We Are Still Turning Our Backs On Puerto Rico’s Hungry Children
In 2017 Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused widespread devastation across Puerto Rico, leaving children especially vulnerable—but the sad reality is Puerto Rican children were some of the most at risk in America long before the storm. Nearly 6 in 10 children in Puerto Rico live in poverty, a rate almost twice as high as New Mexico and Mississippi, the states with the highest poverty rates. More than one-third of households with children in Puerto Rico receive nutrition assistance benefits and rely on that safety net to help keep hunger at bay. In the wake of Hurricane Maria this lifeline has been more critical than ever. But while nutrition assistance is under attack across our country with the threat of expanded work requirements there are unique and urgent threats to nutrition in Puerto Rico right now.
Unless Congress acts immediately before its recess, 1.4 million people in Puerto Rico, including more than 300,000 children, are at risk of losing some or all of their nutrition assistance in March. As many as 230,000 participants could lose their eligibility entirely. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. Allowing these Americans to go hungry is a shameful slap in the face as they continue to recover from an overwhelming natural disaster and face a callous White House openly hostile towards helping them.
People in Puerto Rico are already shortchanged when it comes to federal nutrition help because the Nutrition Assistance Block Grant Program (NAP), their version of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps), provides lower benefits than SNAP although food costs are 9 percent higher in Puerto Rico than on the mainland. The disaster assistance awarded to Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria allowed Puerto Rico to add additional people to the NAP rolls and increase benefits but now this assistance is about to run out though many who needed it after the hurricanes hit are still struggling. For a family of four, benefits would decline from $649 to $410 a month and this could happen over the next few weeks as this month’s benefits start to be distributed.
The House of Representatives has already passed a new disaster assistance bill that includes continued nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico and the Senate must act now. Due to targeted opposition from President Trump, funds for Puerto Rico were not included in the omnibus spending bill that recently passed. But there was good news when a new disaster relief package was introduced by Senators David Perdue and Johnny Isakson from Georgia and others which provides funding, including nutrition assistance, for Puerto Rico along with disaster relief for agricultural and other damage from hurricanes, tornadoes and
wildfires in a number of states. The Senate Appropriations Committee is also considering a disaster relief package. It is urgent that the Senate pass disaster relief that includes funding for NAP in Puerto Rico and come to agreement with the House before leaving for the March recess.
As a future agenda, steps must be taken to offer children, families and others in Puerto Rico the same access to SNAP provided to other U.S. states and territories. Immediate disaster nutrition relief is critical and can help identify people who were in need but unserved before the disasters struck. In Puerto Rico it shined a glaring spotlight on the shortcomings of the existing nutrition assistance program. Children and families lose out when Puerto Rico receives only a fixed amount of funding for food assistance annually regardless of need and cannot expand when natural disasters or other economic crises occur as other states and territories do. But for today the immediate need is obvious.
You can help by urging your Senators and Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow a disaster relief package including nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico to be voted on and finally approved before the March recess begins at the end of next week. Puerto Rico’s children are waiting. We must not turn our back on hungry children in our own country.
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Cardin Introduces Bill to Provide Pathways to Debt-Free Undergraduate Education For Future Public Servants
“No individual willing to serve their community in a public service career should be held back from their calling due to the high cost of obtaining a college education.”
WASHINGTON (March 7, 2019)—U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, has introduced legislation that will create new opportunities for students who commit to future public service careers to receive debt-free undergraduate education.
Cardin’s bill, S. 686, the Strengthening American Communities Act, expands the ways in which public servants can finance their undergraduate educations. Rather than taking out student loans to pay for their degrees, the act establishes the National Public Service Education Grant to provide students with the majority of the cost of their degrees. Colleges will contribute a portion of the remaining costs for students, and the students, by accepting the grant, will commit themselves to at least three years of public service.
“No individual willing to serve their community in a public service career should be held back from their calling due to the high cost of obtaining a college education,” said Senator Cardin. “This legislation is a first step toward enabling people to serve their communities without being hobbled by massive student loan debt, and by providing current public servants with the financial freedom to continue to heed their calling to service.
“The current system of indebting individuals at the start of the careers has led to minority underrepresentation in our public sector workforce. First-generation college students and students from low-income families cannot afford to take on student loan debt and enter into lower-paying public service careers,” Senator Cardin added. “As a result, our nation is deprived of the talents and perspectives of those who want to serve their communities but simply cannot afford to do so, resulting in our workforce that is less representative of the people it serves.
“The partnerships created under the act among the federal government, states, community colleges, public, private and non-profit universities, minority-serving institutions, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities ensures students have a pathway to complete their degree without the burden of taking on exorbitant student loan costs,” said Senator Cardin. “Those individuals already engaged in public service would receive more immediate federal student loan forgiveness under the legislation, ensuring that repaying student loan debt does not force individuals to make a choice between service and salary.”
University and community leaders have expressed strong support for this new legislation.
“Senator Cardin’s enlightened approach to supporting students that pursue careers in public service has made a real difference in fields such as public health, and would be very helpful to many other students who want to make a difference in their communities,” said University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh. “We welcome new efforts to help these students succeed.”
“By leveraging federal funds with state and private resources, the Strengthening American Communities Act creates powerful incentives to expand college access, reduce student debt, and strengthen the public service workforce,” said Maryland Independent College and University Association President Tina Bjarekull. “Maryland’s independent colleges and universities pledge their support and commit to embrace the innovative public service challenge. We commend Senator Cardin for his continued leadership in support of students and the advancement of knowledge.”
“To meet the complex challenges facing our country, government needs a skilled professional workforce capable of functioning in a fast-changing, data-and technology-driven environment,” said Max Stier, President and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. “Today, we have an aging workforce, with more than twice as many federal workers over the age of 60 than under 30. Tuition assistance and loan forgiveness programs can provide important incentives for a new generation to answer the call to public service, and to help reinvigorate the federal workforce.”
“I am proud to say that the University of Maryland Student Government Association’s Executive Board and Cabinet has voted to unanimously endorse Senator Cardin’s Strengthening American Communities Act, which will help generate greater interest in public service among young leaders,” said UMD Student SGA Student Body President Jonathan Allen. “This bill will make the University of Maryland and colleges around the country more affordable and accessible for students, enabling them to pursue higher education and careers in public service.”
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Senate Must Pass Background Check Bill, Passed by House, Supported by 92% of Voters
Defenders of the status quo—advocates of the gun industry & the politicians paid to defend it—will tell you that events like these are virtual acts of nature, products of mental illness or bad parenting, beyond our ability to control. This couldn't be further from the truth. Every day we fail to take action, we chose this fate. We tolerate politicians who fail to acknowledge this crisis and vote against our safety. We let our gun violence epidemic continue day after deadly day.
—Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, responding to the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
A policy supported by 92% of American voters has just come before the United States Senate. It’s supported by 89% of Republicans and 95% of Democrats.
But, because it’s opposed by 100% of gun industry lobbyists, it will be a fight to pass it.
H.R. 8, The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, is the most significant gun safety bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives in more than two decades. The legislation requires background checks on all firearm sales in the country. Currently, only licensed dealers are required to conduct background checks on firearm purchasers.
Timing of the bill was especially significant for freshman U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia. This month would have marked the 24th birthday of her son, Jordan Davis. He was 17 when he was fatally shot by a man who opened fire on a car of unarmed teenage boys at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida, in 2012.
“H.R. 8 will ensure mothers and fathers have one less reason to worry,” McBath said during debate on the House floor. “It will give students one less thing to fear when they walk into a school. Most importantly, it will make our communities and our nation a safer place to live. And every human being in America deserves that.”
More than 2,400 Americans have died in gun-related violence so far in 2019, an average of about 37 people per day, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Almost 480 children and teenagers have been killed or injured by guns this year.
Background checks have stopped more than 3 million illegal gun sales since 1994, according to the Department of Justice. But anyone who is not legally permitted to purchase a gun easily can acquire one at gun show, though an online seller or via a person-to-person “private” sale. An investigation by the firearm safety organization Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that people who bought guns from the online seller Armslist.com were nearly four times as likely to have a criminal record that would prevent them from passing a background check.
Approximately one in five guns is sold in an unregulated transaction, and 80% of all firearms acquired for criminal purposes are bought through unlicensed sellers, according to the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
No one argues that universal background checks alone can end the epidemic of gun violence. But it can restrict the illegal gun market. In states where private sales are regulated, there is less flow of guns from legal owners to criminals.
If the Senate fails to pass H.R. 8, it will be placing the financial interests of the gun industry above the interests of everyday Americans, including gun owners, who simply want to keep their families safe. Please call your Senators at 202-224-3121 and tell them to vote to make America safer.
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