Improving Public Policy
Virginia creates flood preparedness fund
A new Virginia law went into effect on July 1 creating the Virginia Community Flood Preparedness Fund, a revolving loan program to fund activities to reduce flood risk. Created by the legislature in March, the program will support buying out repeatedly flooded properties, restoring floodplains, installing living shorelines, and similar activities. The fund will receive up to $45 million annually from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a market-based cap and trade program the state recently joined that seeks to reduce carbon emissions. Pew, which promoted creation of the loan program, released a poll in January showing that 84 percent of registered voters in the state—across party lines—favored this type of investment for community flood risk reduction.
High sea areas identified for protection
In March, Pew released a report identifying priority ocean areas that could benefit from protections established under a new high seas treaty. The report highlights 10 sites with important features, such as species richness, productivity, and habitat diversity, and includes recommendations to inform the negotiations to finalize a legally binding international agreement on high seas protections. The report, for example, features the Lord Howe Rise and South Tasman Sea, an area between Australia and New Zealand. The region provides marine megafauna such as humpback whales refuge from predators, and rich breeding and feeding grounds along their migratory route. The report, published in the journal Marine Policy, will help inform the final negotiating session on the U.N. high seas treaty expected to take place later this year.
Northern Australia gets marine park
In April, Australia’s Northern Territory parliament approved the Limmen Bight Marine Park, covering 218,440 acres of remote tropical seas along the country’s northern coastline. Pew and its partner, the Australian Marine Conservation Society, had worked to promote creation of the park since 2013, engaging with fishing interests, local Indigenous people, and the Northern Territory government. The park contains a variety of coastal and marine habitats, including beaches, mangroves, seagrass beds, and coral reefs, and provides critical feeding grounds for dugongs (a type of sea cow) and sea turtles such as the flatback turtle. The state park adjoins the Limmen Marine Park in offshore federal waters and the Limmen National Park on land, both established following advocacy by Pew, and brings the contiguous protection now on land and sea in the region to 2.8 million acres.
Landmark payday loan reform becomes law in Virginia
In April, Governor Ralph Northam signed into law reforms for consumer finance loans in Virginia. Until now, Virginia had some of the weakest laws in the country for payday and auto title loans, allowing lenders to charge borrowers three times more than they do in other states, with annual percentage rates regularly exceeding 200 percent. Pew worked extensively in support of the new law, which is modeled after successful reforms in Ohio and Colorado. The new law takes a balanced approach to maintaining a viable market for lenders while ensuring that consumers have widespread access to credit, affordable payments, and a sensible amount of time to repay. Pew estimates that Virginia families will save more than $100 million annually. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Northam moved up the law’s enactment date by six months, to Jan. 1, 2021, which will save consumers an additional $50 million.
New federal rules improve care and public health
The federal government in March released a pair of long-awaited rules that will give patients greater access to their health data and improve the flow of information across care settings. These rules, issued by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, advance goals for better record interoperability and patient access that were set in the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act.
This major regulatory update to America’s health IT infrastructure comes at a time of unprecedented pressure on the nation’s health care system because of the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus. Pew conducted research to inform the rules and assembled a coalition of physician groups and industry representatives to support the effort. The pandemic has reinforced the need for on-demand, remote access to health data for patients and providers. Although these rules do not solve every health IT challenge, they represent important steps toward improving the ability of patients and clinicians to access data from electronic health record systems.
Informing the Public
Survey finds U.S. adults not polarized over census response
The Pew Research Center in March published a report examining U.S. adults’ attitudes about the 2020 U.S. census, their awareness of the survey, and their intent to participate. Notably, in an era in which opinions on a host of national issues fall along political lines, perceptions about the U.S. census largely are not polarized, according to the survey. Republicans and Democrats (including those who lean toward each party) are about equally likely to say they plan to respond. Similar majorities of Democrats and Republicans also say they believe that census results will not benefit one party more than the other, and majorities of both say the 2020 census will at least be somewhat successful in accurately counting the number of people living in the U.S. Eight in 10 U.S. adults say they definitely or probably will participate in the census, similar to the 78% who said so in a January Pew Research Center survey. Although 8 in 10 U.S. adults said they definitely or probably will participate in the census, intent was lower among some historically undercounted groups, such as Black and Hispanic adults.
Record number of naturalized immigrants eligible to vote
In February, the Pew Research Center published a report, based on Census Bureau data, showing that more than 23 million U.S. immigrants will be eligible to vote in the 2020 presidential election, making up roughly 10% of the nation’s overall electorate; both statistics are record highs. The number of immigrant eligible voters has increased steadily over the past 20 years, up 93% since 2000. By comparison, the U.S.-born eligible voter population grew more slowly (by 18%) over the same period, from 181 million in 2000 to 215 million in 2020. Immigrant eligible voters are those ages 18 and older born outside of the United States who have gained U.S. citizenship through naturalization. Although coming from countries around the globe, most are Hispanic or Asian, with immigrants from Mexico making up the single largest group at 16% of foreign-born voters. More than half of all U.S. immigrants (56%) live in the country’s four most populous states: California, New York, Texas, and Florida.
High importance to gender equality around the globe
A Pew Research Center report on international views of gender equality published in April found that a median of 94% across the 34 nations polled think it is important for women in their country to have the same rights as men. In many countries, women place more importance on gender equality than men do. However, women are less optimistic than men that women in their countries will achieve equality, and women are more likely to say men have better lives. Although publics around the world embrace the idea of gender equality, at least 4 in 10 think that men generally have more opportunities than women in their country when it comes to getting high-paying jobs (a median of 54% across the countries surveyed) and being leaders in their community (44%). Publics see more equity in access to a good education—a median of 81% believe that men and women in their country generally have the same opportunities in this area—and expressing their political views (63% say men and women have the same opportunities).
Americans’ views on economic status
The Pew Research Center in March released a report finding that nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults (65%) say the main reason that some people are rich is because they have had more advantages in life than most other people, while far fewer say it is due to their work ethic (33%). An even larger majority (71%) says people are poor because they have faced more obstacles in life. Only about a quarter (26%) say people are poor because they have not worked as hard. These views are also deeply divided along partisan lines. Large majorities of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say that advantages in life have more to do with why someone is rich (82%) and that having faced more obstacles has more to do with why someone is poor (86%). Opinions among Republicans and Republican leaners are more divided: 53% say hard work has more to do with why a person is rich, while 45% say it is because they have more advantages. On views of why a person is poor, 55% of Republicans say it is more because they have faced obstacles that most others have not, while 42% say it is more because they have not worked as hard as most others.
Invigorating Civic Life
The state of Philadelphia
On April 7, the Philadelphia research and policy initiative published its annual “State of the City” report, describing the generally positive trajectory of the city before the arrival of COVID-19. At the start of 2020, the city’s job count was at its highest level since 1990, unemployment was historically low at 5.2%, the population was growing, and the educational attainment level of residents was rising. But a rise in violent crime, particularly homicide, had become a central element of Philadelphia’s story, with the potential to undercut the city’s progress when paired with its chronically high poverty rate.
Help for Philadelphia during the coronavirus
The Pew Fund for Health and Human Services in May announced $6.8 million in grants to help 38 area nonprofit organizations assist some of the most vulnerable adults in the community, including those struggling with homelessness, mental health issues, and extended unemployment. The funding will help organizations address these residents’ critical needs, including those exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Pew also is giving all grantees more flexibility in the use of funding to help them adapt, sustain and, in some cases, expand their programs. In addition, the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage will provide additional operating support to current grantee organizations and an additional $2,500 each to current Pew arts fellows, for a combined total of more than $535,000, to help the arts organizations and artists offset lost revenue.
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