- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Editorials from around Pennsylvania

___

U.N. WATCH: REFORM REFUGEE PROGRAM, Jan. 15

The resettlement assessment report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reveals a Cold War-era program that spends millions of dollars but achieves precious little for the people it supposedly helps, according to an immigration research organization.

Instead of simply moving refugees to foreign cultures, the focus should be on “helping refugees where they are and, ultimately, helping them return” to their homes, according to an analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies.

Based on the CIS review, “only those ‘fleeing mass disorder’ (not necessarily persecution) . were picked for resettlement referral by the UNHCR staff in the Middle East.” And of the thousands helped to resettle, “most are still struggling.”

Even the UNHCR notes that just about all refugees submitted for resettlement face circumstances “where there are not immediate medical, social or security concerns that would merit expedited processing.”

Today’s refugees “need a haven that is proximate, so that it is easy to reach and from which it is easy to return once a conflict ends,” notes Oxford professor Paul Collier. Simply transferring people from the hotbeds of terrorism in the Middle East and leaving them in foreign countries, such as America or Canada- with little, if any, follow-up -is not necessarily a humanitarian gesture.

The U.N. needs to rethink how it handles refugees. And the U.S. needs to reconsider its role in this process.

- The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

___

COLLEGES AND STUDENTS NEED TO CONSIDER REASONS IN ADDITION TO DEBT FOR THE ‘BOOMERANG’ EFFECT, Jan. 14

The rate at which young adults “boomerang” is increasing- recent studies report that between 20 and 50 percent are returning home. But a new study also casts doubt on the notion that staggering student loans are driving young adults back to their parents’ doorsteps. Two sociology professors found a strong association between college completion and the boomerang effect: Young adults who did not finish their degrees had at least a 40 percent higher risk of returning home than those who graduated, likely due to limited options in finding a job.

You’ve said your tearful goodbyes. You’ve watched the car pull out of the driveway, down the street and out of view. Your baby is gone.

But alas, two or three or four years later, he’s back, taking up residence in your newly finished basement, playing video games and eating Cheetos for who knows how long.

According to a new study, the reason for the prodigal’s return might not be the crushing college debt he has accumulated and his willingness to sponge for a few more years while he works to pay off his loans.

Sociology professors at Dartmouth College and Montana State University found that young people might be returning home because they never finished college and can’t find jobs.

In fact, the study, published last week in Sociology of Education and based on annual surveys of more than 5,000 people born between 1980 and 1984, found that so-called boomerangers actually had less student loan debt than young adults who didn’t return home.

Accumulating tens, or hundreds, of thousands of dollars in college loan debt is bad enough. Accumulating that kind of debt with nothing to show for it is much worse.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse, an education nonprofit, only 52.9 percent of students who enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities in the fall of 2009 completed school within six years.

Certainly, cost is an issue. College has never been more expensive. U.S. Department of Education data shows that over the past three decades, “Tuition at four-year colleges has more than doubled, even after adjusting for inflation.”

But there’s another problem: Colleges and universities are very focused on bringing students in, less so on turning them out with viable skills.

“America’s higher education system has focused almost exclusively on inputs- money for enrolling students -and too little on outcomes- what students get out of college,” according to the Department of Education.

In an article for Fortune magazine, Sheila Bair, president of Washington College, wrote, “We found that two strong predictors of attrition were financial need and a sense of social isolation. In other words, students struggling to cover tuition costs- sometimes with excessive borrowing -were more likely to drop out, as were students who felt detached and alone- those, for instance, who were not active in a club, sport, or academic group.”

Part of Bair’s answer to attrition was an increased focus on leadership training, support services, mentoring and internships to help students feel more a part of the community and more invested in their futures.

All of Lancaster County’s four-year colleges and universities have graduation rates above the national average, according to the Department of Education’s online research tool, collegescorecard.ed.gov. Millersville University, for example, has a graduation rate of 62 percent, while Franklin & Marshall boasts 87 percent.

There are dozens of other universities within a 90-minute drive of Lancaster city. We would hope those universities are taking an honest look at graduation rates. If they’re good, they can always be better. If they’re not, administrators need to take inventory.

Students also need to be accountable. If you’re going to borrow $100,000 for college, commit yourself to finishing, with a viable degree.

Otherwise, with no degree and a mountain of debt, whoever is paying the bill will surely feel the boomerang- right between the eyes.

- LNP

___

OBAMA LEAVES BEHIND A LEGACY OF ACCOMPLISHMENT, Jan. 14

Most presidential memoirs are not remembered as landmarks of literary achievement.

Many scholars cite Ulysses S. Grant’s “Personal Memoirs” as the best of the genre. Assembled as a money-making venture while he battled throat cancer, it’s frequently praised for its candor and style. It would not be out of line to say his autobiography is more esteemed than his presidency, considering that most historians place Grant closer to the bottom than the top in presidential rankings.

Beyond that, can anyone cite a memorable passage or compelling idea that came from the recollections of any of our recent presidents? Most are cranked out for the sake of spin and a lucrative book contract. Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson may have been epoch-making presidents, but rarely does anyone seeking a deeper understanding of either chief executive start with their autobiographies.

That being said, we are looking forward to reading the White House memoir of Barack Obama, which he will presumably start work on shortly after he leaves the presidency at noon Friday. A communicator of exceptional eloquence and a writer of uncommon grace, the latter of which he demonstrated in his volumes “Dreams From My Father” and “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama should have quite a story to tell of his time as America’s first black president. Sure, Obama is likely to highlight his achievements and downplay his stumbles. But, on the whole, it will be a story of solid accomplishment.

Few national political careers have ever been as meteoric as Obama’s. A constitutional law professor, he became a state senator representing Chicago’s south side beginning in 1997, lost a congressional race in 2000, but won a U.S. Senate seat from Illinois four years later. The keynote address he delivered at the 2004 Democratic National Convention vaulted him to the national stage and, four years later, propelled him to the front of the Democratic presidential pack. There, he vanquished more well-known, longer-serving opponents like Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Bill Richardson. In the wake of the Iraq War and in the midst of a financial meltdown, Obama handily defeated Republican John McCain in the 2008 general election.

More than 800,000 American jobs were lost the month Obama was sworn in, and it was in the early days of the Great Recession that Obama proved his mettle. A stimulus package his administration championed helped stop the bleeding, and the bailout of the auto industry- initiated under Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush -prevented Rust Belt cities like Detroit and Toledo, Ohio, from being economically decimated. The financial crisis also spurred the reform of Wall Street, and Obama signed the Dodd-Frank law, which is designed to prevent the financial sector from wrecking the economy again.

The Affordable Care Act may be imperfect, but it has used market mechanisms to reduce the rates of Americans without health insurance. Obama also took the threat of global warming seriously, and started the United States down a sensible path of reducing its carbon output and investing in clean energy.

In foreign policy, Obama wound down America’s presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, and helped forge a treaty designed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Obama’s waffling on whether to intervene in the Syria conflict will remain a black mark on his record, and he was unable to make much progress in the endlessly festering conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Lest we forget, Osama bin Laden was also killed on his watch.

During his time in the White House, Obama and his family remained touchstones of integrity, class and thoughtfulness. There was never a hint of personal scandal during his tenure, and he remained cool in the face of obdurate opposition from Republicans on Capitol Hill and from adversaries on the fringes who unfairly questioned his heritage and patriotism.

Two points are clear: First, Barack Obama will be missed; and historians will be kind.

- The (Washington) Observer-Reporter

___

NO JACKPOT: AS SENIORS CONSUME MORE SERVICES, THEY SHOULD PAY MORE, Jan. 13

The Pennsylvania Lottery has always been a dubious proposition: It is at its heart a scam on the poor whose proceeds pay for programs for Pennsylvania’s seniors- some of whom are the Lottery’s most dedicated patrons.

And after some record-breaking years, including $4.1 billion in sales that generated $1.1 billion for senior programs last year, the demand for services (and Pennsylvania’s senior population) is growing faster than demand for tickets.

As PennLive’s Jan Murphy reports this week, the state’s Lottery fund could come up $70 million short in the fiscal year that starts July 1, with the situation worsening in the coming years.

The reason for that demand is pretty simple: Seniors are living longer than ever (which is good news), but as they age, they consume more and more services (which are pricey, and that’s the bad news).

Right now, 17 percent of Pennsylvania’s nearly 12.8 million residents are aged 65 and older, according to Census data. That population will grow to a quarter of the state’s residents by 2030, with a preponderance aged 85 and older.

According to state Budget Office data, total Lottery expenses- including the programs it directly underwrites -are projected to rise from $1.9 billion in the fiscal year that ends June 30 to $1.96 billion, by fiscal 2019-20.

Lottery ticket sales, meanwhile, are projected to rise by $4.2 billion in the fiscal year that starts July 1 to $4.4 billion in fiscal 2019-20. Revenues after expenses, including payouts and transfers, will rise from from $1.84 billion fiscal 2017-2018 to $1.87 billion in fiscal 2019-2020, state data showed.

Gary Miller, a spokesman for the Lottery, said the agency is “going to redouble its efforts to keep the Lottery fund full to the best of our ability.”

And, indeed, the Lottery is looking to a number of creative avenues that make it easier to part players from their money. Among them, allowing Powerball and Mega-Millions players to buy their tickets at the gas pump, sparing them a walk into their local Turkey Hill or Sheetz.

But those purchases- and the lure of a jackpot -only get you so far, as Ray Landis of the AARP observed.

“You can only make the magic happen for so long,” he said.

So we’re encouraged that the Wolf administration might shift more of the $300 million cost of nursing home and other services for Medicaid-eligible seniors from the Lottery and back into the general fund budget.

In addition to those Medicaid programs, the Lottery fund also underwrites the state’s property tax and rent rebate, prescription assistance, free- and reduced-fare transportation, and home- and community-based services for non-Medicaid-eligible seniors.

If Pennsylvania’s current pension mess has taught policymakers one thing, it should be that the state’s habit of raiding key budget accounts to cover its expenses elsewhere, results in nothing but a major headache over the long haul.

Gov. Tom Wolf is “making it a point to decrease the amount of money,” that’s transferred from the Lottery to germane programs in the general fund budget, administration spokesman J.J. Abbott said.

That’s a good plan, but we’d go a step further and suggest that a dedicated and predictable revenue source, not dependent on the whims of gamblers, may be appropriate in this case.

It may not be popular to suggest this, but if older Pennsylvanians are going to devour an ever-growing share of public services, and there’s every reason to believe they are, it may be time for lawmakers to reconsider the state’s tax-exemption on retirement income.

According to Kiplinger’s, Pennsylvania is one of only two states that entirely exempts all pension and retirement income from taxation- which is one of the reasons it remains a popular destination for retirees.

As they work on a property tax overhaul in the coming legislative session, a regressive levy that disproportionately hits seniors, lawmakers may want to begin tugging on this third rail.

If seniors are going to consume more services, it’s completely fair to ask them to kick in more than a dollar and a dream to pay for them.

- Pennlive.com

___

WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO REFORM OUR PRISONS? Jan. 16

The state Corrections Department caused a stir last week by releasing a proposal to close two state prisons. That reverses a trend of recent decades when the state scrambled to build prisons to meet the growing number of inmates.

There’s been only a slight decline in prisoners- there are about 49,000 in state penal institutions -so having empty cells wasn’t what motivated Corrections Commissioner John Wetzel. Nor was it a philosophical desire to ease up on long sentences that demand incarceration. Wetzel is a jailer. He doesn’t make criminal justice policy.

His motivation was strictly financial. Running prisons is expensive. At $2.4 billion, the Corrections Department has the third largest budget in state government. The state faces a large deficit this year- upward to $2 billion by some counts. Wetzel was doing his part in trying to trim costs. Closing two prisons could save anywhere from $90 million to $160 million a year.

Who could oppose closing prisons? As it turns out, a lot of people.

Wetzel will narrow a list of five down to a final two by the end of this month. He’s already gotten blowback from legislators with prisons in their districts. Many are located in rural areas and tend to be large employers in their areas.

You could call Waymart State Prison the Walmart of Wayne County, with 706 employees and an annual budget of $96 million. It’s on the list.

Legislators have promised hearings on the proposed closures, and we say bring them on. But rather than talking about closing Prison A and moving inmates to Prison B, we think it is time to examine our whole policy of incarceration centered on this question: Is there a better way?

It costs the taxpayers an average of $48,715 a year to house an inmate in the state prison. That’s $134 a day, double the price of an overnight stay in your average chain motel.

Ideally, prisons are supposed to rehabilitate convicts, but there’s little evidence that happens.

In Pennsylvania, nearly 60 percent of the prisoners released today will be back in jail within three years because they either committed a new crime or violated the terms of parole. Philadelphia sent 3,800 people to state prisons in 2015. Of that number, 49 percent went back because of parole violations.

Some people- Wetzel included -think that lowering the recidivism rate is the key to lowering the prison population. In Philadelphia, a group called the Reentry Coalition that is trying to do just that- through education, job training and tax breaks to employers who hire ex-convicts.

Philadelphia is doing its best to deal with these issues. But rather than complaining about prisons being closed or inmates shifted, the Legislature should look deeply into ways to deal with the total picture.

A good first step would be an independent commission to look at the problem and recommend best practices. In the long run, the way to lower prison costs is to reduce the number of prisoners. In the short run, the Legislature should seize the moment and search for the best ways to meet that goal.

The incentive is easy to see. Each person diverted from prison saves $48,715 a year.

- The Philadelphia Daily News

___

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide