Protecting immigrant spouses

Earlier this month the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report on federal agencies' compliance with the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2005 (IMBRA). The purpose of IMBRA is to protect noncitizen fiance(e)s and spouses (beneficiaries) from domestic violence and abuse by citizens who have petitioned for their immigration, including persons who met through an international marriage broker. Among IMBRA's requirements are that beneficiaries are informed of a petitioner's criminal history or a history of filing multiple petitions.

IMBRA is part of the Violence Against Women and Dept. of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005, P.L. 109-162 (pdf, 177pp), sections 831 thru 834, 119 Stat. 3066 ff. Section 833(f) therein required GAO to study IMBRA's impact on the visa process for noncitizen fiance(e)s. The agencies involved are the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Dept. of State (DOS), and Dept. of Justice (DOJ) In this study, GAO addressed the extent of USCIS, DOS, and DOJ's implementation of IMBRA's requirements, and the extent to which USCIS and DOS have collected and maintained required data.

INTERNATIONAL MARRIAGE BROKER REGULATION ACT of 2005: Agencies Have Implemented Some, but Not All of the Act's Requirements, GAO-08-862 (pdf, 39pp/860kB), August 8, 2008

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Social Security projections

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) last week updated its projections of revenues and outlays for Social Security. The report covers 75 years from 2008 through 2082. Currently the Social Security program runs an annual surplus but as baby boomers retire, beneficiaries will increase substantially.
CBO projects that outlays will first exceed revenues in 2019 and that the Social Security trust funds will be exhausted in 2049. If the law remains unchanged, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will then no longer have the legal authority to pay full benefits.

Updated Long-Term Projections for Social Security (pdf, 45pp/856kB), August 2008

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Urban teacher residencies

A report on urban teacher residencies (UTRs), designed to improve teacher quality in urban schools, was published this month by the Aspen Institute Education and Society Program and the Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ).
...(UTRs) are an emerging innovation designed to embody best practices in recruitment, screening, preparation, placement, induction, and teacher leadership for urban school districts. As such, UTRs can be a key element of urban districts’ portfolio of pathways into teaching and a lynchpin of a larger strategy to strengthen the districts’ human capital system.
Core policy principles of UTRs include:
  • the selective recruitment of highly qualified candidates
  • the expectation that teachers are extensively prepared before they begin to teach
  • a focus on meeting the needs of high-needs school districts
  • high-quality support for graduates after they become teachers
The report examined two UTR programs, the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) in Chicago and the Boston Teacher Residency (BTR). The Urban Teacher Residency Institute (UTRI) was recently established to assist districts considering starting UTR programs.

Creating and Sustaining Urban Teacher Residencies: A New Way to Recruit, Prepare, and Retain Effective Teachers in High-Needs Districts (pdf, 40pp/740kB), August 2008



"Emerging challenges"

"Issues Over the Horizon: Eleven Emerging Challenges" is the cover story of the Summer 2008 issue of the RAND Review (pdf, 32pp/2.17MB), a publication of the RAND Corporation. There are 11 essays on "important policy issues not currently receiving the attention they deserve in the public debate." Among the issues:
  • The Aging Couple - Social Security and Medicare
  • Corporate America's Next Big Scandal - corporate income tax avoidance
  • Innovative Infrastructure - using electronic sensors instead of human inspection
  • The Day After - when electronic voting machines fail
  • Beating the Germ Insurgency - drug-resistant diseases
  • A Second Reproductive Revolution - "egg banking" will stop the biological clock
  • From Nation-State to Nexus-State - networks without boundaries

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Behavioral econ for retirement, health care

Peter Orszag, Director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), recently spoke on how behavioral economics as applied to decisionmaking in savings and retirement can be applied to health care. Speaking on the Utility of Defaults, he said: "Inertia...is a powerful force in decisionmaking, so people tend to stick with a default, even when they can, at very low cost, pick another option." He analyzed the positive effect of automatic enrollment of workers in 401(k) plans.

According to Orszag, applying behavioral economics to health care has been limited because relatively little research and implementation have been carried out.
To reduce the amount of money spent on ineffective health care, we must first determine which procedures and treatments are effective....Incentives must be properly structured and made evident. Defaults must reflect expert knowledge and judgment about what choices will optimize the welfare of the typical individual but still allow individual choice.
Perpetuating inefficient health care, he said, are such factors as the lack of clarity in health insurance costs and the influence of doctors and other medical professionals on health decisions. However, "an even more important determinant than the health care system is an individual's behavior." Just as automatic 401(k) enrollment has narrowed the gap in savings between high and low socioeconomic groups, incentives can be used to narrow the socioeconomic gap in healthy lifestyles.

Behavioral Economics: Lessons from Retirement Research for Health Care and Beyond (pdf, 14pp/140kB), Aug. 7, 2008

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ConCon costs

On Aug. 1 the Hawaii Constitutional Convention Cost Task Force, led by Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, issued its final report which projected the cost of a ConCon to range from $2.3 million to $11.1 million. Among the variable factors considered: number of delegates (25-102); duration of convention (90-120 days), location (State Capitol, Blaisdell, others), delegate per diem ($90-$150), fringe benefits for delegate staff and convention staff (yes or no). Delegates would be paid $4,201 per month, delegate staff $10,000. A Star Bulletin article (Aug. 2, 2008) reported that Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser "dismissed the idea of a convention with 25 delegates, saying it was too small" and estimated that a ConCon would cost $20 million.

Projecting the Cost of a Constitutional Convention in Hawaii (pdf, 44pp/264kB)

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Global warming: different views

Last month the Brookings Institution issued a paper on factors influencing Americans' perceptions of global warming. Major surveys were taken in Michigan and Pennsylvania. The five factors presented to respondents as affecting their belief in global warming:
  • Declining glaciers and polar ice
  • Higher temperatures in local area
  • Computer modeling
  • Hurricane Katrina
  • "An Inconvenient Truth"
The authors found the first two factors to be significant in Americans' belief in global warming; the last two less so.
But there are significant differences in responses of various subgroups divided by place of residence, partisanship, gender, and age, suggesting that no across-the-board consensus on climate change has emerged at the time when federal institutions are giving unprecedented attention to this issue.
A Reason to Believe: Examining the Factors that Determine Americans’ Views on Global Warming (pdf, 14pp/240kB), July 2008

Just in at the Library...

Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years, Updated and Expanded, by S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery, presents the theory that current global warming is part of a natural 1500-year cycle, and we are 150 years into a Modern Warming that will last for centuries. The authors state, "The message from the ice cores is clear: global warming is natural, unstoppable, and not nearly as dangerous as the public hysteria over it." The greater concern, they say, is the next Big Ice Age.
(QC981.8 G56 S55 2007) (ISBN-13:978-0-7425-5124-4, paper) (ISBN-10:0-7425-5124-5, paper)
See press release



Uninsured immigrants; HSAs in retirement

The August 2008 EBRI Notes (pdf, 16pp) from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) covers two topics:

(1) The Impact of Immigration on Health Insurance Coverage in the United States, 1994–2006

EBRI found that between 1994 and 2006, the percentage of immigrants in the uninsured population rose from 18.8% to 26.6%. It cited the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996, P.L. 104-193 (pdf, 251pp.), as impeding employment-based coverage of immigrants with its five-year ban on health public programs for most newly arrived legal immigrants. Nevertheless,
Over the entire 1994-2006 period, immigrants accounted for 55 percent of the increase in the uninsured. The ranks of the uninsured are likely to grow as immigration continues to increase.

(2) Saving for Health Care Expenses in Retirement: The Use of Health Savings Accounts

Health savings accounts (HSAs) are tax-exempt accounts than can be used for health care expenses. EBRI studied the savings needed for health insurance premiums and other healthcare expenses in retirement and whether HSAs could be used for those expenses. It concluded that the maximum savings that can be accumulated in an HSA will be "far from sufficient" to cover insurance and out-of-pocket health expenses in retirement, especially since HSAs can be used for health care during one's working years or to pay for COBRA when unemployed.

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