Don’t let them make the poor poorer

Action deadline: June 21, 2019 –

Scroogy McScroogeface never gets tired of thinking of ways to make the poor more miserable, more hungry, or just plain poorer. The latest from the Administration That Decency Forgot: changing the way the poverty line – which is used to determine who qualifies for benefits like food aid, health care, Head Start, and more – is adjusted annually for inflation. Need we say, the change would not be more generous to those in need. In fact, it looks like over time, millions of people could lose benefits they need to survive. Analysts say the proposed change is economically unjustifiable. We say it’s rotten through and through.

What you can do:

You have until Friday June 21, 2019 to submit comments. You have several options:

  • Submit your comments online on the Office of Management and Budget’s website form. Note that on this website you do NOT have to provide your name or contact info, so if you want to talk about something personal anonymously, you can do that. You also have the option to submit a comment for someone else – you can tell the story of someone who needed government benefits to live, for example.
  • You can also use this form on the Federal Register website to submit comments. Note that this doesn’t appear to offer the option of anonymity.
  • You can fax comments to Nancy Potok, Chief Statistician, Office of Management and Budget, 202-395-7245.
  • You can email comments to Statistical_Directives@omb.eop.gov with the subject line “Directive No. 14”

For more info and ideas about what to say, here’s a good, straightforward summary of what the proposal does and the problems with it. If you want lots more information, the Coalition for Human Needs offers a general comment guide and extensive background information, comment guides and further resources.

No Drilling on Mt. Diablo

Action deadline: Comments on Proposed Resource Management Plan and Final EIS due June 9, 2019 –

This administration has a track record of sacrificing priceless public lands for the benefit of private oil and gas extraction, as shown by their efforts around the country and in California. They’re at it again — and this time, it’s right here.

On May 9, 2019, the Bureau of Land Management Central Coast Field Office released a Proposed Resource Management Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement to open up 725,000 acres of land in California for new oil and gas leasing. Public land that would be open for drilling includes areas in and around Mount Diablo State Park and in Butano State Park near Pescadero.

The Center for Biological Diversity writes that oil development along the Central Coast could involve fracking, and this resource management plan ends a six-year moratorium on leasing public lands to oil and gas extraction. An official with the California agency that oversees drilling has claimed that it’s unlikely any drilling would actually take place in the Bay Area, due to current pricing and supply, and because California has stringent regulations, but ANY possibility of new fossil fuel extraction is too much. The Center for Biological Diversity has criticized this plan due to the potential for drilling throughout the East Bay and along the Central Coast.

We need to stop this before irreparable damage is done. >>Submit your comments using this form on the BLM website<< by June 9, 2019! Read on for instructions, talking points, and more information:

What to do:

Comment now! The 30-day public comment period ends on Sunday June 9, 2019. Submit your comments on on the BLM site here. When you comment online, you have a 60 minute time limit within which you must fill in all boxes with red asterisks on all pages (you don’t need to fill in the “Chapter Reference” or “Section Reference” boxes on the first page). Once you’ve finished with one screen, click the “Next” button in the lower right corner; the last screen will have a “Submit” button in that location. Or you can submit comments by mail to this address:

BLM Director (210)
Attention: Protest Coordinator, WO-210
P.O. Box 71383
Washington, DC 20024-1383

After you’re done, tell your friends, family, and neighbors. Not everyone is as active as you, our wonderful Indivisible members, but when something is local, it’s a great way to get others motivated to act. This plan is largely flying under the radar, but with your help we can get a strong local grassroots opposition. Share the link to this article with them!

What to write:

Here are some suggested comments; please personalize what you write, because copied and pasted comments or overly similar comments may be grouped together and not counted separately. Some of these sample comments have been adapted from the joint comment letter from the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club responding to the draft EIS, which can be found on page I-71 in the comments and responses here — click ctrl+f and in the search box, type I-71 (that’s a capital letter “I”).

  • Many of the lands included in this plan would require fracking in order to extract oil and gas. Fracking involves the use of toxic and poorly understood chemicals.These toxic chemicals get into the groundwater, especially in California, where fracking operations are dangerously shallow.Our communities, waterways, wildlife, and outdoor economy will all be put at risk.
  • The development scenario used to determine the environmental impacts is a low-end assumption that does not take into account technological improvements that may lower the costs or uncertainty in drilling within the East Bay or Central Coast. This masks the potential environmental costs of more intense fossil fuel extraction.
  • Opening up new public lands to fossil fuel extraction is contrary to California’s commitment to building a sustainable future without reliance on fossil fuels.California has a statutory target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and a plan to reduce petroleum consumption by 45 percent by 2030 to meet this target.We need environmentally and economically sound energy strategies focused on the development of renewable energy sources.
    • Why despoil our environment to extract a resource we have decided to move away from?
  • The climate crisis requires swift and immediate action. The extraction and burning of fossil fuels will worsen this crisis, contrary to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which mandates that the BLM manage public lands “without permanent impairment of the productivity of the land and the quality of the environment.” The only way to avoid permanent impacts to the quality of our environment from the climate crisis is to keep proven fossil fuels in the ground.
  • Our beautiful public lands are a precious resource that deserve to be protected. Destroying our natural landscapes cannot be easily undone, and the wider, long-term effects even less so. We must not sacrifice our health, wildlife and climate to profit the oil and gas industry.In a state where water is so precious — to agriculture, human populations, and wildlife — clean water is worth more than oil.

There’s more you can do! In our recent article we told you how to leave comments opposing the BLM’s draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement that would open up public lands and mineral estates in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Kern, and six other California counties to oil companies. Comments are due June 10, so there’s still time.

 

Fantasy Landscape, photograph of Mount Diablo by Richard Conlon 

Save California from fracking

Action deadline: comments on Draft Supplemental EIS due June 10, 2019 –

“Land management”: the words have such a nice ring to them, as if nice things will happen to, you know, the land. But if the Despoiler-in-Chief gets his way, more than a million acres of California lands could soon be subject to oil drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

On April 27, 2019, Trump’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) intended to open up public lands and mineral estates in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Kern, and six other California counties to oil companies. Some of the targeted parcels are owned by the BLM; in other cases, BLM owns the underlying mineral rights. After a 45-day public comment period, the EIS will be finalized and BLM can auction off the drilling rights to these parcels for as little as $2.00 per acre.

The parcels on the chopping block include some of the wildest and most pristine areas along the Central Coast and Central Valley – lands in and around national parks, national monuments, and national forests, as well as state and local parks and preserves. Many are in areas of critical environmental concern. A picture is worth much more than our description – take a look at this interactive map posted by Los Padres ForestWatch, showing the areas that may be open for oil drilling and fracking leases and their relationship to environmentally sensitive areas. Neighboring cities, schools and farms will also be impacted.

We need to stop this before irreparable damage is done. Submit your comments online here by June 10, 2019! Read on for instructions, talking points, and more information:

What to do:

Comment now! The 45-day public comment period ends on June 10, 2019. Submit your comments online here. (If you comment online, you must fill in all boxes with red asterisks and you have a 60 minute time limit. Once you have finished with one screen, click the “Next” button in the lower right corner; the last screen will have a “Submit” button in that location.) Or you can submit comments by mail to this address:

Bakersfield Field Office, Attn: Bakersfield RMP Hydraulic Fracturing Analysis
3801 Pegasus Drive
Bakersfield, CA  93308

What to write:

Here are some suggested comments; please personalize what you write, because copied & pasted comments or overly similar comments may be grouped together and not counted separately. Some of these comments have been adapted from the comprehensive letter from California’s environmental and natural resources agencies responding to the BLM’s initial notice of intent related to the lease sales of federal lands in California, which you can read here.

  • Opening up new public lands to fracking and other fossil fuel extraction methods is contrary to California’s commitment to building a sustainable future without reliance on fossil fuels.
    • California has a statutory target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and a plan to reduce petroleum consumption by 45 percent by 2030 to meet this target.
    • We need environmentally and economically sound energy strategies focused on the development of renewable energy sources.
    • Why despoil our environment to extract a resource we have decided to move away from?
  • Fracking involves the use of toxic and poorly understood chemicals.
    • These toxic chemicals get into the groundwater, especially in California, where fracking operations are dangerously shallow.
    • Our communities, waterways, wildlife, and outdoor economy will all be put at risk.
  • Let’s not open our beautiful public lands to fracking and drilling.
    • Let’s not sacrifice our health, wildlife and climate to profit the oil and gas industry.
    • In a state where water is so precious — to agriculture, human populations, and wildlife — clean water is worth more than oil.

More info:

Fracking is an extreme oil extraction process that involves injecting chemicals and fluids at high pressure underground to access oil or natural gas. Environmentalists are concerned that fracking can contaminate groundwater and increase the risk of seismic activity. The public lands in question here sit over groundwater that supplies neighboring areas with water for agricultural and human uses. In addition, geologic conditions and hydraulic fracturing practices in California makes fracking particularly hazardous – fracking in this state occurs at unusually shallow depths, which heightens concerns about groundwater contamination and other environmental impacts.

The draft EIS is the latest step in Trump’s efforts to eliminate environmental protections and facilitate fracking on federally controlled lands. As you may recall, one of the administration’s first actions after the inauguration was to rescind Obama-era fracking regulations. As Senator Kamala Harris put it:

Under this administration, California’s beautiful public lands and its outdoor economy are under direct threat, and we must stand up against this active effort to chip away at vital environmental protections.

The proposed action would end a five year moratorium on leasing federal land to oil companies in California. No federal lands in the state have been subject to such leases since 2013, when a federal judge found that the BLM violated environmental laws by issuing oil leases in Monterey County without fully considering the environmental impact of fracking.

The supplemental EIS is the result of a lawsuit filed in the US District Court, Central District of California by Earthjustice, representing the Center for Biological Diversity and Los Padres ForestWatch, challenging BLM’s California oil leasing plan. In 2016, the judge found that BLM ignored the impacts of fracking in its original environmental studies and, in 2017, BLM agreed to produce a supplemental EIS analyzing the potential environmental effects of fracking.

You can find more information from the Los Padres ForestWatch.

 

Protest proposed rule limiting food aid

Action Deadline: April 2 – The war against people who need help getting food on the table never ends. We fought for a 2018 Farm Bill that didn’t cut aid or impose harsh time limits for millions of SNAP/CalFresh (food stamp) recipients, and we won in a bipartisan victory! But now Trump’s Department of Agriculture (USDA) wants to sneak in the back door with an executive order that would impose work requirements on people receiving food aid, limiting benefits to just three months for unemployed and underemployed individuals without dependent children. This could potentially disqualify 755,000 beneficiaries. States have always had flexibility to waive time limits on SNAP in areas that don’t have enough jobs. This proposed order would ignore the realities facing low-income Americans. We said NO to cutting food aid from the Farm Bill – let’s say NO to this too. The USDA’s mandatory comment period runs through April 2, and you can leave comments here: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/02/01/2018-28059/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-requirements-for-able-bodied-adults-without-dependents#open-comment

Read on for suggestions for what to say, and for more info.

What you can do:

Leave a comment on the Federal Register website by April 2, 2019. The USDA is required to take and respond to public comments.

The Federal register page for the proposal, with information and a link to a page where you can leave a comment, is https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/02/01/2018-28059/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-requirements-for-able-bodied-adults-without-dependents – to comment, click the green button on the right side that says “SUBMIT A FORMAL COMMENT.” You can also read other people’s comments by clicking the link under the green button.

The comment page itself is https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/02/01/2018-28059/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-requirements-for-able-bodied-adults-without-dependents#open-comment

What to say:

The comments below are suggestions. It’s very important to write in your own words whenever possible and especially to add your own thoughts; identical comments are bundled together and not given individual weight.

  • I oppose stricter time limits to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
  • There are already strict rules for people who don’t have children or dependents (“able bodied adults without dependents”) who get food assistance through SNAP.
  • We should not make the existing rules even worse by taking away state flexibility to waive time limits if there aren’t enough jobs for low-income people.
  • Exposing more people to time-limited benefits, taking away states’ ability to waive time limits, and expanding the people the strict time limits apply to will only increase the number of people facing hunger in this country.
  • Personal comments:
    • Why is protecting access to food assistance for people struggling to find enough work important to you personally?
    • Why is it important to your community? What’s the situation like where you live?

More info:

The Farm Bill that passed with bipartisan support in December 2018 (the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018) authorized and funded SNAP and included time limitations for unemployed able-bodied adults without children, with permission for states to waive the limits if they found that there were not enough jobs that the people in question could find. Under the new proposal, the USDA proposes to do away with this flexibility, regardless of whether there are sufficient jobs for low-income people struggling to find work. Essentially, if a childless adult between 18 and 49 years old can’t get and keep a job for at least 20 hours a week, they can only get three months of food aid over three years.

Childless people in depressed areas are just as hungry as anyone else who can’t find work and can’t afford food. The current proposal blames the poor and the hungry for their own poverty and hunger. It’s a story proven time and again to be false as well as cruel. It doesn’t help anyone find a job, it doesn’t lift anyone out of poverty, and it doesn’t keep anyone from going hungry.

As one former food stamp recipient said in a moving essay:

In his speech, Trump adjudged the state of America “an economic miracle.” But what is the miraculous quality of snatching food from more than three-quarters of a million Americans? Does one in eight food-insecure Americans point to positive economic awe? Can we safely celebrate economic prosperity when 43 million human beings live disposed to the violence of poverty?

Tell the USDA: NO.

For more background read our prior articles about SNAP:

Protect the payday lending rule

By Sylvia Chi

Action deadline: May 15, 2019, 9 PM Pacific time – GET CASH NOW! The payday lending industry is getting its money’s worth from the Trump Administration: after they invested heavily in Trump’s inauguration and re-election committees, as well as Republican lawmakers and organizations, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has announced its plans to reverse an Obama Administration rule to protect borrowers from predatory, short-term, “small-dollar” loans. The industry, which targets low-income and minority communities, is also enjoying the pay-off from relocating its annual conference to the Trump National Doral Miami and influencing academic research in their favor.

On February 14, the CFPB unveiled its proposal to rescind the 2017 payday lending rule, which would have required lenders to confirm that customers would be able to pay back their loans, thus protecting borrowers from predatory lending. Reversing the rule means that payday lenders will be able to make loans with typical interest rates as high as 400 percent, without checking whether borrowers have the ability to pay off the loans’ high interest rates and fees. The biggest irony? The CFPB itself was created thanks to Sen. Elizabeth Warren as a way to protect borrowers – not industry.

You can help stop this reversal from going into effect! Keep reading for instructions on how to submit comments opposing the deregulation of payday lenders and more background on the CFPB’s proposal.

What you can do:

Submit a public comment about the CFPB’s rollback by May 15, 2019. Go to this link and click on the blue “Comment Now!” button in the upper right. Or navigate to www.regulations.gov and search for CFPB-2019-0006.

What to write:

Here are some suggested comments, based in part on the Center for Responsible Lending’s overview and initial analysis. Please personalize your submission as much as possible to make it more effective. Especially effective: share any personal experiences you have about the harms of payday loans or the debt trap. Submit your comments by 9 PM Pacific time on Weds. May 15, 2019.

Be sure to include reference to Docket No. CFPB-2019-0006.

My name is _____, and I am writing in reference to Docket No. CFPB-2019-0006. I oppose the proposed rulemaking for the following reasons:

  • Rescinding the “ability to pay” confirmation requirements would make it easier for predatory lenders to coerce borrowers into an inescapable debt trap.
  • Getting trapped in a “debt cycle” from payday and similar loans causes substantial injury to borrowers.
  • The evidence that supports the 2017 rule’s key findings is sufficiently robust, reliable, and representative, and there is no evidence to support rescinding the rule.
  • CFPB’s mission is to ensure that consumers may access fair and transparent markets for financial products, not to increase revenues for payday lenders.
  • CFPB should not weaken its interpretation of legal standards for “unfairness” and “abusiveness.” The new interpretations proposed here would make it harder for CFPB to protect borrowers and ensure fairness in the marketplace.

Learn more:

The 2017 rule applied to loans with a term of 45 days or less, longer-term “balloon-payment” loans, and single-payment vehicle title loans, in which borrowers put up their own cars or trucks as collateral. The CFPB previously concluded that as many as four out of five payday borrowers either default or renew their loan because they cannot afford to pay off the loan. The 2017 rule, which was originally slated to go into effect in August 2019, was finalized after five years of research, data collection, and public feedback, and was intended to protect low-income borrowers from getting trapped in a “cycle of debt.”

How does the CFPB justify this proposed rollback? Critically, CFPB does not dispute that payday loan-caused “debt traps” result in substantial injury to borrowers, although they do cite concerns that the 2017 rule might cause a lower number of payday loans, less revenue for lenders, decreased access to credit for borrowers, and reduced consumer choice and competition among lenders. Nor do they claim that the evidence relied on in developing the 2017 rule is so insufficient that the rule would fail judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act. Instead, CFPB claims that it is “prudent,” as a matter of policy, to hold the 2017 rulemaking to a higher standard, suggesting that evidence must meet an unspecified level of “robustness,” “representativeness,” and “reliability.” But although they claim that the evidence relied on in developing the 2017 rule is now “not sufficiently robust and reliable” to support the identification of “unfair and abusive” practices, they decline to investigate further or to offer evidence that rescinding the rule would not be “unfair and abusive” to borrowers. Instead, CFPB is re-interpreting its legal authority to weaken its standards for what practices count as “unfair” or “abusive.”

The new proposed rollbacks also delay the rule’s implementation date from August 2019 to November 2020, and remove related underwriting and reporting requirements that apply to payday and related lenders.

 

Sylvia Chi is an attorney and activist in Oakland, with expertise on environment and energy issues.

 

 

Secrets and Lies: Comment NOW against proposed FOIA Regs

Do you want to know a secret? FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act, gives private citizens the right to get information from federal agencies. It exists to promote transparency, accountability, and prompt access to a wide range of information. But under proposed revised regulations, the Department of the Interior (DOI) would be able to decide for itself whether it felt like giving out information – even information on whether the government was involved in possible criminal behavior. You have until January 28 to comment opposing these proposed regulations and preserve our right to get crucial information … [January 17: note that due to the shutdown the link may not be working, please keep trying if you get an outage message].

For example, information about government officials who have misused their positions … such as Ryan Zinke, Trump’s recently departed Secretary of the Interior. The Department of the Interior, rather like the interior of the country itself, is grand in scope, including the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and half a dozen other major departments. Zinke resigned at the end of 2018, after an unprecedented 18 separate investigations were launched into his misconduct. Some of these investigations are still pending at the time of this writing; ominously, several were closed only because of lack of cooperation by the DOI or failure to keep records.

In an amazing coincidence, just days before Zinke’s resignation, the DOI proposed revised regulations giving it broad discretion to avoid providing answers to FOIA requests for information — particularly from journalists and public interest organizations. Under these proposed regulations, the Department would be able to:

  • decide which media organizations “serve the public interest” and are therefore entitled to information, and
  • limit the number of requests media and other organizations can make during a month.

Extensive case law under FOIA governs what records must be produced. These proposed regulations are unnecessary, contrary to the statute and that case law, and inconsistent with the clear intent of Congress. They impede accountability and make further misconduct more likely.

The comment period for these proposed regulations ends January 28. Go to https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=DOI_FRDOC_0001-0094 and click the “comment now” button at the upper right to leave an objection. Be sure to mention that you are commenting on Docket No. DOI-2018-0017.

You can use these points as a guide, but please use your own language; comments that are too similar may be grouped together and not considered individually.

  • The proposed changes to the Department of the Interior’s handling of FOIA requests are contrary to goals of the FOIA statute: transparency, accountability, and prompt access to information.
  • The proposed changes are contrary to the FOIA statute, 5 U.S.C. section 522, which allows “any person” to seek information. The proposed regulations allow Interior to deny access to a media organization or other organization that has recently asked for other information. Under this change, Interior could withhold information from media outlets it didn’t like, or anyone who asked numerous or embarrassing questions – the exact situation FOIA was intended to provide against.
  • The purported reason for the changes – an increase in FOIA requests – is the result of the conduct of the DOI itself: As reported by Outside Magazine (January 17, 2019) and Nada Culver, senior counsel with the Wilderness Society, FOIA requests at Interior are up because Interior stopped sharing information voluntarily that was routinely provided by prior administrations.
  • Other changes include stretching time “limits” into “frames,” making it easier to deny requests, and giving Interior discretion to decide whether media organizations are operating primarily “in a commercial interest.” These go directly against the intent of FOIA – to allow access to information and to prevent the government from prohibiting access.
  • Submitting these proposed regulations during a holiday week, in the midst of a government shutdown, just days before Director Ryan Zinke resigned while the subject of numerous investigations, is an outrageous effort by the government to keep the public from exercising their democratic rights.

Dean Gloster is a former clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court who now writes novels. His debut YA, DESSERT FIRST, is out now.

 

Don’t Let DeVos Gut Title IX

Deadline for public comments: January 28, 2019 – 

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has proposed regulations that would modify the implementation of Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs. Well, let’s call it what it is – Betsy DeVos has proposed a scheme to destroy an important part of Title IX. We have a chance to say NO.

The proposed regs, which have the outrageously misleading title “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance” would gut Obama-era Title IX guidance for how schools address sexual violence. Among other changes, DeVos’s proposed regulations would specify how institutions covered by Title IX must respond to sexual harassment incidents, and would also revise the availability of remedies for violations. Hint: all the changes remove protections for women …

You have until Monday January 28 to protest the proposed changes by submitting a public comment. Go to this link and click the “COMMENT NOW” button in the upper right. If that doesn’t work, go to www.regulations.gov and click on “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex…” under “What’s Trending” and follow the instructions to submit a comment. Be sure to reference Docket ID No. Docket ID ED-2018-OCR-0064. See below for suggested language and alternative methods to submit comments.

What to write:

Here are some suggested comments (personalize the language because copied & pasted comments or overly similar comments may be grouped together and not counted separately). Several of these are adapted from the Equal Rights Advocates’ excellent comment guide. Submit your comments by the end of day January 28:

My name is _____ and I am [fill in relevant identifying info, if appropriate – such as teacher, student, advocate, sexual assault survivor, etc.] I am writing in reference to Docket ID ED-2018-OCR-0064.

I oppose the proposed regulations for the following reasons:

  • General:
    • They would allow schools to refuse to investigate online sexual harassment.
    • They provide for dramatically reduced liability for schools, allowing them to turn a blind eye to sexual assault or harassment and shielding them from responsibility if they ignore or cover up sexual misconduct.
    • They would drastically reduce the number of school employees responsible for addressing or reporting sexual harassment.
    • They would encourage schools to reinstate an antiquated mediation process rather than investigating.
    • They would narrow the definition of sexual harassment, requiring schools to investigate only the most “serious forms of harassment and assault,” and only act when the sexual violence or harassment completely denies a student access to education, forcing students to endure repeated and escalating levels of abuse without being able to ask their schools for help.
  • Duty to Report:
    • I am concerned about how the proposed regulations narrow which school employees are required to act on reports of sexual harassment and misconduct in higher education settings (§§ 106.44(a), 106.30), as well as the regulations’ requirement of schools to dismiss reports of sexual violence that happen between students off campus (§§ 106.30, 106.45(b)(3)).
    • These rules would not balance the scales of justice between student complainants and student respondents, but would rather result in students’ reports and complaints being dismissed or ignored, which will very likely decrease reporting overall.
  • Burden of Proof:
    • Proposed regulation 106.45(b)(4)(i) requires schools to apply the higher standard of evidence to Title IX cases – Clear and Convincing Evidence. Application of this standard of evidence is inequitable and impractical, and contradicts decades of legal practice.
    •  The Department fails to consider and address the grave consequences to the victim of sexual assault when compared to other crimes. It is unfair for the Department to apply a higher standard of evidence based on its conclusion that the consequences to the respondent are “grave” without consideration of the grave consequences to the victim, whom the provisions of Title IX were designed to protect.
    • Application of this higher standard is impractical and seems intentionally designed to reduce the overall number of findings of sexual assault.
  • Deadline for comment period:
    • Please extend the comment period for these regulations for a minimum of 60 days beyond the currently scheduled public comment deadline. The proposed 60-day comment period is insufficient to receive meaningful public participation in the rulemaking process.
    • Please schedule public hearings at schools and colleges campuses throughout the country to encourage additional input from students, teachers, administrators, and advocates.

For more information, read the Equal Rights Advocates’ article. Also, this letter from the National Women’s Law Center, joined by more than 100 groups and 200 individuals, points out that the proposed changes are extensive and far-reaching and would drastically alter students’ rights and affect almost every aspect of schools’ obligations to respond to sexual harassment against students, and requests that the Department of Education extend the brief comment period.

Graphic © Equal Rights Advocates

 

 

Out of the mouths of babes

Deadline for public comments: December 10, 2018 

What could be meaner than taking food out of the mouths of children? The latest assault from the Grinch Administration is a proposed regulation that would change how the government evaluates legal immigrants for green cards and visas. If this regulation takes effect, it could literally result in immigrants foregoing necessary assistance for themselves, or for their kids, in order to keep their status. You have until Monday December 10 to protest this outrage by submitting a comment. Go to www.regulations.gov/document?D=USCIS-2010-0012-0001 and click the dark blue “COMMENT NOW” button in the upper right. If that doesn’t work, go to www.regulations.gov and click on “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” under “What’s Trending” and follow the instructions for submitting a comment. Be sure to reference DHS Docket No. USCIS-2010-0012. See below for suggested language and alternative methods to submit comments.

The government already considers whether an immigrant is likely to become a “public charge” before granting a green card and many kinds of visas. Until now, this has referred to receipt of cash benefits – and, despite what fearmongers would have you believe, only 3% of non-citizens use these benefits. Under the proposed change, the “public charge” analysis could include receipt of Section 8 housing and food assistance, potentially forcing legal immigrants to give up benefits that they and their families need in order to keep their immigration status. This is cruel and unreasonable, especially because:

What you can do:

From the official website:

You may submit comments on this proposed rule, including the proposed information collection requirements, identified by DHS Docket No. USCIS-2010-0012, by any one of the following methods:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal (preferred): www.regulations.gov. Follow the website instructions for submitting comments.

  • Mail: Samantha Deshommes, Chief, Regulatory Coordination Division, Office of Policy and Strategy, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security, 20 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20529-2140. To ensure proper handling, please reference DHS Docket No. USCIS-2010-0012 in your correspondence. Mail must be postmarked by the comment submission deadline.

If your citizenship status is secure, please do this action. Please personalize this suggested language (because verbatim comments may be grouped together and not counted separately), and submit by December 10:

I am writing with reference to DHS Docket No. USCIS-2010-0012. I oppose the proposed regulation restricting green cards from families who use public assistance. This regulation would violate my state’s right to provide benefits to families in short-term crisis and increase federal meddling in local issues. I object to depriving more than 40 million children of food, health care, and shelter. I want my tax dollars to support and show basic decency toward aspiring Americans, not to keep out people who need temporary help on their journey toward citizenship.

 

 

Don’t Let the Government Destroy Important Environmental Documents

Deadline: November 26, 2018

The Current Occupant’s tradition of lying is by now well-known, but sometimes it’s easier if something just … happens to the truth, especially to documentation of the truth. And so Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Department of the Interior (at least as of this writing), has sent National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) a massive “Request for Records Disposition Authority” – or in normal language, a request to destroy a huge quantity of records concerning environmental protection.

What kind of records? The request involves documents about oil and gas leases, mining, dams, wells, timber sales, marine conservation, fishing, endangered species, non-endangered species, critical habitats, land acquisition, and lots more. Documents from every agency within the Interior Department, including the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and others. Documents going back more than 50 years. Thousands of cubic feet of paper documents. Gigabytes of digital documents.

And there’s more. Besides documents that already exist, the proposed schedule of destruction will also apply to all future documents created in these categories (whether on paper or born digital). In other words: Records supporting environmental concerns could, literally, vanish in favor of the administration’s industry supporters and financers.

More details about the NARA procedure in general and this request in specific in this excellent resource.

What You Can Do

(1) Contact your Members of Congress:

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein: (email); (415) 393-0707 • DC: (202) 224-3841
  • Sen. Kamala Harris: (email); (415) 355-9041 • DC: (202) 224-3553
  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 • DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 • DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 • DC: (202) 225-5065

Sample Script:

My name is _______, my zip code is ______, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has asked the National Archives for a massive destruction of records that normally are kept for historical purposes. This is an unusual and troubling request. I am asking you to investigate this request and to stop the destruction of important and valuable records. The National Archives ID number is DAA-0048-2015-0003.

(2) Email to request.schedule@nara.gov with a Public Comment. Deadline: November 26, 2018.

Sample Script:

My name is _______, my zip code is ______, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I am writing about action DAA-0048-2015-0003. I am against this massive destruction of records. This content would normally be kept and preserved by the U.S. Dept of Interior. I am asking National Archives to deny Secretary Zinke’s request so that these records are kept as they should be.

[Sign with your name, other contact info you wish to give out.]

 

Scary times at IEB’s October All Members Meeting

Halloween arrived early at the Indivisible East Bay All Members Meeting on October 28, with many of us showing up in costume. Even the infamous Trump Chicken joined the festivities.

Unfortunately, the real scares are coming from recent news. From the deadly violence at the Synagogue in Pittsburgh to Trump’s avalanche of incendiary rhetoric — the stakes for the November 6 midterms are higher now, if that’s possible, than they’ve ever been.

Before we got down to national politics, Jodi Reid, Executive Director of CARA, the California Alliance for Retired Americans, led an informative discussion about some of the statewide propositions on the ballot. CARA has posted recommendations on all eleven props, including fact sheets for Props 1, 2, 8, and 10. Jodi walked us through the list and took our questions. In brief:

  • Yes on Prop 1. Passing Prop 1 would authorize $4 billion in bonds for housing related programs for low income residents, veterans, and other specialized populations. California has not had funds for housing in some time and local communities don’t have the resources to build housing themselves.
  • Yes on Prop 2. This would allow funding from Prop 63 to be utilized for mental health services in concert with homeless assistance. The two are needed in order for housing to succeed for the homeless. A “yes” on Prop 2 would  authorize funding already allocated to be used in this context and would not require new funding.
  • Yes on Prop 8. Authorizes state regulation of kidney dialysis clinics and limits charges for patient care. As of now, CARA stated that two major corporations provide all the kidney dialysis services, overcharging $150K more per patient than needed without the funds going to patient care. The proposition would set profits to a 115% cap above revenue.
  • Yes on Prop 10. This would allow local cities to adopt rent control and repeal the Costa-Hawkins rental housing act (1995). CARA points out that tens of thousands of housing units have been created since ’95 that have not fallen under rent control. In response to a question, Jodi noted that passage of Prop 10 would not establish vacancy control.
  • Several of the ballot proposals are controversial even among progressive groups that are usually allies. For example, CARA supports Prop 3, which authorizes almost $9 billion in bonds to fund various water and environmental projects, citing the need for safe drinking water to all areas of the state. However, the Sierra Club opposes the measure on the ground that it will mean building more dams, harming the environment; they also have concerns about the (lack of) oversight for how the funds are spent. At the Propositions breakout session (see more below), Governance Committee (GC) member Ted noted that Prop 3 affects only state-regulated water systems, and said that it won’t directly affect the East Bay’s water supply because we get our water from EBMUD.
  • Finally, check out calmatters.org to see their one-minute videos summarizing the pros and cons of each Proposition. There’s no faster way to get up to speed.

Next up, GC member and senator teams co-lead Linh highlighted the critical importance of a “boring” (her word) topic: rules changes for federal agencies. In particular, “any executive agency seeking to change any existing regulation has to invite and review public comments.” Public means YOU! Making comments may be our only chance to prevent or slow down the administration’s attempts to roll back decades of environmental, workplace and safety protections. Linh urged members to take advantage of this opportunity. Some proposed changes are anything but boring: for example, one such proposal would allow for indefinite detention of immigrant families with children! You have until November 6 to voice your opposition to this change, so speak up!

GC member and outreach team co-lead Nick reminded us that the 2018 Get Out the Vote (GOTV) effort will likely not end on November 6, since that’s a primary day for one of the U.S. Senate seat in Mississippi. If no candidate receives a majority, which seems likely, a runoff will be held on November 27. Nick is lining up postcard events for the possible run-off.

Lastly, GC member Charlotte urged everyone to participate in one or more of the remaining GOTV events between now and next week’s midterms. The biggest is our  two-day all-day (9 AM to 9 PM) “The Last Weekend” Phone/Text Bank Extravaganza in Oakland. Whether you’ve already done tons of phone banking or have been quietly sitting on the sidelines, this is a must-do! Sign up here.

With the formal part of the meeting over, we enjoyed pizza courtesy of a generous donation from IEB member Nancy Olson. Three breakout sessions followed: Charlotte led people in writing postcards and also letters to voters through Vote Forward, GC members Ted and Toni engaged people in a more in-depth discussion about some of the state propositions, and GC member and volunteer team lead Andrea welcomed new members who wanted to know more about IEB and learn how to get involved.

Andrea with new members
Andrea at the new members breakout

Several of us came in costume! The clear Adorable & Clever winners:

NASA Space Force astronaut and assistant. Photo by Toby St John
NASA Kid & Dr. Horrible team up to save America! Photo by Toby St. John

Governance Committee members Ted and Ann (aka “Blue Wave”):

Ted and Ann aka Blue Wave

Henry the Indivisi-bulldog brought his family, IEB team co-leads Kristen and Tom!

Henry, Kristen and Tom

Scariest Costume winner was IEB and CA-11 team member George, who said: “Nnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnn”, which we translated as meaning: “Just because I’m a person of the undead persuasion doesn’t mean the electoral outcome isn’t important to me. A Blue vote is a smart vote. And smart brains taste better! Be a ZombiVoter! Vote Blue!”

Be a ZombiVoter! Vote Blue!

And finally: Blue Wave beats up Trump Chicken!

 

Andrea Lum contributed to this article.