Ownership & Assets

Pennsylvania to “Rethink” SNAP Asset Limit

October 23, 2013
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The Philadelphia Inquirer reported today that the state’s new Secretary of Public Welfare, Beverly Mackereth, has indicated she is “rethinking” Pennsylvania’s controversial asset limit for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/Food Stamps). Pennsylvania is one of only two states to have eliminated their SNAP asset limit and then brought it back.

Upcoming Webinar: How the Federal Tax Code is Driving Inequity And What You Can Do About It

October 21, 2013

The Asset Building Program is a co-sponsor for an upcoming webinar (coordinated by Asset Funders Network and PolicyLink) on November 7th regarding the relationship between inequity and current tax policy. Check out the description below and register to attend here. You can also check out our recent paper on this issue: Personal Savings and Tax Reform.

The primary purpose of the U.S. tax system is to generate public revenue, but it also serves as a vehicle to advance public policy goals. For example, the tax code includes provisions that incentivize taxpayers to take certain action – like buying a home, or saving for higher education or retirement – by providing them with tax credits, deductions, exclusions, and preferential rates. These tax benefits reduce government revenues, disproportionately benefit wealthier households, and provide limited benefits for low- and moderate-income families and households of color.

Deliberations about reforming the federal tax code – including discussions about the cost and benefits of various tax expenditures – are underway in Congress. These discussions provide a unique window of opportunity for advocates to call for a more inclusive, progressive, and equitable tax code – one that provides fair benefits to all U.S. households. 

Why Don't Americans Have Enough Skills? The Answer Is Inequality

October 21, 2013

Editor's note: This piece originally appeared at Forbes. Josh Freedman is a policy analyst with New America's Economic Growth Program.

Last week, the OECD released a mammoth new survey of the basic skills of the working-age population in advanced industrialized nations. As many articles have noted, the report shows that the United States ranks 16 out of 23 countries in basic literacy and 21 out of 23 in math. While commentators have used the report to lament the state of higher education in the United States, a deeper look reveals a different culprit.

The problem is an unequal system starting at the very bottom. At every step of the way, our education and labor market institutions solidify and expand, rather than redress, the inequality. We pay our highest-skilled and most-educated workers the highest premiums because they have the skills and education that are mostly available to those who already have higher skills and more education. At the same time, we have a huge share of the working-age population without important skills. As a result, inequality has become the defining feature not only of our social and political institutions but clearly of our skill base as well.

Read the rest of the piece at Forbes.

A Citizen's Guide to the Financial Security Credit

October 15, 2013

A proposal to create a Financial Security Credit was introduced as the Financial Security Credit Act of 2013 in the 113th Congress. The proposal is designed to help low- and moderate-income Americans build savings through a modest matched incentive on eligible savings. The Financial Security Credit uses the federal tax system to provide low- and middle-income families with the same kind of saving incentives that upper-income families enjoy. It makes the tax code fairer by democratizing supports for saving and including those families left out by current policy.

Asset Building News Week, October 7- 11

October 11, 2013
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The Asset Building News Week is a weekly Friday feature on The Ladder, the Asset Building Program blog, designed to help readers keep up with news and developments in the asset building field. This week's topics include the impact of the shutdown, housing, education savings, poverty, and inequality.

The Takeaway: Smart Cities and the Quest for a New Utopia

October 10, 2013
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Editor's note: On October 8, 2013, New America's Open Technology Institute, Asset Building Program, and Markets, Enterprise and Resiliency Initiative hosted author Anthony Townsend for a conversation about his new book, Smart Cities. Watch a recording of the event here. Ariel Bogle, a program associate with Future Tense, authored the piece below, which appeared in this week's edition of the Weekly Wonk. Read it in full here.

Technology can simplify the problems of a modern metropolis — from snow plow trackers to city-wide free Wi-Fi — but in the wrong hands, our cities may become smart, but ultimately, unwise.

In 2001, India’s Karnataka state unveiled a new digital land title system. By collating their records into an online database, leaders thought they could better protect the poor and illiterate from being forced to pay bribes to village officials to secure property they had a right to. Instead, the smart system enabled a larger-scale and centralized form of corruption. Bribery continued, merely targeting officials at higher levels, and land information was suddenly available online so that investors as far away as New Jersey were able to speculate on ill-gotten land around the city of Bangalore.

To urbanist and technology expert Anthony Townsend, the author of the newly published book Smart Cities, this story demonstrates how the technological reshaping of our cities (think: urban areas saturated with sensors that gather data and harness it to streamline public transportation and catch criminals) could have unintended consequences. And it raises a question we should all be asking as our cities get more digitized: Who’s keeping all of that new data?

Guest Post: Canada’s Program to Encourage Early Savings for Post-Secondary Education

October 8, 2013

Editor’s note: This guest blog post was authored by David Swol, Director General of the Canada Education Savings Program (CESP).

Since 1998, the Government of Canada has been providing incentives to encourage early and sustained saving for a child's post-secondary education through the Canada Education Savings Program (CESP). As one of the longest-running examples of a national asset-based program, the CESP is pleased to have this opportunity to share some of our successes and ongoing challenges with our colleagues in the asset-building policy community. To give a sense of the scale of our efforts, note that the population of Canada is about 35 million – just a bit less than that of California.

Our program uses Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs), the equivalent of US 529 plans. RESPs allow assets to grow tax-free, and the savings can be used for full- or part-time studies in any type of post-secondary education: university, community college, trade school, or an apprenticeship program. RESPs can be opened through most banks, other financial institutions, or specialized RESP dealers across the country; and a wide variety of investment options and features are available. RESPs are also exempt from asset tests for social assistance in all Canadian jurisdictions.

Wonkblog Explains the Flaws of SNAP Asset Limit

September 30, 2013
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On Saturday, the Washington Post’s Wonkblog published a piece by Mike Konczal explaining why bringing back the SNAP asset limit—a key feature of the House-passed Farm Bill—would be such bad policy, both for families and the state agencies administering the program.

Most people who have been following the Farm Bill debate are familiar with the immense – and growing – size of the proposed cuts. Back in the spring, the House proposed cutting $20.5 billion from the program over ten years, while the Senate offered a comparatively modest $4 billion cut. More recently, the House’s proposal has stretched to a staggering $39.5 billion, which would result in up to 6 million people having a harder time putting food on the table. But while the size of the cuts has become familiar, the particular form the cuts will take is less widely understood. And these details are important.

Asset Building News Week, September 23-27

September 27, 2013
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The Asset Building News Week is a weekly Friday feature on The Ladder, the Asset Building Program blog, designed to help readers keep up with news and developments in the asset building field. This week's topics include savings, public assistance, and banking.

On the Weekly Wonk: Reflecting Back on My Head Start

September 26, 2013

Editor's note: This essay by New America's Media Relations Associate, Jenny Lu Mallamo, originally appeared on our new digital magazine, the Weekly Wonk. A new edition of the Weekly Wonk comes out every Thursday.

"Did anyone here go to Head Start?”

It was an innocuous question, asked by my statistics professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.  It might have been a rhetorical question, too, as the professor didn’t seem to expect anyone to speak up.

But I did, providing an empirical data point in our graduate seminar that was looking at the correlation between Head Start participation and academic success later in life – an academic discussion for everyone in the room but a personal one for me.

In 1990 and 1991, I attended a Head Start program in Lincoln, Nebraska, that offered classroom learning as well as home visits.  As a little girl of four, I thought that “Head Start” was the name of my pre-school. It was only later that I learned Head Start was a federal program that specifically prepares children from low-income families for school.

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