Wildfires continue to burn across California, with the Camp Fire becoming the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history. Many Bay Area public schools are closed today due to hazardous air quality, and more than one million students across the state (approximately one in six California public school students) have been sent home from school at some point this week due to poor air quality. Farmworkers – many of whom are undocumented – continue to labor in many California fields, exposed to dangerous smoke inhalation and potential fire risk. In an interview with ThinkProgress this week, Bruce Goldstein of Farmworker Justice talked about the “devastating choices” farmworkers face: “The consequences for farmworkers of the fires and other natural disasters tend to be compounded by several factors, including the lack of immigration status for many farmworkers, which causes them to be fearful of coming forward and seeking disaster assistance even when they are eligible for it… Working in the fields is dangerous due to the smoke from fires. Another issue is that most farmworkers have no paid leave and many are not eligible for unemployment compensation, so when they cannot work, they suffer serious economic harm… If they are displaced from their homes, they often have very limited options.” The fires will also exacerbate California’s housing crisis. The New York Times reports that “a small city’s worth of housing has been incinerated in California over the last week — 9,700 homes destroyed in Butte County alone, north of Sacramento, and 432 more in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties… For disaster-prone California, the housing shortage creates instant refugees. “There is no way that the current housing stock can accommodate the people displaced by the fire,” Casey Hatcher, the spokeswoman for Butte County, where Paradise and surrounding towns ravaged by the fire are located. “We recognize that it’s going to be some time before people rebuild, and there is an extremely large housing need.””
This week, the US Food and Drug Administration released the results of the latest National Youth Tobacco Survey, finding that the number of youth under age 18 who had vaped an e-cigarette in the last 30 days had more than doubled in the past year, from 1.5 million in 2017 to 3.6 million in 2018 (three million high schools, and more than half a million middle schoolers). The FDA announced new regulatory measures this week to require e-cigarettes to be sold in retail areas accessible only to customers over age 18 – previously, the FDA had floated the possibility of banning the sale of flavored e-cigarette cartridges altogether. The agency also announced plans to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.
Since the 1990s, researchers from Boston Medical Center’s Children’s HealthWatch have tracked use of social services. New findings presented at this week’s American Public Health Association meeting show that participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by immigrant families who have lived in the US for under five years dropped by nearly 10% in the first six months of 2018. In an interview with Vox, David Thomsen of UnidosUS said, “I think that this is ... confirmation of what we’ve been hearing from our networks of affiliates about the fear and the trepidation that immigrant families and their children have when it comes to interacting public benefits… People are disenrolling themselves from programs they are eligible for because of this climate. In terms of rhetoric and tone and specific targeting, I can’t personally think of a time in our recent history it’s been so overt… Once this is out there, this is very hard to reverse. People disenroll and it’s hard to get them back.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported that hate crime reports increased 17 percent, increasing for a third consecutive year: “Of the more than 7,100 hate crimes reported last year, nearly three out of five were motivated by race and ethnicity, according to the annual report… Black people accounted for nearly half of hate crime victims last year, according to the F.B.I. report. Of those targeted based on religion, 58 percent were Jewish… “For the N.A.A.C.P., we began to see this during the presidential election in 2015,” said Derrick Johnson, the president of the organization. “The level of tribalism that was being fueled by presidential candidates, the acceptance of intolerance that has been condoned by President Trump and many others across the country has simply emboldened individuals to be more open and notorious with their racial hatred.””
New research from the Brookings Institution finds that housing near high-performing public schools costs an average of 2.4 times more than housing located near low-performing public schools. Study author Jonathan Rothwell said, “As the nation grapples with the growing gap between rich and poor and an economy increasingly reliant on formal education, public policies should address housing market regulations that prohibit all but the very affluent from enrolling their children in high-scoring public schools in order to promote individual social mobility and broader economic security… Policy leaders have taken a number of steps over the past few decades to expand access to high-quality education for disadvantaged groups... None directly addresses one of the central issues that limit educational opportunity for low-income and minority children: their disproportionate concentration in low-performing schools.” Opportunity Starts At Home responded to the study, observing that “housing policy is education policy, and that education advocates must be housing advocates. One of the great inequities of American education is that the quality of the schools children attend largely depends on the neighborhoods in which their parents can afford to live. A key strategy to improve student learning is to remove or weaken local policies that restrict affordable housing development in neighborhoods with the highest-performing schools.”
Since Ben Carson became head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, 30% more families living in HUD housing are living in substandard conditions, according to an NBC News investigation.