Friday, December 1, 2017

Jason Fernandes: The quiet attacks on your rights you probably haven’t heard about

  Last Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a plan to repeal Obama-era net neutrality rules. Their proposal would allow internet service providers to charge consumers more for higher streaming speeds or for access to certain websites, effectively opening a legal route to deny people access to a free and open internet based on their ability to pay. This came just a week after the FCC voted to roll back Lifeline, a program that helps low-income Americans pay for phone and broadband service.

  The FCC’s actions are the latest in a year-long assault on low-income Americans. They come at a time when Senate Republicans are trying to pass a tax bill that would strip health coverage from 13 million Americans and eliminate dozens of federal programs that support low-income families—including protection for crime victims, food for the elderly, and affordable housing—to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations.

  But those are just the headline battles. There is a quieter war being waged in the trenches: in state legislatures and federal courts, in congressional committees and governors’ mansions, and—as with the FCC’s recent decisions—in federal agencies.

  Here’s a brief recap of what this war has looked like in just the past few months.

The administration is legalizing discrimination

  While the ADA Education and Reform Act has been quietly making its way through Congress, threatening to undo decades of progress for people with disabilities, two separate agencies have undertaken actions of their own to repeal even more protections. The Department of Transportation yielded to pressure from airline industry lobbyists and delayed implementation of an Obama-era rule designed to prevent airports from routinely losing or breaking wheelchairs and other equipment that belongs to disabled passengers. And last month, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rescinded 72 guidance documents that help schools enforce protections for students with disabilities. The revoked guidelines include a policy that helps students with disabilities get federal financial assistance and guidance for states on how to meet the needs of students with hearing loss.

  The courts are chipping away at civil rights, too. Trump’s Supreme Court appointee, Neil Gorsuch, could cast the deciding vote in a case from a business owner who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. If his appeal is successful, it could allow business owners to use their religious beliefs to deny service to customers on the basis of their sexual orientation, or even other protected identities such as race, religion, or national origin. This would hit low-income residents of rural communities particularly hard, who might not have other businesses they can turn to if they’re denied service (research shows they won’t).

  Trump is also stacking lower courts with anti-worker judges: He appointed Thomas Farr, a lawyer who has defended voter suppression and built his career undermining workers’ rights, to a district court in North Carolina. Perhaps more frightening, he appointed Don Willett to the 5th Circuit—a pro-corporate judge who voted to give himself the authority to strike down regulations that “interfere with the free market.”

Federal agencies are chewing giant holes in the safety net

  The Department of Health and Human Services is encouraging states to adopt work requirements for Medicaid, which would punish unemployed workers for not being able to find a job by taking away their health care. This continues the administration’s trend of using work requirements to gut safety net programs, after Trump’s presidential budget proposed work requirements to help pay for $193 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

  Days before Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, FEMA was already coordinating the recovery, setting up supplies and personnel. But Trump’s administration was extremely slow to help citizens in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico recover from Hurricanes Maria and Irma, withholding aid until after the hurricanes made landfall. More than 20 percent of Puerto Ricans still don’t have access to clean drinking water, more than half the territory doesn’t have access to electricity, and 60 percent of U.S. Virgin Islands residents are still without electricity. (If the House budget passes, things will only get worse: The budget cuts nearly $1 billion from disaster relief to help pay for Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall.)

The administration’s xenophobia is getting even worse

  Months after the Trump administration ended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), they denied a few thousand DACA renewal applications for being late, even though many of these applications were sitting in a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services mailbox before the deadline passed. The administration also ended Temporary Protected Status for 60,000 Haitians and 2,500 Nicaraguans, forcing them to uproot their lives in America and return to regions that have been devastated by imperialist U.S. foreign policy.

  And, as expected, Trump has ramped up deportations—even from the historic highs taking place during the Obama administration. The United States has deported 34 percent more immigrants so far this year than in the same period last year. For many immigrants fleeing violence and instability in Latin America, deportation means a return to poverty, or worse.

Jeff Sessions gets a section all to himself

  Earlier this summer, Attorney General Jeff Sessions strengthened the federal government’s ability to seize assets from people before bringing any criminal charges against them. In other words, this lets police officers take people’s money and property without due process. One more time: This lets police officers take people’s money and property without due process.

  Sessions also declared that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act will no longer provide employment protection to transgender Americans, potentially allowing employers and insurers to deny coverage to a group that already experiences extremely high rates of poverty. This came after Sessions’ Department of Justice (DOJ) argued that Title VII also doesn’t cover sexual orientation—opening the door to more workplace discrimination against LGBTQ people. Other guidance from the DOJ on religious liberty could mean more discrimination in other areas of life as well, including discrimination in programs that low-income communities rely on for their health, safety, and security.

  About the author: Jason Fernandes is an Assistant Editor at the Center for American Progress.

  This article was published by

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