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Hundreds of Thousands Are Losing Access to Food Stamps



WASHINGTON — The Trump administration, brushing aside tens of thousands of protest letters, gave final approval on Wednesday to a rule that will remove nearly 700,000 people from the federal food-stamp program by strictly enforcing federal work requirements.

The rule, which was proposed by the Department of Agriculture in February, would make states enforce work requirements for able-bodied adults without children that governors have routinely been allowed to waive, especially for areas in economic distress. The economy has improved under the Trump administration, the department argued, and assistance to unemployed, able-bodied adults was no longer necessary in a strong job market.

“Government can be a powerful force for good, but government dependency has never been the American dream,” Sonny Perdue, the agriculture secretary, said. “We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand.”

But anti-poverty groups said the administration’s focus on the unemployment rate was misleading.

“The overall unemployment rate is really a measure of the whole labor market and not people without a high school diploma who are incredibly poor and may lack transportation,” said Stacey Dean, the vice president of food assistance policy at the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “We’re talking about a different group who just face a very different labor market.”

The rule tightening waiver requirements is the first of three department efforts to scale back the food stamps program, and so far, Trump administration officials appear unmoved by the protests flooding in. More than 140,000 public comments were submitted on the rule that was finalized Wednesday, and they were overwhelmingly negative.

“The Trump administration is driving the vulnerable into hunger just as the Christmas season approaches,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said Wednesday. “It is heartless. It is cruel. It exposes a deep and shameful cruelness, and hypocrisy in this administration.”

The department has also proposed a rule that would close what it calls a loophole that allows people with incomes up to 200 percent of the poverty level — about $50,000 for a family of four — to receive food stamps. It also wants to prevent households with more than $2,250 in assets, or $3,500 for a household with a disabled adult, from receiving food stamps. That would strip nearly 3 million people of their benefits, and nearly 1 million children would lose automatic eligibility for free or reduced-price school meals. The proposal received 75,000 public comments, which were overwhelmingly negative.

Another proposal would cut $4.5 billion from the program over five years by adjusting eligibility formulas, affecting one in five struggling families. That one received 90,000 comments.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as the food stamps program, has two sets of work requirements for participants, one for parents and another for able-bodied adults without children. Wednesday’s rule makes it more difficult for states to waive the time limit for the second set of work requirements.

States have typically waived the three-month time limit for one or two years in areas that have a lack of sufficient jobs or high unemployment rates. Every state except Delaware has used the waiver in the past 23 years. After the 2008 recession, the time limit was suspended in areas representing nearly 90 percent of the population.

Ms. Dean said the final rule was actually made tougher than the initial proposal, because “it makes it much harder for states with high unemployment to qualify for waivers during a national recession.”

But Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the incentives in the old waiver system encouraged states to petition the federal government for their citizens.

“States do not pay one dime in the cost of food stamps,” he said. “They didn’t even pay for most of the administrative costs. Therefore we should have a federal work requirement on a federally funded program.”

Without a waiver, able-bodied adults without children must work or participate in a work program for 20 hours or more a week to qualify for food stamps. That requirement can be difficult for people who are already homeless or have significant health issues, some poverty experts said, especially for low-wage workers who often are not offered 20 hours a week of steady work.

If the Agriculture Department finalizes the other two rules, nearly 4 million people would lose food assistance and nearly one million school children would lose access to free or reduced price school meals, according to a new study by the Urban Institute.

Representative Marcia L. Fudge, Democrat of Ohio and chairwoman of the House Agriculture Committee’s subcommittee on nutrition, said in a statement that instead of “considering hungry individuals and their unique struggles and needs, the department has chosen to paint them with the broadest brush, demonizing them as lazy and undeserving.”


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Police fire ‘tear gas’ at marchers in Nantes, France as nationwide strike against Macron’s pension reforms rages (VIDEOS) — RT World News




Police have fired tear gas at protesters in Nantes participating in a nationwide strike, according to local media. The unrest could signal dark days ahead for Emmanuel Macron’s pro-austerity government.

Videos purportedly taken at the scene show demonstrators fleeing as large tear gas clouds obstruct the marchers’ path. In one clip, shots can be heard coming from the police as demonstrators chant and jeer.

French BFM TV also reports that tear gas has been used to quell the rally.

The unrest is part of a nationwide strike by public workers that has shut down transportation in the country. Unions called for the walkout, which is expected to last until Monday, in protest against Macron’s plans to implement widely unpopular pension reforms.

Macron has proposed making a single, points-based pension system which he said would be fairer to workers while also saving the state money. Labor unions oppose the move, arguing that the changes would require millions of people to work beyond the legal retirement age of 62 in order to receive their full pension.

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Massive union strike shuts down transportation across France amid growing anger over Macron’s pension reform (PHOTOS, VIDEOS)

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The Epic Rise and Hard Fall of New York’s Taxi King




Mr. Freidman attended the Bronx High School of Science, Skidmore College and Cardozo Law School. Afterward, he has said, he moved to Russia to work in private investing.

Mr. Freidman has said in speeches that he returned to the United States in 1996 at the request of his father, who had become a successful and respected fleet owner. During the flight home, he crafted a plan to use what he learned in Russia to revolutionize the taxi industry.

His idea was straightforward: He wanted the industry to take more risks to increase profits.

Specifically, Mr. Freidman has said he wanted lenders to allow medallion purchasers to borrow more money, with smaller down payments and longer repayment periods. Former associates said he believed this strategy would allow him and others to buy more medallions, enable lenders to increase profits and, mostly, drive up medallion values. He believed that would spur more purchases, more loans, more profits and even higher medallion values.

“I walked in and took over,” he later recalled. “I told my dad, ‘I’m in, you’re out.’”

Mr. Freidman was 26. He was cocky, but he needed help. He turned to the small nonprofit that had lent to his father, Progressive Credit Union, and its chief executive, who had become a family friend, Robert Familant.

Between 1997 and 2004, Progressive’s loans enabled Mr. Freidman to buy about 100 medallions to expand his fleet, according to city records and former associates.

At the same time, Mr. Freidman became a licensed broker and helped some drivers purchase medallions, mostly using loans from Progressive, the former associates said.


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Ashesi University Is Among the Best in Africa




At the recent United Nations summit in Nairobi, ways of limiting global population growth emerged as one of the major topics of discussion. The debate cast a spotlight on the strengthening of women’s rights around the world and on vital issues such as poverty, health care and education.

With some of the highest birth rates in the world, Africa has necessarily become a primary focus of the debate. Furthermore, one-fifth of all children in sub-Saharan Africa between the ages of six and 11 don’t go to school, a number that rises to one-third for 12- to 14-year-olds. For them, college is out of the question. Can that trend be changed? How can Africa be strengthened?

Around 6,000 kilometers from Nairobi, on the outskirts of Accra in Ghana, a bumpy road pockmarked with knee-deep potholes leads up a hillside. Up on top, behind a metal gate guarded by a trio of watchmen, are the low, light-colored buildings of a university, embedded in the green landscape. From up here, the Ghanaian capital of Accra looks flat and gigantic. No city noises can be heard, and there’s no stench to be smelled.

Now that student housing is available on campus, there have been more female applicants.

Anne Backhaus/ DER SPIEGEL

Now that student housing is available on campus, there have been more female applicants.

Is this perhaps a place to think deeply about the future of the continent?

That, at least, is what the school wants from its students. Ashesi University aims to educate Africa’s future leaders, a school for the next generation of business executives, judges or presidents. And many of those who attend would normally be unable to afford such an education: Half of the more than 2,000 students and graduates from 28 different countries are receiving or have received financial support from the university. And they are not required to pay it back.

The university is different in other ways, too. Half of the students, for example, are women. Furthermore, the courses are designed to teach students how to think on their own, and when it comes time to take a test, no professor is present. The students police themselves to make sure no one cheats.

The founder of the university is Patrick Awuah, Jr., a slim, refined man with a soft voice and reflective conversational style. We spoke in his office.

DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Awuah, your university is among the best in Africa and your focus is on educating the leaders of tomorrow. Why is that important?

Patrick Awuah: When you look at a college classroom today, you are looking at the Africa that will exist 20 years from now. So we need to get to a place where the educational system here matches that of anywhere in the world. The reason so many problems remain is that the people in charge accept those problems or are unable to solve them. Or, in some cases, they are corrupt and are part of the cause of the problem. If you really want to change society for the better, you need to make sure that the people who are creating or influencing the environment – the leaders – care. And you need to make sure they have the capability to actually solve problems.

Half the students at Ashesi University are women.

Anne Backhaus/ DER SPIEGEL

Half the students at Ashesi University are women.

DER SPIEGEL: And that’s not the case at the moment?

Awuah: In this part of the world, actually all over the world, there are leaders who, for example, accept that some people ought to be poor. That’s not right. That’s why we decided that we were going to engage on the question of leadership. When you have a few good leaders, you end up with tremendously positive outcomes for millions of people.

DER SPIEGEL: One significant problem is population growth. The UN’s International Conference on Population and Development recently took place in Nairobi and the focus was on things like strengthening the rights of women and improving education as a way to slow this growth. Why is it so difficult to find a solution?

Awuah: I think you have two sides of the equation. You have people who say: Look, we need to get every kid educated.

DER SPIEGEL: Isn’t that true?

Awuah: It’s a very good sentiment to have. But there’s some unspoken assumptions that people just sort of accept. They accept that if you put a kid in school, then they’re going to learn. But it’s not necessarily a correct assumption, because you can put a kid in a school where the teachers are not equipped, or where there are no teachers, or where the school environment is so bad that the kid is not going to learn. If the goal is really to get everyone to learn, then it should be tackled completely differently. It shouldn’t just be tackled as a question of getting kids into classrooms. You have to invest heavily in teacher education and in the education infrastructure.

About Patrick Awuah, Jr.

  • Anne Backhaus/ DER SPIEGEL

    Patrick Awuah, Jr., born in Ghana in 1965, is the founder and head of Ashesi University in Accra. The school is considered to be extremely innovative and within a short period of time has established itself as one of the best on the African continent. Awuah went to college in the U.S. and worked for Microsoft before returning to Ghana and opening Ashesi University in March 2002. Since then, he has received several awards for his innovative approach to education.

DER SPIEGEL: On the other hand, it has been proven that birth rates fall as soon as women begin receiving better educations.

Awuah: There’s certainly truth to the idea that if you educate more people, you get better outcomes in terms of family planning. But you have to educate both sides, men and women. A 15-year-old boy who wasn’t in school and who doesn’t have any hope for their future professionally is more susceptible to being recruited into a gang or terrorist group.

DER SPIEGEL: Since your university opened in March 2002, you have been working towards ensuring gender balance. Only recently, however, have you managed to achieve a 50-50 ratio. Why was it so difficult?

Awuah: Our first class was only 25 percent women, and I wondered: How come? It turns out that only about 25 percent of the applicant pool was women, so either there weren’t enough women coming out of high school, or somehow we weren’t recruiting properly. So we made a concerted effort to actively start recruiting girls and over a two-year period, we went up to 35 percent women. But what really changed it for us was when we started offering university housing.

A main focus of the university is teaching students how to think.

Anne Backhaus/ DER SPIEGEL

A main focus of the university is teaching students how to think.

DER SPIEGEL: How did that help?

Awuah: Students were telling us that they wanted to live closer to campus because it enabled them to work and do group projects more easily in the evenings. But it turns out that once we had university housing, families were more willing to send us their girls. They care about the safety of their daughters. Once we had that, we started to see more applicants from girls.

DER SPIEGEL: Beyond the experience of your university, why is it generally difficult to attain a gender balance at schools in Africa?

Awuah: Going back in history, we were a society that didn’t have formal education. It was introduced by the missionaries and colonial governments. And they went to the leadership of all the villages, the chiefs, and said: Give us your boys to send to school. They asked for the boys, not the girls. So you had this structure that was set up, and that’s what we have to overcome. I think Ghana is almost there now, but it, too, varies from region to region.

DER SPIEGEL: What other issues must be addressed?

Awuah: Today, there is a significant push for other regions to engage with Africa. China is looking to engage with Africa. The West is looking to engage with Africa. We need to make sure that whatever change happens in Africa is African led and not led from somewhere else. To do that, we need to be educating people on our side of the table who can engage in those conversations and make sure that the best interests of African citizens are front and center. We need to ensure they have a deep understanding of their own circumstances and their own societies in addition to a good understanding of those other cultures. We need to get to a place where the educational system here matches anywhere in the world. The most important natural resource that we have on this continent is the human intellect. It is not gold in the ground or oil under the seabed.

DER SPIEGEL: Do you have the impression that others look down on Africa with a certain amount of arrogance?

Edel Togobo, 20, is a student at Ashesi University. She hopes to start her own company after graduation.

Anne Backhaus/ DER SPIEGEL

Edel Togobo, 20, is a student at Ashesi University. She hopes to start her own company after graduation.

Awuah: Yes, of course. When your country has a lower per-capita GDP than another, there is a tendency for others to say: OK, we’re wealthier and therefor we must know more than you do.

DER SPIEGEL: You often stand in line with your students in the cafeteria or take part in Mardi Gras celebrations. Where does your participatory leadership style come from?

Awuah: I grew up in Ghana. My first major learning experience about how not to do education was in the first grade. My parents put me in this school where the teachers caned kids for getting the wrong answer. You’d get hit with a stick if you made a mistake and I was almost at the bottom of the class academically. My parents moved me out of that school because one day I got caned so hard that my thumb got bruised. The new school was completely different, and that term, I was almost at the top of the class. The same kid, a completely different environment and a completely different result. So, the way you engage children is important. Children want to learn. I haven’t met a child who doesn’t want to learn. As a teacher, you’re here to support them in that quest.

DER SPIEGEL: What do you view as the most important quest?

Awuah: Deciding what kind of society we should have. The one thing we do differently is we don’t preach to people. We engage them in a conversation. And if they really debate it intellectually, they will come to the conclusion that a high-trust society is better than a low-trust society. If they have the belief that they can, together, build that high-trust society, then they’ll go do it, because they’ve determined it’s a better way. It’s not because someone is preaching at them.

This piece is part of the Global Societies series. The project runs for three years and is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

What is the Global Societies series?

The Global Societies series involves reporters reporting from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe about injustices in a globalized world, societal challenges and sustainable development. The features, analyses, photo essays, videos and podcasts will be appearing in the Global Societies section of SPIEGEL International. The project is initially planned to run for three years and receives financial support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Does the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have editorial influence?

No. The foundation exerts no influence whatsoever on the stories and other elements that appear in the series.

Do other media outlets have similar projects?

Yes. Large European media outlets like the Guardian and El País have similar sections on their websites — called “Global Development” and “Planeta Futuro,” respectively — that are likewise funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Has DER SPIEGEL produced similar projects in the past?

In recent years, DER SPIEGEL has complete two projects with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the European Journalism Centre (EJC): “Expedition BeyondTomorrow,” about global sustainability goals, and the journalist refugee project “The New Arrivals,” which resulted in several award-winning features.

Where can I find all stories and elements published as part of the Global Societies project?

All Global Societies pieces will be published in the Global Societies section of the SPIEGEL International website.


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