Sunday, July 24, 2022

A Hungry Summer

The highest inflation in 40 years has made basic groceries unaffordable for many poor and low-wealth families. Food banks, to which people turn for help in these situations, are unable to keep up with demand now and since the start of the pandemic. Food insecurity – defined by the USDAi as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life” – affects fully one-third of Marylanders, especially those living in Western Maryland, the Lower Shore, and portions of Baltimore County.ii

Image credit: Maryland Food Bank Hunger Map 2021,

How did it get this bad?

Groceries are more expensive now than they have been at any point since 1979,iii but they aren’t the only goods with higher price tags recently. While gas prices have steadily declined since their peak in June,iv the average price is still above what many people are able to pay to get to work, go to school, or care for their children. 

Housing costs, including rent, have skyrocketed in many areas. And affordable housing alternatives are few and far between.  In April of this year, the median rent in the US surpassed the pay of a full-time federal minimum wage worker by over $500/month, not accounting for utilities, food, and other necessities.v The Department of Housing and Urban Development defines "cost-burdened" people as spending more than 30% of their income on Before taxes, a full-time federal minimum wage worker makes $1,256 monthly, but would need to make $5,580 per month (or $32.20/hour) to afford an average 1-bedroom apartment without being "cost-burdened," according to national data. While Maryland's minimum wage of $12.50/hour is higher than the Federal minimum of $7.25, the cost of living here is higher. Not accounting for taxes, the hourly wage needed to reasonably afford a 1-bedroom rental in the Baltimore area is $32.70 and, in the Washington DC metro area, $38.80.vii 

All this does not account for utilities, like water and electricity, which are being affected not only by global events but also by the increasingly severe weather caused by climate change. While a small fraction of US workers have successfully negotiated moderate pay raises, the vast majority have seen their wage increases dwarfed by inflation.viii Meaning, though they receive more each paycheck, the higher cost of basic goods and services results in them being able to afford even less.

Factors that have helped and hurt:

  • Stimulus checks issued during the first part of the pandemic helped many poor and low-income people, especially those who became unemployed or were unable to work because of in-person school and childcare being unavailable. The last of these checks were issued over 16 months ago and there have been no seriously considered proposals to issue any additionally.
  • Unemployment relief provided through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) made it possible for many families to pay their rent/mortgage, buy basics like groceries, and keep financially afloat. However, these benefits ended in September of 2021, impacting up to 7.5 million people.ix
  • The six months of Child Tax Credits, which provided monthly payments of $250 to $300 per child, ended in January of this year. Last November, President Biden's Build Back Better Act would have continued these payments. But after the bill passed in the US House of Representatives, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) essentially killed the bill in the Senate by withdrawing his support, while all 50 Republican Senators opposed it.x As a result, an estimated 3.7 million additional children nationwide descended below the poverty line.xi

What can we do to change this harsh reality?

Here in Maryland, we can look to the MD Poor People’s Campaign Resolution to End Poverty in Maryland, including advocating for the Maryland General Assembly to resolve to:

  • Raise the minimum wage to a living wage, expand unemployment insurance, and guarantee the right to form and join unions for all workers.
  • Enact relief from student debt, housing debt, utilities debt, medical debt, and other household and personal debt that cannot be paid.
  • Enact fair taxes on corporations and the wealthy, including by taxing investment income the same as income from work and otherwise making the tax code less punitive for poor and low-income people.
  • In minority communities, prioritize green and socially beneficial industries, public health, public education, care work, public transit and roads, public utilities and community facilities, broadband access, sanitation and water services, climate resilience, sustainable food production and distribution as well as eliminating food deserts, libraries, and fire stations.
  • Establish the right to food and food security—to have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy—should be realized for all Marylanders, regardless of where they live, their socioeconomic status, or race
  • Strengthen the food and nutrition security safety net and expand access to food assistance programs to those who need them, regardless of citizenship or documentation status

On a national level, we can look to the Demands of the Poor People’s Campaign, including:

  • The demand for the immediate implementation of federal and state living wage laws that are commensurate for the 21st century economy, guaranteed annual incomes, full employment and the right for all workers to form and join unions
  • The demand for fully-funded social welfare programs that provide cash and in-kind assistance directly to the poor, including poor families, and an end to the attacks on SNAP, CHIP, HEAP, and other vital programs for the poor
  • The demand for public infrastructure projects and sustainable, community-based and controlled economic initiatives that target poor urban and rural communities
  • The demand that the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share of our country’s urgent needs around decent and affordable housing, free public education, a robust social safety net and social security, including the repeal of the 2017 tax breaks for the wealthy and big corporations
  • The demand that the nation and our lawmakers turn their immediate attention to passing policies and budget allocations that would end child poverty

iUSDA ERS - Definitions of Food Security. (2006). U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service.
iiHunger in Maryland. (2021, November 17). Maryland Food Bank.
ivGregg, A. (2022, July 19). Gas prices have plunged 10 percent since their June peak. The Washington Post. 
vBahney, A. (2022, May 19). Rents in the US just hit another record high. CNN Business. 
ivConsolidated Minimum Wage Table. (2022, July 1). U.S. Department of Labor.
viiBerner, J., & Hale, D. (2022, June 24). April Rental Report: Sun Belt Metros Drive Sustained Growth in Nationwide Rents. Realtor.Com Economic Research.
viiiWinck, B., & Hoff, M. (2022, May 11). Only a handful of US workers have seen wages outpace inflation since 2021. Business Insider. 
ixStettner, A. (2021, August 5). 7.5 Million Workers Face Devastating Unemployment Benefits Cliff This Labor Day. The Century Foundation. 
xWikipedia contributors. (2022, July 17). Build Back Better Act. Wikipedia. 
xiParolin, Z., Collyer, S., & Curran, M. A. (2022, February). Absence of Monthly Child Tax Credit Leads to 3.7 Million More Children in Poverty in January 2022. Columbia University Center on Poverty and Social Policy. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

A Supreme Court Majority that will Stop at Nothing

Is there an end point where the conservative majority of the current Supreme Court completes their quest to erode our basic rights? What does that look like?

The Supreme Court’s recent rulings have shown how far the 6-3 conservative majority are willing to erode a wide variety of fundamental rights in this country. It’s not simply about the power of states versus that of the federal government. According to these justices, it’s fine to allow states to restrict abortion but not restrict carrying handguns. It’s okay for the states to violate the sovereignty of Native lands defined by federal laws but not okay for the federal regulations to apply to industrial polluters in states that don’t favor that control. It’s acceptable for states to racially discriminate when redistricting, but it’s not acceptable for the federal government to discriminate against religious schools who want federal funds or school teachers who lead non-private, group prayers at public school events.

Disallowing States to Require Demonstrable Need by Gun Owners to Carry Handguns for Personal Protection - New York State Rifle & Pistol Assoc. v. Bruen

On June 23rd, the Supreme Court struck down a 100 year old New York state law requiring those desiring to carry handguns for personal protection to first show a need to do so.  The conservative majority opinion echoes the National Rifle Association’s assertion that any restriction on gun ownership is a violation of the 2nd Amendment. This decision puts similar state laws in Massachusetts, California, New Jersey, Hawaii, and here in Maryland at risk. Based on historical studies on the effects of changes in gun laws over time, gun control advocates predict a higher number of handguns and handgun-related crimes to occur in urban areas. 

Allowing States to Severely Restrict or Outlaw Abortion – Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization

On June 24th, the Supreme Court allowed a highly restrictive Mississippi state law to stand, effectively overturning Roe v. Wade and 50 years of abortion rights. Thirteen states had previously passed “trigger bans” – laws that were automatically enacted once the ruling became official. The three liberal justices, in their joint dissent, wrote, “As of today, this Court holds, a state can always force a woman to give birth, prohibiting even the earliest abortions.” The fundamental human right of bodily autonomy (the bioethical principle on which the right to abortion rests) was formalized shortly after World War II’s Nuremberg Trials, during which details regarding the medical experimentation, and consequently torture, done by Nazi doctors on nonconsenting, mostly Jewish, prisoners, came to light.

Elevating the Rights of Christians and Christian Institutions Above those of Other Citizens – Kennedy v. Bremerton School District and Carson v. Makin

The Constitution’s guarantees of free speech and religious exercise are tempered by the separation of church and state applied to government-funded entities like public schools and, differently, for private religious schools. On June 23rd, the Supreme Court struck down a Maine state law that disallowed Christian religious schools from participating in a state-funded voucher program. While religious schools provide alternatives to students, they also have the power to bar gay and transgender students and teachers, a practice prohibited in public schools by federal anti-discrimination laws. On June 27th, the Supreme Court ruled that a high-school football coach was improperly disciplined for leading a post-game prayer. The dissenting justices wrote, “Today’s decision elevates the religious rights of a school official, who voluntarily accepted public employment and the limits that public employment entails, over those of his students, who are required to attend school and who this Court has long recognized are particularly vulnerable and deserving of protection.”

Eroding the Sovereignty of Native Americans’ Lands – Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta

On June 29th, the Supreme Court rolled back the rights of Native Americans, allowing states to prosecute crimes committed by non-Native people on tribal lands. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation released a statement, saying “This will have a ripple effect throughout Indian Country across the United States,” adding that “public safety would be better served by expanding Tribal authority to prosecute any crime committed by any offender within our reservation boundaries rather than empowering entities that have demonstrated a lack of commitment to public safety on Indian lands.”

Limiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s Regulatory Power – West Virginia v. EPA

Also on June 29th, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA had exceeded its authority in regulating the carbon emissions of existing power plants. These emissions are a chief contributor to climate change, and the ruling jeopardizes President Biden’s plan of the U.S. power grid running on clean energy by 2035, then making the US economy carbon-neutral by 2050. In a 6-3 vote, the conservative majority created a precedent where “The Court appoints itself — instead of Congress or the expert agency — the decisionmaker on climate policy. I cannot think of many things more frightening,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan in the dissent. 

Diluting Black Votes through Racist Gerrymandering and Redistricting – Emergency Order

On June 28th, the Supreme Court granted a request by Louisiana’s Republican secretary of state, temporarily halting a lower court’s ruling and allowing a highly racially-gerrymandered Louisiana congressional district to remain during the 2022 midterm elections. Earlier, a federal judge rejected the Republican-drawn map for violating the Voting Rights Act, as it concentrated Black voters into two, majority-Black districts. Even though about one-third of the state’s population is African-American, decades of gerrymandering have given Republicans a solid majority in five out of six congressional districts.

In response, we demand a Moral Revolution:

  • A lack of common sense gun laws in our country have resulted not just in increasing violence in our streets, grocery stores, churches, and schools, but the militarization of our police forces. The excessive amount of funds allocated to body armor, bullet-resistant shields, and higher caliber weaponry for use by law enforcement has not made us safer. We demand gun control, especially regulation of automatic, high magazine capacity, weapons. We also demand new local, state, and national budget priorities, so that social issues that exacerbate gun violence can be simultaneously addressed. 

  • In addition to violating the bioethical imperative of bodily autonomy as a fundamental human right, abortion restrictions and bans are an effective distraction technique used to keep poor and low-wealth communities at odds. In European countries where abortion is easily available, free of cost, and not stigmatized, the actual rate of abortions performed is roughly half that in the US, adjusted for population differences. Life-saving abortion access is a low-income person’s issue – one that crosses all political, racial, ethnic, religious lines.

  • Christian nationalist organizations focus on issues like prayer in school, abortion, and gun rights that distort the national moral narrative, while ignoring the moral commitments enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. We have the right to ground our laws and public policies in a moral narrative that prioritizes and follows our deepest Constitutional moral commitments to justice. Faith is an important part of daily life for million of Americans. But our country was founded in part because of a desire to separate church and state, not favoring any one belief system. Eroding that separation opens the door to some of the abusive prejudices that exist in many organized religions infiltrating our public life. 

  • We demand that industries be held accountable for their air the pollution, as the poor live on the frontlines of climate change and bear the brunt of costs and impacts of climate volatility. We demand 100 percent clean, renewable energy and a public jobs program to transition to a green economy that will put millions of people in sustainable living wage jobs. Environmental terrorism is perpetrated every day by multinational companies who curry favor with sympathetic state or local leaders, and poor and low-wealth people are most likely to sicken and die because of this abuse.

  • First Nations, Native Americans, and Alaskan Natives have a right to their political and cultural institutions, lands, and resources. We demand that Native people retain their tribal recognition as nations, not races, to make substantive claims to their sovereignty. Trespassing upon the federally-recognized statuses of Native Americans under the guise of enforcing the law is not a solution to the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women or the violation of natural resources, like clean water, by various energy and development corporations.

  • We demand the immediate full restoration and expansion of the Voting Rights Act, including an end to racist gerrymandering and redistricting. We demand and end to all voter suppression, that mostly targets people of color and poor and low-wealth people. Louisiana is just one of many states that have used the demise of the Voting Rights Act to force legislation creating extremely gerrymandered districts that ensure non-white voters are denied proper representation at every level of government.  

Based on the Demands of the Poor People's Campaign