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Monday, April 6, 2020
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  • INDIANAPOLIS  — It’s inevitable.  Flu season comes around, and so do the standard recommendations: Wash your hands, and stay home if you develop symptoms. This year, health officials are doubling down on this advice as coronavirus cases emerge in the United States, including here in Indiana. That advice is much easier to follow if you have paid sick days. The United States is an outlier when it comes to paid leave. Nationally, policymakers have set no baseline standards for what employers should offer. And while some employers recognize that it is not to their benefit for sick employees to come to work for a variety of reasons – including that they are less productive and could infect fellow employees and clients – far too many still do not. According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data (2019), about one in four workers nationally, and as many as one in three workers in Indiana, do not earn paid sick days. Digging deeper, the statistics on who does and does not earn paid sick days becomes even more problematic. Fewer than half of workers in the lowest wage quartile – often, the people who care for children and the elderly, prepare food, or handle transactions at a cash register – lack the ability to earn paid sick days. When workers lack paid sick days, they are far more likely to go to work sick. In one Center for Disease Control study, nearly 60% of workers who prepare food reported going to work sick.
  • INDIANAPOLIS  — Parenting is full of memorable experiences: Your child’s first step, your child’s first words, the first time your child says, “I love you.” These are the moments that make all the hardships worth it, the things you dream about when you decide to become a parent. But another glorious parenting experience, one that you won’t see in any Hallmark-type show but one that many parents know too well, is the day you make your last childcare payment.  For many families in Indiana, childcare rivals housing for the top budget drainer. According to the Indiana Early Learning Advisory Committee dashboard, the parents of a preschooler in Indiana can expect to pay over $8,000 per year for high-quality childcare. Parents of infants pay even more, close to $12,000!  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers affordable childcare to be care that consumes no more than 7% of a household’s income. By that definition, the parents of an infant in Indiana would need to bring in $171,429 to “afford” high-quality care. Few households in Indiana meet that bar (around 8%, if we want to be more precise), especially early in their working lives, when, of course, they are more likely to have young children. 
  • INDIANAPOLIS — When I first met Aliyah, we commiserated about the transition to being a mother of two children. “I’m up all night with him,” she said, indicating the adorable, swaddled newborn lying beside me on the couch before turning to point at the four-year-old zipping around the room, “and then he gets up every morning at six, so I’m up with him in the morning.”  Motherhood is miraculous. It’s also not for the faint of heart. Neither is pregnancy. From the inappropriately named “morning” sickness that can strike at all hours and make it difficult to hold down food, to dizzy spells, to swollen ankles, to an alarmingly increasing chance of maternal death, pregnancy carries serious consequences and risks for women who endure it. As a state and as a nation, we have rightly turned our attention to policies that mitigate those risks. Gov. Holcomb and his team have prioritized reductions in maternal and infant mortality. This means paying more attention to how women, especially women of color, and their babies are treated. While it is great to see conversations about access to and the quality of health care women receive while pregnant, we are neglecting an important driver of poor health outcomes for pregnant women and their babies: Work.
  • 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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  • Pence says U.S. pandemic is 'comparable' to Italy
    “We think Italy may be the most comparable area to the United States at this point.” - Vice President Pence, to CNN on Wednesday, after he was asked how severe the COVID-19 pandemic will get in the United States. The pandemic has hit Italy the hardest to date.
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  • President Trump, Gov. Holcomb address the pandemic in their own words
    The COVID-19 pandemic is becoming the story of our time. As Sen. Todd Young explained, unlike the Great Recession of 2008-09 and the Oil Shock recession of 1979-82, what we are experiencing today is a double hammer: A pandemic and a severe economic panic. The Hoosier State is poised to go from a historic low 3.1% unemployment rate to double digits in the span of a month. At least one pandemic model says 2,400 Hoosiers will die.

    Tough times shift our attention to leadership. Here are quotes from President Trump and Gov. Eric Holcomb as the pandemic approached the U.S. and then impacted our nation and state.

    President Trump

    Jan. 22: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” – CNBC interview.

    Feb. 10: “Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.” – New Hampshire rally.

    Feb. 24: “The coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. … Stock market starting to look very good to me!” – On Twitter.

    Feb. 25: “China is working very, very hard. I have spoken to President Xi, and they are working very hard. If you know anything about him, I think he will be in pretty good shape. I think that is a problem that is going to go away.”

    Feb. 26: “We’re going to be pretty soon at only five people. And we could be at just one or two people over the next short period of time. So we’ve had very good luck.” – At a White House news conference.
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