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Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court in Espinoza vs. Montana Department of Revenue upheld state laws that allow public funds to be used to fund religious education.  That decision is set out below.  But it is important to know that Georgia has a similar tax program called the Qualified Education Tax Credit.  This is used to fund scholarships for students enrolled in private schools.  The donor makes a contribution to a private school through a nonprofit student scholarship organization.  The organization passes it to the school; and the school uses it as a tuition subsidy.  The donor then gets 100% of the money back as a state income tax credit.   The School Superintendents Association opposes tax-based tuition subsidies because they leave less money on the table for public schools.  In the report, Public Loss, Private Gain, the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy describes this law as a diversion of critical resources away from public schools.  The American Federation of Teachers stated that it feared the ruling would be used to “defund and dismantle public education”.

In Espinoza vs. Montana Department of Revenue.  The Montana Legislature granted tax credits to those who contribute to organizations that provide scholarships for private school tuition.  The Montana state Constitution bars government aid to any school controlled in part by any church, sect or denomination.  Three mothers who were blocked from using the scholarships at religious schools filed suit, alleging that the schools discriminated on the basis of religion.  The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects religious observance against unequal treatment and against laws that impose disabilities on religious practice.  Montana’s no aid provision excludes religious schools from public benefits solely because of the religious status.  Therefore, strict scrutiny is required.  To satisfy strict scrutiny, government action must advance the interest of the highest order and must be narrowly tailored in pursuit of that interest.  The court held that Montana’s interest in creating a greater separation of church and state than the Federal Constitution requires cannot qualify as compelling in the face of the Free Exercise clause.   Justice Roberts delivered the majority opinion, joined by Thomas, Gorsuch and Alito.  Ginsburg, Kagan, Breyer and Sotomayor dissented.

The majority held that the Free Exercise Clause protects against any laws that penalize religious activity by denying any person an equal share of the rights, benefits, and privileges enjoyed by other citizens.  Disqualifying otherwise eligible recipients from a public benefits solely because of their religious character imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion.

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The U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled that Puerto Rico residents are eligible for Social Security disability benefits under the Supplemental Security Income program.

The Supplemental Security Income program provides for financial benefits to be paid to persons who are disabled, blind or over the age of 65. Residents of Puerto Rico currently are covered under a program that is jointly funded by the federal government and provides meager benefits. The court’s decision changes all that.

The court’s decision came in a case involving a man who moved from New York to Puerto Rico to care for his wife. The federal government filed a lawsuit seeking to receiver $28,000 in benefits paid to the man. The court has ruled in favor of the man.

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The Net pundits have been predicting a baby boom post the Covid -19 pandemic, based on the millions who sheltered in place in March and April. There’s even a name given to the supposedly mass hordes of babies that will be born post the crisis – the Coronials. Jokes apart, none of this is likely to happen. In fact, there’s actually likely to be a dip in the birth rate, and that should be a concern for Americans.

History shows that during times of economic crisis, birth rates actually drop, not rise. During the Great Depression and the Great Recession, as unemployment skyrocketed, couples decided to postpone having kids. According to the Pew Research Centre, birth rates actually declined after the start of the Great Recession, following a long period of high birth rates. Besides, the Covid-19 pandemic also represents a public health crisis, hardly the time you want to plan a major medical event, like a pregnancy.

In fact, things are going to seem insecure for a while, and making babies will be the last thing on most people’s minds. That is generally bad news for Social Security. The Social Security System is based heavily on people and future generations paying payroll taxes into the system to keep it going. When birth rates fall, there are fewer people in the future paying taxes into the system, and funding the retirement, disability and other benefits the Social Security Administration pays to millions of Americans every year. The fewer babies born now, the fewer adults will be paying into the Social Security system, a couple of decades from now, placing even more stress on an already underfunded system.

 

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A group of 150 Democrat House members are calling on their party to push for protection of Medicaid funding in the next stimulus package. The push is even more important in Georgia where enrollments for the Medicaid program have been spiking in recent months since the pandemic began.

Traditionally, Medicaid enrolments increase during a recession. Medicaid coverage provides health insurance for persons who live at or near poverty levels. As the Covid-19 outbreak has devastated local economies and business, pushing millions of Georgians out of their middle class lives into near poverty levels and with the fear of a major and potentiality debilitating disease still on the minds of Georgians, enrollments for the program have increased in the state. According to some estimates, Medicaid and Peach Care enrollments in the state of Georgia have increased by as much as 38 percent over the past few weeks. Over March and April alone, at least 88,000 new persons enrolled in the Medicaid program. This program is going to be crucial in preventing financial catastrophe for Georgians living at poverty levels.

The House Members have written to Democrat leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi to push to retain the Maintenance of Effort provision in the next stimulus package. The provision requires states to maintain Medical coverage for their citizens. If past history is anything to go by, Medicaid funding will be one of the first programs to lose funding as states try to cut corners during a financial crisis.

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It seems like decades have passed between January when most of us were first alerted to the Covid-19 outbreak, and April, when we are now in the midst of a global pandemic during which life as we knew it in Georgia, has changed completely.

Over these weeks, there have also been changes in the way we approach prevention guidelines for Covid-19. These have changed significantly, too. Some Covid-19 precautions, however, remain standard.

Wash your hands frequently. An alcohol-based sanitizer is best. However, even thorough washing with a non-alcohol-based hand wash can also reduce your chances of contracting the infection.

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Hydroxychloroquine is a drug that’s a lifesaver for many lupus patients across Georgia. Unfortunately, these patients are now facing an uncertain landscape in which there are severe shortages of the drug in the future.

Hydroxychloroquine is familiar to most Americans who suffer from Lupus. Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the body cells literally attack each other. There is no complete cure for lupus, and patients may suffer a variety of debilitating symptoms, including severe pain, organ damage and chronic fatigue. All of these symptoms mean that many patients are no longer able to earn a sustainable income, and have to apply for Social Security disability benefits.

Hydroxychloroquine is a life-saver for these patients, who may use the drug to alleviate some of the mind-numbing pain they can be subjected to on days when the flare ups are severe. When President Donald Trump touted the merits of hydroxychloroquine as a miracle drug to treat Covid-19, many states witnessed mass buying of the drug, by persons who believed that the drug could also work as a preventative measure. This hoarding has left lupus patients very nervous about the looming shortage of a drug that, for many of them, is the only way to get through the day.

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Trauma is one of this country’s most urgent public health issues.  In a Center for Disease Control Report of 2019, Americans who had experienced adverse childhood experiences (“ACEs”) were at a higher risk of dying from five of the top ten leading causes of death.  The reported noted that one in six children across the United States had experienced four of more kinds of adverse childhood experiences.  An “adverse childhood experience” is defined in a landmark 1998 study by Kaiser Permanente as physical, sexual and emotional abuse; living with household members who abuse substances, had mental illness or were suicidal, violent treatment of mother/stepmother; and criminal behavior in the household or imprisonment of a household member.

The National Institute of Health reports that trauma affects a person’s mental and physical health, employment, education, and social functioning. Childhood trauma, particularly those that are interpersonal, intentional and chronic are associated with greater rates of PTSD, depression, anxiety and antisocial behaviors, including alcohol and substance abuse disorders  Secondarily, exposure to a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events (e.g. child maltreatment) activates the body’s biological stress response system.  Stress activation has biological, behavioral and emotional effects.

The majority of abused or neglected children have difficulty developing strong, healthy attachments.  Children who do not have strong healthy attachments have trouble controlling and expressing emotions and may react violently or inappropriately to situations.  A child with a complex trauma history may have problems in romantic relationships, in friendships, and with authority figures such as teachers or police officers.

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If you suffer from a disability, are above the age of 45, and do not speak English, you may qualify for disability benefits based on the lack of employment opportunities available to you. However, a new rule drafted by the Trump administration would specifically target persons who do not speak English, placing their eligibility for disability benefits at risk.

The federal administration is now in the process of finalizing a rule that would bar Social Security examiners from taking into consideration a person’s inability to speak English while evaluating a claim. The Social Security Administration currently does take a number of factors into consideration while evaluating an applicant’s claim. These factors include not just the primary criteria that the agency will consider (the person’s history of having paid into the Social Security system in taxes, as well as the duration of his disability), but also the applicant’s ability to find employment in another field. That determination will consider the person’s age, his education levels and the likelihood of finding a suitable job in another field. The determination of the applicant’s education does take into consideration the person’s ability to speak English. Failure to speak English can be a major deterrent for many types of jobs.

The new rule would, however, bar examiners from considering the applicant’s inability to speak English as a factor while determining the validity of a claim.  According to the administration, the agency currently pays out disability benefits to far too many non-English speakers from Puerto Rico. The administration is also asserting that non-English speakers now have better education levels than their English-speaking counterparts and, therefore, are less likely to be genuinely eligible for benefits.

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Having a child diagnosed with a birth defect can be a traumatic experience for any parent.  Besides the emotional toll that such a diagnosis can take on parents, there are also the financial implications to consider. Many such conditions require occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and other treatments to help the child manage or overcome the limitations placed on him or her by the defect.

There are several types of birth defects that could qualify your child for Social Security disability benefits.  These benefits can prove to be a substantial source of income for your child that could help meet some of his uninsured therapy needs.

It’s hard to predict whether your child will be eligible for disability benefits for his condition. Two children with the same disability may not be equally eligible for benefits. Mild defects that allow the chill to lead a normal life will not be considered for disability benefits.

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President Trump released his proposed FY 2021 Budget on February 10, 2020. The President’s proposed budget includes reductions in many social safety net programs and foreign aid, but increases spending for defense and veterans.

The president’s proposed budget is not very useful for estimating how much money SSA will have for administrative expenditures next fiscal year. Instead, it reflects the administration’s priorities for the next fiscal year. In an election year, the budget also provides insight to the president’s fiscal policy objectives, should he win reelection.  Congress has to pass a spending bill or a continuing resolution before September 30, 2020, and is unlikely to agree on the proposed budget as written.

The proposed budget requests $13.555 billion for SSA. This would be a $475 million increase over the amount Congress provided in Fiscal Year 2020. Since SSA estimates its fixed costs increase by over $300 million per year, an increase of this size could allow SSA to make additional investments. However, the budget proposal provides somewhat limited details of how this money would be spent. The Office of the Inspector General would get an additional $10 million. There would be $15 million less for research and demonstrations. The money required to be used for program integrity would decrease by $7 million, but SSA could still use additional funds for program integrity. The proposal estimates SSA would lose over 700 full-time equivalent staff and DDSs would gain more than 310 staff. This indicates that SSA plans to use increased funding towards the mandated raises for federal employees and for other expenditures, not to increase SSA’s workforce.

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