Policy Corner: July updates with Janet Forbush

Written by Janet Forbush, Senior Advisor with the Center for the Advancement of Mentoring

July – 2018



The recent heat wave that has blanketed the country, along with fierce fires in the West, will soon be joined by what is anticipated to be a ‘hot debate’ between Senate and House conferees over the $428 billion farm bill passed in the different chambers shortly before the Fourth of July recess. Chronicle readers will want to track this massive legislative package in the coming months since it influences critical food programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and related benefits relied upon by thousands of families and children. More details about this are highlighted below to help inform readers of potential implications for youth in mentoring programs.

Federal and State Developments

Federal Farm Bill: The House and Senate versions of the farm bill that were passed in late June are vastly different from one another which portends a bitter fight over food stamps, farm subsidies and conservation funding. The House version passed with no Democratic support and it introduces strict new work requirements on “able-bodied adults seeking food stamps.” The House plan would require adults to spend 20 hours per week either working or participating in a state-run training program to receive benefits under SNAP. On average, SNAP recipients receive $125 per month through this food security program.

The White House and House Republicans have characterized the work requirement as an “inventive way to get people back to work.” Another perspective is that this will add red tape for low-income recipients and place more in jeopardy of facing acute food insecurity. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, nearly 20 million children across the country rely on SNAP to ensure an adequate diet. The US Department of Agriculture reported that during fiscal year 2015, 29% of children ages 5-11 participated in SNAP and 22% of children ages 12-17.

The Senate version of the legislation passed with bipartisan support and did not include major changes to food stamps. Key senators said they would not support a final bill containing work requirements, though that policy approach is backed by the White House. Senators want to maintain bipartisan support so that when a vote is taken at the end of September, which is when the currently funded farm law will expire, there would be no disruption to existing programs including SNAP.

Next steps will be the joint conference committee where the significant differences between the two bills will need to be ironed out. As the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) was quoted as saying just before the Fourth of July holiday that “We know conference committee is going to be a wild and woolly debate as we go forward on a number of things.”

New Guidance on Affirmative Action in College Admissions and Public School Enrollment:  In early July, the Trump administration revoked federal guidance on affirmative action influencing student placement. The earlier guidance policy was instituted by the Obama administration. In the announcement regarding the change, officials stated that the Obama administration had overstepped its authority by going beyond what the Supreme Court has stated in affirmative-action cases.

There was no specific guidance provided for college and public school administrators on this shift, though the US Department of Education posted a statement issued by President George W. Bush’s administration on this issue on the Department’s website promoting a preference for race-neutral student placement.

Revoking the Obama-era guidance could influence elementary and secondary schools that have been challenged with racial imbalances. In 2008, the Bush administration advised schools to use socioeconomic status instead of race to place students. The Obama administration issued guidance in 2011 articulating how schools could use race in enrollment policy to promote diversity. Rachel Kleinman, senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, was quoted on this policy shift as saying “it will have no impact on laws that govern school integration and admissions, nor will it affect the hundreds of schools under desegregation orders.”

DC City Council Considering “Youth Mentoring Initiative Establishment Act of 2018”: The Education Committee of the Washington, DC City Council held a public hearing on June 25 on the “Youth Mentoring Initiative Establishment Act of 2018” (B22-0692). Councilmember David Grosso chaired the hearing which allowed for testimony from public and government witnesses.  Mr. Grosso acknowledged that he is “passionate about mentoring.”  (The author of this column was privileged to be among the witnesses.) The proposed Initiative would be administered in the Office of Out of School Time Grants and Youth Outcomes and be responsible to the DC Mayor. Staffing would include, at a minimum, three full time employees plus any temporary staff approved by the Office of Budget and Planning.

The legislative proposal specifically calls for the promotion of evidence-based youth mentoring opportunities and specifies that the Initiative would serve as an advocate for the youth mentoring community in the District of Columbia. In addition, the Initiative would be charged with responsibilities for assisting programs in “developing and submitting grant applications”; connecting mentoring organizations and/or mentors to DC public middle and high schools as well as public charter middle and high schools with high at-risk student populations. The Initiative would develop o a District-wide tracking system enabling local programs to efficiently report the following: a) number of youth served on a monthly basis; document the number of DC programs receiving government funds for mentoring; resources needed; and areas of needed training/technical assistance or other service(s).

Chronicle readers will continue to be updated on the status of this proposed Initiative in subsequent issues.  Hats off to the DC City Council for this important policy advocacy “Initiative.”

Reading Recommendations

Jean M. Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, has written a book that highlights the extent to which young people today are engaged with screen time. The ubiquity of the engagement should be of concern to all of us. Twenge’s book is a valuable contribution that helps inform the context of the impact of influences on young people: iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – And Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.

Our Children’s Fear:  Immigration Policy’s Effects on Young Children –  report available from CLASP (Center for Law and Social Policy) (https://www.clasp.org/publications/report/brief/our-children