Money Edge No Guarantee for Marriage Equality on State Ballots

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October 18, 2012; Source: NBC News

Two weeks from today, voters will choose more than the next president or their legislative representatives. Through state ballots, they will also decide how some of us get to live our lives. In Maine, Maryland, and Washington, the electorate will determine whether same-gender couples can marry. Those in Minnesota will vote on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between individuals of opposite genders. Many previous attempts at establishing marriage equality through popular vote have failed even though proponents injected large sums of cash to educate voters. This time around, however, opponents of marriage equality are getting nervous, alarmed by the considerable amounts raised by same-gender marriage supporters.

According to NBC News, marriage equality supporters in Maine have raised over $3 million, while opponents have only managed to raise approximately $430,000. In Maryland, proponents have more than $3 million in their coffers, while opponents have less than $900,000. In Washington, proponents have more than $10.5 million while opponents have less than $2 million.

Frank Schubert, the political director for the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and the campaign manager for the four state campaigns opposed to marriage equality, expressed his concern that marriage equality proponents with deep pockets would be able to inundate voters with their message. “I am worried … about the particular disparities in Maine and Washington state and somewhat in Maryland,” Schubert says. “What’s occurred in the past—that we’ve been able to win despite being outspent—you know, is certainly going to be challenged this time by just the sheer disparity that exists.”

However, Denise Roth Barber, managing director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics, points out that marriage equality opponents have been outspent before but nonetheless prevailed in several cases. “Regarding same-sex marriage, raising more money has thus far not equated to success at the ballot box,” she tells NBC News. Political scientists like Patrick Egan of New York University agree with Barber. “A money advantage in any race is generally not what it’s blown up to be,” he says.

Perhaps NOM and its allies should be less worried about cash and more concerned that public opinion has recently changed, rapidly and dramatically, in favor of legalizing same-gender marriage. Polls in Maine,Maryland and Washington indicate that a majority of voters prefer marriage equality to discrimination against same-sex couples. This is not so in Minnesota, however, where residents surveyed were about evenly split (the one percent difference on the question was well within the poll’s 4.3 percent margin of error) on whether they favor a state constitutional amendment banning same-gender marriage.

Opponents of marriage equality need not throw in the towel yet nor should proponents start a victory lap. The plain and simple fact about polling is that some people will say one thing in order to look good and do another when it comes to socially contentious issues like gay rights. It remains to be seen whether the large cash infusions in Maine, Maryland, Washington and Minnesota will make a difference this time around. Regardless of the outcomes for these ballot initiatives during this cycle though, the tide has turned and it’s only a matter of time before more states recognize the legitimacy and commitment of same-gender couples.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, October 23, 2012.

Are DC’s Metro Area Nonprofits a Match for Hard Times and Unrealistic Expectations?

The Census Bureau’s latest poverty numbers paint a dismal portrait of the lives of millions of Americans. Over 47 million of us are poor. That includes families of four subsisting on $22,314 a year and individuals struggling to survive on $30 a day on average for food, shelter, transportation, and other basics.

In Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, the average poverty rate from 2009-2010 is 13.3 percent, slightly below the national rate partly because average poverty rates in Maryland (10.2) and Virginia (10.7) are lower. The District of Columbia’s average poverty rate is far higher — 18.9 percent.

Will hard times for poor Americans change anytime soon? Probably not with the unemployment rate hovering at 9.1 percent and projected to remain well above 8 percent in the next couple of years.

The safety net most of us count on also continues to unravel. Federal, state, and local budgets are still shrinking, which leads to more service cuts that disproportionately impact the most vulnerable, including the estimated 1.5 million poor people residing in DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

The District of Columbia has been able to address a projected shortfall in FY2012 with spending reductions, revenue increases, and government staff reductions but it now has less funding for most of its services. Maryland foresees a $1.4 billion deficit in FY2012 while Virginia anticipates a $2 billion gap in FY2012.

Needy families and individuals are turning to nonprofits more than ever, and some believe that this is how it should be. The onus of helping struggling citizens ought, they say, to be on charities and not governments.

But do nonprofits have the wherewithal to save the day? Some 1,358 registered nonprofits in DC, Maryland, and Virginia provide basic services to those living in poverty. Among them are organizations that provide multiple services and agencies that meet more particular needs through, say, food banks and pantries, employment counselors, and community health clinics.

Seventy-seven percent of these nonprofits are general human service providers whose combined revenue totals about $1 billion. Ten percent run employment programs with 24 percent of the total revenue and nine percent offer health services with 20 percent of total revenue. Only 48 of registered nonprofits (or 4 percent of the total) provide food.

Support Nonprofits in D.C, Maryland and Virginia

Support Nonprofits in D.C. Metro

One in four nonprofits are located in the District, home to only 7 percent of the metro area’s poor. Maryland, which has 38 percent of the area’s poor, houses 35 percent of support nonprofits but has only 24 percent of the total revenue. Virginia, which has 55 percent of the region’s poor, claims 40 percent of the charities but 51 percent of total revenue.

Distribution of Nonprofits in D.C., Maryland and Virginia

Distribution of Nonprofits in D.C. MetroThe metro area’s nonprofits will be saddled with increased demand from poor families and individuals along with many others in temporary straits and not counted among those living in poverty.  Meanwhile, they can expect tighter budgets as revenue from government contracts and grants shrink. Clearly, major fundraising challenges lie ahead.

The 2010 Nonprofit Fundraising Survey reports that only about four in ten charities (43 percent) said philanthropic contributions in 2010 topped their 2009 level. Almost a quarter (24 percent) saw them plateau while a third (33 percent) experienced declines.

The survey packed other sobering news on the basic services front. Human service nonprofits registered had the fewest gains in 2010, with just 38 percent enjoying any funding increases. Nearly as many (36 percent) reported drops, and the rest (26 percent) a flat line.  And small nonprofits lost more ground than larger groups.

As millions of Americans struggle amid sustained unemployment and other economic woes, nonprofits that are increasingly under financial pressure themselves are expected to keep the safety net together. Governments need to step up — if not through more funding, through policies that make it easier for charities  to provide for citizens in need. Large foundations and the ultra- wealthy can also afford to be a bit more generous considering what’s at stake.

Originally posted on Urban Institute MetroTrends Blog, September 23, 2011.

Maryland’s DREAM Act Deferred

Washington’s inability to reform the country’s immigration system has left state lawmakers little choice but to address constituents’ immigration concerns themselves. The National Council of State Legislatures reports that during the first half of this year, 1,592 immigration-related bills and resolutions were introduced in the 50 states and Puerto Rico. That’s 16 percent more than in the same period last year. Most of these initiatives dealt with law enforcement, identification/driver’s licenses and employment.

Nine states went farther, though, passing education laws, mainly related to in-state tuition eligibility and financial assistance for immigrant populations. In May, Maryland’s General Assembly approved its version of the DREAM Act, which Gov. Martin O’Malley promptly signed.

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act was first introduced a decade ago by U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) and has since been introduced regularly but has yet to pass Congress. The statute would allow undocumented immigrants under 35 who came to the US before age 16 and earned a high school degree or its equivalent to apply for legal permanent resident status after living here for at least five years. Then, if they complete at least two years of college or military service and abide by the laws, they can apply for permanent legal status after a six-year wait.

Maryland’s DREAM Act is narrower and offers no path to citizenship. It merely establishes in-state tuition eligibility for undocumented youth who went to a state high school for at least three years and can prove that their parents pay taxes. After a couple of years in community college, these young immigrants can transfer to a public university.

Maryland’s DREAM Act was to have become law on July 1. But opponents managed to gather over 100,000 signatures for a petition, almost double the number needed to halt its implementation. The law will now be put up to a vote in a referendum in November 2012.

Those who signed the petition contend that Maryland shouldn’t and can’t afford to subsidize the education of undocumented youth. The Act’s supporters accuse the petition’s authors of using misleading information to get people to sign up and argue that the state’s DREAM Act grants undocumented students only some of the rights enjoyed by other high school graduates.

An estimated 65,000 undocumented youth graduate from American high schools each year, a fraction from Maryland schools.

Maryland’s Department of Legislative Services, the research arm of the General Assembly, calculates the state’s DREAM Act will cost $778,000 in fiscal year 2014 and rise to $3.5 million in fiscal year 2016. This is relatively miniscule compared to the state’s total higher ed expenditures, around $5 billion annually from fiscal years 2009 through 2011.

During economic hard times like ours, it’s understandable why some are fighting any budgetary outlay for Maryland’s DREAM Act.  But, over time, investing in educating Maryland’s undocumented youth could pay off.

The state has already seen these kids through years of schooling, and affordable college helps ensure a productive and educated workforce for Maryland and the rest of the US. College-educated immigrants would get better paying jobs and pay more in state and local taxes, and their lifetime contributions would more than cover the cost of Maryland’s subsidies.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers with college degrees in 2009 had median weekly earnings of $1,137, almost twice the average of what those with only a high school diploma earned. The unemployment rate for college-educated workers was 4.6 percent, 10 points lower than the rate for less educated workers.

Denying these young people the opportunity for a bright future could disenfranchise and marginalize them. And since they came here as children, didn’t choose to be undocumented, and consider themselves Americans, they are highly unlikely to leave willingly, especially in light of the Obama administration’s new policy which suspends deportation of undocumented immigrants who pose no threat to national security or public safety.

With tuition subsidy costs relatively low, and the life-long stakes high for the immigrants and the rest of society high, investing in immigrant youth through higher education can only be to everyone’s benefit.

Originally posted on Urban Institute’s MetroTrends Blog, August 22, 2011.

State DREAM Acts: Far from Fulfilling the Dream

Documented and undocumented youth rally for passage of the Dream Act in Times Square - Photo: Sarah Kramer

Frustrated by Washington’s inertia on immigration reform, many states have enacted their own immigration laws, mostly geared towards pushing undocumented immigrants out. State lawmakers have pursued a principle of attrition which anti-illegal immigration group NumbersUSA describes as the “enforcement of all the laws already on the books” at all levels of government to “make it extremely difficult for unauthorized persons to live and work in the United States.” This is accomplished by either imposing strict sanctions on employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants and/or enlisting local and state law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people.

A few states have chosen a different tack and passed laws that aim to make the lives of certain undocumented immigrants a little bit better.  These sympathetic legislators are passing bills that have in mind the welfare and future of children and youth who were brought into the United States as minors by their parents and who consider America their home and themselves Americans.  These measures are touted as state versions of the federal DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for undocumented young people.

Ten years ago, the Republican governor of Texas, Rick Perry, signed into law his state’s version of the DREAM Act, which allows in-state tuition for undocumented students who have lived in Texas for three years and either have obtained a GED or graduated from an accredited public or private school.

This month, Maryland was to enact a similar law for Dreamers – the moniker given to undocumented youth – so long as they prove that their parents paid taxes and that they have gone to high school in the state. But opponents of the statute were able to muster more than enough signatures for a petition to repeal the Maryland DREAM Act, and a referendum on the law will be held in 2012.

On Monday, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law his state’s own version and even hinted that he would support a measure allowing undocumented students to seek state-funded tuition aid.

While these initiatives are welcomed by Dreamers, their families and advocates, none address the fundamental dilemma faced by these young Americans: their undocumented status. In this sense, the DREAM Acts of California, Maryland and Texas are vastly different from the failed federal version which presents a way to citizenship for some young immigrants.

Dreamers in these few states may now envision a college degree, but can they see a secure and bright future for themselves and their families? Armed with a diploma, they will not be able to work legally and most likely not in the fields they studied.

Will they have to go underground? Or worse, will they leave their adopted country for places they don’t remember, but where they might be embraced and where their taxpayer subsidized education could be put to good use?

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, July 28, 2011.