Kalena Thomhave

Kalena Thomhave is a writing fellow at the Prospect.

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West Virginia Communities Unite Behind Historic Teacher Strike

It’s day four of the West Virginia teachers’ strike, in which nearly 20,000 teachers across the state are demanding higher pay and better health insurance.

On Tuesday, union leaders finally secured a meeting with Republican Governor Jim Justice—meaning the strike could end today if demands are met. The teachers, coordinated by the American Federation of Teachers–West Virginia and the West Virginia Education Association, technically are barred from striking, so their recent approach is not only brave, but highlights the urgency of their difficulties: Many teachers are forced to take second jobs to make ends meet, and low salaries (teacher pay in West Virginia ranks 48th in the country) and inadequate benefits likely contribute to West Virginia’s teacher shortage.

Justice, a billionaire, signed into law meager pay raises last week, which prompted the walkout, had admonished the nearly 20,000 striking teachers—and 10,000 striking support staff—saying they “should be appreciative of where [they] are” and “should be back in the classroom.” Justice did propose raising the natural gas severance tax, saying the revenue could provide raises for teachers.

Residents and local businesses are demonstrating their support by bringing food, water, and coffee, to the teachers, says Chad Webb, the partnership coordinator of Reconnecting McDowell, an AFT-led county revitalization initiative. “Driving through McDowell County, businesses have [signs saying] ‘We support our teachers.’”

Local support for what amounts to the largest teachers’ strike in state history—across all 55 counties—is a continuation of West Virginia’s rich legacy of labor activism, with some teachers even wearing red bandanas—an homage to the coal miners of the early 20th-century labor battles, who wore red bandanas and were thus called “rednecks.”

Just over the state border, teachers in Pittsburgh, a city that shares that same strong labor history, are planning to strike this Friday if their union and the school district cannot reach a contract agreement.

Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Booed Over ‘Harvest Box’ Idea

The Trump administration’s controversial proposal to transform some Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) benefits into “America’s Harvest Box,” did not go over well at a national meeting of anti-hunger advocates.

“As with any innovative idea,” said Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Brandon Lipps, speaking at the Anti-Hunger Policy Conference in Washington on Monday, “there are questions to be answered and details to be worked out. We want to hear from you on this.”

He did.

Lipps was met by a chorus of boos from conference attendees when he claimed the Harvest Box program would be more “efficient” (it likely wouldn’t be), and that recipients would maintain more than half of their benefits on their EBT cards so they could “supplement the staple foods in these boxes.” Some attendees even walked out of the room, and one question from the audience, about how the USDA reconciled taking away people’s foods with preserving their dignity, was drowned out by cheers and applause.

“[Agriculture] Secretary Perdue is genuinely concerned about the soon-to-be $21 trillion deficit that we have in this country,” Lipps said to more boos, and even some laughs. (According to the Congressional Budget Office, the GOP tax plan will increase the deficit by $1.4 trillion to deliver tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.)

The recently released 2018 president’s budget proposes cutting SNAP by $213.5 billion over the next decade. The idea of delivering boxes of government commodity food to SNAP recipients in the form of so-called Harvest Boxes was met with fierce criticism from anti-poverty advocates.

Conference attendee Denalerie Johnson-Faniel, director of the Mercer Street Friends Food Bank in Trenton, New Jersey, told the Prospect that the Harvest Box idea is “antiquated” and that the USDA “didn’t put enough time and energy” into actually coming up an innovative proposal. She points to the nutrition issue with the boxes, highlighting the sodium present in government foods and how the box doesn’t provide fresh produce.

“It takes away the voice of the American citizen,” Johnson-Faniel says. “People should have a decision in what they eat.”

Washington State Shifts into New Ways of Thinking About Welfare and Transportation

Travel woes for low-income people lead to pilot program that expands transportation access—and opportunities.

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren Pedestrians walk past a gas station in Seattle screen_shot_2017-07-19_at_4.28.52_pm.png I t pays to listen. Washington state welfare case workers had heard plenty of stories from individuals in poverty about the hurdles they had to overcome to find and keep steady work, from irregular child care arrangements to physical or mental health issues and unpaid bills. But one problem dominated those conversations: finding reliable transportation. The quandary faced by people who receive cash benefits from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program (TANF) is especially severe because of the federal work requirements as a condition for receiving assistance. “We put these requirements in place without any real understanding of what it means [for a person] to live in poverty, and try to do everything we ask them to do, and raise a child,” says Babs Roberts, who directs the Community Services Division in Washington state’s Department of Social and Health Services...

Reforming Welfare and Controlling the Poor

The president’s budget proposal punishes the poor for their poverty.

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
AP Photo/Seth Wenig A supermarket displays stickers indicating they accept food stamps in West New York, New Jersey trickle-downers_35.jpg A fter handing out $1.5 trillion in tax breaks to the wealthy, President Trump has followed up with a budget that eviscerates the social safety net. Though the budget only outlines the Trump administration’s priorities, and is unlikely to be largely implemented, it’s clear that the administration would like to further eviscerate the nation’s skimpy excuse for an economic security policy. The budget, after all, represents the administration’s ideal world. And what’s in this world? Little help for the poor with food, health care, and housing—and more poverty, disease, homelessness, and hunger. The budget proposes gutting the country’s largest anti-hunger program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as food stamps), cutting spending by $213.5 billion over ten years. This would be achieved not only by limiting who is eligible...

Why Are Uber Drivers Working 12-Hour Shifts?

In a bid to combat drowsy driving, Uber recently announced a new policy limiting drivers to 12-hour shifts without breaks. After 12 hours, the app will go offline, and drivers must take at least a six-hour break.

While the effort to encourage safer driving is laudable, one must ask: Uber drivers sometimes work nonstop for 12 straight hours? That doesn’t sound like a “side hustle,” which is how Uber markets the job.

But so many Uber drivers work until they’re exhausted that the company decided to force them off the road, instead of paying them more to work fewer hours.

Indeed, it shouldn’t be surprising that some Uber drivers find themselves nodding off after a long shift. While many drivers work for Uber to supplement their regular pay, others drive for Uber full-time. Uber drivers do not have workplace protections like a minimum wage—and that encourages workers to push themselves to drive for long hours to pay their bills. After all, “setting your own schedule” is a major incentive to drive for Uber.

Uber drivers also get the privilege of setting their own benefits, since the company doesn’t provide them with any. In this sector of the “gig economy,” drivers don’t get benefits like health insurance or retirement accounts, so if drivers want these things, they have to pay for them.

Yes, we should keep sleepy Uber drivers off the road. One way to do that could be to pay them more. 

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