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Tuesday, November 13, 2018
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  • INDIANAPOLIS – I thought the name rang a bell. Judge Kavanaugh wrote the decision in PHH Corp. v. CFPB, declaring the structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) unconstitutional, a decision later reversed by the full D.C. Court of Appeals. Congress established the CFPB in the wake of the financial crisis to hold banks and other financial service providers accountable to American consumers, and it serves as both a rule-making body and enforcement agency.  Now that it has returned over $12 billion to student loan borrowers, homeowners, and credit card holders in its short lifetime, it has a number of enemies. Judge Kavanaugh appears to be among them. Following his nomination to the Supreme Court, I went back to read his decision. Kavanaugh is certainly no fan of the consumer watchdog agency, and his assertions about the agency should give us pause. Arguing that the CFPB’s power was “massive in scope,” Kavanaugh went on to argue that the director “possesses more unilateral authority – that is, authority to take action on one’s own, subject to no check – than…any other officer in any of the three branches of the U.S. Government, other than the President.” This is an ironic – and almost laughable – statement in the context of Kavanaugh’s exercise of judicial authority to overturn a CFPB enforcement action. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS –  It’s about time. 

    On July 11, the U.S. Senate Committee on Social Security, Pensions and Family Policy held a landmark hearing on paid family leave. This hearing was long overdue and extremely critical to working families’ health and economic security. The U.S. is one of the only developed countries that does not offer some form of paid leave for family caregiving or serious illness, and just 15% of working people in the U.S. have paid family leave through their employer. Here in Indiana, only 37% of working people have access to and can afford the unpaid leave provided under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.  This means that nearly one in four women in the United States return to their cubicles, factory floors, or storefronts within two weeks of giving birth. It means that seriously ill children are left alone in hospital beds while their parents feel compelled to remain at their desks or cash registers.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – We all want financial services that propel us toward our goals – a home, an education, a small business, a dignified retirement. But in today’s increasingly complex financial marketplaces, some companies exploit consumers, often denying their victims the opportunity to reach those goals, or even sending them backwards. Abuse and deception in financial marketplaces affects whole communities, not just individuals, and it should not take an advanced degree in finance to avoid the pitfalls, so it makes sense for consumers to have a watchdog. And they did, until recently. From 2011-2017, Hoosiers could depend on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Established in the wake of our still-recent financial collapse, the CFPB went after the banks, student loan servicers, debt collectors and others who took advantage of consumers. It recovered about $12 billion for consumers in principal reductions, cancelled debts or monetary compensation against unfair or deceptive lenders.
  • INDIANAPOLIS – In April, we learned that three Indiana localities have the dubious distinction of being in the top 20 U.S. cities with the highest eviction rates. The newly established Eviction Lab, spearheaded by “Evicted” author and researcher Matthew Desmond, tells us that Fort Wayne (13th), Indianapolis (14th) and South Bend (18th) see people pushed out of housing at higher rates than most cities. In Indianapolis, that equates to more than 30 households evicted per day. These statistics shine a spotlight on Indiana’s housing crisis and bust the myth of the Midwest’s affordability, at least for low-income families. Forty-two percent of renter households in Indiana are cost-burdened, defined as spending 30% or more of gross income on rent and utilities. Rent-burdened households are more likely to be evicted, have less to spend on other basic needs like food and medical care, and more frequently must rely on food assistance and other safety net programs. On the flip side, stable housing has a host of benefits, especially for children, who are less likely to be placed in foster care and switch schools less often.
  • INDIANAPOLIS  – On Sept. 14 last year, I eagerly awaited the release of the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data. All summer, I had been researching the gender wage gap and looked forward to putting the finishing touches on the Institute’s report, “Wages, Wealth, & Poverty: Where Hoosier Women Stand and Ways our State Can Close the Gaps.”  My initial calculations that day came as a shock. Even as the nation saw a small narrowing of the gender wage gap, Indiana’s gap widened two percentage points from 24 to 26%, an annual difference of $12,717 between the median full-time male and female workers.  Attention to Indiana’s pay gap and the many high-profile “me too” announcements occurring around the same time led me to think that the 2018 legislative session might bring some positive policy changes for working women. And sadly, it didn’t – but not for lack of good bills.  A substantial portion of the gender wage gap cannot be explained away by occupation, experience, or education. Researchers suggest this reflects pay discrimination, and other states have taken steps to provide women with the tools to challenge these disparities. Retiring Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, once again filed a bill to help remedy pay discrimination by strengthening Indiana’s weak equal pay law. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS  – Despite a new poll showing that nearly nine in 10 Hoosiers want payday loan reform, the General Assembly had been pushing forward with new a predatory loan product. When the Indiana Institute for Working Families set its 2018 legislative agenda, we focused on modest and achievable policy solutions that would right the ship for Hoosier families who are underwater financially: Make sure pregnant women in physically-demanding jobs can continue to work safely, because many lack sick days or family leave. Take small steps to fix problems with our nutrition assistance and TANF programs. Get more kids into prekindergarten classrooms and adults into educational programs that lead to higher-paying jobs. Many of the bills we hoped to see advance never received a hearing have died. And Instead, there’s momentum on a different “solution” for struggling working families: bigger, longer payday loans. Indiana is one of several states that crafted a payday loan law in the early 2000s. Payday lenders were given a limited exemption from our criminal loansharking law to make two-week loans under the premise that these loans would be expensive to make due to their short-term, one-time nature. However, research is now clear: these loans, which top out at 391% APR, are almost never a two-week, emergencies-only deal.

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  • Republican super majorities hold in General Assembly
    “Hoosiers appreciate results, and that's exactly what they get from Gov. Eric Holcomb and Republicans at the Statehouse. By voting to maintain our supermajorities in the General Assembly, Hoosiers have made it clear that Indiana is on the right track, and that we must continue this momentum." - Indiana Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer, after House and Senate super majorities held with results finally coming in from Porter County Friday afternoon, with Rep. Ed Soliday defeated Democrat Frank Szczepanski 54-46%. Democrats did pick up three seats with Lisa Beck defeating Republican Rep. Julie Olthoff, giving House Republicans a 67-33 seat majority while Indiana Senate Republicans hold a 40-10 advantage where Democrats picked up one seat with J.D. Ford’s defeat of Sen. Mike Delph. In addition to Beck in the House, Democrat Chris Campbell defeated Rep. Sally Siegrist while Democrat Chris Chyung upset Republican Rep. Hal Slager. 
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  • Marijuana and the 56% proposition (even in Indiana)

    Michiganders approved recreational marijuana with 56% of the vote, joining neighboring Canada and along with the West Coast states, Colorado, Maine and even North Dakota. It’s only a matter of time before Illinois joins the party. The Chicago Tribune  reports that incoming Democrat Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker favors legalization and Democrats in both chambers predict it will easily pass. “I suspect it’s a done deal,” said Pat Brady, former chairman of the Illinois Republican Party. “People see it as a new source of revenue. The true battle will be over who gets their cut of it taxwise.”

    Ohio voters rejected a referendum in 2016, but will vote on the issue in November 2019, so Indiana is poised to be the middle finger of pot prohibition, expending funds on enforcement instead of reaping a tax windfall. One thing that strikes us is with Michigan voters approving it with 56%, that's nearly identifical referendums in Washington, Oregon and Colorado, and the Howey Politics/WTHR Poll from 2016 showed about 56% of Hoosiers favored medicinal marijuana. - Brian A. Howey, publisher

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