Jessica Fraser: A Crisis of Our Own Making

The Indiana Institute for Working Families has been studying the conditions of poverty and what it takes to be economically self-sufficient for longer than my 11-year tenure here.  In fact, we have been commissioning the Self-Sufficiency Standard for Indiana from the Center for Women's Welfare since 1999.  We spend a lot of time thinking about wage adequacy and how far off the mark our current poverty thresholds (and guidelines) are for giving an accurate account of the number of families struggling to get by in this country. 

So it goes without saying, we are distressed by a recent OMB proposal to change the current inflation measure for the poverty thresholds from the Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) to the Chained Consumer Price Index (C-CPI-U).  Slowing down the growth of an already inadequate measure makes no sense and does not show concern for the lived experience of struggling American families. In other words, we’re changing the yardstick by which we measure poverty so that fewer people get counted.

Why the poverty thresholds we have are already inadequate
The thought that the poverty threshold may grow more slowly over time is concerning when you consider that it is already woefully inadequate in determining who in America is struggling to get by.

The poverty thresholds as they are currently calculated are inadequate in a few very important ways.  First, they are based on the cost of a single category of basic needs: food.  When our definition of poverty was created in the 1960's, food costs were the only data that was really available. We knew that families spent about 1/3 of their budget on food, so it was a simple matter of multiplying by 3 to get a total household budget. However, this methodology has remained stuck in the 1960s.  It is no longer the case that families spend 1/3 of their budget on food. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistic's Consumer Expenditure survey finds that Americans spend only about 13% of their income on food. As a result of this antiquated methodology, the poverty thresholds do not take into account the rising costs of necessities such as housing or health care (rising more rapidly than food, it should be noted) or to the introduction of new categories of necessities, namely the high cost of child care. Child care is not a luxury, but a necessity for working parents in today's world. 

Another complaint about the current poverty threshold is that, aside from Alaska and Hawaii, it does not take into account differences in geographic locations. It is the same whether you live in New York City, New York or Tell City, Indiana. This is a major shortcoming when you think about the cost of living differences from state to state. Even WITHIN Indiana, there is a wide variance of cost differences leading to some fairly big differences in self-sufficiency standards throughout the state (holding family type constant). 

Given the inadequacies of the current measure coupled with the fact that changes do not address the real challenges of the measure and actually put it further out of touch with reality, using Chained CPI to determine the poverty threshold is the wrong policy direction!  Defining people out of poverty by methodology alone, and not because situations have improved for American families, is ill-informed and irresponsible. 

What's wrong with Chained CPI?
The problem with using the Chained CPI specifically with the poverty thresholds is that it grows more slowly than the regular consumer price index. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a great explanation in this video. This may make some sense in the aggregate when you are speaking about the whole economy, but even in the BLS video linked above, the narrator is careful to point out that this is a measure averaged across all consumers and may not reflect the actual inflation rate for individual families or certain specific groups of people.  In its statement on this proposal, the Center on Budget and Policy Proposals links to a recent study indicating that "inflation tends to rise faster for low-income households than for the population as a whole."  Our own research bears out this concept. In our most recent edition of the Self-Sufficiency Standard for Indiana 2016, we found that our self-sufficiency standard for basic needs only (we took the tax credits out) grew considerably more than the Midwest CPI over the same time period, indicating that current inflation measures already underestimate the costs of basic needs. This is particularly concerning since for low-income families, nearly all of their spending falls into this basic needs category.  Our analysis also suggests that "assuming that the CPI reflects the experience of households equally across the income spectrum hides the lived experience of those at the lower end." (pg. 15). 

So to reiterate, the changes we need to make to the poverty measure go well beyond what inflation adjuster we use to adjust the measure each year.  AND we should be looking at data to show us what the actual inflation rates might be for this specific family and not assume that low-income families can make the same choices that the average consumer in the Chained CPI can make. As Talk Poverty put it in their recent blog "for many families who are already choosing between paying the rent and buying food, they are already living as frugally as possible."

Why does this definition matter so much?
This is not just a question of semantics!  The poverty threshold is used to determine the Department of Health and Human Service's "Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG)."  These guidelines are enormously important as they determine eligibility for nearly every program that helps low-income families nationwide.  And while many of our poverty-fighting programs use a multiplier of the poverty guidelines (e.g. eligibility for SNAP is 130% of FPG, eligibility for WIC is 185% of FPG), the proposed change will have the effect of making some families who would have been eligible under the previous system of adjusting inflation, no longer eligible, cutting them off from the support they need to get back on their feet.  Changing the inflation adjustment method will not only result in failing to count vulnerable Americans, but worse, it will result in failing to give them a hand up when times are tough. 

Choosing to not count these folks in our federal poverty measure and to not serve them doesn't make them cease to exist. They will still be there in our communities, struggling more, with fewer resources to put back into their local economy.  And while in the near term, the effects seem very small, this type of change compounds over time, meaning that down the road it will have larger and more far-reaching consequences that will continue to ripple through our economy. And worst of all, it will be a crisis of our own making.

IIWF will be submitting public comments in response to the OMB proposal and we will be encouraging all of our partners and followers to do the same.  The Coalition for Human Needs has created a portal to make submitting a comment letter very easy. Click here to submit yours!
Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The House Ways & Means Committee Agrees Paid Leave Matters. Now What?

              The Hoosier mom who returned to a cubicle while her infant struggled for survival in the NICU, the dad whose son lay sick in a hospital bed while he worked overtime, and the exhausted caregiver who drove daily from work to her aging father’s home and back again might take comfort in the fact that members of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee seem to agree on one thing: Congress should be working to expand access to paid family and medical leave. The committee met on Wednesday, May 8th to hear from a panel of experts on the issue. But the committee members’ questions revealed a divergence of opinions on solutions, raising concerns about the likelihood that Congress can find a path to achieve the shared goal of ensuring that more families could find relief from the inhumane situations they currently experience.

Panelists at the hearing spoke to the lessons learned from both the status quo and from existing state-level solutions:

Marisa Howard-Karp shared her personal story of struggling to care for her aging parents, including her father who had suffered from a stroke. “We were terrified about their health and our financial security,” she told the committee, noting that paid family leave would have alleviated at least some of the burden during that stressful time.

Anthony Sandkamp, a small business owner from New Jersey, spoke about the hiring disadvantage he faced prior to New Jersey’s implementation of a state-level paid leave program, and discussed the turnover cost associated with losing a key employee when the employee’s mother was battling cancer. “Replacing employees is expensive, with turnover costs estimated to average one-fifth of an employee’s annual salary,” Sandkamp stated. New Jersey’s paid leave program made offering the benefit “simple and affordable,” he told the committee.

Pronita Gupta, Director of Job Quality at the Center for Law and Social Policy, shared lessons learned from state-based programs, including that we would likely see reduced costs to our social safety net as more families remain economically stable and caregivers are able to reduce the need for nursing home placements. “Evidence also shows that effective access to paid family and medical leave can improve the health of mothers and children; reduce racial disparities in wage loss between workers of color and white workers; improve employer experience by improving employee retention and reducing turnover costs; and increase women’s labor force participation, which can lead to greater economic security for a family and strengthen the overall economy,” she shared.

Suzan LeVine, Commissioner at the Washington State Employment Security Department, discussed the bipartisan program developed in Washington State, where small businesses may also take advantage of grants to help with training costs and higher wage replacement will be offered to lower-wage workers.

Rachel Greszler, Research Fellow at The Heritage Foundation raised concerns about tapping Social Security to fund leave and about accessibility for low-income workers.

        When her turn came to question the panel, Representative Jackie Walorski (IN-2), the only member of the Indiana delegation to serve on the committee, expressed a desire to see broader access to paid family leave, but seemed to dismiss the idea of a national program. She instead raised the idea of using savings accounts, presumably similar to a Health Savings Account or 529s. However, this concept has been criticized for offering little meaningful help to low- and middle-income earners. As Abby McCloskey, economist and member of the AEI-Brookings Joint Working Group on Paid Leave has pointed out, tax-advantaged savings accounts are widely underutilized and skewed to the well-off.  Only a third of workers save for retirement in 401(k)s, according to Census data, and an even smaller percentage invest in HSAs. One reason is that these accounts are designed to benefit those with a federal income tax liability. Additionally, low-wage workers tend to have less disposable income to set aside for weeks without pay, even if the tax shield were applicable say to payroll taxes. Some have proposed that charities or employers could seed the accounts of low-wage workers. But this is not widespread practice today and it’s hard to see how existing incentives would change with this proposal.”

      As the conversation on how to meaningfully expand access to paid leave continues, the Indiana Institute for Working Families will continue to host community conversations throughout the state to understand the needs of Hoosier families and businesses, as well as to highlight the potential benefits of expanded access and the costs of doing nothing. We will also continue to monitor policy proposals for the following key features:
·       Is it inclusive? A paid leave program that only serves new parents will leave out three out of four individuals who currently take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. A car accident or cancer diagnosis should not drive a family into poverty. At the same time, family caregivers, the backbone of our eldercare system, should receive sufficient support to continue their important work serving our nation’s aging population. An optional program or tax incentive will leave many out – or, as Rep Larson stated, “Our concern when you say flexibility is it means flexibility to do nothing.” We are looking for a paid leave solution that covers all workers for all of the major reasons people take family and medical leave.
·       Is it portable? In today’s economy, workers will likely change jobs many times. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, individuals born between 1957-1964 held an average of 11.9 jobs from age 18 to age 50, with nearly half held before age 24. When offered by a particular employer, a paid leave benefit generally requires a worker to achieve a certain tenure. But when state run, paid leave benefits can be portable from job to job, or workers can layer hours from multiple jobs to qualify for leave. We are looking for a paid leave program that allows workers to carry their earned benefit from job to job.   
·       Is it accessible to low-wage workers? Early iterations of state paid leave programs offered flat wage replacement levels that made it difficult for low-wage earners to meet their basic needs while on leave. As Suzan LeVine noted in the hearing last week, “A minimum wage worker with family responsibilities often struggles to get by on their full salary. Therefore, a benefit that offers significantly less is often inaccessible.” Accordingly, Washington State will offer up to 90% of a workers average weekly wage when its program is fully implemented. We are looking for a paid leave program with robust wage replacement at lower levels of income.   
·       Is it sustainable? A long-term policy solution that proposes to provide paid leave to workers will be self-sustaining and will not create budget deficits that must be filled through cuts to other programs or impossible choices for families. As Rachel Greszler pointed out in her testimony, “a mere 21 percent of Americans [are] willing to trade lower funding for education, Social Security, and Medicare in order to implement a national paid family leave program.” Tapping Social Security or Unemployment Insurance funds, for example, should not be considered unless new funding streams will result in programs that are adequate to both their original and new purposes. We are looking for a paid leave program with an affordable and sustainable funding mechanism.

What can Hoosiers who support paid leave do to push the conversation forward? Hoosiers can contact their federal representative and let him or her know that you are eager to see action on this issue. Sharing a personal story can be a powerful way to connect (you can also share your story with the Institute here). Would you like to be more involved? Contact us for advocacy opportunities!  

Monday, May 13, 2019

Are We There Yet? No, We're Not Even Close.

Legislation to Move Indiana's Working Families Forward Stalls Out 

If you’ve ever been on an exciting road trip, you know how Institute staff felt at the beginning of session. With a roadmap, a full tank of gas, and all the eagerness the vision of a really great destination inspires, we set out to steer several promising pieces of legislation through the process. And for the first few miles, the trip went better than expected – but those giddy early days turned to dismay as roadblocks and detours stalled forward progress. By mid-session, instead of cruising happily toward a better future for working families, we found that the General Assembly had rerouted working families toward a cliff of high-cost debt. And while we can consider stopping that nightmarish outcome as a victory, the sad reality is that we still have a long way to go to reach our destination.

STOP PREDATORY LENDING: The Institute’s top priority this session was to stop predatory lending, and an early hearing on SB 104 (Sen. Walker, R-Columbus, with nine coauthors), which would cap payday loans at 36% APR, seemed like an encouraging sign of progress on the issue. But the day after SB 104 passed out of the Senate Insurance & Financial Institutions Committee, a strip-and-insert amendment containing a massive expansion of payday and subprime lending appeared in SB 613. That bill outpaced SB 104, securing 26 votes to pass the Senate. And following some tinkering through another last-minute amendment, it moved to the House floor. Thanks to the efforts of a strong, diverse coalition, SB 613 couldn’t secure enough votes to cross the finish line.  

UNLOCK EARLY EDUCATION: As Institute staff testified on HB 1628 (Rep. Behning, R-Indianapolis with three coauthors and five Senate sponsors), access to high-quality early learning opportunities is first and foremost about their benefits to children, but they also have the added benefit of allowing families to seek and secure employment. Unfortunately, the General Assembly declined to take action on HB 1288 (Rep. Hamilton, D-Indianapolis with coauthor Rep. Beck) to create a state-level child and dependent care tax credit and put high-quality care within reach for more families, and an earlier version of HB 1628, the prekindergarten eligibility bill that offered a wider exemption from the work requirements currently imposed on families, was narrowed to exempt only families receiving Social Security and Social Security disability insurance payments. HB 1628 did, however, make families all across the state eligible for the program and we're grateful to see a broader group of four-year-olds will be eligible through the carve-out for grandparents and parents with disabilities. 
 TRANSFORM TANF: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is sorely in need of an update.  If we were road tripping the last time TANF benefit levels we updated (1988), we'd be listening to George Michael's "Faith" on the car radio. Under SB 440 (Sen. Ford, R-Terre Haute with seven coauthors and four House sponsors), eligibility guidelines would have moved to 50% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, which is the threshold for deep poverty, and benefit levels would have increased by about 60%.  We know that this program is serving our most vulnerable citizens, but we also know that there are more Hoosiers who could benefit from the services TANF can provide.  Hoosiers living in deep poverty face a lot of barriers to employment and to self-sufficiency. There is great potential in TANF with its blend of case management, work participation, job readiness services, child care & transportation benefits to be a real catalyst for extremely impoverished families to get a good start on the road to economic self-sufficiency.  Despite some great strides - passing both the FULL Senate and the House Family & Children committee unanimously - the bill did not get a hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee and died for failure to progress before a committee report deadline. 

IMPROVE JOB QUALITY: While unemployment in Indiana remains low, the wages and benefits offered to many Hoosier workers leaves much to be desired. Few families have access to benefits like paid family leave, and pregnant women needing reasonable accommodations like extra bathroom breaks, temporary relief from heavy lifting, or other modifications lack protections. HB 1302 (Rep. Shackleford, D-Indianapolis with two coauthors), which would have created a paid family and medical leave program to provide six weeks of paid family and medical leave, and HB 1073 (Rep. Engleman, R-Corydon with three coauthors) and SB 590 (Sen. Becker, R-Evansville with two coauthors), which would have clarified that pregnant women can seek reasonable on-the-job accommodations. Sadly, none of these bills received committee hearings.

INCREASE EARNINGS: This session, there were several bills aimed at increasing the minimum wage, and none received hearings. SB 214 (Sen. Tallian, D-Portage) moved minimum wage from $7.25/hour to $11.12/hour and eliminated the tipped wage, which is currently $2.13/hour. SB 262 (Sen. Mrvan, D-Hammond) moved the minimum wage to $15 and increased it yearly with Consumer Price Index, while his similar bill, SB 355, increased to $15 over 3 years. Over in the House, HB 1081 (Rep. Macer, D-Indianapolis) increased the minimum wage and tipped minimum wage to $12 over the course of 3 years.

PIT STOPS ON THE SCENIC ROUTE: Often, issues arise that weren't on our road map prior to  session. This year, one of those was HB 1495. Authored by Rep. Summers (D-Indianapolis), Rep. Clere (R-New Albany) and Rep. Fleming (D-Jeffersonville), HB 1495 created some common-sense disclosure and transparency measures around land contracts for principal dwellings. IIWF supported this bill alongside partners Prosperity Indiana and Fair Housing of Central Indiana, trying to move this legislation to the Governor's desk. It nearly made the finish line, but when the bill was taken up for a final vote in the Senate on sine die, it failed 20-30.

A small victory this session was HB 1141 (Rep. Shackleford, D-Indianapolis), a bill addressing the traffic and license reinstatement fees that keep people off the road or force them to choose between driving illegally or losing their jobs, childcare, education, etc. This bill provides for a temporary amnesty program where fees can be reduced by 50 percent. WFYI notes that an estimated 185,000 drivers could be eligible for reduced penalties. This bill literally helps people get back on the road to self-sufficiency.

GETTING BACK ON THE ROAD: At a time when far too many families are struggling to afford the basics, are weighed down with debt, and have little set aside to weather a financial shock or retire with dignity, it is unfortunate that policy priorities that would boost their financial well-being took a backseat to other issues. But the struggles of many Hoosier families' to balance their budgets mean that we cannot allow detours and setbacks to keep us from pressing forward. Following a few deep breaths, Institute staff will be back behind the wheel trying to navigate the state toward broader prosperity. We hope you'll join us for the ride!

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Unpleasant Surprises - Inside the Statehouse

This week, the Institute grappled with some unpleasant surprises: unexpected hearings, unwanted amendments, and new hurdles for good bills to overcome. We weathered a rocky week with the help of caffeine, fellow advocates, and the optimism that can only come from knowing you are doing everything you possibly can to bend the arc of justice in the right direction. 

SB 613: Massive Expansion of Payday and Subprime Lending Gets a Hearing

Despite being the worst consumer credit bill in decades, SB 613 was scheduled for a hearing on Tuesday at 10:30am. Public notice of the hearing wasn't posted until Monday afternoon.

Even so, opponents of the bill packed the room. Two lobbyists spoke in favor of the bill, and twelve individuals representing veterans, churches, community groups, and consumers spoke against the bill.

Institute Senior Policy Analyst Erin Macey kicked off the testimony, walking committee members through the array of dangerous new products and changes to long-standing consumer protections, while also noting that many, many Hoosiers are already struggling with the debts they have. “Is the best solution we can offer them more and even higher-cost debt?" she asked committee members. "That’s not a lifeline, it’s an anchor.”

Our friends at Prosperity Indiana spoke about the size and breadth of the coalition fighting this bill, noting, “Unanimously, all of these voices have come together to say that the bill’s expansion of payday and subprime loans will only leave borrowers worse off and make the work of supporting communities more difficult.”

Brightpoint Community Action Agency Director Steve Hoffman made the trek down from Fort Wayne to oppose the bill as well. He was followed by veteran Stephen Bramer, who spoke about his own experience with payday loans. “SB 613 is a bad bill,” Bramer told the committee.

Chairman Burton closed the hearing by saying there is zero chance the bill will pass out of committee as is, but this leaves us wondering - what will the “fixes” look like? Even with changes to rein in the worst abuses, we suspect Hoosiers will be offered usurious loans at rates currently considered to be criminal loansharking. Let Chairman Burton and your House member know that the only appropriate “fix” to SB 613 is to kill it. Call (317) 232-9600 and find your legislator here

HB 1628: Prekindergarten Program Eligibility May Be Amended to Further Restrict Eligibility

On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee considered HB 1628, which would change the eligibility requirement for Indiana’s On My Way PreK Program. The current version of the bill prioritizes working families under 127% of poverty, but then opens access to “limited eligibility” children who do not meet these criteria.

An amendment is being offered that would further narrow the pool of “limited eligibility” children significantly to only those whose parents or guardians can demonstrate that they receive Social Security or Social Security Disability. The amendment will be voted on next Tuesday. Institute Senior Policy Analyst Erin Macey testified on the bill, reminding the committee that PreK is first and foremost about 4-year-old children “who do not choose whether their parents or guardians are working or not, retired or not, living with a disability or not. We value and appreciate that the General Assembly is taking steps to ensure equality of opportunity for all children living in financially distressed households.”

She also noted that before the program contained a work requirement for parents, it had the “added benefit of allowing families who are not yet employed to seek and secure new employment. In both year 1 and 2 cohorts, about a third of families noted that having their child in On My Way PreK allowed them to obtain new employment.”

If you have thoughts about the prekindergarten program work requirement, please contact Senate Education committee members before they vote next Wednesday.

HB 1141: Traffic Amnesty Program Amended

Senate Tax and Fiscal committee heard HB 1141 on Tuesday morning, where it was amended to remove amnesty for court costs and the option for a payment plan, among other unpleasant surprises. 

Policy Analyst Amy Carter testified in support of the bill in its original form, noting that, "It’s important to look at the whole financial burden including court and reinstatement fees. Allowing for a reduction in both and allowing for a payment plan on the reduced fees will unlock opportunities for legal driving to jobs and training for low-income Hoosiers, and help employers fill the skills gap." She also pointed out that over the last decade, median income in Indiana has risen only 9% while basic costs have increased 60%, illustrating why some Hoosiers are not able to pay traffic and reinstatement fees no matter how badly they need a valid license to get to work, school, and job training. 

It passed committee 11-0 and was amended on 2nd reading to push the date back to allow time to set the system in motion. 

SB 440 TANF Eligibility Must Clear Another Committee

The week started off great on SB 440, the bill that we have been supporting to increase eligibility and benefit levels for the TANF program. The bill passed out of House Family and Children 12-0!!  We were thrilled by this strong committee vote.  We found out that the bill would be recommitted to House Ways and Means and we began meeting with members of that committee. From our initial meetings, it seems SB 440 may have a harder time in this committee.  Please reach out to committee members and ask them to support SB 440.  

(800) 382-9842 - House Democrats
(800) 382-9841 - House Republicans

Republican Committee Members: 
Co-Chair: Rep.Todd Huston-  Ask Rep. Huston to Please grant a hearing to SB 440. 
Rep. Bob Cherry 
Rep. Mike Karickhoff
Rep. Bob Heaton 
Rep. Steve Davidson
Rep. Dan Leonard
Rep. Jeff Thompson
Rep. Brad Barrett
Rep. Ed Clere (He is a bill sponsor THANK HIM for his hard work on this bill!)
Rep. Dave Heine
Rep. Jack Jordan
Rep. Peggy Mayfield
Rep. Sharon Negele
Rep. Holli Sullivan
Rep. Cindy Ziemke (She is a bill sponsor THANK HER for her hard work on this bill!)

Democrat Committee Members: 
Rep. Greg Porter 
Rep. Chris Campbell 
Rep. Ed Delaney
Rep. Carey Hamilton
Rep. Earl Harris 
Rep. Sheila Klinker 
Rep. Cherrish Pryor
Rep. Melanie Wright  (Rep. Wright also voted for this bill in House Family and Children! Thank her for her support). 

One pleasant surprise we received was the outstanding response to our call for donations to support our work. Thank you for your generosity!! Surprise or not, our work continues until Sine Die. 
Friday, March 29, 2019

Doing the Work - Inside the Statehouse

These week, Institute staff had many, many meetings with lawmakers about the remaining issues that we are working on to support low-income families: transforming TANF (SB 440),  protecting Hoosiers from a massive expansion of predatory lending (SB 613), enacting common sense land contract protections (HB 1495) and getting Hoosiers back on the road with driver's license suspension reform (SB 210 and HB 1141). 

Transforming TANF
SB 440 is scheduled for "Amend and Vote Only"  on Tuesday, March 26, 2019 at 8:30 am in Rm 156-C.  Amend and Vote only means that they will not take any public testimony as the bill has been heard before.  There will be two amendments that we know of:  one that extends the start date of each phase in period to coincide with the state's biennial budget, and another that puts some guard rails around the TANF funds that are transferred to the child care voucher program. IIWF supports both of these amendments. You can tune in on Tuesday morning by clicking this link

Once SB 440 is out of committee it is possible that it will be recommitted to the House Ways and Means committee. IIWF staff are meeting with members of that committee to bring them up to speed just in case it goes these. You can help this committee understand the importance of SB 440 by calling them and asking them to support SB 440 if it is sent to their committee. 

(800) 382-9842 - House Democrats
(800) 382-9841 - House Republicans

Republican Committee Members: 
Co-Chair: Rep.Todd Huston
Rep. Bob Cherry 
Rep. Mike Karickhoff
Rep. Bob Heaton 
Rep. Steve Davidson
Rep. Dan Leonard
Rep. Jeff Thompson
Rep. Brad Barrett
Rep. Ed Clere (He is a bill sponsor THANK HIM for his hard work on this bill!)
Rep. Dave Heine
Rep. Jack Jordan
Rep. Peggy Mayfield
Rep. Sharon Negele
Rep. Holli Sullivan
Rep. Cindy Ziemke (She is a bill sponsor THANK HER for her hard work on this bill!)

Democrat Committee members: 
Rep. Greg Porter 
Rep. Chris Campbell 
Rep. Ed Delaney
Rep. Carey Hamilton
Rep. Earl Harris 
Rep. Sheila Klinker 
Rep. Cherrish Pryor
Rep. Melanie Wright 

On Tuesday evening, Institute staff joined AARP Indiana and Prosperity Indiana at the Indianapolis City-County Council to support Proposal No. 162, calling on the Indiana General Assembly and Governor Holcomb to Reject 613. The resolution passed with unanimous support and was signed by Mayor Hogsett. It followed on the heels of a resolution by the Lake County Council on March 12th.

Our strategy right now is to keep the pressure on House members and to follow up with Senators about their votes on SB 613.

The good news: many lawmakers are very uncomfortable with the current version of SB 613.
The bad news: House members are likely to amend SB 613 in an effort to win enough votes to get it over the finish line. 

We urge you to continue sending a strong message to lawmakers to #Reject613. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates about the bill and a hearing date. 

Land Contract Protections
HB 1495, a bill that includes more transparency for buyers engaged in a land contract to purchase their homes.  It includes provisions for these contracts to be recorded (YAY DATA!), requires some disclosures so that buyers understand the condition of the home, its value, and if it has any liens against it, among other provisions. IIWF, in partnership with Prosperity Indiana are supporting the bill. It will be heard in Senate Judiciary on Wednesday, March 27, at 9 AM in the Senate Chamber.  You can tune in on Wednesday morning by clicking this link. 

Driver's Licenses 

HB 1141 and SB 210 both address the high cost of license reinstatement fees and traffic fines, seeking to create a temporary program where those with fines and fees can petition for a reduction in the cost and get back to driving legally. A 2016 report from IU McKinney School of Law found Indiana's fines and fee structures disproportionately impact low-income Hoosiers, leaving nearly 1 in 10 adults over 16 without a legal way to get to work.   SB 210 is not yet scheduled for a hearing.  HB 1141 is scheduled for a hearing in Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy on Tuesday, March 26, 2019 at 10am in room 431. You can watch live here

Friday, March 22, 2019

Sending a Message - Inside the Statehouse

These week, Institute staff worked hard to send loud and clear messages to members of the Indiana House of Representatives about the best (and worst) strategies to help struggling Hoosiers. Can you take three minutes TODAY to amplify the messages?


Indiana prides itself on being "business friendly," but that shouldn't extend to payday lenders who take advantage of financially distressed Hoosiers with 192% APR loans.

Senate Bill 613 throws the state's doors wide open to payday and subprime lenders. It guts our criminal loansharking statute, invites a 'new breed' of lender into our state, and raises the allowable costs and rates on many, many types of loans. It will put more Hoosiers at risk of default, bankruptcy, and foreclosure and strain the limited resources of neighborhoods, social service agencies, churches, and friends and family who ultimately support Hoosiers in financial crisis.

It has been called "the single most negative piece of consumer credit legislation" seen in Indiana in over forty years by a retired deputy director of the Indiana Department of Financial Institutions who now serves alongside the Institute as as an Indiana Assets and Opportunity Network steering committee member.

The Institute joined many other veterans' groups, faith leaders, social service agencies, and community groups at a press conference Monday to oppose the bill. You can read more about the press conference here, and see the media coverage to date on the Indiana Assets and Opportunity Network website. You can also watch Institute Senior Policy Analyst Erin Macey discuss SB 613 and the need for payday loan reform on WFYI's Indiana Lawmakers.

At the conclusion of the press conference, Tanya Bell, President and CEO of Indiana Black Expo, Inc. summed up SB 613 by saying, "Making loansharking legal under the guise of helping is absurd." We couldn't agree more.

AMPLIFY THE MESSAGE: Contact your House representative and tell them to vote no on SB 613. You can also contact Chairman Burton, who could single-handedly kill the bill by refusing to give it a hearing, at or 317-234-3827.


Senate Bill 440, which would give TANF its first eligibility and cost of living adjustment since 1988, received a hearing on Tuesday. Jessica Fraser, Director of the Institute, testified in support, noting that the program offers struggling Hoosiers a very limited window of assistance - two years in a lifetime - to get on their feet and in family-sustaining employment. But with eligibility and benefit levels that have eroded to 16% of the federal poverty guidelines, next to no-one can qualify for or benefit from the program.

SB 440 also received support from Covering Kids and Families, Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and Feeding Indiana's Hungry. Chairman Frizzell held the bill to seek answers to lingering questions about the use of federal TANF dollars.

AMPLIFY THE MESSAGE: Join us in using social media to share photos or favorite memories from 1988 to illustrate the need for change. Use the hashtag #TransformTANF.

ALSO, PLEASE HEAR SB 210 and HB 1141.

These two bills would make it easier for Hoosiers with suspended licenses to get back on the road with a valid license. SB 210 temporarily reduces license reinstatement fees and HB 1141 creates a traffic amnesty program for fines and fees. 

AMPLIFY THE MESSAGE: Contact committee chairs to ask that these bills receive a hearing. SB 210 has been assigned to House Roads and Transportation, Chair Holli Sullivan, 800-382-9841. HB 1141 has been assigned to Senate Tax and Fiscal, Chair Travis Holdman, 800-382-9467.


Earlier this week, we sent an appeal for donations to support our advocacy. It is your generosity that enables us to bring our research to the statehouse and call for change.

THANK YOU for your support of our efforts! 

Friday, March 15, 2019


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Calculate the living wage for 70 different family types in all 92 counties

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