Suiting up for a more just and equitable society

Sad man sitting on sidewalk with a dog in his lap and a paper cut on the ground in front of him

Our topic of the week in social policy is “Understanding poverty causes and measures.” One of the questions in the middle of the lectures was this:

You are attending a celebration of a beloved uncle’s birthday. At dinner, the issue of poverty and welfare comes up. Someone says that we should abolish welfare altogether because we are spending too much on the poor who would rather receive a handout than work. Someone else agrees, saying that there are plenty of jobs out there and, as a matter of fact, he’s had trouble finding someone to work part-time in his hardware store. A third guest pipes up that if only poor people wouldn’t have so many children, they could get somewhere. Someone else says, “You’re a social worker, what do you think?”

How do you honestly respond?

Now, look. This sounded like many a Facebook discussion to me. Why should I pay for this? Bootstraps, amirite!? I’ve engaged many – maybe too many – of these. HOWEVER… Will I debate you over dinner where I don’t have the option to close the app and come back to it later? I dunno. I dunno. How hungry am I? How well do I know these guests? Is this beloved uncle impatiently waiting to blow his candles out? Who goes to a birthday party with ripping the rug out from under poor people at top of mind? (More than enough people, I suppose.)

But I guess (I know) it’s my ethical responsibility to advocate for social policy I deem necessary or against policy I deem harmful. So here’s what I said:

We spend more on welfare for the non-poor than the poor in the form of entitlements, corporate subsidies, tax exemptions for example, so the problem isn’t that we’re spending too much on welfare, it’s that we are distributing it in a way that reinforces inequality and oppression. Even though your own anecdotal evidence might make it seem otherwise, poor people do want to work, but they want and NEED to work for a living wage, which, sadly the minimum wage is not, especially if you have a family. Also, the data actually shows poor people are less likely to have children than middle- or higher-income households because they cannot afford it, and THAT is a reproductive justice issue because building a family should not simply be the domain of the wealthy.

United States Capitol building on a clear day

For a course in social policy, we were required to select a member of Congress from our state and do the following: identify their political affiliation and many pieces of legislation they have sponsored or cosponsored in the current congressional period; select a a bill they have sponsored or co-sponsored and discuss why we picked it, the social problem it is meant to address, what prompted them to sponsor the bill, what the legislative status of the bill is, what support the bill has or could have and why or why not; and write a paragraph to representative from the opposite party in the state sharing our advocacy position. Here’s what I wrote on the SMARTWATCH Data Act and Beyond the Box for Education Act of 2019:

Senator Bill Cassidy

Bill Cassidy is a Republican who has represented the state of Louisiana in the Senate since 2015. As a member of the 116th Congress he has sponsored 47 pieces of legislation and co-sponsored 122. One piece of legislation Senator Cassidy has sponsored is S. 2885, a bill with the short title “Stop Marketing And Revealing The Wearables And Trackers Consumer Health Data Act.” or “SMARTWATCH Data Act.”

I chose this bill for analysis because it attempts to tackle a growing social concern about data privacy and security – specifically health information gathered by wearable technology (“wearables”) such as the Apple Watch, Fitbit, and Samsung Galaxy Gear. Information technology trade publication Tech Republic reported that consumers of wearables “unknowingly expose themselves to both potential security breaches and ways that their data may be legally used by companies without the consumer ever knowing” (Maddox, 2015, par. 9) Hackers could get access to the cloud or server and exploit users’ sensitive information for financial or other gain. The companies that produce the devices could also exploit the data.

After tech giant Google bought Fitbit in November 2019, business and technology media reported on a little-known partnership between Google and Ascension Health, “the largest nonprofit health system in the United States” (Marks, 2019, par. 1). This partnership, codenamed Project Nightingale, had gathered more than 50 million non-anonymized patient records between 2018 and 2019. This intensified concerns regarding what tech companies can do and plan to do with health information they have access to. Cassidy directly cited the Google/Ascension partnership in a press release announcing the legislation on November 14:

The Google/Ascension news has brought needed scrutiny to the security of Americans’ health data. The Smartwatch Act prevents big tech data harvesters from collecting intimate private data without patients’ consent. Americans should always know their health information is secure. (The Office of U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, 2019, par. 5)

The SMARTWATCH Act was introduced to the Senate on November 18, 2019, and referred to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee the same day. It remains in committee. It is described as “a bill to prohibit the transfer or sale of certain consumer health information, and for other purposes” (S. 2885, 2019). Co-sponsored by Senator Jacky Rosen, a Democrat representing Nevada, the bill is a bipartisan piece of legislation. I believe this bill has bipartisan support because, for conservatives, it offers protection of individual property (data) rights, and for liberals, it offers government regulation of the market to protect society from exploitation by the tech sector. More members of both parties should support this legislation because both parties in this Congress are interested in passing data privacy legislation. In 2018, Republican Senator John Thune said, “the question is no longer whether we need a federal law to protect consumers’ privacy. The question is what shape it should take” (Kerry, 2019, par. 2) In the shape of S. 2885, the law would classify consumer health information as protected health information protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), hold companies accountable by requiring informed consent for data usage, and decrease the possibility of an outcome Republicans want to avoid (a patchwork of conflicting state consumer data privacy laws). This makes the policy attractive to both parties.

Letter to Congressman Cedric Richmond in Support of S. 2885

Senate Bill 2885 (2019), the SMARTWATCH Data Act, would help protect sensitive information gathered by wearable tech devices like Apple Watches. As tens of millions of Americans use these devices and tech companies gain access to more of our data, I believe we need federal protections in place to help ensure companies are neither careless nor malicious with consumer health information. The SMARTWATCH Data Act is sponsored by Republican Senator Bill Cassidy and co-sponsored by Democratic Senator Jacky Rosen. It deserves further bipartisan support because both parties want data privacy laws, and this bill affirms consumers should control our own data and companies collecting that data have a responsibility for its security. Therefore, I ask that you add your support to this legislation.

Congressman Cedric Richmond

Cedric Richmond is a Democrat who has represented Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District in the House of Representatives since 2011. During the 116th Congress, he has sponsored 16 pieces of legislation and co-sponsored 252. Beyond the Box for Higher Education Act of 2019, or H.R. 2563, is one piece of legislation he has sponsored.

I selected this legislation for analysis because it addresses social barriers faced by people who have juvenile or criminal records. In its current state, the bill declares statistics that “70,000,000 Americans have some type of arrest or conviction record that would appear in a criminal background check” and “the compounding effects of collateral consequences due to criminal justice involvement hinder the ability of individuals to reenter society successfully” (S. 2885, 2019). It also acknowledges race and class disparities in criminal justice system involvement and that education may reduce recidivism and “improve reentry outcomes” and employment opportunities (S. 2885, 2019).

“The Box” referred to in the bill’s title is a checkbox – commonly found on employment and school admissions applications – that enquires about an applicant’s criminal justice information (CJI). In its 2016 Beyond the Box Resource Guide, the U.S. Department of Education reported a survey in which 66% of post-secondary schools collected CJI for all students and 5% collected it for some students. The Department cautioned that one school requiring applicants reveal CJI caused the attrition among felony applicants to be nearly triple the overall applicant attrition rate, and the box unnecessarily limited schools’ applicant pools. They recommended that colleges and universities “look beyond the box by removing unnecessary barriers to higher education” because doing so would benefit the individuals and communities (U.S. Department of Education, 2016, p. 10).

H.R. 2563 was introduced to the House on May 7, 2019 and referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor on the same day. The bill is identical to S. 1338 introduced in the upper house by Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii on the same day and referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Both bills remain in their respective committees. This legislation was co-sponsored by the late Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland. Since Cummings’ death in October 2019, the Beyond the Box for Higher Education Act has not gained new sponsors in the House. It’s identical legislation in the Senate has 18 co-sponsors, all Democrats. An official summary of the bill is in progress, but it’s stated aim is:

To amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to direct the Secretary of Education to issue guidance and recommendations for institutions of higher education on removing criminal and juvenile justice questions from their application for admissions process. (H.R. 2563, 2019)

This bill aligns with Democratic party ideals regarding increased access to high-quality education and eliminating systemic racism, and currently, it only has support from Democrats. However, I believe this bill deserves and can gain bipartisan support. If enacted, this legislation would help Republicans work toward elements of the most recent party platform. For instance, the “Choice in Education” subsection of the party’s 2016 platform stated, “A young person’s ability to succeed in school must be based on his or her God-given talent and motivation, not an address, ZIP code, or economic status” (Republican National Convention, 2016, p. 34) Further, the criminal justice reform subsection argued for “restorative justice to make the victim whole and put the offender on the right path” (p. 40).  Removing the box as a barrier to those with CJI pursuing education would allow their success to be based on their talent and motivation and not limited by their offender status, and it would help put them on the right path.

Letter to Congressman Ralph Abraham in Support of H.R. 2563

H.R. 2563, the Beyond the Box for Higher Education Act of 2019, would create guidance for higher education institutions to remove “The Box” – questions about criminal and juvenile justice – from admissions applications. This legislation provides that, under the direction of the Secretary of Education in consultation with the Department of Justice, schools would review the appropriateness of criminal and juvenile justice questions in their applications and remove them if they deem appropriate. This would encourage previously discouraged applicants to continue pursuit of higher education, reduce recidivism, and promote safety and security in our communities by unblocking legal pathways to success gained through higher education. I believe these benefits represent values across party lines, and I support this legislation. I urge you to lend your support as well.


Beyond the Box for Higher Education Act of 2019, H.R. 2563, 116th Congress, 1st Session, (2019).

Kerry, C. (2019, January 7). Will this new Congress be the one to pass data privacy legislation? [Blog post] Retrieved from

Maddox, T. (2015, October 7). The dark side of wearables: How they’re secretly jeopardizing your security and privacy. Tech Republic. Retrieved from

Marks, M. (2019, Nov 20) “The Right Question to Ask about Google’s Project Nightingale.” Slate. Retrieved from

Office of U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy (2019, November 14). Rosen Bill Fixes Gap in Health Data Privacy Protections. [Press release] Retrieved from website:

Republican National Committee. (2016) Republican Platform 2016. Retrieved from

Stop Marketing and Revealing the Wearables and Trackers Consumer Health Data Act, S. 3885, 116th Congress, 1st Session, (2019).

U.S. Department of Education (2016). Beyond the box: Increasing access to higher education for justice-involved individuals. Retrieved from of Form

hanging signs that say no trespassing

My 1000% scientific, infallible, don’t-even-bother-to-question-it methodology tells me that often the answer is “no.”

Wednesday evening I watched the short video for singer JoJo’s new track “Joanna.” The self-titled track (JoJo is the nickname and stage name for Joanna Levesque) quietly showcases JoJo’s brilliant vocals and introspection with lyrics that air out the “unsolicited advice” and criticisms the 28-year old has received throughout her career. Lyrics like: But these days you don’t sound the same. Do you still have the same range? Yes! Show them! They better KNOW you, Joanna! It’s a gorgeous, smart song delivered with soul and wit by one of my favorite singers.

But I didn’t come here (but really, I did a little) to stan JoJo. I come here because in the process of stanning JoJo, I saw a tweet from MTV that said “@jojo puts an end to cancel culture with her powerful new song #Joanna.”

And I said to myself, “What?? What are you… This don’t make no sense!”

Once upon a time canceling was known as holding people accountable. It was a term that meant “You have trespassed against a person/people, I’m not for it, and you need to face consequences for your actions.” Maybe that accountability meant a withdrawal of support, de-platforming, a formal boycott, protest, legal action. That’s perfectly reasonable because in society people form agreements on what is acceptable behavior and what is not. When said agreements are broken – for instance with acts of racism, ableism, misogyny, cisheterosexism, abuse, sexual predation, or assault – then we are tasked to respond to said violation in a manner that makes it clear the behavior is unacceptable by anyone in society. This serves to discourage or disincentivize the behavior and protect those who would be harmed by it.

But “cancel” as it was used (by Black people, honestly) got away from us. It crawled out into the world and became symbolic of throwing people in an active volcano or shooting them out past the edges of the galaxy, while the reality for violators was far more hospitable even years after knowledge of their violations spread. They still had access to opportunities! They still had (often a lot of) money! They still had power and people willing to hide their abuses, play devil’s advocate for them, defend them, celebrate them, and die on the hill of them! So much for a volcano.

Rather than wrestle fully with the cognitive dissonance of holding the thoughts “this person did positive things/things I like(d)” and “this person did things that are detrimental to society”, fans/contrarians/trolls defaulted to disbelief and blaming a “culture” that would cause them the mental anguish of considering their fave’s misdeeds/fave misdeeds (or full on illegal behavior!) for a moment. Then it was “cancel culture has run amok” and “cancer culture is out of control” and “everyone is getting canceled.” So mainstream discourse devolved to the point where any criticism/critique – valid or not, necessary or not – with even the slightest momentum was deemed cancel culture coming to chuck someone into the void.

But now you see, Ebenezer, the true meaning of cancel culture isn’t that at all. It’s a response to socially destructive action. It aims to halt injury and mend wounds. It’s a collective “I got somethin’ for that.” For, indeed, in a healthy society we ought have somethin’ for that.

sign at an immigration protest that says immigrants make america great

Roylan Hernandez Diaz died in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement jail in Monroe, LA, Tuesday. He was a 43-year old asylum seeker from Cuba who, according to ICE, died by an apparent suicide at the Richwood Correctional Center.

Louisiana was long known as the world’s prison capital until just barely it fell to second place behind Oklahoma in 2018. (Oklahoma’s incarceration rate was 1,079 people per 100,000 compared to 1,052 per 100,000 for Louisiana.) Louisiana also now holds second place (behind only Texas) when it comes to states holding ICE detainees with 6,500 immigrants in detention. Many in the corrections and law enforcement industry see deals with ICE to house immigrants as a great financial opportunity. While the Department of Corrections reimburses Sheriffs $24.39 per day for most prisoners, ICE pays an average of $65 (or 266%) a day per detainee. Where they would have had to “pinch budgets” because they “built jails on the promise of an endless supply of state inmates“, they are getting what they see as relief via ICE agreements to detain thousands of immigrants..

On the increase brought by these deals, Sheriff Jordan Cranford of Winn Parish said, “The employees were originally making $10 an hour, and with us holding ICE detainees. $10 went to $18.44 an hour. This money is going back into our community.

These deals are also surely contributing to pockets at LaSalle Corrections, the the Ruston-based private prison firm that operates several ICE detention facilities – including Richwood Correctional Center where Roylan Hernandez Diaz just died in their care. LaSalle Corrections has been able to expand its immigration detention holdings because ICE ignored Congress’s February instructions reduce its detention population. Instead, ICE has expanded the population in detention to 13,000 more people than the target set by Congress.

Meanwhile, people flee uncertain or dangerous situations in their home countries only to face the uncertainty and danger of our hostile immigration system in the hope of freedom. A doctor who, like Hernandez Diaz, also fled Cuba sought asylum in the U.S. after being detained and beaten by state officials in Cuba. According to NBC News:

He presented himself at the Laredo, Texas, port of entry and asked for asylum. From there he was transferred to facilities in Texas and Louisiana before winding up at the Adams County Correctional Center. He was denied asylum in May, then applied for parole, citing his sister’s status as a citizen and his profession as a doctor as proof that he wasn’t a flight risk or a danger. ICE denied that request, which means he will remain in ICE custody for the duration of his appeals.

Ice detentions surge in Mississippi, Louisiana, alarming immigration advocates

His sister said they came here looking for freedom but we don’t even have freedom. As people get sick and die in detention, are shuffled from one facility to another, and are held away from access to legal representation, we should refrain from celebrating their imprisonment and suffering as a financial boon for the community. We have a duty to reclaim humanity so fiercely that we don’t find joy in ICE, prisons, or prison contracts and no more Roylan Hernandez Diaz’s are detained or erased.