For example, the District of Columbia's public transportation includes buses and the metro, as well as capital bike-share and scooters which have been increasing in usage over the past years.
Problems with Bikes and Scooters
David Alpert mentioned that despite the benefits of new innovative programs like bike and scooter rentals, newer forms of transport inherently favor young, non-disabled people who tend to be of means. Older, working-class D.C. residents either cannot use these forms of transportation, or they feel deterred from using these newer, more physically-demanding forms of transport. Moreover, the increasing popularity of these newer types of public transportation tend to attract more young, white, upper-middle-class residents to the district in areas that house historically black working-class communities, and so they can, therefore, expedite gentrification. The panelists urged us to remember that while the scooters and bikes are wonderful new forms of public transportation, it is important to realize that there is a problem when those vehicles are the only form of cheap public transportation available to a diverse public.
Problems with Metro and Buses
One of the largest problems with the DC Metro, our panelists elaborated, is how expensive it is to live near Metro stations. According to a report from RentHop, in the areas around 61 of the 91 Metro stops, rents have increased, compared to last year. Panelist Nancy Augustine made sure to note that buses often get stuck in DC’s heavy traffic, and this makes it harder for individuals who cannot afford to live close to the Metro to rely on those buses. Augustine did state that creating bus priority lanes could help with the reliability of buses during high-traffic hours and offered Rio de Janeiro, San Juan, and Seattle as examples of large cities where bus-priority lanes have been effective.
Our D.C. metro system isn’t only affected by being in D.C. since the metro area comprises regions within Maryland and Virginia. It is difficult to effectively provide public transportation changes to both buses and metros since these services stretch across many jurisdictions and encompass numerous ordinances and policies that differ for each municipality. Also, in addition to the disconnect between the Metro and Metrobus system in D.C., our panelists brought attention to the fact that the government penalizes riders for transferring between the bus and rail systems, which doesn’t occur in other large cities such as New York.
The Amazon HQ
One student who attended the discussion asked about the new Amazon headquarters that is being built in Crystal City and asked the panelists to elaborate on how the influx of a younger, wealthier, middle-class would affect the city and transportation system as a whole, seeing as Crystal City is very easily accessible through the metro. Panelist Andrew Small believes that the issue, as far as transportation and gentrification at least, is not actually as problematic as the public seemed to think. He noted that Crystal City and the greater Arlington area already have low-density neighborhoods--mostly empty--around where the Amazon HQ is going to be built. This is due to the fact that Crystal City used to be a hub for military bureaus and agencies that have since left the area. The people left with the businesses, but the infrastructure in Crystal City remains. Although gentrification would affect the neighborhood that still exists— an effect that Small believes is still significant--Amazon’s new HQ wouldn’t uproot an entire community.
By: Daniel Ohiri
Politicians often tout in their speeches and platforms the needs for economic development. They are fixated on bringing jobs to their constituents no matter the cost. However, bumper sticker campaign slogans and vague statements about economic development are not guided, concrete policy proposals that are necessary for change. More often than not, state and local politicians are turning to corporate welfare as a tool to achieve economic development. The most recent example of this scheme in action manifested when Amazon decided to split its new headquarters (dubbed “HQ2”) between Crystal City, Virginia, and Queens, New York. Governor Andrew Cuomo (NY) would have given Amazon $1.5 billion in tax breaks and subsidies if Amazon hadn't decided to pull its plan for their New York location. While, Governor Ralph Northam (VA) will be giving Amazon $573 million; moreover, the Virginian county where HQ2 will be located gave Amazon a $25 million tax grant for 15 years on top of the state’s deal.
Yes, the Amazon HQ2 deal will bring 50,000 jobs shared between the two locations. But there is a better way to grow the local economy and create jobs than shelling out billions to massive corporations. The heart of sustainable and organic growth rests with local and state leaders making investments in their own communities, especially with the middle class. There are two simple policies that can be taken to push states and cities down the path towards economic success.
The first of which is tax credits. People often confuse tax credits and tax deductions but there is a clear difference. A tax credit subtracts the amount of tax you owe, a tax deduction subtracts from your taxable income before you know how much you owe. This is a huge difference that can either breed economy success or promote economic inequality. Tax deductions tend to benefit the wealthy because they have larger incomes to subtract from before-tax. Tax credits, on the other hand, are far more equitable because it provides equal tax relief regardless of income. States and localities should look for desirable activities they want local business to engage in and provide them tax credits as incentives. This can take the form of providing tax credits for hiring veterans or providing tax credits for millennial entrepreneurs to start a business. Tax credits are an effective incentive for small and local businesses organically, sustainably create jobs.
The second policy promotes states and localities investing in credit unions or locally-operated banks. Major cities have used the financial services of corporate banks to manage everything from city employee payrolls to individual transactions for tax collection. Over the past three years, states and cities have pulled their cash flows from Wells Fargo over the bank’s involvement in the Dakota Access Pipeline Project or in regard to the bank’s fraud scandal. State and local governments should pull their contracts with corporate banks and instead use the services of credit unions and small locally-operated banks. In doing so, local governments would be directly investing money into their communities creating jobs and promoting the local flow of capital investments. Besides keeping the flow of money on Main Street; governments would also keep their decision-making powers within the local community instead of being tied down by Wall Street. [To read more on benefits of local banking check out: http://rooseveltinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Municipal-Banking-An-Overview.pdf]
Corporate welfare is not sustainable. Buying into the corporate lens of economic development is buying into greed and the hollowing out of America’s middle class. The government has the responsibility to promote economic growth and development. Governments should create and maintains an equitable economic climate and not be held hostage by big corporations. There are many different avenues and policies that encompass a progressive economic vision. However, at the heart of equitable, sustainable, and organic economic development rests with using financial systems in a socially just and responsible manner. The two easiest ways to encourage productivity growth are using tax credits over tax deductions; and, investing in communities over Wall Street.
By: Sophia Halloran, Emma Kiesling, and Daniel Ohiri
On Friday Nov. 1st the GW Roosevelt Institute held a Fireside chat entitled “Can the Blue Wave Fix the Opioid Crisis?” We were so excited to host Kate Werely, Health Policy Advisor for Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA18); Osa Imadojemu, Deputy Committee Director, Committee on Health at Council of the District of Columbia; and German Lopez, senior Vox correspondent on our campus (watch it here). Our discussion of policy solutions was wide ranging, covering past, present, and future solutions to the opioid crisis. The focus rested on policies the government can enact to help the healthcare community get treatment to people, as well as policies the healthcare community is enacting itself. The tension between the powerful PHARMA industry, lawmakers, doctors, and nurses is causing unnecessary and preventable deaths. The actors listed as well as the American people know that action needs to be taken especially as the crisis is waning from public attention, despite families still being torn apart. The following is a list of ways to begin approaching the Opioid Crisis:
What is the progressive response to the Opioid Crisis?
By Daniel Ohiri
Let me begin with a story. During my entire summer break, every Thursday at 3:00 pm I’d get a call. Each time the call would devolve into shouting matches and veiled threats. Who was calling me? A debt collector by the name of Medical Revenue Service (MRS). This firm has a negative history of buying old hospital debt, harassing consumers daily, and making threats. MRS had been calling me about an old GW Hospital bill that I had received during last semester. Without going into specifics, I was in dispute with GW Hospital and my insurance company over the cost of this bill. During the time of that dispute, GW Hospital sold my debt, probably for pennies on the dollar, to MRS.
There is a debate within the world of consumer financial protection as to whether selling debt to third-party firms is in the best interest of the consumer. Looking past that debate, we can acknowledge that our current system allows for the existence of third-party debt collectors and promotes their ability to buy debt. Therefore, I believe we should be able to agree that this industry needs to be regulated.
MRS would call me weekly trying to flip the debt they had bought from the hospital. Now, as a general rule, I tend not to give my debit card information to third-party firms of any type. Instead, I moved to deal with the bill through the GW Hospital billing department. After the dispute between the hospital and my insurance had ended and the debt had been settled, MRS continued making their weekly calls, becoming more and more aggressive.
Even though my insurance and I had jointly paid GW Hospital directly, the MRS collector continued to call and verbally abuse me: she didn’t believe that my debts had been paid. She relied on her “gut” and not the record, commenting, “people like you don’t pay bills, I don’t believe you paid anything.” After that, I requested to have my name taken off their call list and I blocked their number. I wondered how and why a debt collection agency could be so unprofessional. I did some research on MRS and found that their holding company was Medical Data Systems (MDS). I found that MDS houses its collection agencies in Florida and Alabama—states with lax regulations on debt collection. Florida doesn’t require background checks or even force debt collectors to register with the state. Alabama also doesn’t require background checks for debt collectors. I was being harassed by people that were not accountable to public authority. They weren’t even accountable to GW Hospital. Their only focus was to turn a profit on a debt that they had bought. This needs to change. Actions need to be taken on the statewide level to better regulate this industry.
Testimony given by Roosevelt @ GW Member Sean Ruddy before the Budget Oversight Committee, DC City Council: Hello, my name is Sean Ruddy and I am speaking on behalf of the Roosevelt Institute at The George Washington University regarding affordable housing in the upcoming DC Budget. Housing affordability is important to our community because we understand the tremendous value of our city’s diversity, and we believe that anybody who wants to live in our vibrant city should have the ability to do so. Without sufficient affordable housing spending, we expose our fellow Washingtonians to heightened risk of displacement. Housing is a fundamental right, and by failing to secure that right in an equitable way, we lose a myriad of voices in our community, along with their charm, their stories, and their ideas and wisdom. I fear that this budget marginalizes low-income DC residents who have never called any other place home
As you are aware Mayor Bowser recently released her budget for fiscal year 2019. We demand that her budget reflect a commitment to fight the increasingly dire need for affordable housing in the District in a way that significantly addresses the crisis at-hand. Instead the proposal only provides $217.4 million of a $14.5 billion budget to affordable housing; thus, the entirety of the District’s spending on housing programs constitutes a measly 3% of the budget, nowhere near enough to address the persistent issues related to housing and displacement. As D.C. residents, we want our city to offer equitable economic opportunities to all its citizens and we express disappointment in the Mayor’s failure to adequately address these concerns.
The Fair Budget Coalition recommends $423.97 million in annual funding to address these problems, almost double the amount of the Mayor's proposal. In addition, only a small amount of the $217.4 million directs funds to increase housing opportunities for the city’s residents at 0-30% area median income (AMI), the sector of the population most likely to face the threats of displacement and homelessness. Three-fourths of DC families who face severe housing challenges fit within this income range, but only 29.4% of the funds under the Bowser plan target programs for this group. Having affordable and consistent housing is a vital component to living a healthy and productive life, and the District has a powerful opportunity to provide their citizens with this necessity. Without provisioning adequate funds for access to the right to housing, it will be virtually impossible for low-income residents to escape poverty and improve their economic outcomes.
The Fair Budget coalition said that the District needs to build a minimum of 26,000 units over 10 years (beginning in fiscal year 2019) to accommodate the housing demands of the most low-income residents amidst the District’s ongoing economic growth. Half of these units must come from units available through local rent supplement vouchers and the other half from new housing production, locally owned public housing, and enforcement of existing inclusive zoning provisions. Much of this second half is funded through the Housing Production Trust Fund but the Mayor’s plan only offers an additional $100 million in spending for the Trust Fund, thereby fails to provide enough funds to meet the Fair Budget Coalitions recommendation. The DC Fiscal Policy Institute also found that the District often fails to enforce the 40% statutory requirement for extremely low-income households in Trust Fund spending. In the coming year, we appropriately address this crisis by allocating at least $300 million to the Trust Fund as well as enforce elements of its statute that secure housing for 0-30% AMI Washingtonians.
The Mayor's plan also provides no new funds for tenant-based vouchers despite the large number of residents on waitlists, some of which have been on the list for 10 or more years. Adjusting for inflation the voucher program will actually experience a 2.2% cut in funding. This is unacceptable, as cuts to this vital and necessary program means more families will not be able to access affordable.
The Council has the opportunity to revise this plan, promoting adequate funding to address this crisis of housing and equitable economic development. As a group of actively involved DC student, we want our local government to pursue policies that represent our values and work to sustain a dignified quality of life for all Washingtonians, including the essential right to housing. However, if you accept Mayor Bowser’s proposal the District will fail to provide for its citizens most susceptible to the negative effects of rapid economic growth. We urge the Council to match the The Fair Budget Coalition recommendation of $423.97 million in annual funding for housing affordability and that the council heeds our call to do better for the whole of Washington, DC.
March 24, 2018
We, as a coalition of student organizations at The George Washington University, must ask ourselves, “How many more lives must be lost before lawmakers realize they cannot hide from the issue of gun violence?”
Constant heartbreak and despair cannot be answered with thoughts and prayers alone. No American, no child, should have to pray to avoid being killed in their schools, workplaces, or their homes. This is not acceptable.
The March for our Lives represents a call to action. The only way we can hope to mitigate these atrocities is for our leaders to pass and enforce comprehensive gun violence prevention legislation. Such legislation must include, but should not be limited too:
We call on Congress to speedily pass these measures, and we call on the Student Association and the administration of The George Washington University to echo our demands. In addition, we call upon our university leaders to elevate our local power in response to this national crisis by doing the following:
The students at GW and students across the US have a responsibility to ensure that our fellow Americans are not being gunned down in places that should be safe. Our actions must begin this Saturday, by taking part in the March for our Lives. We must march hand in hand with the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and students all across the country and we must make our voices heard loud and clear to make it known that we won’t go away any time soon. However, Saturday cannot and must not be the end of our actions. We must continue to pressure our leaders at both the state and the federal level to take action to prevent gun violence. And if they refuse, we must hold them accountable at the ballot boxes this November, voting for candidates who will heed our call.
Colonials Demand Action
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