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Category: In the News (page 1 of 15)

Home Cooking for Profit? Sure, Just Not in New Jersey

Via NYT

By: Amelia Nierenberg

Source: Jeenah Moon, NYT

FRANKLIN, N.J. — With just a little white chocolate and some sprinkles, Heather Russinko can make a wedding gown in under seven minutes. Give her five minutes more, and she can dress a groom, too. Three buttons, a bow tie, and a tuxedo swell over a round white chest.

 

Ms. Russinko uses dips and drips instead of pins and pleats to outfit the couple, who are cake pops, lollipop-size pastries made of batter and frosting. She has made beach-themed pops for a Sweet Sixteen party and lopsided, whimsical monsters with googly eyes for Halloween.

 

“If I could sell these at a Starbucks price, at $2.75 a piece? That’s his college,” said Ms. Russinko, 40, speaking of her 16-year-old son. “I want to be able to say, ‘O.K., Jared, you can go to college. Go ahead. You need money for books? Yeah, I have that right here for you.’”

 

But she lives in New Jersey, the only state where it remains illegal to sell homemade foods for profit, so she can only give away her creations or donate them to bake sales. If she tried to sell them, she could be fined up to $1,000. Every other state has dropped such restrictions.

 

“There’s this rogue law standing in my way and preventing me from earning an income,” said Ms. Russinko, one of three named plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state’s Department of Health. “It’s not like I am out there trying to sell drugs or do anything illegal. It’s a cookie. Or in my case, a cake pop.”

 

New Jersey’s sanitary code, like most states’, is derived from federal food laws based on a 1906 act; these codes have long excluded home kitchens from the definition of retail food establishments.

 

But one by one, states have eased those limits or enacted so-called cottage food laws, which allow the sale of homemade foods like breads, granola, dried herbs and jams. Many of these laws set a cap on annual gross sales and require that home kitchens pass safety inspections.

 

In just the last decade, 19 states and the District of Columbia have moved to allow sales of homemade foods, said Emily Broad Leib, the director of the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic and a lead author of an August 2018 report that documented a “dramatic increase in small-scale food production” nationwide.

 

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DeVos sued by students seeking college loan relief

Via Detroit Free Press

By: Andrea Perez Balderrama

Source: Zach Gibson, Getty Images

 

Former students of predatory, for-profit colleges are suing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, claiming the U.S. Department of Education intentionally refused to process their applications for federal loan relief.

According to the Huffington Post, DeVos halted the implementation of the Borrower Defense to Repayment regulation in June 2017, leaving the plaintiffs of the lawsuit, and many other students who were not listed, in crippling debt and without a clear path to financial recovery.

“It’s time to take a step back and make sure these rules achieve their purpose: helping harmed students,” Education Secretary DeVos said in a statement to CNN.

Alicia Davis a former student at Florida Metropolitan University, now Everest University, attempted to pursue a criminal justice degree from the university in 2006, oblivious to the fact that it was taking out loans in her behalf.

The school never made the cost of her education transparent, instead telling her not to worry, that everything would be covered by federal aid, grants and scholarships, said the Huffington Post.

Davis had to transfer schools after two years when FMU stopped communicating with her. She decided to go to the University of Central Florida, and when she finished her degree, she had accrued about $100,000 in debt, said the Post.

When Davis learned she couldn’t claim her debt from Florida Metropolitan University back, she decided to sue DeVos. But she is not the only student that has been affected by predatory universities taking out loans in their behalf.

“Literally 160,000-plus people cannot move on with their life because of this non-decision by Besty DeVos,” Davis told the Huffington Post.

The lawsuit, filed in June, claims DeVos is violating the students’ rights by not responding to their requests promptly while being aware of the harm the debt is causing.

“We’re suing Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education to hold them accountable and protect students across the country,” said Project on Predatory Student Lending  Director Toby Merrill in a news release.

Animal Law and Policy Clinic launches at Harvard Law School

Via Harvard Law Today

Credit: Chris Green
Rising 3L Boanne Wassink pets Charlotte, a rescued pig who was on campus for a screening of the documentary “The Last Pig.” Wassink will be one of the inaugural group of students working in the Animal Law & Policy Clinic this September.

Harvard Law School today announced the launch of the new Animal Law & Policy Clinic. Animal protection is one of the fastest developing areas of public interest law. Reflecting this interest, the number of schools in the United States offering Animal Law courses has increased dramatically from only nine institutions in the year 2000 to 167 such law schools today.

The Animal Law & Policy Clinic will provide students with direct hands-on experience in litigation, legislation, administrative practice, and policymaking, both in the U.S. and internationally. The clinic will work on a broad range of issues affecting farmed animals, wildlife, animals in captivity, and the overarching threat to all forms of life from climate change. Establishing such a clinic at HLS will leverage all of Harvard University’s institutional strengths and resources to develop creative strategies utilizing law, science, and public policy. These educational opportunities will enable Harvard Law School students to make crucial contributions to the field while HLS trains a new generation of leaders for the animal protection movement.

The clinic will be part of the Animal Law & Policy Program, led by Faculty Director Professor Kristen Stilt. Announcing the clinic, Stilt said: “The Animal Law & Policy Clinic at HLS will train and prepare our graduates to embark on careers in the animal protection field, produce impactful litigation and policy analysis to benefit the animal protection movement, and provide an internationally renowned platform for educating the broader public about the many pressing issues involving animal law and policy.”

The clinic will be led by Visiting Assistant Clinical Professor Katherine Meyer and Clinical Instructor Nicole Negowetti. Recent HLS graduate Kate Barnekow ’19 will be returning to serve as the first Clinical Fellow, and Sarah Pickering will be joining the team as Communications Manager for both the clinic and the program.

Katherine Meyer

Nicole Negowetti

The Animal Law & Policy Clinic’s inauguration is made possible by major gifts from the Brooks McCormick Jr. Trust, the Brooks Institute for Animal Rights Law and Policy, the Animal Welfare Trust, and other generous supporters.

“Animal law is a vitally important and rapidly growing field,” said Harvard Law School Dean John F. Manning ’85. “Our new Animal Law & Policy Clinic will  give students real-world experience in this burgeoning field, build on Harvard Law School’s long tradition of innovative pedagogy, and prepare future graduates to address significant societal challenges. I am delighted to welcome Katherine Meyer to the Harvard Law School community and congratulate her, Kristen Stilt, and Nicole Negowetti on the launch of this terrific initiative.”

Katherine Meyer joins HLS as one of the most experienced animal protection litigators in the country, having founded the nation’s leading environmental and animal public interest law firm 26 years ago. At Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks, Meyer developed a long track record of training many other leading attorneys now practicing in the animal protection movement––as she did while also teaching Civil Litigation and Public Interest Advocacy at Georgetown University Law Center.

“I am thrilled to become part of the team that is launching the new Animal Law & Policy Clinic at Harvard, and very much look forward to mentoring and working with HLS students to advance the very important cause of fighting for non-human animal rights, protection, and conservation,” Meyer said.

Richard Lazarus ’79, the Howard and Katherine Aibel Professor of Law, praised both Meyer’s experience and the contributions she will bring to students.

“This is truly thrilling news for our law students and for the entire law school community. Katherine Meyer’s contributions as a public interest lawyer and animal welfare advocate in Washington D.C. are legendary,” said Lazarus, who teaches environmental law at HLS. “She has been a consistent path-breaker and it is wonderful that Harvard Law students will now have the tremendous advantage of learning from Katherine in the law school’s new Animal Law & Policy Clinic.”

Nicole Negowetti is a nationally recognized food systems policy expert, and comes to the Animal Law & Policy Clinic from the HLS Food Law and Policy Clinic, where she was a clinical instructor and lecturer on law. Prior to that she was the Policy Director for the Good Food Institute and an associate professor of law at Valparaiso University. Negowetti has focused her teaching, scholarship, and advocacy on the impacts of industrial livestock production on animal welfare, the environment, and human health. In addition to her work at the Animal Law & Policy Clinic, she will also teach the reading group “Disruptive Food Technologies: Law, Politics, and Policy” in the fall semester.

“I am honored to help launch the Animal Law & Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School,” said Negowetti. “The clinic will provide outstanding training for a new generation of advocates as we identify and pursue high-impact legal strategies to achieve a resilient, healthy, and just food system—for the benefit of human and non-human animals alike.”

One of Negowetti’s current students said: “Nicole’s drive to help others and her unique background, particularly her expertise related to plant-based and cell-based meat regulation, make her an invaluable resource for students like me at Harvard Law. Nicole is patient and supportive of student learning, and has gone out of her way to serve as a mentor to me. It is great news that she will be joining the new Animal Law & Policy Clinic,” said Kelley McGill ’20, co-president of the HLS Animal Law Society.

As Gabriel Wildgen ’20, co-president of the HLS Animal Law Society, explained, “Having advocated for animal protection laws with Humane Society International for over six years, HLS was my obvious first choice because it was the only top law school with a program dedicated to animal law and policy. The world-class faculty and visiting fellows in the Animal Law & Policy Program have exposed me to cutting edge issues, enabling me to focus on my particular interest in the intersection between cruelty to farm animals and the food innovations that are making animal products obsolete. The new Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic will be another huge step forward for Harvard and for the field of animal law as a whole, and I am excited to be taking part in its groundbreaking work.”

The Animal Law & Policy Clinic will develop and strengthen synergies across HLS’s wide-reaching clinical program, given that many of the harmful impacts to animals from major commercial uses have adverse effects on a range of other public interest concerns, including environmental protection, labor rights, human rights, and other social justice issues. As one example, the externalities of industrial animal agriculture, such as air and water contamination, food safety risks, worker exploitation, and greenhouse gas emissions, present an opportunity for collective legal action by a consortium of affected constituencies. The Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic will be able to convene and represent a diverse coalition of stakeholders who are injured by such practices, and thus build a strong foundation for catalyzing change.

At the US Education Department, applications for loan forgiveness languish

Via CNBC 

By: Annie Nova

Source: Wikimedia Commons

When Morgan Marler’s 5-year-old daughter, Lilian, asks her why she doesn’t work anymore, Marler doesn’t know what to say.

“I can’t explain debt to her,” Marler, 29, said. “And how I went to school and it was all for nothing.”

Marler attended ITT Technical Institute, a now-shuttered for-profit school, between 2013 and 2016. The school has since been found to have misled students with false advertisements. Marler, for her part, was told students typically went on to make $70,000 a year. After she graduated, the best jobs she could find were at call centers that paid $10 an hour — less than she’d been making before she enrolled at the school.

Her associates degree at ITT left her with $30,000 in student loans, and she’s asked the Department of Education to cancel her debt, but has yet to hear back. That was nearly three years ago.

A federal judge ruled last year that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ delays of an Obama-era regulation aimed at forgiving the student debt of defrauded students were illegal. Still, advocates say, the department continues to neglect the applications of those like Marler.

More than 180,000 claims for student debt forgiveness remain “pending” and no borrower has had their request approved or denied in more than a year.

“The Department of Education under Betsy DeVos is just ignoring the claims,” said Eileen Connor, the director of litigation at Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending, which is currently suing DeVos. “These people can’t plan for the future.

“They’re losing faith in the government.”

Nearly 900 former for-profit school students recently described the consequences of their education to the Project in written testimonies. Their stories make clear that a few years at a bad school can cast a shadow over the rest of someone’s life.

More than two-thirds of the defrauded student debtors said they struggled to get a mortgage or auto loan, half of them said the uncertainty around whether or not their debt will be cancelled has caused them to delay marriage or children, and nearly all of them said their lives are worse off today than before they went to school.

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Island embraces Food Is Medicine state plan

Via MV Times 

By: Brittany Bowker

Courtesy of the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation

If nutritious food prevents chronic disease and promotes long-term health, why shouldn’t it be included in our healthcare plans? That’s the notion behind Food Is Medicine, a Massachusetts coalition dedicated to increasing access to vital nutrition services for every community in the commonwealth.

The coalition, which stems from a team at the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School, launched June 18, and aims to connect food and nutrition with health and wellness, as well as legislative policy. On Monday, representatives from Food Is Medicine met Island stakeholders at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital (MVH) to discuss goals, ideas, and initiatives.

“Food and nutrition are at the cornerstone of health and wellness,” said hospital CEO Denise Schepici to a group of about 30 gathered over lunch in the hospital’s community room. Representatives from Island Grown Initiative (IGI), the hospital, Island Health Care (IHC), Family Planning, Social Services, Elder Services, and the Island Food Pantry, among other invested community members, attended.

According to a study from the Greater Boston Food Bank and Children’s HealthWatch, food insecurity costs the state $1.9 billion in annual healthcare costs.

“The cost of the healthcare system increases as severity of food insecurity increases,” said Sarah Downer, primary author of the Food Is Medicine state plan. “If someone is in the hospital and they’re malnourished, it’s going to be more expensive to the system … We want to explore what role the healthcare system plays when it interacts with the food system.”

The Food Is Medicine coalition came up with four intervention initiatives:

    • Medically tailored meals designed by a registered dietitian to respond to a specific medical condition.
    • Medically tailored groceries, a package of nonprepared grocery items selected by a registered dietitian as part of a treatment program. The recipient is usually capable of picking up the food and preparing it at home.
  • Produce prescription/voucher programs for free or discounted produce distributed by healthcare providers to address a specific health condition. Redeemable at retail grocery stores, farmers markets, or CSA (community-supported agriculture) programs.
  • Population-level healthy food programs, where antihunger programs partner with healthcare providers to distribute healthy food to any patient regardless of health status.

The hospital and IHC, along with health providers across Massachusetts, have begun adopting these initiatives. The hospital has rolled out two food insecurity primary-care screening questionnaires developed by Hunger VitalSign and Children’s HealthWatch to identify young children and families who may need assistance, with inquiries like these:

  • Within the past 12 months, we worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more.
  • Within the past 12 months, the food we bought just didn’t last, and we didn’t have money to buy more.

“People are more frank when asked to answer a questionnaire,” said Aletheia Donahue, primary-care physician at MVH. “It’s an effective, validated screening tool where we can get data and compare it with other institutions.”

IHC is rolling out a similar screening questionnaire for all social determinants of health, according to Kathleen Samways, chief quality officer at IHC. “We know we have something really big to tackle,” Samways said.

Just this week, IHC launched a produce prescription pilot in partnership with IGI. Six chosen patients will receive free locally grown produce and free cooking classes.

“We’ll start getting a sense for the way these programs can influence blood pressure, weight, and shopping habits,” said Noli Taylor, community food education director at IGI.

“Patient profiles show the need is huge,” said IHC nurse practitioner Marcia Denine.

Food Is Medicine is also focused on getting food access resources ingrained in statewide healthcare systems. “We want to make sure healthcare providers are equipped with all the information they need to screen a patient for food insecurity,” Downers said. “It would be ingrained in the system. There would always be something in the community for the patient to be referred to.”

Taylor gave an overview of the existing food-equity services on Martha’s Vineyard. Among them are the Food Equity Network, a group of over 22 organizations focused on tackling food equity issues on the Island. There’s the Island Food Pantry, which doubled its number of clients between 2017 and 2018, and is seeing a 30 to 80 percent monthly increase in 2019, according to Island Food Pantry executive director Kayte Morris. The Island also has robust SNAP, WIC, and HIPservices. According to Taylor, more than 600 Islanders utilize SNAP, which represents a fraction of individuals who could sign up for those services. “More outreach and coordination are necessary, and I’m looking forward to being a part of that,” said Eve Gates of Dukes County Social Services.

The Island clergy are another robust food and grocery voucher distributor. Mandi Moran of the Good Shepherd Parish said they distributed 75,000 pounds of food in one year. There’s a food resource hotline, 508-693-7900, ext. 410, launched by Martha’s Vineyard Community Services in partnership with IGI. IGI’s gleaning program has collected and redistributed 25,000 pounds of produce from local farms, and 1,000 pounds of produce from grocery stores. IGI also has a processed-food programand a partnership with Kitchen Porch Catering to prepare and freeze food to make it easier for Islanders to eat. IGI is expanding its processing program with Camp Jabberwocky this winter. IGI also offers a free lunch program, and a year-round Mobile Market.

“Even though so many of us are working on this, we know we’re not reaching everyone,” Taylor said. “We’re excited to be working with the hospital and health center. Together we can have a stronger food-equity support structure, and our programs will be more impactful.”

“The hospital is committed to being a ‘Food Is Medicine’ leader,” Donahue added.

Food Is Medicine is working closely with state policy and legislation. “We’re in the business of making sure we’re on the agenda,” Downer said. Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, was supposed to appear at Monday’s gathering, but had a prior engagement. Cyr, who represents the Island in the state Senate, has been instrumental in getting Food Is Medicine through to policymakers, according to Downer. “In the healthcare legal and policy world, it’s hard to get people to pay attention until you have studies,” Downer said. “We now have bodies of emerging research showing things we’ve been witnessing.”

“This is all very heartening to me,” IGI executive director Rebecca Haag concluded. “The only way we start making a difference is if we collaborate and cooperate — just sharing information. Let’s get back together in a year and see how far we’ve come.”

Representatives Pingree and Newhouse Introduce Legislation to Standardize Food Date Labels

Via the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation

Last week, Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA) introduced the Food Date Labeling Act of 2019 (H.R. 3981), federal legislation to standardize date labels on food products. The Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) enthusiastically supports this legislation, which will reduce consumer confusion and food waste.

40% of food in the U.S. goes to waste each year, and confusion over date labels is a significant contributor to food waste. Currently, date labels are not regulated at the federal level. In the absence of federal legislation, manufacturers use a dizzying variety of date labeling phrases, most of which are meant to communicate when food will be at its peak quantity. However, many consumers misinterpret these date labels to be indicators of food safety, leading them to throw out food prematurely. Moreover, states have developed their own date labeling requirements, resulting in a patchwork system of inconsistent state laws.

FLPC has championed federal legislation to standardize date labels and alleviate this confusion since 2013 when we released our report, The Dating Game, in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). According to ReFED, standardizing date labels is the most cost effective solution to food waste.

Legislation to standardize date labels was first introduced in 2016, when Representative Pingree and Senator Richard Blumenthal introduced the Food Date Labeling Act of 2016. Date label standardization was also proposed in the Food Recovery Act of 2017. The Food Date Labeling Act of 2019 builds on these previous legislative efforts with changes that make the standards more flexible for food labelers.

Under the new legislation, manufacturers or retailers may choose whether or not to use date labels on food products. However, if they choose to use a date label, they must use one of two prescribed phrases. This gives industry the freedom to decide whether or not to use date labels on their products but still ensures that labeling language is consistent on food products across the country. If a labeler wishes to indicate a food’s peak quality, the labeler must use the phrase “Best if Used By.” If a labeler wishes to communicate when a food should be discarded for safety, the labeler must use the phrase “Use By.” These phrases are consistent with voluntary date labeling initiatives developed in recent years (discussed below), and a national survey shows that most consumers understand these phrases to convey quality and safety.

This legislation will address the current patchwork system of state-level date labeling laws by pre-empting any state labeling regulations that require alternative date labeling language. The legislation also bars any state-level prohibitions on the donation of past date food based on a quality date. This will help ensure that wholesome food can be donated to food rescue organizations. Finally, the legislation requires the creation of a national consumer education campaign to inform consumers about the meaning of the new standard labeling language.

In recent years, federal agencies and industry leaders have taken important steps towards standard date labeling language. On May 23rd of this year, the FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, Frank Yiannas, penned an open letter to the food industry encouraging the adoption of the standard term “Best if Used by” for quality dates on food products. This FDA recommendation mirrors USDA’s 2016 revised guidance, which similarly encourages the use of the phrase “Best if Used by” to indicate quality. Two years ago, the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) launched the Product Code Dating Initiative, a voluntary call to the industry to adopt standardized quality and discard date phrases. Federal legislation will bolster the success of these existing initiatives and allow for complete uniformity nationwide.

With so much recent momentum in support of standardized date labels, the time is now to pass legislation to establish a uniform national system. FLPC is pleased to support this bill, which will alleviate confusion over date labels and ensure that more safe, wholesome food gets eaten.

To follow the status of the legislation, click here. For Representative Pingree’s press release, see here.

How to balance safety and privacy with a car tracker

Via The Parallax

By: Kristin Burnham

Source: Pexels

Last month, North Carolina teenager Macy Smith credited a GPS tracker on her phone, along with a Bible within reach, for her survival after she lost control of her car during a heavy rainstorm. It hydroplaned, flipped, and slid down a ravine, pinning her below it. Hours later, her family used the Find My Friends app to pinpoint her location.

Smith, who suffered neck and nerve injuries from the crash, was lucky that her phone, which she couldn’t reach, had battery power, cellular connectivity, and an active location-tracking app that she’d shared with loved ones. For parents terrified about what might happen when their fledgling drivers hit the road without them, an always-on car-tracking device can help alleviate a fear or two.

By tracking details like location, speed, and sudden braking, these devices can help people keep tabs on where and how their cars are being driven, not to mention whether their teens are obeying curfews. On the other hand, privacy experts caution that car trackers can be used to stalk, intimidate, or otherwise invade drivers’ privacy.

“The No. 1 thing people should remember is that once data exists, it can be a challenge to keep it secure and private,” says Nate Wessler, staff attorney with the ACLU Project on Speech, Privacy, and Technology. “A long-term record over time can give away information about which doctors you visit, which people you spend time with, people’s love lives, and more.”

This data might be valuable to a number of parties: data brokers and marketers, which may gain access to it through corporate data-sharing partnerships; law enforcement agencies, which often (but not always) need to obtain a search warrant to access it; and hackers, who find ways to access it through unsecured cloud storage or data leaks.

“Individual location data is incredibly valuable to companies who are trying to serve up ads and do marketing analysis,” Wessler says. “People should not have their location data leaked in that way without express consent and full knowledge of what’s happening. Location data is part of a huge gray market of data brokers who are packaging it and reselling it to end users.”

Before purchasing a GPS tracker, Wessler advises gathering some data yourself. Read the company’s privacy policy for information on whether it resells or shares user data with third parties, how long it retains data, and what measures of security and privacy it has in place.

Another important consideration, he says, is the legality of installing such devices. According to a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures, it’s legal for individuals to install GPS tracking devices on vehicles they own, either as a private citizen or as an employer.

It’s generally illegal to install GPS-tracking devices on vehicles you don’t own, though you may be able to legally install one on the car of someone (like a child or an incapacitated adult) for whom you are a legal guardian.

The privacy and security concerns of these devices are not unlike those associated with mobile devices and vehicles’ built-in GPS capabilities, Wessler notes.

“Unless you turn these settings off, the phone you carry with you in the car is already tracking your location,” he says. “Modern cars have GPS-enabled systems with mapping functions. Think twice before purchasing other devices that do the same thing—but know that there are things you can do to help ensure that you data is safe.”

If you’re in the market for a car tracker, you might feel a sense of relief hearing that some of today’s best-selling devices (listed below) have a privacy policy that indicates safe data practices, including detailing security tools and disclosing how they use customer data. That said, the policies often prioritize corporate flexibility over technical specificity, says Kendra Albert, clinical instructional fellow at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic.

“Companies that have reasonably good practices for notifying consumers of privacy policy or terms of service changes tend not to make them incredibly specific,” Albert says. “Vagueness can provide companies flexibility to do legitimate things with data that consumers don’t need details on, such as switching from [Amazon Web Services] to another provider.”

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Ex-EPA Leaders: 1st Circ. Should Revive ‘Purge’ Suit

Via Law360 

By: Andrew Kragie

Source: Pexels

Five former senior U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials have backed a First Circuit appeal by scientists aiming to revive litigation against the EPA over what they call its 2017 “purge” of current EPA grant recipients from the agency’s advisory committees.

The former officials, who include an Obama-era acting administrator and a Reagan-era assistant administrator, argued in an amicus brief filed Thursday that the ban is preventing the agency from making decisions based on the best science available, as required by law.

The EPA under the Trump administration said when it announced the policy that it was needed to prevent conflicts of interest and ensure independence. But the agency veterans said in their brief that the true effect is to undermine a carefully calibrated diversity of viewpoints and give unrestrained influence to industry.

The order “tries to solve a problem that does not exist,” the former officials said, and “prevents some of the most qualified scientists from serving on EPA science advisory committees.” These boards do not award or control the grants, and their members are not compensated beyond travel expenses.

The ex-policymakers, joined by a former head of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, argued that researchers who receive EPA grants are not biased by the support. Rather, they said the recipients may well be the best candidates.

The agency’s highly competitive grants often go to leading researchers at the cutting edge of environmental science and its real-world applications, the former officials said. EPA-funded projects often yield publications that are cited widely in their fields, suggesting their originality and widespread impact.

The governmental veterans also asked why the agency could ban recipients of EPA grants while welcoming and promoting researchers who get their funding from industry groups, regulated companies or other sources that could theoretically pose conflicts of interest.

“The practical effect of the directive has been to make the science advisory committees less independent by increasing the representation of industry scientists,” they said in their amicus brief.

The six former officials are Bob Perciasepe, an acting administrator and deputy administrator from 2009 through 2014; Bernard Goldstein, an assistant EPA administrator under President Reagan; Lynn R. Goldman, an assistant EPA administrator from 1993 through 1998; Terry Yosie, the director of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board from 1981 through 1988; and David Michaels, who led OSHA from 2009 to 2017.

They wrote to support an appeal by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Elizabeth Anne Sheppard, a University of Washington scientist who left a project partly funded by the EPA to keep her seat on the agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. The plaintiffs were backed at the trial court by 10 state attorneys general.

The appeal comes after the lawsuit was dismissed in March by a Massachusetts federal judge who found that the EPA adequately explained the directive. U.S. District Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV also decided that the ban was not governed by other federal regulations on conflicts of interest.

The scientists argued in their appeal earlier this month that the ban failed “the most basic requirement” of the Administrative Procedure Act and that the lower court incorrectly decided the EPA’s directive was not reviewable.

Two similar lawsuits were dismissed in New York and Washington, D.C., federal courts.

The policy was first announced on Halloween 2017 by then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Pruitt resigned his post in July 2018 after a series of scandals and more than a dozen investigations into his actions. He was succeeded by his deputy, former coal-industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler.

Wheeler met with leaders of the Union for Concerned Scientists but kept Pruitt’s directive in place, according to Genna Reed, the nonprofit’s lead science and policy analyst.

Reed told Law360 that the former officials “understand both the value of the best available science (as well as how having) real, qualified experts serving on these advisory committees serves as a check and a vital accountability mechanism for our science agencies.”

The Harvard Law School attorney representing the ex-policymakers, Shaun Goho, emphasized that there’s a bipartisan outcry over science at the EPA, and across the Trump administration. Academic scientists have gotten more involved in the policy realm during the current administration, he said.

“They are speaking up for science and fact-based decision making,” Goho said. “I would hope that that is not a partisan issue.”

Counsel for the EPA declined to comment Monday.

The former officials are represented by Shaun A. Goho and Lynne I. Dzubow of Harvard Law School’s Emmett Environmental Law & Policy Clinic.

The scientists are represented by Justin Florence, Benjamin L. Berwick and Jamila G. Benkato of The Protect Democracy Project Inc., and Lindsay C. Harrison, Samuel C. Birnbaum, Zachary C. Schauf and Julian Ginos of Jenner & Block LLP.

The EPA is represented by Jeffrey E. Sandberg of U.S. Department of Justice‘s Civil Division.

The appeal is Union of Concerned Scientists et al. v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency et al., case number 19-1383 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

–Additional reporting by Juan Carlos Rodriguez, Craig Clough and RJ Vogt. Editing by Peter Rozovsky.

Correction: An earlier story mischaracterized a response from counsel for the former officials. The error has been corrected. 

Update: This story has been updated with comment from an attorney for the former officials.

FLPC Clinic Director Emily Broad Leib to be Featured in New Food Waste Documentary

Via Forbes

Food Law and Policy Clinic Director and Assistant Clinical Professor of Law Emily Broad Leib is one of six experts in food law that will be featured in a new documentary titled, “Robin Hoods of the Waste Stream.” The film will look into scalable solutions to the problem of food waste through interviews with a large cast of leading crusaders including Tristram Stuart, “the godfather of the food waste movement”, food waste warrior Dana Gunders, and Ben Simon of Imperfect Produce.

Read more about the documentary here.

The unpredictable legal implications of Trump’s Twitter-blocking defeat

Via The Verge

By: Adi Robertson

Source: Twitter

Earlier this week, a federal appeals court ruled that President Donald Trump couldn’t block his critics on Twitter. More specifically, the court determined that Trump’s Twitter account is a “public forum” where citizens have a right to engage with his comments, the same way they’d be able to attend a town hall. This ruling could shape how all government officials use social media — from the US president to local garbage collectors.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sued Trump in 2017, arguing that Trump had violated the First Amendment rights of seven Twitter users — all of whom had been blocked after tweeting criticism at the @realDonaldTrump account. The Knight Institute argued that Trump was preventing these users from participating in a public discussion since these discussions were taking place in replies to Trump tweets.

A lower court ruled in favor of the Knight Institute last year. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed on Tuesday, saying it was unlawful for “a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise‐open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees.”

As Cornell Law School professor James Grimmelmann puts it, “Of course Trump can say whatever he wants” on Twitter. And he can choose to boost specific posts by retweeting them. But he can’t make it harder for certain people to participate in the conversation around those tweets, which is exactly what blocking somebody on Twitter does.

Grimmelmann says the facts in this case were “particularly stark” since Trump clearly uses Twitter as an official White House communication tool. But it raises questions for other politicians and governmental agencies. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was recently sued for blocking Republican primary candidate Joseph Saladino, and courts will have to decide whether she’s created the same kind of public forum with her social media presence. “[Trump] made this a very easy case. It’s a harder question if a politician is using it to interact with the public but is not claiming to use it for official business,” he says.

Overall, “what this case pushes toward is a pretty strong separation of official and personal capacities,” says Grimmelmann. If you’re a politician maintaining a mostly campaign-focused or personal account, the ruling might not matter. Otherwise, “it pretty much tells you that your social media presence kind of has to be one-way: you can respond to interact with people, but you’re not going to be able to use anything stronger than muting on inbound content.”

Kendra Albert, an instructor at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic, believes the Second Circuit’s decision is unnecessarily ambiguous. The Trump administration has argued that its account is government speech, or speech that the government is performing on its own behalf, which isn’t regulated by the First Amendment. Albert argues that the original ruling clearly separated the account’s “government speech” content from the interactive forum in the replies. “The lower court decision actually does a really good job of explaining why it matters that people are blocked, even if they can just log out of Twitter and see the president’s tweets otherwise,” Albert said, “and it’s because there’s sort of this discursive space going on underneath the tweet.”

The new ruling refers to Trump’s whole account as a public forum, then draws finer lines between tweets that are government speech and independent tweets by other users. “I think it’s still a case that can be cited by plaintiffs in order to show that government officials can’t sort of just be willy-nilly blocking people from their official Facebook or Twitter pages,” Albert says. “But it’s certainly less clear than the district court opinion and it means they have to spend more time explaining why things aren’t government speech.”

Government accounts will need to block some users if they want to keep their digital spaces usable. The ruling doesn’t prevent this, but administrators will have to avoid doing it in a way that’s politically biased, which could lead to some difficult decisions. What if, Grimmelmann says, a municipal waste authority accepts comments on a Facebook page about trash collection? “Does this case now mean that they can’t remove comments screaming at them that recycling is a communist plot?” he asks.

The same difficult decisions could come up with harassment. “It may be difficult to ban or block someone for harassing you kind of generally, unless you have a sustained pattern of harassment,” says Albert. The best solution, they suggest, would be for officials to establish clear moderation rules that could be enforced across the board, the way a town hall could expel people who genuinely disrupt a meeting, even if they’re engaging in political speech.

There’s tension between First Amendment protections and social media moderation rules. White supremacist rhetoric is protected under American law, for instance, but it’s banned as hate speech on Facebook. Grimmelmann says that this speech could still be removed as long it’s based clearly on Facebook’s moderation guidelines, not the government’s.

Crucially, this case doesn’t discuss whether Twitter itself is a public forum or determine how Twitter can moderate users. It just rules on the actions that individual government-related accounts can take.

It’s also not the final say on government social media accounts. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in January that county officials couldn’t bar critics from their Facebook pages. But a different court has maintained that Kentucky’s governor can block constituents on Facebook and Twitter. “I think that as different circuits coalesce around a kind of collective test — or at least a way of handling things like Twitter and Facebook and maybe Instagram,” says Albert, “it’ll sort of become more consistent over time.”

Despite fears of raids, community advocates say now is the time for immigrants to step into Massachusetts courts

Via MassLive

By: Steph Solis

Despite mounting fears of raids, community organizers are urging Massachusetts immigrants to take advantage of a federal judge’s order that blocks immigration agents from arresting people at local courthouses, a move aimed to increase cooperation between witnesses or victims of crimes and local law enforcement.

It’s been a month since a federal judge authorized a preliminary injunction blocking Immigration and Customs Enforcement from arresting people at Massachusetts courthouses — one of few such restrictions on ICE arrests in the country.

But Yessenia Alfaro, deputy director of the Chelsea Collaborative, said she gets calls from local immigrants saying they’re afraid to go to court alone.

“Even though the order has taken effect, we still need to inform more of our community,” said Alfaro, who still gets calls from locals saying they’re afraid to go to court.

Alfaro still accompanies people to local courthouses despite the protections offered by the preliminary injunction.

The announcements about raids in recent weeks only confused immigrant communities more, prompting families to avoid appointments and church services.

Alfaro and other volunteers at the Chelsea Collaborative knocked on doors Monday night to pass out copies of the judge’s order and explain what it means to residents.

“We are organizing and mobilizing to go knock on doors and go door-to-door to give out information about their rights and about this order, so they’re not afraid to call the police, file wage theft complaints or tenant complaints,” she said in a Spanish-language interview.

John Willshire Carrera, co-managing director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic at Greater Boston Legal Services, passed out copies of the preliminary injunction during a “Know Your Rights” workshop last week at the Chelsea Collaborative.

“I think it’s important for people to know what their rights are, especially at this moment when people are so under attack, whether it’s for real or whether it’s rhetoric,” Carrera said.

Continue reading.

Student-loan borrowers demand justice from Betsy DeVos — ‘I don’t feel like I should pay for an education I never received’

Via MarketWatch 

By: Jillian Berman

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images
Source: Flickr

After years working in “dead-end” jobs, Morgan Marler decided to pursue a degree that would help her start a career working with computers.

In 2013, Marler enrolled at ITT Technical Institutes feeling convinced they’d help her land a job once she graduated. “They told me about the fact that they do career placement assistance for life,” she said.

After a few years of studying through pregnancy, the arrival of her daughter and the beginning of her daughter’s life, Marler graduated from the school in 2016 with an associate’s degree in information technology. But just a few months later, ITT shut down amid claims the school misled students about job placement and graduation rates.

Marler, 29, says she could feel that stigma on the job hunt. “I could tell that they held [ITT] against me and I never heard anything back from interviews,” she said. So even with her degree, she continued working as a manager at FedEx.

Finally, after struggling to manage the debt and doing some “soul searching,” Marler and her husband decided the best way for them to get on a path to financial stability would be for him to join the army.

“We couldn’t afford day care on top of the loans,” which stand at about $24,000 even after a couple of years of payments, Marler said. “Since I can’t really get a job doing what I wanted to do, I’m just kind of here raising my kid.”

Now Marler dreams of one day becoming a nurse, but she says she’s unlikely to pursue that path with the debt from her ITT degree still hanging over her head.

In November 2017, she filed a claim asking the government to wipe away her debt under a law that allows borrowers to have their loans cancelled if they’ve been defrauded by their school.

Nearly two years later, still waiting for an answer.

“I can’t even go back to school because I’m not even sure what the Department of Education is going to do with this loan,” she said.

Nearly 900 former for-profit college students filed testimony detailing their student-loan struggles

Marler is one of the nearly 900 student-loan borrowers who say they were scammed by their schools and are awaiting an answer from the Department of Education as to whether they’ll have their federal student-loan debt wiped away. These borrowers have been waiting an average of 958 days for a response.

In the meantime, more than two-thirds of these borrowers say they’ve struggled to get financing for a car or a home. More than 60% have delayed plans to return to school. In addition, more than 47% say they’ve put off a major life decision, like getting married or having children.

Perhaps most “alarming,” according to Eileen Connor, the director of litigation at the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School, which is representing the borrowers: 96% of these borrowers say they’re lives are worse off now than before they attended a for-profit college.

“It’s a wake up call for everyone about how we are managing the federal student-loan program,” Connor said. “It’s not what we like to think and what we tell people about how higher education will make your life better.”

The troubling picture comes as part of documents filed Tuesday in a lawsuit alleging that the Department and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos are illegally stalling on debt-cancellation claims. The suit, which was originally filed last month, is part of a broader years-long battle over a law known as borrower defense, which allows borrowers who have been scammed by their schools to have their federal debts forgiven.

The law, which has been on the books since the 1990s, was rarely used until 2015 when borrowers who attended the now-defunct, for-profit school, Corinthian Colleges, began clamoring for relief. In response to pressure from those debtors and a group of activists who organized them, the Obama administration created a process borrowers could use to file claims under the law.

The Department of Education under Betsy DeVos has tried unsuccessfully to rewrite the borrower-defense rules. In the meantime, a backlog of claims from borrowers has accumulated; government data indicate that the number of pending claims grew to more than 158,000 as of Dec. 31, 2018.

In the past, Department officials have blamed ongoing legal battles over the Trump administration’s approach to the borrower-defense rule for the delay in processing claims. After a for-profit college association sued the government over the rule, the Department under DeVos, delayed implementing the Obama-era regulation.

Last fall, a judge ruled the delays were illegal and that the 2016 law should take effect. The lawsuit filed by the for-profit college association is still pending, but the association has dropped all of its claims related to the debt-relief process.

“The only thing stopping the Department from finalizing thousands of these claims is the constant stream of litigation brought by ideological, so-called student advocate special interests,” Liz Hill, a Department spokeswoman, wrote in a June statement in response to the lawsuit.

Hill added that the Obama administration had “no real process” for reviewing the claims, which has contributed to the agency’s delay in reviewing the claims. “We have a responsibility to the taxpayer to ensure that claims are properly substantiated so that students receive the relief to which they are entitled,” Hill wrote at the time.

‘Overwhelmed by the response’

When they filed the lawsuit, lawyers from the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School and Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, who are representing the borrowers, provided an online form for those affected to submit testimony. In the roughly one month since, they’ve received 892 affidavits.

“I am personally overwhelmed by the response,” Connor said. “For people to take the time to submit this testimony really speaks to how important it is to them that people understand their situation.”

The documents paint a picture of a group of borrowers who took on loans to attend college in hopes of a better future only to wind up with debt and little benefit to show for it. Many of the affidavits mention how the debt has prevented them from making a major purchase, like a home or car, delayed life events, like marriage or children and made it more difficult or nearly impossible for them to return to school.

“I work constantly now in a job I hate that has nothing to do with the education I was trying to get and it leaves me no time to pursue the career I spent over $100,000 on an education that is now worthless,” wrote Brian Tracey, who attended the now-defunct Art Institutes. “I’m still trying to catch up to where I was financially just after leaving active duty military and before losing so much to this predatory school.”

“I work 13- to 14-hour days just to make sure I don’t end up homeless,” wrote Karli Cannon, who took on $80,000 in federal student loans to attend ITT. “I was told that an education would bring me a brighter future, instead it has ruined me.”

Other borrowers expressed a lack of faith in their government for allowing them to borrow funds to attend a predatory college and failing to make them whole after they say they were scammed. Nearly 85% of borrowers who filed testimony said they’d lost faith that the government will protect students.

“They claim I’m looking to dodge my responsibilities,” wrote Ashley Goodman, who took on more than $55,000 in federal student loans to attend the Art Institutes. “I don’t feel like I should pay for an education I never received. It would be like me driving a van, then the van was recalled and taken away by the company that provided it. But they still want me to pay for it, even though they took it away.”

For Marler, who was one of the nearly 900 borrowers to file an affidavit, submitting the document was one of the few avenues she had left to draw attention to the challenges she and other borrowers are facing, she said.

“There’s a lot of people that are in limbo like me that want to go on with their lives and do something with themselves,” she said. “But when you already have debt for something you can’t even use, it’s disheartening.”

Harvard Law School clinicians testify on legislation supporting tenants in eviction cases

Via Harvard Law Today 

By: Alexis Farmer

Credit: Lorin Granger
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh speaks in front of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

Four Harvard Law School clinicians—Esme Caramello, Patricia Whiting and Nicole Summers from the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB) and Shelley Barron from the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP)—presented testimony before the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary on a series of housing bills aimed at tenants facing eviction.

On July 16, the clinicians provided remarks in support of bills requiring tenants facing eviction to have a right to counsel and sealing eviction records. HLAB testified against four rent escrow bills. Nearly 100 people, including community organizers, legal aid lawyers, legislators, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh attended the hearing.

Right to Counsel

In 2018, more than 92% of tenants who faced eviction were unrepresented according to the Massachusetts Right to Counsel Coalition. Unable to afford an attorney, most tenants represent themselves, even though they are often unfamiliar with the legalese and processes of the court. Legal services organizations like HLAB, TAP and the Housing Law Clinic at the Legal Services Center (LSC) fill in the gap by providing pro bono representation to tenants, but they say their limited capacity constrains them from taking on the number of clients that request their services.

Credit: Lorin Granger
Clinical Instructor Shelley Barron testifies in front of the Joint Committee of the Judiciary. Seated to her right is Annette Duke, Staff Attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.

Rep. David M. Rogers (D-Middlesex), Rep. Chynah Tyler (D-Suffolk),and Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) are sponsoring bills that would ensure the right to counsel in eviction proceedings. If a tenant cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for them, similar to defendants in criminal cases. Studies in Massachusetts and other stateshave shown that tenants with representation have a better chance of reaching agreements with landlords to stay in their homes and avoid having an eviction on their record.

Also in favor of the resolution was TAP Clinical Instructor Shelley Barron. She told the committee, “low-income tenants should have a fair and meaningful chance at preserving their affordable housing. The right to a legal advocate will go a long way to ensuring access to justice for low-income tenants in the Commonwealth.” She also stated lawyers can help tenants before problems escalate to the point of court intervention.

Credit: Lorin Granger
Nicole Summers (right) testifying in front of the Joint Committee of the Judiciary. Seated to the left is Andrea Nickerson, a tenant in Boston public housing.

Challengers questioned whether the state should be funding legal representation for one side of the case. Supporters argued that the bill includes provisions for low-income landlords to have a right to counsel. Barron says, “A right to counsel is not the only policy option to help keep families housed, but studies have indicated it is a concrete way to reduce homelessness. It’s also a matter of dignity, of ensuring that vulnerable tenants have a voice in an overwhelming and imbalanced system.”

Mayor Walsh urged the committee to look seriously into the legislation, stating that, “this is not about stacking the deck in favor of a tenant, it’s about ensuring equal justice under the law.” HLAB Clinical Instructor Nicole Summers suggested a plan of implementation to ensure courts and legal service providers have time to adjust.

Other bills that ensure a right to counsel include H. 1537 and S. 913.

The HOMES Act—An Act Promoting Housing Opportunity and Mobility Through Eviction Sealing

The HOMES Act (H.3566/S.824) sponsored by Rep. Michael J. Moran (D-Suffolk) and Sen. Joseph Boncore, (D-Suffolk and Middlesex) would seal eviction proceedings. In a study by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) at least 1 million eviction cases have been filed in Massachusetts since 1988. The records of those eviction cases remain online forever, regardless of the outcome.

Credit: Lorin Granger
Clinical Faculty Director and Clinical Professor of Law Esme Caramello testifies in front of the House Judiciary Committee.

Credit: Lorin Granger
Andrea Park, Staff Attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.

The “Scarlet E,” as it’s known, is said to create barriers to housing, allowing prospective landlords to reject potential tenants. Records of an eviction can also impact tenants’ credit scores, their ability to secure loans, and employment opportunities. The HOMES Act would seal eviction cases once they are filed and would only be unsealed when a judge makes a ruling and finds fault, such as if a tenant has failed to pay rent or violated a condition of their lease. Eviction case records would be publicly available for three years then sealed. Sealed records could be released for governmental, journalistic, or research purposes. The bill would also make it illegal to name minors or others not responsible for rent as a defendant in an eviction case.

Mayor Walsh, Boston City Council Representative Lydia Edwards, the ACLU of Massachusetts, community organizations like the Chelsea Collaborative and even a few landlords supported the bill. Tenants and lawyers shared experiences about the damaging consequences an eviction record can have on finding new housing for veterans, domestic violence survivors, individuals with disabilities, college-bound students, and low-income women of color. Esme Caramello, Clinical Professor and Faculty Director of HLAB, pushed the urgency of the issue, calling it an “an invisible crisis.”

Opponents say that eviction records hold important information for landlords about the past behavior of potential tenants. Landlords in favor of the bill listed alternative ways of getting the same information to check the credibility of potential clients, such as a credit checks. Caramello says the act would protect tenants from being unfairly branded with an eviction record for the rest of their lives. “The idea is that even if we made a mistake or fall on hard times, we can move on with our lives at some point,” she told the committee.

Rent Escrow

Clinical Instructor Pattie Whiting spoke out against four rent escrow bills being considered by the committee, including one sponsored by Nicolas Boldyga (R-Hampden). Massachusetts law allows tenants to withhold rent when the landlord fails to make necessary repairs or address sanitary code violations. The statute that the mandatory rent escrow bills seek to amend, is a crucial tool for ensuring that residential rental properties are kept in habitable condition, Whiting said. As currently written, the statute provides both a mechanism for tenants to enforce the State Sanitary Code and a disincentive for landlords to let properties fall into disrepair.

Whiting argued that the proposed legislation imposes additional and unnecessary procedural prerequisites on tenants seeking to withhold rent and/or raise their poor living conditions as a defense to an eviction action. For example, requiring a board of health inspection report prior to withholding, requiring a second written notice to the landlord after the board of health inspection, and escrowing all of the rent claimed to be due by the landlord. “The vast majority of tenants would not be able to comply with these procedural requirements,” Whiting said, “particularly those who are disabled, illiterate or who do not speak English.” If a tenant failed to comply with the law as proposed, they would be denied the right to present their case in court, which advocates say undermines the statutory intent of ensuring that residential dwellings are maintained in habitable condition.

A Large Base of Support

Barron left the hearing hopeful. “Often for housing legislation, we’re playing defensively…but today we were pushing for exciting innovations and trying to improve access to justice for low-income tenants,” she said. Barron and Caramello were both encouraged by the large turnout of tenants, community groups, and government officials. Caramello noted, “The packed hearing highlighted the urgency of the work of building fairness into our lopsided eviction system.”

The committee will decide which bills will be reported out of the committee and advance to the floor for a vote. The last day for the formal session of the legislature is November 20.

Student Loan Borrowers Sue Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Via Legal Reader

By: Ryan Farrick

Source: Flickr

The lawsuit accuses DeVos and her Department of Education of intentionally and illegally ignoring tens of thousands of loan forgiveness applications.


Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is being sued by defrauded student loan borrowers who claim the federal government isn’t taking their forgiveness applications seriously.

CNN reports that more than 150,000 such applications are still pending. Some student loan borrowers have waited years for debt relief, with no end in sight.

So, on Tuesday, seven debtors opted to file suit against the Department of Education. All of them attended for-profit colleges, some of which charged tremendous amounts of money for sub-par educations and self-accredited degree programs.

“Department officials have not offered a timetable for reviewing these applications. It’s becoming very clear that they’re not treating them in good faith,” said Eileen Connor, legal director of the Harvard-affiliated Project on Predatory Student Lending.

The PPSL, adds CNN, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the seven borrowers.

The Education Department purportedly stopped processing applications under orders from DeVos.

DeVos—an outspoken proponent of for-profit colleges—has been rewriting and trying to reconfigure Obama-era regulations since she took office. She’s already succeeded in loosening some restrictions on private schools, including rescinding a requirement that for-profit institutes publish figures showing the average salaries and career outcomes of graduates.

So far, the courts have sided with plaintiffs. In October, a federal judge—responding to a lawsuit backed by 19 attorneys general—blasted DeVos’s application freeze as “arbitrary and capricious.”

That judge ordered the Education Department to resume processing forgiveness applications. But the agency didn’t budge—CNN says data indicates that no claims were reviewed or approved through the end of last year.

Furthermore, Connor claims there’s no reason to believe that the department made substantial progress this year, either.

Toby Merrill, the PPSL’s director, suggested the delays may be illegal.

“The law is clear: Students who experienced fraud should not be required to pay back federal loans that should never have been made by the Department in the first place,” Merrill said.

CNBC spoke to one victim of fraud, Brandon Schultz.

In 2008, Schultz decided to begin taking classes for a graphic design degree. He enrolled in an online program at the Art Institute of Pittsburg, a for-profit school that’s been the source of many ‘borrower defense’ forgiveness applications.

“I wanted to get into a field I enjoyed,” Schultz told CNBC. “The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, it sounded fancy.”

But Schultz found the classes were mediocre and low-quality—instruction seminars on how to use basic classes, rather than an in-depth exploration of graphic design.

After graduating, Schultz couldn’t find a job. His education and his degree didn’t prepare him for the kinds of common tests design firms give prospective employees.

However, he still owed nearly $100,000 to the Art Institute—and he’s struggled repaying that on a far smaller salary than he’d hoped to get.

Schultz filed a forgiveness application in 2015, but the Department of Education has yet to make a decision.

“It’s scary,” Schultz said. “All I can do is wait for the government to give me some type of judgment.”

Courts cleared way for student debt relief; 180,000 people still waiting for answer

Via Longview News Journal 

By: Danielle Douglas-Gabriel

Source: Creative Commons

Courts have sided repeatedly with student loan borrowers demanding that the U.S. Education Department process their applications for debt relief, yet more than 180,000 people are still waiting for a decision. Now, some of them are again turning to the courts for help.

On Tuesday, seven borrowers sued Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her agency after the department didn’t take action on their applications, some of which have languished at the agency for years.

The Education Department did not respond to requests for comment.

The federal agency has not approved or denied an application for debt relief in a year. People familiar with the process, who were not authorized to talk publicly and so spoke on the condition of anonymity, said more than 180,000 applications for debt relief are sitting at the department. Nearly 10,000 of them were filed more than three years ago.

“It’s not like they’re working through the backlog and it’s just taking time,” said Eileen Connor, an attorney representing the borrowers. “The department doesn’t think they have to do anything with these claims, and that’s why people are coming forward. What they want is for the court to tell the department: ‘You have to do something. You can deny them. You can grant them. But you have to do something.’ “

A 1995 law, known as “borrower defense to repayment,” gives the Education Department the authority to erase the federal debt of students whose colleges defrauded them. The Obama administration updated the regulation to shift more of the cost of forgiveness onto schools, after the closure of for-profit giant Corinthian College ushered in a flood of claims.

DeVos delayed and then suspended the implementation of the rule. The education secretary had said about the rule: “All one had to do was raise his or her hands to be entitled to so-called free money.” Then, the department began using earnings data to grant partial loan forgiveness to former Corinthian students.

Those actions resulted in federal lawsuits and subsequent judicial rebukes of the Education Department. Still, court orders blocking the Trump administration’s approach have yet to yield much for borrowers.

Instead, the department is using one of those orders as a rationale for not moving forward on mounting claims. Diane Auer Jones, the department’s principal deputy undersecretary, told lawmakers in April that a court decision barring the use of earnings data to award partial relief to former Corinthian students had hamstrung the agency.

“We are not able to determine the level of harm or level of relief a borrower should get, because the methodology we have used is being blocked by a California court,” Jones said at a House Oversight and Reform subcommittee hearing.

As a result, Jones said, the department could not commit to a timeline for processing applications. People familiar with the discharge applications say nearly 23,000 are teed up for loan cancellation.

Connor, director of litigation at the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard University’s law school, argues that the court injunction does not prevent the Education Department from creating a new methodology to deny claims or grant full relief. The Project on Predatory Student Lending brought the California case.

Applicants have endured long waits that, for many, started under the Obama administration. One of the plaintiffs in the case, Jessica Jacobson, submitted her claim against the for-profit New England Institute of Art in 2015. The school was the subject of state investigations into alleged misleading and aggressive sales tactics before it stopped enrolling students in 2015.

Another plaintiff, Tresa Apodaca, submitted her application for debt relief a month after Corinthian closed its doors in April 2015. She amassed $30,000 in federal loans to attend Corinthian’s Heald College, where she said she was told that 98% of graduates landed jobs in their fields. The Education Department cut off Corinthian’s access to federal funds because the school lied about job placement rates.

There are consequences for those languishing in debt relief limbo. Although the federal government is supposed to grant temporary postponement of loan payments while applicants await a decision, Connor said some of her clients are still receiving bills or having their wages garnished.

Even if the Education Department began processing the backlog of claims in earnest, the agency would need far more staff members to handle the volume. The borrower defense unit, responsible for reviewing claims, had six full-time employees in June 2018, when there were nearly 100,000 claims pending review, according to court documents. Several contractors are assisting, but their duties are limited.

The Education Department no longer consults with state attorneys general who supplied some of the evidence needed to process claims against Corinthian, they say. The department could process claims faster, they say, if it reestablished lines of communication. But for now, everything remains at a standstill.

“It’s outrageous that the department is ignoring these claims,” said Connor, who is working alongside Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, a nonprofit legal service, on Tuesday’s lawsuit. “Borrowers have rights. They’re invoking their rights, and the government isn’t responding to them.”

State rules would limit eligibility for medical parole for seriously ill prisoners in Massachusetts

Via MassLive

By: Shira Schoenberg

Door marked treatment room in hallway of old institution.

Source: iStock

Since Massachusetts created a medical parole program in April 2018, the state has approved only four requests to release terminally ill prisoners. Now, new rules being considered by the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security could limit the pool of eligible prisoners even further.

Speaking at a public hearing on Monday, Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, called a proposed new standard for eligibility for medical parole “extremely high” and “so unreasonably restrictive” that most prisoners with serious, debilitating medical conditions would be barred from it.

Eight state senators, led by Sen. Pat Jehlen, D-Somerville, wrote to Public Safety Secretary Thomas Turco asking him to change the proposed regulations. “It is very disappointing that these regulations appear to make it very difficult if not almost impossible to fulfill the intent of the law,” the senators wrote.

The medical parole law was passed as part of last year’s comprehensive criminal justice reform bill and went into effect in April 2018. The Department of Correction issued an initial policy in August 2018. In May 2019, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security proposed new regulations to govern the program, and instituted them immediately as “emergency” regulations.

The law says prisoners can be eligible for medical parole “due to a terminal illness or permanent incapacitation.” In both cases, the illness or disability must be “so debilitating that the prisoner does not pose a public safety risk.”

The criteria proposed by the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security say the condition must be so severe that the person is “permanently incapable of committing a crime,” and that the condition requires the prisoner to be placed “in a specialized medical setting for long term care.”

Matos, several professors and attorneys and Deborah DiMasi submitted testimony to the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security opposing this definition. DiMasi is the wife of former House Speaker Sal DiMasi, who received medical release from federal prison.

They wrote that the standard is so high that it could, in theory, bar a quadriplegic from parole because if he has minimal use of his hands, a friend could give him a gun and he could pull the trigger.

The advocates also note that all four of the people approved for release so far on medical parole were to be released to hospice home care settings, not long-term care facilities. (One prisoner died before he was released.) It is also hard to place a prisoner in a nursing home.

“The practical effect of this requirement will be to virtually eliminate an entire category of prisoners from release on medical parole including those similarly situated to the only four individuals to have been released under the statute,” Matos and the advocates wrote.

Jehlen, who helped craft the medical parole law, and the other senators wrote that this definition “significantly warps the clear words of the statute and is a substantial threat to the public policy goals of releasing incapacitated and dying inmates into appropriate, less costly care settings.”

Felix Browne, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, said the purpose of the regulation “is to ensure the consistent administration of the medical parole statute through the application of uniform terms and processes,” and the final language of the regulation has not yet been determined.

“Monday’s hearing was part of the public process to consider comments on the proposed regulation, and all feedback to date will be considered as that work continues,” Browne said.

Both the senators and the prisoners’ rights advocates also object to additional bureaucratic hurdles placed on prisoners seeking medical parole.

For example, the rules require the Parole Board to approve any medical parole applications, rather than just the commissioner of the Department of Correction.

They place the burden on the prisoner to develop a medical parole plan, rather than on the Department of Correction.

“These are people who are incarcerated, debilitated or dying, often without access to the outside contacts who could help develop the plan,” Jehlen wrote in a second letter, which she submitted by herself in addition to the one signed by the other senators.

Tatum Pritchard, director of litigation for the Disability Law Center, says the regulations may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act in several ways. For example, they do not provide any way to help prisoners with disabilities apply for medical parole.

Several advocates noted at the hearing that prisoners with serious illnesses are the most expensive to care for and the least likely to reoffend.

Joel Thompson, supervising attorney at the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project, said for the elderly, the infirm, and those with dementia or serious illness, “Jails and prisons aren’t well designed for them. Not even close.”

Thompson said the proposed definition would exclude someone who is bedridden but could still commit a crime, like fraud. It would exclude someone with dementia who could still eat and go to the bathroom by themselves. “It’s so onerous, it’s hard to imagine who would qualify,” he said.

All the ways student debt exacerbates racial inequality — ‘it’s like landing in quick sand’

Via MarketWatch 

By: Jillian Berman

Eileen Connor, the director of litigation at the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School talked to MarketWatch, about the predatory tactics used by for-profit colleges to target students of color and explained the disparate student-loan repayment outcomes between black and white students.

“If you take, on the one hand, the knowledge that there’s targeting and disproportionate enrollment in for-profit colleges of people of color,” Connor, said. “On the other hand, you look at traditional higher education and you see that access is limited in numbers to those same groups — that’s the whole puzzle right there.”

 

Amanda Kool On Solving America’s Rural Justice Gap

Via Law360 

By: RJ Vogt

Amanda Kool left her dream job at Harvard Law School to tackle America’s rural access to justice gap from Bracken County, Kentucky.

Amanda Kool remembers listening to her law school peers describe their “average middle class” backgrounds during icebreaker sessions at the beginning of her first year.

“My mom lived in the trailer park and my dad did transient farm work and other side businesses,” said Kool, who grew up in rural Kentucky. “I was like, wait, was that not middle class?”

The moment was just one of the many times Kool has noticed the rural-urban divide that permeates the legal community.

She knows the chasm well, having grown up and gone to college in Kentucky before attending law school at Northeastern University, working in the corporate sector at Nixon Peabody LLP and spending five years running the Community Enterprise Project, a clinical program at Harvard Law School.

While at Harvard, she helped shift the clinic’s focus from primarily serving tech startups to serving more small, local community enterprises that needed help with business, finance and other transactional legal matters.

The post also gave her the opportunity and the platform to research more about the access to justice gap that the rural-urban divide can exacerbate in places like her home state.

The research and the project combined to convince Kool to give up her “dream job” and go back to Kentucky, where she could have a greater impact.

Now, she and her family have traded city life for a house and a yard in Bracken County, population 8,000, big-box retailers 0. As director of legal operations at the Lexington-based Commonwealth Commercialization Center, she’s applying her experiences in Boston to a statewide $1.2 million-plus project that aims to use Kentucky law schools to pair high quality legal services with local businesses.

She’s also helped start the Alliance for Lawyers and Rural America, an initiative geared toward facilitating conversations, ideas, information and resources at the intersection of law and rurality.

Law360 caught up with Kool at the Equal Justice Conference in May, hosted in Louisville by the American Bar Association and National Legal Aid and Defenders Association. She described how moving to rural America can be a key step in providing access to legal services where it’s needed most.

You’ve said your new project in Kentucky stems from some of the work you did at Harvard’s Community Enterprise Project. What’s the connection?

Back in the mid-’90s, Harvard Law School had put together a program called the Community Enterprise Project to help people start small businesses and nonprofit organizations.

It was located out in the community at the Legal Services Center in Jamaica Plain, but in the late 2000s they brought it back to campus — in Harvard Square essentially. When I came on board in 2012, the Community Enterprise Project was rebranded as the Transactional Law Clinic. Instead of mom-and-pop businesses, low-income people, communities of color, immigrants … it was more high-tech startup types.

That work was really relevant to our students, who were going on to work at large firms in New York. But there was this entire other set of needs and people that wasn’t being served because we were no longer in those communities — and they were not getting onto train lines to come to us at campus.

I started to find these students who were social justice-minded and transactionally-minded. I started exploring more about worker cooperatives and community land trusts. We started going back to the community again: one day a week, and then it was two, and over time we built this program with a waiting list and a reputation.

What’s an example of one of the community projects that grew out of the law clinic?

The first one came along kind of organically: we called it the Food Truck Project. It was right after the city of Boston had permitted food trucks for the first time and said, you know, “we’d like to have more of these.” The city worked with Harvard’s Food Law and Policy Clinic and came up with a permitting regime.

And our clinic just naturally started seeing people saying, “I’m going to start a food truck, will you help me form an entity? Will you help me register my trademark?”

I said, well, these people have all of these other needs, too. They need to maybe finance the truck. They need to get the truck inspected. They need to have a relationship with the commissary kitchen.

What if we connected with all of those people and put together a toolkit and a training program that was like Food Trucks 101, with all the legal stuff you need to know in one place?

What made you think about going back to Kentucky?

There were certain hurdles. It’s really hard for me to help grow my clients’ business when someone just bought their building and wants to triple their rent, right? And because I come from here [Kentucky], I’m always thinking about what’s happening in other places — here, people are seeing things like falling property values as a bad thing. Where I was sitting, I saw it as an opportunity.

Secondly, I was working in a place where transactional legal services were available, basically, across the spectrum: there were clinics like mine, law firms getting involved, incubators … and I was looking at my home state of Kentucky and saying, “we have one pro bono transactional services provider in the entire state?”

And then, being at a law school, I had connected with a number of students at Harvard Law School, especially in the wake of the election, who were very catalyzed by the justice gap and access to justice. When you don’t have access to a system that works for you, you kind of pull away from that system and you no longer even see yourself as a part of it.

There was only so long I could sit in a place like Cambridge, Massachusetts, and say “people should go practice in rural places” before it was time for me to do it.

How is it different, doing what you do at the CCC in Kentucky as compared to what you did at Harvard, in Boston?

In the city, entrepreneurship is not necessarily economic development. Whereas in Kentucky, those things are much more closely aligned, which is why I’m attracted to it.

And when we talked about doing that as a state, it took me a matter of two to three months to be talking in person with the Kentucky Bar Association, with the people at law firms doing this work, with the heads of the three law schools, etc.

Within the first four months in my job, we were all sitting at the same table talking about how we work together as a state. There were three law schools talking about how they develop programming that all of their law students can enroll in and participate in together.

You can’t pull that off in other markets.

What would you say to other people who might consider working on access to justice in a rural area?

If you are a creative, innovative or proactive thinker, rural communities are for you. There’s so much room for really creative, exciting stuff to happen. You can’t invest in the city is as well as you can in rural places.

I loved Boston. I loved Harvard Law School — wouldn’t change a thing. But I’m so glad to be here. I’m not going anywhere.

HIRC Calls on Inter-American Human Rights Commission to Investigate Mexico for Rights Violations at Border

Via the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

Source: Pixabay

Last week, the Clinic and five other groups filed a request to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, demanding that they investigate the Mexican government’s complicity in the illegal practice of “metering,” under which thousands of individuals seeking asylum in the United States are forced to wait for prolonged periods in limbo in Mexico. This practice stands in violation of various treaty obligations, including the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. The request was jointly filed with the Border Rights Project of Al Otro Lado, Alma Migrante, A. C., Programa de Asuntos Migratorios y Posgrado de Antropología de la Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de México-Tijuana, and Families Belong Together Mexico.

Numerous organizations have documented the attacks on asylum seekers waiting at the border, to which Mexican authorities often turn a blind eye. The hearing request catalogs a host of rights violations along the U.S.-Mexico border, including:

  • a gay couple from Honduras in Nuevo Laredo who were kidnapped, beaten and threatened;
  • a 17-year-old Honduran boy who was attacked at knife point;
  • Guatemalan transgender women who were detained by police in Tijuana;
  • a woman from Honduras who was struck in the head and knocked unconscious; and,
  • A Salvadoran man who was deported from Piedras Negras by Mexican authorities without being informed of his right to seek asylum.

“The practice of metering entry into the United States has placed asylum seekers from Mexico at an increased risk of persecution, torture, or even death, as they wait in limbo at the border,” said Sabrineh Ardalan, Assistant Director at HIRC. “It also exposes asylum seekers from Central American countries, including Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, to deportation by Mexico back to the countries they originally fled, often in fear for their lives.”

In the hearing request, HIRC and the five signatories urged the Commission to schedule site visits on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border to monitor the treatment of asylum seekers and called on Mexico to adopt legislative and administrative changes to ensure due process and safeguard the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.

Wis. Man Liable for Tax After Ex-Wife’s Theft, 7th Circ. Told

Via Law360

By: Yvonne Juris

A Wisconsin military veteran should not get relief from tax liability on income his ex-wife embezzled, since he must have known of the ill-gotten funds after she was arrested, convicted and jailed, the government told the Seventh Circuit.

Rick E. Jacobsen is seeking so-called innocent spouse relief for taxes, interest and penalties owed on the embezzled income for 2011. His claim that he lacked actual knowledge of crimes committed by his ex-wife, Tina Lemmens, does not hold water since Jacobsen had access to bank statements showing the embezzled money, the U.S. said. The actual knowledge legal standard is used to determine whether a person must have been aware of a specific act.

Lemmens, an accountant, already had been convicted in November 2011 and incarcerated for embezzling close to $500,000 from her employer before the pair, who were still married at the time, filed their joint income tax return for 2011.

Jacobsen’s contention that it would have been “fruitless” to look at the bank statements because the ill-gotten funds had been disguised as legitimate should be rejected, the U.S. said, since Jacobsen had access to all related tax forms and bank statements and could have tracked down which funds were embezzled.

His additional argument that he did not know the “precise amount” of embezzled income was likewise meritless, since he could have also determined that with relevant bank and tax statements, the U.S. said.

“A man who knows that his wife has been convicted of embezzling large amounts, and who has access to bank statements showing the deposits of the embezzled income, cannot avoid the conclusion that he ‘knew or had reason to know’ about the embezzled income,” the U.S. said.

Jacobsen, a factory worker who also ran a joint home inspection business with Lemmens, had argued on appeal from the U.S. Tax Court that he had no background in accounting or finance and that he wouldn’t have been able to tell which funds were embezzled and which were legitimate. Since he lacked the financial savvy to use joint bank statements to determine what funds were ill-gotten, he did not posses actual knowledge of the embezzled money, which entitled him to spousal relief for 2011 under Internal Revenue Code Section 6015(f) , Jacobsen argued.

Jacobsen, who has post-traumatic stress disorder and experienced a mental breakdown following Lemmens’ arrest and their divorce, claimed he was unaware of her scheme until her arrest in June 2011, according to court documents. While his business income went into their joint account, his wages as a machine operator went into a separate personal checking account. He never reviewed bank statements and left it up to his wife to manage their finances, he said.

Jacobsen requested spousal relief for tax years 2009 through 2011 but the IRS denied the request in 2015, according to court documents. He sued in Tax Court later that year. The court found he was exempt from taxes for 2009 because the debt owed for that year had been discharged in bankruptcy, according to court documents. The court also found he was eligible for innocent spouse relief for 2010, but ruled that he did not meet the threshold for spousal relief for 2011 since he had actual knowledge of the stolen funds by that time.

In arriving at a decision for the 2011 year, the Tax Court found that out of the seven factors that determine eligibility for relief, four were in his favor, including compliance with income tax laws in later years, a divorce from the spouse who embezzled and poor mental and physical health. The other two — economic hardship and legal obligation — were deemed neutral. However, the Tax Court found that his knowledge of embezzled income that should have been reported on the 2011 return outweighed the other factors.

Carlton M. Smith of the Federal Tax Clinic at Harvard Law School, who represents Jacobsen, told Law360 that the lower court put too much weight on the actual knowledge factor in light of the fact that Jacobsen qualified for four of the seven factors and that the original purpose of spousal relief was to offer protection against a spouse who fails to report embezzled funds.

“The taxpayer concedes that the court is not bound to consider all factors as having the same weight, and that even as many as two or three positive factors can be outweighed by one negative factor,” Smith said. “However, the taxpayer argues that four positive factors can’t be outweighed by one negative factor when there are only seven factors.”

The U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment.

Jacobsen is represented by T. Keith Fogg and Carlton M. Smith of the Federal Tax Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School.

The IRS is represented by Bethany B. Hauser of the U.S. Department of Justice, Tax Division.

The case is Rick E. Jacobsen v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, case number 18-3371, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

–Additional reporting by Vidya Kauri. Editing by Robert Rudinger.

Read more at: https://www.law360.com/articles/1174833/…

Revolutionizing the food systems in Israel and U.S.

Via YNet News 

By: Sarah Vorsanger

Source: Pexels

Education is an essential way to make the general public aware of the food they are eating. School children in Israel are learning healthy, fun eating habits from an early age by growing their own vegetables in newly implemented school gardens and learning healthy recipes from older students that they can make with their parents at home.

Professor Emily Broad-Leib, Director, Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard University was the keynote speaker at a lecture regarding food systems and strategies given at Tel Aviv University in May.

“This is the beginning of an opportunity to share ways the U.S. and Israel are similar and different in food strategies,” says Broad-Leib. The various initiatives to grow food in schools shows the “level of thoughtfulness and sophistication in Israel” that could be brought to the U.S., says Broad-Leib. These new programs have a long lasting societal impact on children in a way that shows them the need to make conscientious and healthy food based decisions.

Dr. Efrat Oron, the Director of Research & Outreach of the Manna Center Program for Food Safety and Security at Tel Aviv University, defines the food system as “the entire envelope from designing, producing, storing, packaging, distributing, consuming, and wasting of food.”

Maya Oren, Program Director of the Manna Center, adds that “to think of the food system in a circular way is a new concept that is only about 15 years old.”

Regulating the food systems

“From my time here, what I am seeing on food policy and matters, in general, is that there are more similarities than differences,” says Broad-Leib.

Growing environmental and health concerns are forcing us to change how we interact with our food system, but this comes with its own challenges. In the U.S., many government offices have different roles in the food system, but since they are isolated from one another, they lack communication, and their oversight is inconsistent and insufficient.

Israel has similar issues when it comes to communication. Oron explains that ministries should communicate and reach agreements together, however, they are not.

According to Professor Ronit Endevelt, Nutrition Division Manager of the Ministry of Health and lecturer in the School of Public Health at Haifa University, who was also presenting at the lecture, it takes a lot more time and work to pass new laws with today’s government.

Professor Nir Ohad, head of the Manna Center, explains that in Israel, “there are closer connections to agriculture since we evolved as an agricultural country. Agriculture is in the DNA of the society.” He adds that there is a “tight link between what we produce and what we eat.”

He notes that Israel’s food system is only independent when it comes to fruits and vegetables.

National food strategies

Israel, like the U.S., is a melting pot. However, according to Broad-Leib, the U.S. does not have a healthy, native cuisine that ties its people together as the Mediterranean diet does for Israelis. Therefore, it is harder to find common ground when explaining what Americans should and should not eat.

The National Nutrition Security Council under the Ministry of Welfare, works with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to collect food waste from the industry. The name of this council, according to Oren, is misleading.

“The scope is extremely limited since they are dealing with poorest people in Israel. Their focus is a very ‘now’ approach, which is not looking to solve food security. This is not a food systems approach,” she says.

There is not much oversight in the foods delivered in food baskets to those in need. While the basket provides overall sufficient dietary quality, Ohad, Oron, and Oren agree that the food baskets may not be the healthiest or culturally appropriate.

“This is where the Ministries of Health and Welfare butt heads,” say Oren and Oron.

Why do we care?

“Food is a powerful topic. Everyone has an opinion on food because everyone interacts with the food system on a daily basis,” says Broad-Leib.

There has been an increase in diabetes, obesity, and heart disease in both the U.S. and Israel. Trends in the U.S. show that as household income decreases, money spent on food increases.

In Israel, Endevelt attributes these health risks to the fact that families are not cooking. She also says that since the cost of fruits and vegetables has increased by 45% while ultra-processed foods are cheap, these unhealthy foods are the main nutritional problem in Israel.

Environmental impacts are also prevalent. Broad-Leib mentions that the agricultural industry uses 70-80% of the water in the U.S., while 20% of this water goes to watering crops that will eventually be thrown away.

Since a third of the greenhouse gases emitted in the U.S. comes from this industry, the third best way to reduce this is by cutting down on food waste. Right now 30-40% of food all food is wasted in both the U.S. and Israel.

Improvements to the food system

As Director of the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, Broad-Leib aims to make policy changes to the food system in the U.S. by educating law students on how to write legislature and providing legal advice for companies regarding food. She also launched the academy of food in law and policy.

During her time director, she and her students have helped farmers receive subsidies and support from the government as well as improve bills to reduce food waste.

“Last year’s U.S. Farm Bill had nine food waste provisions, and seven of those were written by us,” says Broad-Leib. “Policy takes time, but we have had a lot of success,” she added.

In Israel, an initiative recently passed that will implement healthy foods in schools starting next year. Endevelt explains that this was a difficult law to pass because all the food contracts had to be canceled. “These old contracts focused on food safety, but now they will also provide healthy food too,” she says.

Other recent initiatives include nutrition guidance and monitoring at Well Baby Clinic nationally, healthier options in vending machines at hospitals, and incentivizing Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) to provide nutritional education for selected groups.

In 2020, the Ministry of Health will put red stickers to all products in Israel that have a high amount of sugar, sodium, and/or saturated fats, and green stickers to healthier food options. Endevelt hopes that consumers will choose healthier products, and companies will change their recipes if their product has been given a red sticker.

What else should be done?

Since it is easy for people to turn a blind eye to the food that they eat, Broad-Leib encourages the use of media outlets to promote policies pertaining to the food system, whether it is about food waste or utilizing resources sustainably.

Sustainability is a necessity of the food system. “You can’t give someone advice on food without including this concept,” says Broad-Leib.

“If we don’t tend to a more sustainable food system (i.e., increased pay and livelihood of farmers and workers in the industry), more people will be food insecure in the future.”

“It is a challenge to integrate these kinds of programs because a decision has to be made where to impose an increase in the price of sustainable foods,” says Professor Dov Chernichosky, Chair of the Israeli National Nutrition Security Council.

Student loan borrowers who say they were defrauded sue Betsy DeVos for failing to cancel their debt

Via CNBC

By: Annie Nova

More than 150,000 former students of for-profit colleges filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday, claiming the agency is depriving them of the student debt relief to which they’re legally entitled.

The plaintiffs, represented by Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending and Housing & Economic Rights Advocates, accuse the Department of Education under DeVos of failing to implement an Obama-era regulation known as “borrower defense, ” which allows students to have their federal student loans cancelled if their school misled them or engaged in other misconduct.

“The law is clear: Students who experienced fraud should not be required to pay back federal loans that should never have been made by the Department in the first place,” said Toby Merrill, director of Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending.

Around 160,000 people have filed claims with the government that their school defrauded them, and new applications continue to pour in. Almost all of these complaints concern for-profit schools, of which there are some 7,000 around the country and which take in around 15% of government financial aid.

However, student loan borrowers have found themselves waiting without answers. The Department of Education hasn’t approved or denied a borrower defense claim since June 2018.

An audit in 2017 by the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General found that government staff working on borrower defense claims had been instructed not to submit any additional applications for approval.

A federal judge ruled last year that DeVos’ delays of the borrower defense regulation were unlawful. Still, advocates say the agency continues to neglect the applications.

Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said the agency stands ready to process borrower defense claims.

“The only thing stopping the Department from finalizing thousands of these claims is the constant stream of litigation brought by ideological, so-called student advocate special interests,” Hill said.

Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, says the Department of Education needs to proceed with these applications as quickly as possible.

“These folks need relief desperately,” Nassirian said. “Their lives are on hold.”

One of those people in limbo is Brandon Schultz, who decided to finally pursue his dream of becoming a graphic designer in 2008. He enrolled in the online division at the Art Institute, one of the for-profit schools that has produced a slew of borrower defense claims.

“I wanted to get into a field I enjoyed,” Schultz, 38, said. “The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, it sounded fancy. ”

He was disappointed to discover how basic the classes were. “It was just a bunch of beginner lessons on how to use these programs,” Schultz said. “I never did any graphic design work.”

He says communication with professors was sparse and his time with the school’s tutors was strictly limited. “I could only talk to a tutor for so long until they cut me off,” he said. “A lot of them couldn’t really speak English.”

Schultz went on interviews for graphic design positions, but said he was unprepared for common job tests such employers assign.

Today, he strings together a living through odd jobs, including painting and landscaping, and says there’s no way he can repay the nearly $90,000 he owes for his time at the Art Institute. He makes less than $20,000 a year.

He filed a borrower defense application in 2015. The Department of Education tells him his case is still undecided.

“It’s scary,” Schultz said. “All I can do it wait for the government to give me some type of judgment.”

2 Mass. Women Among Those Suing U.S Education Dept. To Force Action On Student Debt Relief

Via WBUR 

By: Kathleen McNerney

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies before the House Education and Labor Committee at a hearing on ‘Examining the Policies and Priorities of the U.S. Department of Education’ on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
Source: Flickr

class action lawsuit filed in California Tuesday claims the U.S. Department of Education is “intentionally” not processing debt relief claims by students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges.

“They don’t have any timetable to resolve these claims and it’s pretty clear that they don’t have any intention to,” said Eileen Connor, legal director for the Project on Predatory Student Lending at the Legal Services Center at Harvard Law School, which brought the suit with the California-based legal service organization Housing and Economic Rights Advocates.

The suit names seven plaintiffs, including two from Massachusetts, who filed for debt relief under the so-called “borrower defense” rule. It allows borrowers to request federal loan forgiveness if their school was found to be fraudulent. The suit claims the department has not processed a single claim since June 2018, leaving more than 160,000 borrowers in financial limbo.

A spokesman for the Department of Education initially refused comment Tuesday, but issued a statement from press secretary Liz Hill on Wednesday.

“The only thing stopping the Department from finalizing thousands of these claims is the constant stream of litigation brought by ideological, so-called student advocate special interests,” Hill’s statement said. It went on to say, “We have a responsibility to the taxpayer to ensure that claims are properly substantiated so that students receive the relief to which they are entitled.”

At a congressional hearing in May, the department’s principal deputy undersecretary, Diane Auer Jones, testified that the backlog was due to a 2018 federal court ruling that blocked the administration’s methodology for calculating how much debt should be forgiven for each student.

Connor said the delays are devastating for the students.

“Every day that goes by they’re being harmed even more. They can’t engage in normal financial transactions. Their credit is ruined,” she said. “They’re not able to pursue actual education that will give them job training … because of these bad student loan debts.”

The two Massachusetts women among the named plaintiffs are 35-year-old Jessica Jacobson of Lunenberg and 37-year-old Chenelle Archibald of Worcester.

According to the suit, Jacobson completed a media arts and animation program at the New England Institute of Art in Brookline in 2008. The school stopped enrolling students in 2015, and Jacobson filed a “borrower defense” claim to relieve approximately $25,000 in federal loans.

The Department of Education has not ruled on Jacobson’s case. The suit says her credit has been “destroyed” and her federal loans have grown to more than $35,000. (The U.S. Department of Justice reached a $95.5 million global settlement agreement with the school’s parent company, Education Management Corporation, in 2015 over consumer fraud and other allegations.)

Archibald graduated from Salter College, a two-year college in West Boylston, in 2010. She borrowed over $20,000 in federal loans, and has struggled to pay them back. The suit said she “cannot financially plan for her future because of the uncertainty of her debt” and that getting a car loan was a challenge. (The Massachusetts attorney general reached a $3.75 million agreement with Salter’s parent company, Premier Education Group, in 2014 over misrepresentations to enrolling students.)

“They aren’t asking for a handout. They aren’t asking for a policy change,” Connor said of the plaintiffs. “They’re asking for the current law to be followed with respect to their student loans.”

This post has been updated with a statement from the U.S. Department of Education, which was provided on Wednesday, after publication.

 

Real Estate Boom Threatens Rooming Houses At The Bottom Of The Housing Market

Via WGHB

By: Chris Burrell

Source: iStock

A hot real estate market in Boston and surrounding cities is fueling rent hikes and evictions in what has long been one of the cheapest housing options in poor neighborhoods — rooming houses.

Housing advocates say rooming houses — also known as SROs, meaning ‘single room occupancy’ — are a vital source of affordable shelter for minimum-wage workers, the elderly and people with disabilities or mental illness. But as urban real estate values surge, some investors and property owners are raising rents, evicting tenants and trying to shift away from low-income residents.

“People are being thrown out, and that’s happening across the city, because these properties are now so valued,” said Eloise Lawrence, an attorney at Harvard Law School’s Legal Aid Bureau who has defended tenants. “What was once considered housing at the last resort is now seen as desired and profitable.”

It’s not clear whether the number of rooming houses in the Boston area has declined over time, because city agencies don’t keep accurate historical records of such properties, but the New England Center for Investigative Reporting found many cases of rooming houses being sold and tenants displaced or under threat of eviction.

Read the full story here.

Press Release: For-Profit College Students File Lawsuit to Force Betsy DeVos to Follow the Law and Cancel Their Student Loan Debt

Via the Project on Predatory Student Lending

Over 158,000 students of abusive colleges applied for loan cancellation, yet the U.S. Department of Education has been refusing to process any of their claims for over a year, with some students waiting over four years for action

The Project on Predatory Student Lending is calling for students still waiting for debt relief to submit written testimony in the lawsuit

BOSTON, M.A. – [On June 25], 158,110 defrauded former for-profit college students filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos seeking to force the agency to follow existing law and issue the debt relief to which the former students are entitled.

Under existing law, students and former students are eligible for federal loan cancellation if the college misled the students or violated state laws relating to the students’ education—as is the case for all the colleges these former students received loans to attend.

The former students are pressing Secretary DeVos and the Department to follow the law and immediately process their claims for debt relief. The Department has not processed a single claim in over a year and many of these students and former students have been waiting over four years for resolution. The Department’s inaction comes after it issued these predatory loans in the first place, using taxpayer dollars, and despite known fraudulent conduct by for-profit colleges.

The case, Sweet v. DeVos, was filed today in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California in the San Francisco Bay Area. The plaintiffs, represented by the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard’s Legal Services Center along with Housing & Economic Rights Advocates (HERA), are suing on behalf of a class of more than 158,000 former students who have filed applications for borrower defense to repayment. As the complaint states, the Department of Education is intentionally ignoring students’ borrower defense claims, has taken no action to resolve them, and in many instances, forcibly collects loans in spite of the students’ claims that the loans are not valid.

“We’re suing Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education to hold them accountable and protect students across the country,” said Project on Predatory Student Lending Director Toby Merrill. “The law is clear: students who experienced fraud should not be required to pay back federal loans that should never have been made by the Department in the first place. Since Betsy DeVos continues to ignore these students’ legal rights, the only way they can have their voices heard is through the courts.”

Jessica Jacobson, one of the named plaintiffs, submitted her borrower defense claim in 2015 after being scammed by the for-profit college, New England Institute of Art. She is still waiting for her $30,000 in federal loans to be cancelled.

“This has put my whole life on hold. I can’t sign for home, a car, anything because I don’t know what’s going to happen to this debt. It’s extremely stressful and impacts my whole family,” Jacobson said. “It’s beyond disappointing. The Department of Education did nothing to stop these schools from doing this in the first place and now they are ignoring those of us who were cheated on their watch.”

“The Department of Education has knowingly enabled for-profit colleges to defraud students,” said Eileen Connor, Legal Director at the Project on Predatory Student Lending. “It recklessly continued to act as a loan broker for disreputable schools despite clear records of abuse and misconduct, and now the Department refuses to acknowledge the damage it has done by issuing these predatory loans to students, at taxpayers’ expense. With this lawsuit, we will hold Betsy DeVos accountable and deliver justice for those students awaiting debt relief.”

“The Department has a duty to act on behalf of the countless Americans, including dozens of HERA clients, who have been defrauded by predatory for-profit schools,” said Natalie Lyons, Senior Attorney for Housing & Economic Rights Advocates. “Rather, the Department is abdicating its duty while thousands of individuals struggle under the weight of burdensome student loan debt and without the benefit of a credible education to advance their lives and the lives of their families. We’re taking this action, because of the Department and Secretary DeVos’ failure to do so.”

In addition to filing suit, the Project on Predatory Student Lending is calling on students—specifically those who were cheated by for-profit colleges and are awaiting the Department’s decision on their borrower defense claims—to support the litigation and share with the court the countless ways they have been hurt by the for-profit college industry and the Department. Students can supply written testimony in this lawsuit by filling out a simple online form here.

Click here to view quotations from students across the country who were defrauded by for-profit colleges, as well as statements of support for today’s litigation from organizations and elected officials.

Currently, 45 million Americans have nearly $1.6 trillion combined in student loan debt, depressing the economic progression of families and the broader economy. Today’s lawsuit addresses the most pernicious type of student loan debt—the kind made to students at abusive for-profit colleges. The Department of Education issued these loans despite glaring indicators that the schools would do nothing but rip off students. Ultimately, the students are paying the price for a worthless degree that has failed to improve their lives, and in many cases, has caused severe personal and economic setbacks. For-profit colleges account for 13 percent of the student population, but 47 percent of federal loan defaults. And 98 percent of all loan cancellation applications sent to the federal government in 2016 and 2017 were due to fraudulent for-profit colleges.

Background on the Case:

Over the past several decades, hundreds of thousands of students borrowed federal student loans to attend various for-profit colleges, including ITT Technical Institute, Corinthian Colleges, the Art Institutes, the New England Institute of Art, Salter College, Brooks Institute of Photography, and more. The schools falsely and deceptively promised students high-paying jobs, state-of-the-art vocational training, and long and fulfilling careers.

Since 2015, over 200,000 of these former students have asserted their right according to existing federal law to a complete discharge of their federal student loans due to their schools’ misconduct. As it was legally obligated to do, the Department of Education started to adjudicate these borrower defenses, approving nearly 28,000 borrower defenses in the six-month period before January 20, 2017.

Since then, under Secretary DeVos’ tenure, the Department of Education halted all processing of borrower defense claims. It has refused to adjudicate any borrower defense from any student since May 2018, and has ordered the office of Federal Student Aid (“FSA”) to stop processing any borrower defense application.

The Department of Education’s affirmative decision to keep these students in limbo—some for over four years—has further destroyed students’ credit and limited their access to federal student aid. For students who have defaulted on their loans, the Department of Education has invoked extraordinary extrajudicial powers to garnish their wages or seize their tax credits (for many, their Earned Income Tax Credit).

Named Plaintiffs bring this lawsuit under the Administrative Procedure Act on behalf of themselves and all other former students whose claims for loan cancellation have stalled.

Today’s lawsuit builds on past legal efforts to hold this administration accountable and protect students through court action. In the case of Williams v DeVos, students fought back against having their tax refunds stolen by the Department of Education, and won. In the case of Calvillo Manriquez v DeVos, students stopped the Department from using its illegal partial denial rule. And in Bauer v DeVos, a judge told the Department  of Education that it must implement the 2016 Borrower Defense rule.

About the Project on Predatory Student Lending

Established in 2012, the Project on Predatory Student Lending represents former students of predatory for-profit colleges. Its mission is to litigate to make it legally and financially impossible for federally-funded predatory schools to cheat students and taxpayers.

The Project has brought a wide variety of cases on behalf of former students of for-profit colleges. It has sued the federal Department of Education for its failures to meet its legal obligation to police this industry and stop the perpetration and collection of fraudulent student loan debt.

About HERA

Housing and Economic Rights Advocates (HERA) is a California statewide, not-for-profit legal service and advocacy organization dedicated to helping Californians — particularly those most vulnerable — build a safe, sound financial future, free of discrimination and economic abuses, in all aspects of household financial concerns. It provides free legal services, consumer workshops, training for professionals and community organizing support, creates innovative solutions and engages in policy work locally, statewide and nationally.

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Are Americans Getting Enough Fiber?

Via Harvard Law Today

By: Elaine McArdle

Susan Crawford, author of “Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution-and Why America Might Miss It”
Credit: Dana Smith

Imagine an internet connection so fast and clear that all the musicians in an orchestra can play their instruments from their own homes in perfect time with colleagues scattered across the country. Imagine students in a tiny rural school taking high-level science classes taught by expert teachers 2,000 miles away, with such visual clarity that they can participate in real-time scientific experiments.

That level of internet connectivity is standard in South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sweden and China. But internet service in most parts of the U.S. continues to be slow, unreliable and expensive. Because of a series of telecom policy decisions, the U.S. is falling further and further behind other nations, with a host of serious implications that affect not only the economy, education, health, and well-being but also the fabric of democracy, says Susan Crawford, clinical professor at Harvard Law School.

On the national level, almost no one is paying attention, says Crawford. And she is out to change that.

Fiber optic technology, which results in dazzlingly fast and reliable internet connectivity, should be available at a low price to everyone in the U.S., just as it is in other countries, argues Crawford in her latest book, “Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution—and Why America Might Miss It,” published this year by Yale University Press. The contemporary notion of a decent, thriving life “requires a persistent, cheap data network that reaches everyone”—and that means fiber optic technology for everyone, she says.

“Fiber optic plus advanced wireless is going to be the place where all the new industries for the next 100 years are born, where all the new jobs, all the new ways of making a living, come to being,” says Crawford, who served as special assistant for science, technology and innovation policy for President Barack Obama ’91. “We need it—now—to make sure we have a world-class health care system, the best education for our children and the ability to cope with climate change.”

In the near future, fiber access will be available in 68% of Asia. Meanwhile, due to the deregulation of the telecom industry, the U.S. lags far behind in this critical technology, says Crawford: In terms of average download speed, the U.S. ranks 25th out of 40 nations that are in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Fiber connects American cities, but only about 13% of individual homes and businesses, mostly in very affluent places, have fiber optic connections—what’s called “last-mile fiber connectivity.” Most Americans get their internet from a single provider, typically one of five companies that control high-speed internet access. These companies have no incentive to upgrade to fiber.

“We are really not in the game,” says Crawford. Internet providers “have divided markets very successfully. They can charge whatever they want for the services they provide. We’ve got a really stagnant, noncompetitive market.”

But her book is not about technology but rather progressivism, and it tells a story of hope, she stresses. Electricity was once controlled by a few companies and available only to the wealthy. It took “enormous local courage” and the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in the face of incredible opposition, to make sure that everyone, despite economic status, received it. Fiber is equally astonishing in what it offers for improving lives, Crawford says, and similarly should be regarded as a public good, a utility service to which every American is entitled.

Susan Crawford tells the stories of localities in the U.S. that have sidestepped powerful forces to bring fiber to their residents.
Credit: Melissa Beck

Crawford places her focus on human stories, including those drawn from the successes of 800 plucky localities in the U.S. that have sidestepped powerful forces to bring fiber to their residents: places like Chattanooga, Tennessee, and rural Minnesota, where 27 tiny townships created a fiber services cooperative to bring first-rate, affordable internet service to farms. It makes good sense at every level, Crawford argues. While costly to install, once laid in the ground, fiber is infinitely upgradeable, and because the lines can be shared by numerous operators, service prices are competitive.

“Localities are just sick of being bossed around. So that’s why they’re building their own networks,” she says. The big internet providers have successfully supported laws in 19 states that now prohibit local governments from supporting fiber optic build-out, arguing that internet service should be a private enterprise. But that’s misleading, Crawford insists—the utility lines themselves should not be controlled privately but instead should be shared by as many service providers as want to jump in, thus driving prices down. The issue of fiber optics “may be highly partisan at the federal level, but at the local level it’s just people wanting everybody to lead a decent life. This really is the seeds of what we’re seeing across the country, this sort of movement toward ensuring that people get their basic needs met at a reasonable cost.”

Crawford, who wrote “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age” in 2014, launched her current book project around the same time during a trip to South Korea, where she witnessed the enormous digital divide between that country, where fiber connectivity is pervasive, and the U.S. A visit to Stockholm shortly afterward drove the point home, during which the mayor asked Crawford how Sweden could help the U.S. get on board with fiber optics in order not to drift into irrelevance. She traveled to Tokyo, Oslo, Hong Kong, and Singapore, which all have 100% fiber adoption, to find out why connectivity was so available and so cheap, with typical prices of $25 to $40 a month.

By contrast, American telecom and cable companies, with no incentive to support fiber technology, are strongly opposing it, including by trying to confuse the issue, she says. For one thing, they are promoting 5G wireless service, the latest generation of cellular mobile connection, as an alternative to fiber. In fact, 5G depends on fiber lines in order to work, Crawford explains, and 5G won’t function in rural areas because it would require cell towers every 200 feet, which is extremely expensive. “It is in their interest not to have people fully understand this issue,” she says. And as the local communities have taken matters into their own hands, the industry has fought back hard.

Crawford got encouragement in her research from then-HLS Dean Martha Minow, who recognized the social justice implications of telecommunications policy. Another supporter, Professor Yochai Benkler ’94, faculty co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, praises her book. “At this moment in American history, [as we are] facing a deep loss of trust in government and good governance, Crawford’s rich case studies of municipalities that have overcome destructive corporate lobbying to deliver for their citizens is a lesson we all need,” he says.

A key part of the story is that China is planning to connect 80% of their homes and businesses to fiber very soon. Moreover, China is loaning $68 billion to other countries for infrastructure and soon will be touching 65% of the world’s population and 40% of the world’s GDP, Crawford says. She’s hoping that awareness of China’s primacy in this arena “will be a Sputnik moment” for national attention in the U.S. “American companies will have no leverage to be part of that market, won’t be able to reach that global population, and we seem to have no response to that in this country,” she says.

But the U.S. won’t get a massive upgrade to fiber unless there is a concerted effort at the national level. The FCC, she says, should set fiber as the standard for all citizens, so they enjoy opportunities for education, jobs and health care.

“Human decency is at our core and should be attached to our policy,” says Crawford, whose next project is addressing the effect of rising sea levels in Charleston, South Carolina, which poses essentially the same question: What is the role of local government in solving major problems?

While the issue of fiber optic connectivity is urgent and the challenges significant, Crawford is optimistic. “America has saved the world from tyranny,” she says. “We built a transcontinental railroad system. We built the federal highway system. We built the Hoover Dam. Americans are capable of this,” she stresses. “And we can turn quickly to projects of national importance. It’s just that we’re a bit in the dark right now about this one.”

LSC Housing Clinic student helps win precedent-setting case for domestic violence survivors facing eviction

Via Harvard Law Today

WilmerHale Legal Services Center’s Family Law and Housing Clinic attorneys Maureen McDonagh and Julia Devanthéry, with Emily Mannheimer ’19. The LSC team helped win a precedent-setting case for domestic violence survivors facing eviction.
Photo courtesy of the Legal Services Center

A recent Massachusetts court case spearheaded by clinical students and teachers at the WilmerHale Legal Services Center(LSC) has created important new protections for survivors of domestic violence. Working in LSC’s Housing Clinic, Emily Mannheimer ’19 represented a woman who had been evicted from her apartment for not paying her rent after she had been physically abused and robbed by her partner. Mannheimer worked with the client for three semesters, first in the Eastern Housing Court, then to appeal the case to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals, and finally through hearing at the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (SJC).

Just days before Harvard Law School graduation in May, the SJC ruled in favor of Mannheimer’s client, holding that the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) protects tenants in federally subsidized housing from eviction when the cause is tied to their domestic abuse. The court’s ruling in Boston Housing Authority v. Y.A. also held that a domestic abuse survivor can invoke VAWA protections even if he or she reveals the abuse late in the eviction process or after defaulting on an agreed upon payment plan, and that it doesn’t matter when or how the survivor alerts the court and the landlord that she is the subject of abuse.

The new precedent reduces the risk that domestic violence will lead to eviction and homelessness, a decision that has vital implications for survivors of domestic violence who are facing eviction in Massachusetts and across the nation.

“Staying housed has helped our client and her two children heal and take important steps towards freedom from abuse,” said Julia Devanthéry, lecturer and attorney in LSC’s Housing Clinic, the lead attorney on the case. “This terrific result reflects the incredible work of many great advocates—including our stellar and devoted clinical student, Emily Mannheimer—and a very brave client.”

In addition to representing Y.A. during Housing Court hearings, Mannheimer drafted motions and portions of the appellate brief, and was responsible for primary client contact and client support at each stage of the process.

“Being able to work on the same case for three semesters, and build such a meaningful connection with a client and have such a positive outcome was a great experience,” said Mannheimer. “The Housing Clinic, and particularly the work the clinic does on behalf of domestic violence survivors, is so important.”

When Mannheimer picked up the case, the client had already been fighting to keep her home since 2014 when Y.A. first received an eviction notice for nonpayment of rent. Y.A.’s abuser subjected her to physical and emotional abuse and stole the income she earned from her job. Y.A. had made attempts alone to negotiate repayment of back rent – but her abuser stole her rent money, putting her in violation of an agreed-upon settlement.

At a hearing in the Eastern Housing Court in January 2018, where she was facing immediate eviction and was unrepresented by an attorney, Y.A. explained that domestic violence caused her to fall behind on her payment plan. Nevertheless, the judge granted the Housing Authority’s motion to forcibly remove Y.A. from her home. In doing so the judge ignored a key provision of VAWA, the landmark 1994 law, which includes protection for tenants and applicants of federally funded subsidized housing from denial of housing or eviction from housing “on the basis that the applicant or tenant is or has been the victim of domestic violence.”

LSC began representing Y.A. after she lost her case in Housing Court and helped her appeal the decision. The SJC took up the appeal of its own accord, and the case received national attention, with 14 advocacy groups filing amicus briefs in support of the survivor. Oral argument was held on January 7, 2019.

The SJC’s May 10, 2019 decision was unambiguous, declaring that: a survivor may raise a VAWA defense to eviction at any time during an eviction proceeding; there is no prescribed method or words needed to do so; there is no restraining order prerequisite to prove eligibility for the defense; domestic violence can be disclosed to the court without first disclosing to the landlord and still form the basis for a defense; that the defense can be raised even in instances of chronic non-payment; that covered housing providers have an affirmative duty to help survivors and not evict them for reasons directly related to domestic violence; and that judges, upon hearing evidence of domestic violence, are obligated to inquire further to fully evaluate the applicability of VAWA and write findings before issuing decisions.

Daniel Nagin, Faculty Director of the Legal Service Center, described the decision as “a powerful example of how LSC’s individual representation cases have the potential to make real change for entire communities.”

The impact of the ruling has already been felt by survivors and their advocates, including those in the United States House of Representatives. “Housing is a basic human right, and stable housing is critical to stemming the cycle of the trauma faced by survivors of domestic violence,” said Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, representative of the Massachusetts 7th Congressional District. “This ruling is a victory not only for Y.A. and LSC, but for every survivor who has faced housing instability as a result of domestic violence. I’m eternally grateful to Y.A. for her bravery and to LSC for reaffirming protections for survivors.”

Before releasing its full opinion, the SJC issued a brief order reversing the Housing Court’s earlier decision. The order allowed LSC to negotiate a new agreement with the Housing Authority on behalf of Y.A. that will allow her to stay housed and avoid another hearing in Housing Court.

Y.A., who fought her eviction for years without legal representation before finding LSC, expressed her happiness at the decision after a long and difficult fight, saying, “I tried for so long to get help, and to explain my situation. When [the Housing Authority] told me I had to leave the apartment, I cried, night and day. It was wonderful to get help from LSC, and I’m so glad that my case will help others.”

The result represents the culmination of a determined, collaborative effort by LSC’s Housing Clinic and numerous allies around the state who helped prepare the Clinic for oral argument. Massachusetts-based organizations contributing amicus briefs in the case include the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, Casa Myrna, the Domestic Violence Institute of Northeastern University School of Law, Greater Boston Legal Services, the Foley Hoag Domestic Violence Prevention Project, Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, the Volunteer Lawyers Project, and the Women’s Bar Foundation. In addition, national and out-of-state organizations including the ACLU of Massachusetts, the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, the National Housing Law Project, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, and the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law filed amicus briefs in support of Y.A. with the court.

Health care systems turn to a ‘new’ old medicine: healthy food

Via MassLive

By: Shira Schonenberg

Source: Flickr

A few times a week, Katie Macomber, medical home care coordinator at Amherst Pediatrics, writes a “prescription” for patients and their families.

Macomber is not a doctor, and the prescription is not for medicine. Rather, it is a form from the Amherst Survival Center, designed to look like a prescription, that sends families to the center to pick up groceries, diapers or fresh produce from the food pantry, eat a free hot lunch or dinner, or get help applying for food stamps.

Amherst Pediatrics asks patients on a screening form if they have experienced food insecurity and has posters around the office telling patients to talk to a doctor if they struggled to afford food in the past year.

“Socioeconomics are such a huge part of overall health,” Macomber said. “You can’t focus on medical health if there are other issues impacting that family’s ability to care for their medical health.”

Macomber said “prescribing” food at a medical practice “really helps put it under the umbrella that this is all part of your medical health and well-being.”

The Amherst Survival Center’s Project HungeRX is part of a growing movement statewide to treat food as medicine.

On Tuesday, the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School, and Community Servings, a nonprofit that cooks and delivers medically tailored meals to sick people at home, released the first Massachusetts Food is Medicine State Plan.

The plan examines the importance of programs that deliver medically tailored food, that provide vouchers for fresh produce and that offer healthy food to people who cannot easily access it.

One 2019 study by researchers from the University of North Carolina, Massachusetts General Hospital, Community Servings and elsewhere found that medically tailored meals were associated with fewer admissions to hospitals and nursing homes and a reduction in health care costs. A report by Children’s Healthwatch and the Greater Boston Foodbank estimated that food insecurity in Massachusetts leads to $1.9 billion in avoidable health care costs annually.

Sarah Downer of the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, one of the authors of the Food is Medicine plan, said the goal is to develop steps to change the state’s health system to better connect individuals with food and “set up pathways to build better overall community health.”

The report was released as the public is becoming more conscious of the need for healthy food, with farmers’ markets and buy local campaigns. MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program, recently adopted a new structure in which some money will be available to address social factors that affect health.

In interviews, the researchers found that health care insurers and providers said they were interested in addressing food insecurity but many were unsure how to integrate that into medical care.

The report lays out multiple ways to integrate food and health care, such as by having doctors screen patients for food insecurity and by training health care providers about the importance of nutrition and about what resources are available to patients.

The report envisions connections between community-based nutrition organizations, like food pantries, and health care providers. It also envisions an increase in funding — through reimbursement from health insurers and other sources — for programs that offer medically tailored meals, mobile farmers markets, food vouchers and other nutrition services.

The report identifies 26 high-priority areas with a particular need for food services, including Agawam, Chicopee, Holyoke, North Adams, Pittsfield, Springfield and West Springfield.

Experts say the biggest barriers to people buying healthy food tend to be cost and transportation.

Read the full article here.

Collecting on Dreams

Via Harvard Law Today

By: Julia Hanna

Toby Merrill ’11 Credit: Leah Fasten

As a 2L, Toby Merrill ’11 was enrolled in a Harvard Law School consumer clinic litigating against predatory lenders of subprime mortgages. There she fought for the rights of individuals who had hoped to fulfill the American dream of home ownership. Now Merrill has a new mission, no less urgent: to bring a measure of fairness to people affected by the predatory lending practices of some for-profit colleges that are alleged to provide worthless degrees in exchange for thousands of dollars in government-backed loans. Frequently members of some of society’s most vulnerable populations, these clients often began their journey with the simple desire for upward mobility—namely, a better life through education.

In 2012, Merrill founded and became director of the HLS Project on Predatory Student Lending, focusing on for-profit schools that promised students a direct path to well-paying, middle-class jobs via programs focused on a specific role—medical assistant or paralegal, for example—but failed to deliver. Senate hearings and a two-year investigation into these schools led by then-Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin detailed the systematic use of inflated job placement data and aggressive recruitment tactics to target groups that included immigrants, people of color, veterans, and single mothers. In one case, noted by Harkin, a school claimed that it placed 70% to 90% of students in jobs, when the actual rate was 20% to 30%.

The financial fallout of that widespread fraud, when combined with the poor quality of instruction found in many programs, was catastrophic: Statistics show that individuals enrolled in for-profit colleges typically account for 13% of the student population but 47% of all federal loan defaults, often because of the inability of the borrowers to secure well-paying jobs; and more than $30 billion in federal tax funding goes to for-profit institutions every year, in the form of those student loans.

Eileen Connor, director of litigation at the project
Credit: Leah Fasten

In her work with victims of predatory subprime mortgage lending, Merrill had been a firsthand witness to the power of affirmative litigation on behalf of individuals harmed by unscrupulous lending practices. She saw how that work could not only help individuals get restitution but also, in the best-case scenario, lead to improved policy. When she learned more about the tactics used to lure students into shoddy degree programs with little value on the job market—students who were trying to improve their lives by getting an education and who, at that point, had virtually no options for legal action—the issue had a visceral pull.

“Predatory student lending sits right at the intersection of racial and economic justice,” says Merrill, whose interest in fighting injustice and race discrimination in America led her to spend the summer after her second year in law school working on the NAACP’s voting rights project and in its death penalty practice.

Located in HLS’s Wilmer­Hale Legal Services Center in Jamaica Plain, the project and its staff of 12 are engaged in class-action lawsuits on behalf of tens of thousands of students at now-defunct institutions such as Corinthian Colleges (with a class of 110,000 plaintiffs) and ITT Technical Institute (750,000). But they also take on individual cases which they feel will effect change in industry or government practices. Director of Litigation Eileen Connor has met hundreds of people whose lives have been upended by predatory student lending, but she still finds herself thinking about Crystal, a young single mother who was recruited away from Roxbury Community College by a Corinthian school subsidiary.

Attorney Josh Rovenger (at desk) joined the project last year, inspired by the passion of Toby Merrill and her team.
Credit: Leah Fasten

“They told her, ‘You can do what you’re doing here, but twice as fast—so you’ll be able to work that much sooner and support your young child.’ Of course, that was appealing to her,” Connor says. The report issued by the Harkin Senate committee found that recruiters at some for-profit colleges are frequently instructed to exploit just such a “pain point” in order to convince a prospective student to enroll. But the quality of education Crystal received didn’t provide her with the skills she needed to compete in the job market. The Senate report also found that, on average, only 25% of the money paid to for-profit colleges is rolled into needed teaching materials, equipment, and instructor pay; the remaining 75% is used for marketing, executive compensation, and profit. Unable to find employment in her chosen field of medical assistant, Crystal was forced to default on her loan and ended up living in a homeless shelter; the default had disqualified her from applying for subsidized housing. In addition, the government garnished her wages and took her earned income tax credit, which she had been planning to use as the first and last months’ deposit to rent an apartment. There is no time limit on the collection of student loan debt, so these penalties can continue for decades.

“This all happened because a predatory company took advantage of someone with the earnest desire to learn and to work,” Connor says. “It’s a perversion of the ideal of higher education when the reason we have a federal student loan program at all is to create opportunity.”

Josh Rovenger ’13 joined the project last year. While he had always been drawn to public interest law, he hadn’t been following the legal cases involving for-profit colleges before interviewing for an attorney position with Merrill and Connor. Then he got excited: “It wasn’t really an exact moment or case, but more the passion they showed. Toby said that once you learn about the work, you can’t help but get angry and worked-up about what’s going on.”

Every semester the HLS Project on Predatory Lending trains six to eight students, including this spring, Levi Barry ’19 and Sejal Singh ’20.
Credit: Leah Fasten

And if he ever feels distanced from that moment, a clinical student’s reaction brings it all back: “It’s a reminder to everyone here of how absurd some of the actions are that we’re challenging,” Rovenger says. Each semester, the project hosts six to eight clinical students, providing exposure to the class-action cases underway while also enabling students to act on behalf of individuals. “My clients are people who have been taken advantage of,” says Sejal Singh ’20. “But they are not victims—they’re very smart, resilient actors who are committed to moving forward with their lives. Working with them has been inspiring, and in the process, I really feel as though I’ve been able to build a range of skills that are going to prepare me to move forward in my career as an attorney.”

Creating positive change in an area as complex and far-reaching as predatory student lending can have a frustratingly long timeline. But in its relatively brief seven-year existence, the project has earned substantial wins, bringing clients that much closer to justice. Among its recent victories was a ruling last fall in the case Bauer v. DeVos that—in conjunction with a similar suit brought by 19 states and the District of Columbia—prevented the Department of Education from illegally delaying the enforcement of established borrower defense regulations that offer protections for students. Such protections include the cancellation of debt when an institution breaks the law and a ban on forced arbitration.

“Forced arbitration has been a longstanding issue in the context of consumer protection,” says Merrill. “The transparency that occurs with private litigation has been shown by study after study to be an important driver of public enforcement; forced arbitration cuts off an entire stream of information that’s key to functional oversight. Now, for the first time in a long, long time, we have the opportunity to bring people’s claims in court.”

Students in the project, including Zoe Kemmerling ’20, provide direct services to clients. They also get exposure to complex litigation.
Credit: Leah Fasten

Included in the project’s active impact litigation docket is the class-action lawsuit Calvillo Manriquez v. DeVos, a case brought jointly with Megumi Tsutsui ’14, a former student of the project now practicing law at the Oakland, California-based Housing and Economic Rights Advocates. The suit charges that the U.S. Department of Education required tens of thousands of former Corinthian Colleges students to repay their loans, despite earlier findings by the Obama administration Department of Education that they were not liable to do so. Rather than discharge the loans, the department reversed course, calculating a repayment rate based on private income data obtained from the Social Security Administration.

“The thrust of the case is that the Department of Education is engaged in retroactive rulemaking using illegally obtained information,” says Rovenger. For now, the team has won a preliminary injunction to freeze loan collection for thousands of students, with the eventual goal being to fully discharge them.

“Our work here has always involved fighting against a Department of Education that isn’t doing what it should be,” says Merrill. “So while we have sued the department of the current administration a number of times, we also sued the one under the previous administration.”

Credit: Leah Fasten

Merrill cites relatively recent successes, including the ruling reversing the freeze on the mandatory arbitration ban, as evidence that the legal landscape is shifting and coalescing around a new perspective on student lending. “Three years ago, [students] couldn’t sue a for-profit school. It was hard to get the government … to decide to do anything,” she says. “We were able to change both of those things.” Even so, she acknowledges that hundreds of thousands of students represented in federal courts around the country are still waiting for relief. It’s part of what keeps her and the rest of the team motivated. And they’re not alone. Merrill notes that the Project on Predatory Student Lending works with a range of advocacy organizations across the country, supplying needed information and insight to help advance policy change. And the network of clinic alumni, Megumi Tsutsui and others, has only extended its reach. “It’s been so gratifying to see former students take up the fight as part of their professional endeavors,” says Merrill. “We’re all focusing our energy on cases that we think can make a difference, moving the ball forward to make a more fair and just society.”

From the Boston Marathon to a deadly meningitis outbreak, a prosecutor shares negotiation lessons

Via Harvard Law Today 

By: Adriel Borshansky

Credit: Lorin Granger

This spring, George Varghese, an assistant U.S. Attorney based in Boston, delivered a guest lecture to the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program’s (HNMCP) Spring 2019 Negotiation Workshop, a limited-enrollment course that combines theory and practice with the aim of improving both the participants’ understanding of negotiation and their effectiveness as negotiators. Drawing from a wide variety of prosecutorial experiences from his current work in Boston, and from his previous work as an assistant U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., Varghese shared insights and riveting anecdotes about what it is like to negotiate in the real world.

In the lecture, Varghese described three high-profile cases he worked on, and explained how the process of engaging in plea bargain negotiations provides a unique context in which to apply basic principles and theories of negotiation. While criminal law often features high-profile trials, he noted that 97% of cases are resolved through plea bargains.

He pointed out that several features characterize plea bargain negotiations. First, the stakes for defendants can be particularly high (often their lives are on the line). Second, the interests of defense counsel—seeking the best outcome for specific individuals—and the prosecution—representing the government and seeking the best outcome for a just society, broadly defined—often diverge significantly. Third, agreement reached through plea bargain negotiations involves a third party—a judge—who is not at the table, yet wields ultimate authority. Moreover, he said, plea bargain negotiations can be particularly complicated due to differing assessments of the law and uncertainties regarding the facts of a given case.

Varghese’s first example came from the case against Oscar Ortega-Hernandez, who shot at the White House in November 2011. After firing on the White House, Ortega-Hernandez fled and was ultimately apprehended after an extended manhunt. He was initially charged with the attempted assassination of President Barack Obama. However, during negotiations with defense counsel, this charge was dropped and Ortega-Hernandez was instead charged with destruction of property and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence, ultimately resulting in a 25-year sentence after the application of a terrorism enhancement. Varghese explained that the specific nature of the charge mattered to the defense, while the prosecution was more concerned with the ultimate sentence. This difference, he said, provided an opportunity to negotiate.

By contrast, he offered the Boston Marathon bombing case, where he said the focus of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s defense counsel was on avoiding a death penalty. According to Varghese, the defense was willing to accept a resolution of life imprisonment. The Department of Justice believed it was more appropriate to leave this issue to the determination of a jury. Varghese later explained the complexities of representing the public interest as a prosecutor, and how in some instances there was a compelling public interest in rigorously presenting evidence at trial and letting the jury decide. (At trial, Tsarnaev was sentenced to death.)

The case against fourteen employees of the New England Compounding Center provided a third distinct context. NECC, based in Framingham, Mass., was responsible for distributing contaminated drugs to patients in several states; nearly 800 people developed meningitis and other infections as a result of fungal contaminants. An investigation into NECC’s practices revealed that their facilities were improperly cleaned; mold and bacteria grew regularly inside NECC’s “clean rooms”; expired drugs were relabeled and reused; required tests for sterility and potency were not always conducted; negative test results were not shared with medical providers; and a pharmacy staff member worked there despite having his license revoked.

Varghese explained how the prosecutors spoke extensively with victims to ascertain their interests in prosecuting NECC, and how the governmental interests at play included revealing the fraudulent behavior to the public. While there was little opportunity to negotiate plea bargains with most defendants in this case, some of the lower-level actors did plead guilty and cooperated with the government. The strategy of negotiating with low-level actors can be effective in situations in which the government interest in obtaining testimony against higher level defendants outweighs its interest in charging everyone involved in wrongdoing.

Ultimately, the levers available to prosecutors in plea bargains consist largely of the specific charges to be brought and recommendations for sentencing. Defendants may care not only about the type and duration of sentences, but also the reputational costs of certain charges. Because plea bargain negotiations are confidential, prosecutors and defense counsel can be more candid and transparent in their assessment of the case, and this transparency facilitates frank discussions of the deals to be made (which can be helpful for prosecutors seeking agreement). At the same time, the lack of public transparency around these kinds of negotiations can mean that any given defendant has limited information to use in negotiating their deal. The dynamics of plea bargains are also strongly influenced by the rhythm of the criminal trial process—defendants may be more or less likely to consider striking a deal from moment to moment.

In the question and answer session, Varghese revisited one particular theme that emerged over the course of his talk: the notion of victims and the general public as stakeholders; what it means to consider the interests of victims or stakeholders; and how one even registers or understands those sentiments. Varghese recalled his experiences sitting down with victims of NECC’s fraud. Echoing the principles of active listening taught in the Negotiation Workshop, Varghese insisted on the importance of prosecutors’ efforts to ask open-ended questions about what victims had experienced, and what they wanted going forward.

Varghese’s visit to the Spring Negotiation Workshop is the latest installment in an annual feature of the course in which a prominent real-life negotiator speaks to  students about their professional negotiation experience in an area of practice. Past speakers have included Wendy Sherman (in 2016 and 2018), Sarah Hurwitz, Bob Barnett, Ron Shapiro, Rose Gottemoeller, Grande Lum, and Clifford Sloan. The Negotiation Workshop, offered during the January term and spring semester, combines theory and practice to improve students’ understanding of negotiation and their skills as negotiators.

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