Sex Education: The Debate Continues

New research and new legislation on abstinence-only sex education has brought the ongoing debate between abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education to a new pitch.

A little context: abstinence-only sex education received small amounts of funding in the 1980s, but got its real start during the Clinton administration with the 1996 welfare reform law. As part of that law, Title V of the Social Security Act was amended. This amendment established funding for abstinence-only programs and outlined the eight requirements for a program to receive funding, including the promotion of abstinence until marriage, and teaching that abstinence is the only way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and that sex before marriage would likely be psychologically and physically harmful (the law is codified at 42 U.S.C. § 710). Every state, with the exception of California, applied for funds, and loosely interpreted the eight requirements, which largely went unenforced.

Under President George W. Bush there was a significant increase in federal funding for abstinence-only programs, including Title V and the Community-Based Abstinence Education program. The federal funding combined with state matching funds catapulted spending on abstinence-only programs to over $200 million per year by 2005 (up from $9 million in 1997). The Bush administration also began more stringently enforcing the requirements for funding, and states, wary of the restrictions on teaching about birth control and safe sex, slowly began to drop their federal funding requests.

Meanwhile, study after study showed abstinence-only sex education to be not only ineffective, but sometimes even harmful to adolescents. In 1997, teen pregnancy rates in the US went up for the first time in 15 years, along with teen STD rates. The Obama administration finally ended funding for abstinence-only sex education, allowing Title V to expire, and instead redirected funds toward comprehensive, evidence-based programs.

Now, in 2010, the Journal of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine has released a study claiming to have at last found an abstinence-only program that works. The study, “Efficacy of a Theory-Based Abstinence-Only Intervention Over 24 Months,” raised new hopes for proponents of abstinence-only education, but the kind of abstinence-only program used in this study is vastly different from the Bush-era programs – so much that it would not have qualified for federal funding. The program in this study was neither moralistic nor disparaging toward sex or contraception, and only advocated abstinence until “a time later in life,” not until marriage. 

These changes are certainly steps in the right direction, but withholding critical information from teens on safe sex still raises serious questions, especially given the fact that 25 percent of the 12 year-olds who participated in this study were self-reportedly already having sex. For more information about this study and its findings, see our latest WomanView

Much to the dismay of teen pregnancy prevention advocates, Bush-era abstinence-only programs have not gone away – far from it, actually. Renewed funding for Title V, to the tune of $50 million a year over the next five years (plus state matching funds, up to an additional $38 million per year), was part of the health care reform bill, signed into law last week. 

Preventing teen pregnancy is, of course, important. The Shriver Center supports medically accurate, comprehensive sex education that is appropriate to students’ age, developmental level, and cultural background, not more failed abstinence-only programs. Through our Ensuring Success in School Initiative, we also support teens who are already parents or expectant parents so that they can stay in school, graduate, get good jobs, and raise healthy families.

For more information on sex education policy or on our efforts to support teens who are parents or expectant parents, please contact the Women’s Law and Policy Project.

WomanView is a publication of the Women’s Law and Policy Project at the Shriver Center, focusing on legal and policy issues affecting low-income women and girls. You can subscribe to WomanView here

Shana Heller-Ogden coauthored this blog post.

Historic Social Change

I'm not a health care expert, just a spectator like most of America. It's been said that watching legislation being made is like watching sausage being made. Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, blogs, etc., we've all just been treated to 14 months of the stomach-turning process of watching legislation being made. This may account for the less-than-jubilant reaction to the enactment of health care reform into law.

Make no mistake, however. This is real, lasting, fundamental, historic social change, on a par with the creation of Social Security in the 1930s and Medicare in the 1960s. It ends the national shame of more than 40 million people without health insurance. It creates a system where everyone must play and everyone has a stake.

Health care reform is not a traditional safety net program. You don't get a card. But we live in a much more complicated world than we did in the 1930s or the 1960s. This reform had to be a accomplished within the confines and constraints of two of the most powerful industries in America--the pharmaceutical industry and the insurance industry. Health care reform succeeded because it builds on the existing health care structure to accomplish at least nine extraordinary goals:

  1. First and foremost, it creates a system of subsidies that will allow all people--adults, children, working, not working--to access affordable health insurance.
  2. It will protect people from financial ruin if they contract a disabling disease.
  3. It will prevent insurance companies from canceling insurance policies when the policyholder gets sick.
  4. It will provide workers with job mobility since insurance companies will no longer be permitted to deny coverage based on a preexisting condition.
  5. It will make insurance affordable for middle-income people through a system of subsidies.
  6. It will provide very low-income single adults with access to Medicaid.
  7. It will make it affordable for small businesses to provide health insurance to their workers.
  8. The doughnut hole will be eliminated and seniors will be able to afford their prescriptions.
  9. Young adults--an age group that is particularly likely to be uninsured--will be able to remain on their parents' insurance policies until they turn 26.


Healthcare -- A Lot Happens Right Away

Many Americans will feel the effect of health reform this year, as significant changes start to go into effect. During 2010:

Child with Doctor

  • Children will not be denied coverage due to a preexisting condition.
  • Young adults will be able to stay on their parents' health plans to age 26.
  • Insurance companies will be prohibited from revoking coverage when people become ill, and from setting lifetime limits on benefits.
  • Small businesses will be eligible for new tax credits to offset their premium costs.
  • People with preexisting conditions will be eligible for subsidized coverage through a national, high-risk pool.
  • New limits will be set for the percent of premiums that insurers can spend on nonmedical costs, e.g., administrative or profit, and, beginning in 2011, carriers that exceed those limits will be required to offer rebates to enrollees.
  • Medicare will provide $250 rebates to beneficiaries to help with prescription drug costs (with greater help coming in future years).
  • Medicare will eliminate cost-sharing for preventive services in Medicare and private plans so they are free.

Much more follows in later years.

Congress Makes History

On March 21, the House of Representatives passed historic health insurance reform legislation. The House passed the reform bill previously passed by the Senate, which now becomes law upon the President’s signature (expected as early as March 23).  The House also passed a package of changes to the Senate bill that have been negotiated with the Senate, and which the Senate is expected to pass very soon (using the “reconciliation” procedure that requires a simple majority vote).

The package of reforms is a major step forward to provide Americans more security, more choices, and better cost control for their health care.  See the impact in your legislative district.

This is the end of the worst practices of the insurance industry—no more denials due to pre-existing conditions or dropping coverage for people who get sick, or hidden ceilings on your coverage.

We will all get the same insurance choices that Members of Congress have. What is good for them will be good for everyone.

We have kept what is good in our health system and added oversight of insurance practices, control of insurance rate increases, choice of plan and doctor, more competition, and expanded prevention.

Medicare will be strengthened—reform will cut waste and fraud in Medicare, improve solvency and close the gap in prescription drug coverage for seniors.

There will be access to affordable health care for 3.6 million small businesses and 32 million Americans who have been left out – until now.

The first order of business is to thank your House member, if he or she voted “yes”. 
Here is the roll call.  This is VERY important – these are leaders who deserve thanks and support.

The Census: Want to Lose $100 Million?

Filling out Census formThe Census Bureau’s new TV ads say: “10 Questions, 10 Minutes, 10 Years.” All it really needs to say is $100 million. That’s how much it was estimated that Cook County lost in Federal funding over the 2002-2012 period due to undercounting in the Census. Illinois as a whole lost $193 million due to undercounting. That is because the data from the Census is the basis for the nationwide distribution of $400 billion in federal money for a multitude of programs. If state populations aren’t counted correctly, money can’t be distributed correctly.

While $200 million won’t solve the $11 billion state budget gap, at this point Illinois can use all the extra help it can get. And to get it, all the government wants from you is ten minutes of your time. Ten minutes to fill the out Census, and send it in. That’s it. That’s a lot of money for such a short time.

Data from the Census is also used to determine the allocation of Congressional seats, the development of public policy, and to ensure that districts are fairly drawn within states. It determines how many schools, hospitals, teachers, firemen and police we need. If you want more of a political say, complete the Census form. By filling out the Census, we increase our chances of having all the programs and services people count on. 

It won’t cover all of Illinois’ costs, but its $200 million we don’t have otherwise. Make sure Illinois and your community gets all that they deserve. Fill out the Census and send it in.  It’s worth at least $200 million.

The Importance of Cheap Clean Energy

The United States transformed itself into an industrialized nation through the use of cheap, convenient fossil fuels. Now nations like Brazil, China, and India are pulling their countries out of poverty and becoming industrialized in much the same way. Access to cheap energy is generally a good thing: it affords innovation in labor and development, clean water, warm homes, and stable infrastructure.

Furthermore, millions of people living in poverty rely on dangerous solid fuel alternatives when they do not have access to fossil fuels. One third of the global population burns wood, crop waste, and dung to meet their basic human needs. According to the World Health Organization, the use of solid fuel causes 1.6 million excess deaths each year, and is the fourth largest risk for death in developing countries after malnutrition, waterborne diseases, and unsafe sex. It is unconscionable that people have to resort to solid fuel to survive. Although fossil fuel has become the cheapest alternative, we know that unless, as a global community, we reduce our fossil fuel emissions the result will be catastrophic.

In the next forty years, the demand for energy will double as developing countries continue to build industrialized societies, but at the same time we must significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Richard Smalley, the 2005 Nobel Prize-winning physicist, called this the Terawatt Challenge: “Increasing global energy production from roughly 15 terawatts in 2005 to 60 terawatts annually by 2100 in a way that simultaneously confronts the challenges of global warming, poverty alleviation, and resource depletion.” (One terawatt is equal to one billion kilowatts). 

Ending global poverty is a moral imperative. But how do we tell our global neighbors that we want them to pull their citizens out of poverty without the use of fossil fuels? Particularly when we used fossil fuels to develop, and we continue to struggle to wean ourselves from them today. So what is the solution? The fastest way to solve this problem is to close the price gap between clean and dirty energy. Developing and deploying cheap clean energy has the potential to alleviate global poverty on a massive scale, while stabilizing the world’s climate. The real issue is how to catalyze this shift. 

The United States House passed landmark climate change legislation last year that uses a cap and trade model for reducing carbon emissions. The theory behind cap and trade is that as carbon becomes more expensive, certain industries will look for more cost effective alternatives. Thus, clean energy alternatives will naturally emerge as the price of carbon goes up. 

Others argue that in addition to a cap and trade system, the federal government must actively invest money in research and development of clean energy alternatives.  Some climate change experts argue that the revenue from selling carbon permits should be used to invest in clean energy alternatives, while others argue that those revenues should be used to subsidize energy bills for low-income citizens. Ultimately, for climate change legislation to turn the tide on climate change, in a fair way, it must do all three: reduce carbon emissions, encourage the development of new energy technology, and protect low-income families. 

This post was coauthored by Carrie Gilbert.

"Let's Make a Deal" Reruns

Remember the show, Let’s Make a Deal, with Monty Hall? Well, it's back--sort of. For more than a year, Congress has been saying that it’s close to making a deal on legislation to overhaul America’s health care and financial systems. 

The original Let’s Make a Deal show was based on the show’s host, Monty Hall, offering deals to members of the audience. The contestants usually had to weigh the possibility of an offer being for a valuable prize, or an undesirable item. In its simplest format, a contestant was given a prize of medium value (such as a television set), and the host offered the contestant the opportunity to trade for another prize. However, the offered prize was unknown. It might be concealed on the stage behind one of three curtains, or behind "boxes" onstage, or within smaller boxes brought out to the audience.

Congress seems to have brought this classic TV game show back. “We’re close to a deal,” on health care legislation. “We’re close to a deal,” on financial reform legislation. 

Health Care Reform

The need across the country for health insurance reform has not abated. Americans agree that the nation's health insurance system is broken, but Congress still hasn’t sent a bill to President Obama to fix it. The current deal on the table is for the House to pass the Senate’s bill and then for both chambers to pass a budget reconciliation bill that resolves their differences. The proposed deal would ban insurance companies forever from denying coverage to children with preexisting conditions and from dropping coverage when an individual becomes sick. Insurance companies would no longer be able to randomly hike premiums or to impose lifetime or annual limits on the amount of care someone can receive. All new insurance plans would be required to offer free preventive care so that illnesses may be caught early. Young adults will be able to stay on their parents’ insurance policies until they are 26 years old. Uninsured individuals and small business owners would have the same kind of choice of private health insurance that members of Congress get for themselves. And individuals who do not have insurance coverage through a large group could be part of a bargaining pool that negotiates lower rates. Also, if an individual is ineligible for Medicaid but still can’t afford the insurance offered through the pool, she or he would receive a tax credit to assist with this cost. Finally, this deal would provide a new, independent appeals process if a claim has been unfairly denied.

It’s time for Congress to take the deal and make health insurance available and affordable for all.

Financial Regulation Reform

After the catastrophic financial crisis, President Obama called for the creation of an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which would have as its sole mission the protection of consumers. It would create and enforce clear rules to ensure fairness of credit card terms and conditions, overdraft loan programs, payday and car title loans, and mortgages. In the fall, the House of Representatives passed legislation creating such a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which would provide the type of consumer protections that should have been in place all along. The Senate, however, has been debating the issue for months.

Specifically, Senate Republicans and the financial-services industry have opposed the creation of such an entity. Instead they would prefer that the Federal Reserve continue to be responsible for consumer protection as part of its regulation of nationally chartered banks. The central bank has always been responsible for the health of the nation's largest banks and the safety of American borrowers; however, its failures in both roles have been well documented. For years, the Federal Reserve primarily focused on monetary policy over bank supervision and often made consumer protection an afterthought. As a result, millions of American families have been left unprotected and financially unstable.

Additionally, the Federal Reserve only regulates banks, which would mean that the so-called shadow banking system of payday lenders, debt collectors, and loan originators and servicers would remain unregulated. The power of these entities has been demonstrated by the huge role they had in the current economic crisis. Allowing them to continue their predatory practices without being regulated would not be a deal on reform but rather a continuation of the status quo. Lawmakers have repeatedly said that they are close to a deal on this very divisive issue. Yet, proposals to let the Federal Reserve remain the primary regulator of consumer protection laws, is not a deal, it’s just the status quo. 

Well Monty, Where’s the Deal?

Congress seems to be weighing the possibility of whether reforming health care and financial systems will ultimately be valuable prizes, or undesirable items. Yet, rather than holding onto its existing undesirable prizes, Congress should choose Door #1, quality, affordable health insurance reform NOW and a dedicated agency to monitor and rein in the reckless behavior of financial institutions. 

Well Congress, where’s the deal?

Illinois Governor Proposes Big Cuts to Services for Some of the State's Most Vulnerable

Gov. Quinn made a grim budget request today. His proposed budget includes $2.2 billion in spending cuts and again relies heavily on borrowing ($4.7 million) and not paying the state's bills ($6.3 billion).  $1.3 billion of the spending cuts would be in the area of education with a 17 percent across-the-board cut.

As an alternative to cutting education spending by $1.3 billion—unimaginable in an election year—Gov. Quinn proposed increasing the individual income tax rate by one percent of income, from three to four percent. The $3 billion in proceeds from this increase would all go to education—$1.3 billion to eliminate the proposed cut and $1.7 billion to pay back bills.

Gov. Quinn has not proposed any means to avoid the $900 million in spending cuts he proposes to non-education programs. 

Equally disappointing, Gov. Quinn's proposed budget includes no long-term plan for eliminating the state's $13 billion revenue shortfall and getting out of our fiscal mess. Rather, it appears to be a "take what you think you can get" budget built on diminished expectations of what can be accomplished in an election year.

All of which means big cuts in services to some of our most vulnerable populations. For example, mental health services will be cut by over $50 million. The Illinois Department of Human Services estimates that as a result, 70,000 people, including 4,200 children, will lose their mental health services; 4,000 mentally ill people will have to leave their state-subsidized housing; 3,800 mental health jobs will be lost; as many as 87 mental health agencies may close; and persons not eligible for Medicaid, such as the formerly incarcerated, will be unable to access mental health services.

The Governor's proposed budget now goes to the General Assembly. 

Rx for Illinois Budget: Responsibility, Not Ideology

There is something almost purely ideological about opposition to the revenue reforms that knowledgeable analysts agree Illinois needs right now – not only to escape its fiscal crisis but to make its tax system more fair and sustainable.

I suppose ideological biases are fair enough among some anti-government zealots and politicians who hope to use them and lead them.  But somehow one would hope for a more balanced and dispassionate approach from mainstream media, such as the Chicago Tribune.

It can only be ideology that justifies the anti-tax position by reference to taxpayers “already devastated by the recession.”  In fact, under leading revenue-reform plans, many lower- and moderate-income households would pay no increased income tax or a modest increase; the lowest-income households would pay less. 

But for those who’d pay a few dollars more per paycheck in income tax – is that more weighty than maintaining state-assisted care for their elderly relatives, safe roads and bridges, schools with a full complement of teachers and educational programs, or the public health programs that protect us from epidemics?

This crisis demands a balanced approach that includes significant new revenues raised in a fair way. Polling and history show that, while nobody likes to pay higher taxes, people appreciate honest leadership in a crisis and understand and support a balanced approach.  We already are suffering from severe cuts; we are already borrowing; we will continue to seek as much help as possible from the federal government. But those measures are not enough. We need significant, new revenue to complete the balance and navigate out of the crisis with a sounder future in store.

Why We Should Care About Park National Bank

In 2009, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) announced it was taking over First Bank of Oak Park (FBOP) Corporation, a privately held bank holding company. A few months later, Park National Bank, a community branch of FBOP, was sold by the FDIC to U.S. Bank. Although these types of transactions happen every day in the corporate banking world, it’s important to understand the national implications this has on community banking.

Park National Bank was a staple to both Oak Park and Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. Known as one of the most philanthropic banks in the Chicago area, Park National successfully offered banking services to low-income families and gave them an alternative to payday lenders, currency exchanges and subprime loans. Its accomplishments included bottomless funding for local nonprofits and social service agencies, underwriting costs for new schools, donations to community causes, rehabilitation of countless foreclosed homes that were sold back to residents at affordable rates, a lead role in neighborhood revitalization and economic growth, and countless small dollar loans to help fund local entrepreneurs. For 30 years, Park National Bank provided an infusion of projects, cash, jobs and morale to the community it served.

In 2008, when the government seized Fannie and Freddie Mac, FBOP took a loss of $855 million because of the loans it had underwritten. Initially FBOP was approved for Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funding to help it recapitalize, however, it never received any money because no guidelines for TARP funding of small, privately held banks were ever created. Then Chase bank, which had been lending money to FBOP for years, decided not to extend FBOP’s line of credit and sued them for $246 million.  

In 2009, regulators told FBOP that it needed to raise between $500 million and $1 billion to recapitalize. Mike Kelly, the owner of FBOP, raised $600 million just a week shy of the deadline. Nevertheless, federal regulators seized FBOP's nine banks in four states, descended on FBOP’s headquarters, declared it insolvent, and announced its assets were being transferred to U.S. Bank. In a clear case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing, on the very same morning that the FDIC seized Park National’s assets, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was in Chicago presenting $50 million in federal tax credits to Park National for its community development projects.

Historically, U.S. Bank’s community efforts have paled in comparison to Park National’s. Twenty-eight percent of Park National’s profits went to community causes compared to less than 1% by U.S. Bank. Oak Park’s Wednesday Journal has reported that U.S. Bank already has plans for massive layoffs at FBOP banks, yet claims to be giving notices for “positions” not “people.”

This issue strikes at the heart of Americans' mistrust of corporations and commercial banks. Americans calling for banking reform and bailouts for Main Street have been following the thread about Park National Bank. Public outrage is clear: why aren’t community banks considered as important as large banks to receive federal assistance? In protest, Oak Park and River Forest High School closed two student accounts at U.S. Bank, totaling $300,000, and transferred the funds to the Community Bank of Oak Park River Forest. School representatives say if U.S. Bank hesitates to make the same community commitments Park National made, they will remove their remaining funds. Others are calling for a review of how FBOP was treated by the federal government during the takeover and asking regulators to individually assess each bank’s overall value to the surrounding neighborhood, including its knowledge of the community, as well as its record of commitment to investing and supporting its neighbors.

Since Park National was sold, busloads of Chicago residents traveled to Washington, D.C., to support Mike Kelly as he testified before a House finance subcommittee. Kelly argued that, in the future, the federal government shouldn’t treat other community banks the same way as Park National. New legislation has also been introduced in Congress. Senators Merkley (D-OR) and Boxer (D-CA) have proposed the Bank on Our Communities Act, which would allocate TARP funds to community banks. This bill is currently being reviewed in the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. Although it’s too late for Park National, enactment of this bill will ensure that such a travesty doesn’t happen to other community banks.

For more information contact the Shriver Center’s Community Investment Unit.

This article was co-authored by Susan Ritacca.

Regulating the Refund Anticipation Loan Industry

What are RALs?

The dreaded tax season is back and so are notorious refund anticipation loans (RALs). RALs are short-term, high-interest-rate bank loans sold through tax preparation sites like H&R Block and Liberty Tax. The problem with RALs, in part, is how they are advertised. To the consumer it appears that the refund is a service of the tax preparer rather than a loan from the bank. Yet, in actuality Chase Bank is the largest provider of RALs in the country and contracts with 13,000 independent tax preparers to supply RAL products. Following close behind is HSBC, provider to H&R Block; and Pacific Capital Bank, provider to Liberty Tax Service.

The allure of RALs is that they provide taxpayers an immediate advance on their anticipated tax refunds. However, customers are often not aware of the usuriously high interest rates and hidden fees associated with the loan. Triple digit interest rates ranging from 50% for a $10,000 RAL to 500% for a $300 RAL are not unheard of.

High Costs to Low-Income Families

RALs are particularly toxic because they are heavily marketed in low-income neighborhoods. According to a recent report by the National Consumer Law Center, recipients of Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC), the government’s largest anti-poverty program, constituted 63% of the 8.76 million Americans who took out RALs in 2007. EITC recipients receive an average credit of $1,600, yet they often spend $500 or more in interest, typically a third of their refund for RALs.

A separate report from the Woodstock Institute states RALs pose a threat to the opportunity of wealth building among EITC recipients. According to Woodstock, EITC recipients are driven to high cost tax preparation sites because of the complexity of filing for EITC and they purchase RALs to pay for the upfront costs of such tax preparation.

Reforming RALs

On the state level, New York, Arkansas, and Maine have enacted laws prohibiting tax sites from charging add-on fees to RAL products, while Michigan mandates specific disclosure requirements for RALs. Sixteen other states are regulating RALs through their general consumer protection laws. In Illinois, the law actually prohibits consumer installment lenders, or payday lenders, from originating RALs.

Nationally, the IRS is in the process of creating a task force to review loans issued by tax preparation sites in order to regulate the industry. No rules, regulations, or recommendations have been issued yet. Meanwhile, in 2007 the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) acknowledged that RALs posed a considerable threat to consumers and therefore established banking requirements to monitor tax preparers’ advertisement and sale of such loans.  Monitoring by consumer advocates from 2007-2010, however, revealed that bank compliance with these OCC guidelines was negligible. Pressure from community organizations and consumer advocates, including the Shriver Center, recently resulted in the OCC issuing new guidance on the delivery of RALs in February of this year. As a result major banks and providers have revised their RAL programs: Jackson Hewitt lost its RAL partner when Santa Barbara Bank & Trust was forced to stop selling RALs, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) mandated a cease and desist order for Republic Bank & Trust’s RAL program until reforms were implemented.

While the IRS, OCC, and FDIC should be applauded for these efforts, continued monitoring must occur. If no action is taken, RALs will continue to pose a threat to taxpayers and particularly diminish the possibility for low income families to save and pay down debt.

For more contact the Shriver Center’s Community Investment Unit.

This article was co-authored by Susan Ritacca.