Identifying Poverty Areas using Satellite Imagery

Scientists use machine learning to fight global poverty from space, By Lonnie Shekhtman, August 18, 2016, Christian Science Monitor: “Satellites are best known for helping smartphones map driving routes or televisions deliver programs. But now, data from some of the thousands of satellites orbiting Earth are helping track things like crop conditions on rural farms, illegal deforestation, and increasingly, poverty in the hard-to-reach places around the globe…”

Low-Income Households and Internet Access

Comcast expands Internet access to more low-income families, By Pam Adams, July 15, 2016, Peoria Journal Star: “More low-income households, including veterans, senior citizens and adults without children, will have access to low-cost internet service from Comcast.  The country’s largest cable provider is expanding Internet Essentials to all housing programs in its service areas that receive funds for from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The program originally was developed in 2011 to provide low-cost internet service for families of grade school and high school students who met eligibility guidelines for the federal free lunch program…”

Home Energy Costs

Where the poor spend more than 10 percent of their income on energy, By Adam Chandler, June 8, 2016, The Atlantic: “From childcare to payday loans, to the difficulty of buying in bulk and beyond, the list of what makes being poor so expensive is long already. And here’s another: energy-related expenses. The threshold beyond which experts believe energy ceases to be ‘affordable’ is 6 percent of a household’s income. But for many lower-income households, even with declining energy prices, paying less than that benchmark is a fantasy. DeAndrea Newman Salvador, an economist and the founder of The Renewable Energy Transition Initiative, a nonprofit, studied the cost of home utilities in her native North Carolina and found that energy expenditures among low-earning households were staggeringly high…”

Internet Access and Unemployment – Detroit, MI

Unemployed Detroit residents are trapped by a digital divide, By Cecilia Kang, May 22, 2016, New York Times: “In downtown Detroit, start-ups and luxury retailers are opening up and new office buildings are being built as the city works to recover from its deep economic problems. Six miles to the north, in the neighborhood of Hope Village, residents like Eric Hill are trying to participate in that progress but are running into hurdles. His difficulties were apparent on a recent Tuesday when he entered a crowded public library to use the computers to look for a new job. With no Internet service at home or on his mobile phone, Mr. Hill had few options to search work listings or file online job applications after losing his stocking job at a pharmacy five months ago…”

Home Energy Assistance Programs

Utility assistance falls short for those in poverty, By Dan Boyce and Jordan Wirfs-Brock, May 15, 2016, Glenwood Springs Post Independent: “Families at low income levels pay more than they can afford for their home utility bills, and energy assistance programs designed to help make up the difference struggle to meet demand. As Lea Anne Shellberg knows, spring can be the most difficult time. Spring is when those power bills from the winter start piling up. A broken back and a recurring battle with skin cancer ended her career as an interior designer. When we first tried setting up an interview with her in mid-March, she was in trouble…”

Internet Access for Low-Income Families

This city is giving super-fast internet to poor students, By Heather Kelly, May 10, 2016, CNN Money: “Around 5 million homes with school-age children don’t have high speed internet, according to the Pew Research Center. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, 22.5% of residents live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and nearly 25,000 kids are on the public school system’s free and reduced lunch program. Chattanooga is trying to close its ‘homework gap’ with a pair of programs that help low-income families get online…”

Low-Income Households and Internet Access

  • Why Comcast is expanding its low-cost Internet program to public housing, By Max Lewontin, March 25, 2016, Christian Science Monitor: “Comcast is partnering with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to expand its “Internet Essentials” program to public housing residents in Miami; Nashville, Tenn.; Seattle; and Philadelphia, the company announced on Thursday. The program, which costs $9.95 per month, offers low-income families high-speed Internet service up to 10 megabits per second, a free Wi-Fi router, access to free digital literacy training, and the option to purchase a computer for less than $150…”
  • Comcast expands low-cost Internet to all Miami-Dade public housing, By Nancy Dahlberg, March 24, 2016, Miami Herald: “Karisha Bailey is a self-employed chef who uses her smartphone constantly in her work. She’s also the single mom of four young children who need that same smartphone for their homework. Sharing the phone and keeping data charges manageable is a constant challenge. This week, Bailey became one of the first residents of the Rainbow Village public housing development to receive a free laptop and six months of complimentary high-speed Internet access. After that, her family will be able to continue on the program for $9.95 a month…” 

Low-Income Households and Internet Access

  • Bridging a digital divide that leaves schoolchildren behind, By Cecilia Kang, February 22, 2016, New York Times: “At 7 p.m. on a recent Wednesday, Isabella and Tony Ruiz were standing in their usual homework spot, on a crumbling sidewalk across the street from the elementary school nearest to their home. ‘I got it. I’m going to download,’ Isabella said to her brother Tony as they connected to the school’s wireless hot spot and watched her teacher’s math guide slowly appear on the cracked screen of the family smartphone. Isabella, 11, and Tony, 12, were outside the school because they have no Internet service at home — and connectivity is getting harder. With their mother, Maria, out of work for months and money coming only from their father, Isaias, who washes dishes, the family had cut back on almost everything, including their cellphone data plan. So every weeknight, the siblings stood outside the low-slung school, sometimes for hours, to complete homework for the sixth grade…”
  • F.C.C. fine-tunes plan to subsidize internet access, By Cecilia Kang, March 8, 2016, New York Times: “People who do not have regular access to the Internet can fall behind in school, at work and in other everyday tasks. The Federal Communications Commission is close to what it hopes will be a solution to address that gap: $9.25 a month. The agency on Tuesday will circulate a final proposal to F.C.C. members to approve a broadband subsidy of $9.25 a month for low-income households, in the government’s boldest effort to date to narrow a technological divide that has emerged between those who have web access and those who do not. While more than 95 percent of households with incomes over $150,000 have high-speed Internet at home, just 48 percent of those making less than $25,000 can afford the service, the F.C.C.’s chairman, Tom Wheeler, has said…”

Public Benefit Program Application and Eligibility

How 10 text messages can help families find out if they qualify for food stamps, By Max Lewontin, February 16, 2016, Christian Science Monitor: “A new texting-based system aims to simplify the process of applying for food stamps in Alaska, where 27 percent of people who are eligible for a common federal program that helps people buy food they need aren’t getting the benefits because they haven’t applied, state officials say.  Using text-based prompts, the system lets families see whether they would qualify for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in a series of 10 text messages, compared with a 28-page application that they would ordinary have to fill out…”

Child Care Subsidies – Massachusetts

Computer woes delay child-care subsidies, By Stephanie Ebbert, November 20, 2015, Boston Globe: “About 1,600 low-income children remain stuck on a waiting list for subsidized child care because a computer system built by the state government has been beset by problems for four months.  The Department of Early Education and Care launched the new, $5.05-million system on July 1, despite concerns about its readiness raised by the child-care providers who rely on it to get paid…”

Phone Rates for Prison Inmates

FCC votes to further cut cost of calls for inmates, By Heather Hollingsworth (AP), October 22, 2015, Washington Post: “The Federal Communications Commission’s decision Thursday to take additional steps to slash how much can be charged for phone calls made from jails and prisons was hailed as removing a burden on families and criticized as a budget buster for some facilities.  FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, said before the vote in Washington that the cost of the calls have placed ‘incredible burdens’ on the families of the more than 2 million people incarcerated in the U.S…”

Lifeline Program and Internet Access

The FCC wants to help America’s poorest pay for Internet, By Brian Fung, June 18, 2015, Washington Post: “Major upgrades are coming to a federal aid program that helps low-income Americans connect to basic communications services.  The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to consider how to allow eligible Americans to purchase Internet access using government funds, in a move that recognizes high-speed Internet as a key to pulling the poor out of poverty. The decision highlights the FCC’s fast-growing role in regulating broadband. In a 3-2 vote, the agency opened a process to expand its Lifeline program — a Reagan-era plan that gives $9.25 per month to Americans who meet income requirements or who already receive some form of federal assistance…”

Employment and Transportation

  • Transportation emerges as crucial to escaping poverty, By Mikayla Bouchard, May 7, 2015, New York Times: “James Baker was pedaling to work along a slick, snow-covered road in Frederick County, Md., when a traffic light changed abruptly. He braked and skidded to the ground, unhurt but making a mess of his clothes before a long day of work and school.  He was on his bicycle that snowy morning last December, about an hour northwest of Washington, because the bus service in Frederick was so erratic. Routes were far apart and the buses often late, making a 30-minute bike ride, whatever the weather, a better option.  His commuting problems highlight a central theme for many low-income people trying to build a better life: A lack of reliable and efficient transportation is often a huge barrier…”
  • Car donation helps drive women from poverty to self-sufficiency, By Robert Duffer, May 1, 2015, Chicago Tribune: “The new car feeling is like few others, full of hope, pride, a bit of anxiety and a lot of responsibility. For Caress Pouncy, it means a whole lot more.  ‘This is truly a blessing,’ Pouncy said before being handed the keys to a fully refurbished 2010 Nissan Altima during a reception on Friday, April 24, at Automechanika Chicago, the world’s largest automotive aftermarket trade show. ‘I feel like the kid in ‘Miracle on 34th Street.”  It was less a miracle than a wide-reaching initiative to provide a woman in need with transportation. The Altima is the first ever car donated as part of a community-building program facilitated by the National Auto Body Council (NABC) and propelled by Women With Drive (WWD), a Chicago-based nonprofit, to drive women out of welfare and down the road to self-sufficiency…”

Internet Access for the Homeless

Fighting homelessness, one smartphone at a time, By Claire Cain Miller, April 14, 2015, New York Times: “Holly Leonard has been homeless on and off for years. There was a stint in jail and, more recently, a period in a women’s homeless shelter, while her husband slept in their car. But last month, the two moved into a one-bedroom apartment in San Jose, Calif., complete with a small garden. Ms. Leonard found it on Craigslist while using her Nexus 5 smartphone — a donation from Google that she got from a San Jose nonprofit called Community Technology Alliance…”

Low-Income Workers and Public Transportation

Lacking transport, low-wage workers take a hit, By Katie Johnson, February 12, 2015, Boston Globe: “The $30 cab ride that Chazmaine Carroll had to take to get home from her job as a security guard this week amounted to nearly half her take-home pay for the day. For Medina Ahmed, a fast-food worker who does not have the option of working from home, the MBTA shutdown cost her two days’ wages. Taking a taxi to work would have cost her more than she makes in a day. Isidro Melo, who’s part of the cleaning crew at Boston Medical Center, also was stranded, unable to get to work without the commuter rail or the Red Line. He and his wife live in Lowell because of the lower cost of housing there. These workers illustrate the disproportionate hardship the snow has imposed on the area’s lowest-paid workers. For them, it’s more than a temporary inconvenience. It’s a financial blow that can make all the difference in paying bills, making the rent, and putting food on the table…”

SNAP and EBT Cards

Will new federal regs force bodega owners to shun food stamps?, By Alfred Lubrano, October 14, 2014, Philadelphia Inquirer: “A little-noticed change in federal law may hurt small neighborhood grocery stores and their low-income customers who use food stamps. In 2004, food stamps went digital, switching from paper coupons to electronic cards. In large supermarkets, such Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards are swiped at checkout terminals along with credit and debit cards. But in around 118,000 bodegas, corner stores, and mom-and-pop markets nationwide, EBT cards have been used in specific EBT machines provided to stores free in a federal-state partnership, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the food-stamp program, known as SNAP. Now, all that is changing. The states and the federal government will no longer foot the bill for EBT machines, a measure that could save an estimated $154 million over 10 years, according to federal officials…”

Global Food Production

How to feed 3 billion extra people — without trashing the planet, By Ezra Klein, July 18, 2014, Vox: One of the daunting challenges of the coming century will be figuring out how to grow enough food for everyone on the planet. And all without destroying the planet. That’s harder than it sounds. The global population is expected to swell from 7 billion today to 9.6 billion in 2050. On top of that, countries like China and India are getting richer and eating more meat — a particularly resource-intensive type of food. Then there’s the environment to consider. Farms have become a major source of nitrogen pollution. Around the world, freshwater aquifers are dwindling. And, perhaps most crucially, countries like Brazil are trying to cut back on deforestation — which in turn makes it harder to find new cropland. . .”

Oil Booms and Poverty – Texas

Boom meets bust in Texas: Atop sea of oil, poverty digs in, By Manny Fernandez and Clifford Krauss, June 29, 2014, New York Times: “From the window of her tin-roofed trailer, Judy Vargas can glimpse a miraculous world. It is as close as the dust kicked up by the trucks barreling by but seems as distant as Mars. As you walk out of her front yard — where the chewed-off leg of an animal, probably a feral hog caught by a prowling bobcat, rots outside — a towering natural gas flare peeks over the southerly view. Across the railroad tracks and Interstate 35, a newly reopened railroad interchange stores acres of pipe and receives shipments of sand from Wisconsin to be used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Next to the terminal is an expanding natural gas processing plant that lies in the heart of the Eagle Ford, a giant shale oil field that here in La Salle County alone produces more than $15 million worth of oil a day, or about one out of every 55 barrels produced in the United States. . .”

Electronic Benefit Transfer Cards and Fraud – Maine

  • A Maine family’s struggle to beat back welfare fraud allegations, By Luisa Deprez and Sandy Butler, May 2, 2014, Bangor Daily News: “There has been much discussion recently about fraud among Maine residents receiving government assistance. The LePage administration claims fraud is rampant, yet Maine’s attorney general notes that she has prosecuted only 37 Department of Health and Human Services cases in the last three years. Advocates for the poor also disagree, noting that claims of fraud are ill defined and greatly overblown…”
  • Despite federal warnings, program to put photos on EBT cards begins in Bangor, By Mario Moretto, April 28, 2014, Bangor Daily News: “A pilot program intended to strengthen the integrity of Maine’s welfare programs kicked off Monday in Bangor, where some recipients of public assistance funds traded in benefit cards for new ones featuring photo identification. The new project adds a photo ID to electronic benefits transfer cards, which are used like debit cards by welfare recipients. The cards carry funds that can be used to buy food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, and cash benefits through a program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families…”

Unemployment Insurance System – Tennessee

Unemployment fix could take two years, By Chas Sisk, April 24, 2014, The Tennessean: “Although state officials have known about problems in the state’s unemployment insurance program for more than a year, outside observers say it could take them at least two more to straighten things out. The Department of Labor and Workforce Development says it already has begun to address mistakes raised in an audit of the program, some of them coming up for the second time…”