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The Ladder

A Blog from New America's Asset Building Program

Asset Building News Week, June 17-21

Published:  June 21, 2013
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The Asset Building News Week is a weekly Friday feature on The Ladder, the Asset Building Program blog, designed to help readers keep up with news and developments in the asset building field. This week's topics include housing, public benefits, racial and economic equality.

Housing and Homelessness

Connecticut has passed legislation protecting homeless residents against various forms of discrimination. The Washington Post reports on the journey of two Fairfax County, Virginia students who have just graduated from high school despite being homeless and living apart from their families. Approximately 2,000 people lined up in Omaha, Nebraska this week to receive applications for Section 8 rental assistance. The program hasn’t been accepting applications for over two years, so applicants began lining up at 10pm the night beforehand to ensure their spot in line. The housing authority in Wayland, Massachusetts is seeing success from its Family Self-Sufficiency program. The coordinator for the program describes how some of the participants have gone back for degrees that have lead to better paying jobs. Last week, HUD released findings from a study documenting widespread racial discrimination. This week, HUD released findings from a ground-breaking study documenting discrimination facing same-sex couples: “The study finds that same-sex couples experience less favorable treatment than heterosexual couples in the online rental housing market.”

Several of the nation’s largest banks have been in the news this week regarding allegations related to their mortgage and foreclosure practices. The Wall Street Journal reports that “Four of the largest U.S. mortgage servicers failed to comply with parts of landmark national mortgage settlement. Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo “each failed at least one of 29 metrics that serve as a measure of how banks provide relief to homeowners who are under threat of foreclosure,” according to the independent monitor that oversees the mortgage-foreclosure settlement. Bank of America made headlines after seven former employees came forward with statements detailing the bank’s policy of rewarding staff members who lied to customers and moved them into foreclosure with bonuses and gift cards.

The Supreme Court has decided to hear a case that has been making its way up the judicial food chain. The case, Township of Mount Holly v. Mount Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, 11-1507 concerns whether people must prove they were the victims of intentional racial discrimination or whether “disparate impact” is an acceptable criteria for housing discrimination cases. AP News and Businessweek have coverage of the case and its implications for communities of color and the housing and financial services industry. ProPublica has been following this story for some time so read this piece to get more of the backstory.

Public Benefits

There’s been a lot of attention this week to the House’s Farm Bill which unexpectedly failed on Thursday in a 234 to 195 vote. As Ron Nixon for the New York Times puts it, the proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that represented a key component of the bill were “divisive.” Democratic lawmakers have said the cuts to SNAP are too deep, while primarily Republican lawmakers said they were not deep enough. The Asset Building Program’s Aleta Sprague wrote an op-ed this week in Roll Call outlining one particularly problematic portion of the bill: it would force states to reinstate asset limits in their SNAP programs. Asset limits discourages the savings of lower-income people and, as CFED’s piece for The Hill points out, are more informed by sensational stories than what’s most effective. Monica Potts looked at the growth of low-wage work in Kansas City and made the connection between the ineffectiveness of asset limits and people’s struggles to use public benefits as tools to get out of poverty. Greg Kaufmann for The Nation pointed out that what’s been missing from the entire SNAP conversation is a clear understanding of the dynamics of hunger in America and how SNAP is an effective anti-hunger tool.

Racial and Economic Equality

A new report from Economic Policy Institute looks at the unfinished social and racial justice goals of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, at which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The report finds that “the hard economic goals of the march, critical to transforming the life opportunities of African Americans, were not fully achieved.” Ta-Nehisi Coates for The Atlantic has been delving into the Moynihan Report, a 1960s research document which has had a profound impact on shaping public opinion and policy around the structure of black families, the persistence of intergenerational poverty in the black community, and the role of government in each of these. Coates' analysis, prompted in part by the release of a report from the Urban Institute that revisits Moynihan’s work, is thoughtful and nuanced.

Matt Bruenig crunched the numbers on upward economic mobility and college attendance and found that “you are 2.5x more likely to be a rich adult if you were born rich and never bothered to go to college than if you were born poor and, against all odds, went to college and graduated.” Matthew O’Brien at The Atlantic has more on this issue. NPR looks at a new study of black Americans perceptions of their financial situations and finds that while 50 percent of black Americans viewed their finances as “poor” or “not good,” 81 percent said they would one day attain the American dream – or already had.

Quick Hits

WAMU profiles a pair of teenagers who have just graduated from a local D.C. high school while parenting their daughter. They both participated in a school-based program for parents called New Heights and are headed to college this fall. Their teacher says, "They're just examples of what parents should be. We're gonna miss them, but they're going to go on to great things."

The Billfold featured an interesting essay by a person in their twenties who defaulted on their student loans. She chronicles both the financial and emotional aspects of the journey out of debt.

Bill O’Boyle for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Sarah Jaffe for In These Times, and Seth Freed Wessler for Colorlines reported this week on important wage- and payment-related issues affecting low-wage workers, particularly in the fast food industry.

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