Faith-based agencies that resettle refugees in America stand to gain more than a clear conscience if the United States — after what is expected to be a fierce debate in Congress — accepts a proposed 10,000 Syrian refugees next year.
More refugees also means more revenue for the agencies’ little-known debt collection operations, which bring in upwards of $5 million a year in commissions as resettled refugees repay loans for their travel costs. All nine resettlement agencies charge the same going rate as private-sector debt collectors: 25 percent of all they recoup for the government.
This debt collection practice is coming under increased scrutiny as agencies occupy a growing stage in the public square, where they argue America has a moral obligation to resettle thousands of at-risk Syrian refugees. Some observers say the call to moral action rings hollow when these agencies stand to benefit financially.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio released Nov. 9 the first comprehensive study of the practice of charging people in jail for their time there, also known as “pay-to-stay” policies, reports the BBC.
The study revealed that some inmates have debts of up to $35,000, although the BBC found evidence that one man in Marion, Ohio owes $50,000 in pay-to-stay debt.
Pay-to-stay is not limited to the state of Ohio, however. With the exceptions of Hawaii and the District of Columbia, every state in the U.S. has a law authorizing the practice.
On Feb. 8, civil rights attorneys sued the city of Ferguson, Mo ., over the practice of jailing people for failure to pay fines for traffic tickets and other minor, non-criminal offenses.
And to this I say: It’s about time.
Growing up with an attorney father — a “yellow dog Democrat” one at that — who often took on poor clients in return for yard work and other non-cash payments, I heard early and often about the unfair — and illegal — practice of debtors’ prison. A poor person could not be jailed for failure to pay a fine, my father told me. I trusted his words were true.
So imagine my surprise when at the age of 18, I was arrested for unpaid traffic fines.
At that time I was a stay-at-home mom, trapped in a too-early marriage I would one day leave. My son was probably 6 months old. When the knock came at my door and I saw a police officer standing outside, I didn’t hesitate to answer.
The officer confirmed my identity and told me I was under arrest for failure to pay traffic tickets I had received for driving an unregistered vehicle.
I know that I should have paid the registration. Once ticketed, I know I should have worked out a payment plan. I know I should have taken responsibility for my illegal actions.
But I was young, inexperienced with the system, and very, very poor. Too poor to keep up with even the most modest of payment plans.
The contemporary fast-paced, capitalistic, U.S. free market society has lost the traditional commitments to and comprehension of ‘church.’ Our parents and grandparents understood church as a community to which they belonged. Church was a place where many aspects of social life happened. The pastor was hired by the church people to care for and nurture the community, both individually and collectively. People looked to the pastor for spiritual inspiration, ethical guidance, sound counsel, and pastoral care. The pastor was an extended member of the family and people were happy to make a personal financial contribution to pay the pastor's salary and to keep the church building in repair. Somewhere along the line our society ‘outgrew’ this version of church.
A recent article in The Atlantic titled "Higher Calling, Lower Wages: The Vanishing of the Middle-Class Clergy" laments the shift away from the traditional model of financing church and clergy as well as the increased costs for training clergy. The average Master of Divinity student (the degree for pastoral training) graduates with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans — sometimes entering into the six-digit category. According to the U.S. department of labor, the median wage for a pastor is $43,800 — not a salary that lends itself to paying off high-end loans.
Debt from college loans makes some men and women postpone joining a religious community, according to a survey of men and women professing final vows in a religious order.
Ten percent of those who professed final vows in 2013 had an average amount of $31,000 in college debt and the average length of delay was two years, according to “New Sisters and Brothers Professing Perpetual Vows in Religious Life: The Profession Class of 2013.” The annual survey was conducted by the Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA).
Read the entire survey here.
I’m a big fan of the TV show Mad Men, which takes place in the midst of the Madison Avenue advertising agencies back in the ’60s and ’70s. Sure, I enjoy the drama and the “cool factor” of Don Draper and his cavalier ad team. But for me, the most fascinating part is all of the cultural norms of the time that seem fairly shocking now, only a few decades later.
Of course, there’s all the drinking and smoking in the office, but beyond that, the way that non-Anglo employees and the women in the workplace are treated would today be grounds for a lawsuit, if not public shaming for such brazen chauvinism. The thing that’s hard to remember is that, although we see such behavior as morally offensive today, it was simply normal back then.
Robert Reich pulls up in his silver Mini Cooper, quipping that he and his car are in proportion to each other. Reich, former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, identifies himself with the underdog, the little man.
His new movie, Inequality for All, looks into the effects of wealth inequality in the United States. Throughout this semi-autobiographical documentary, Reich consistently leans on his self-deprecating sense of humor by poking fun at his own physical stature; he’s 4’10 ½’’ tall. The jokes, however, do lead back to the heavier issue at hand – the American worker is getting squeezed out of the middle class.
Debt, multitudes think, is bad. It could be good, by helping more people manage the energy of money. The Lord’s Prayer helps the confusion along: some pray to be forgiven debts, others to be forgiven trespasses. Good debt does not trespass. Bad debt is most often done by banks, and trespasses inside people, insidiously, and shames them. Religious institutions help the shame along by mispraying the Lord’s Prayer.
Debt might be good. In his book on Debt: The First 5000 years, David Graeber opens with a story. The story is paradigmatic. A woman tells a man the story about a person who is “under water.” “But, shouldn’t she have to pay her debt?” Should. Have. Pay. Debt. Those four words go together. They mispray the Lord’s prayer. Instead we might pray, “forgive the banks their trespasses into our souls first and then our pocketbooks.”
In January, I received a phone message from a friend of ours. She needed to talk with me, she said. About something.
Not long after, I got an e-mail from Cordera (not her real name), our friend’s daughter:
“I am writing to you because my family and I have run into a problem. This summer President Obama passed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [of undocumented immigrants]. Over a long course of paperwork and appointments with the USCIS, I was able to receive a work authorized social security card and employment card. [But] without a student visa, I was not able to file for a loan. A few weeks after my first attempt, I found a bank that would be able to grant me a student loan with a US citizen or permanent resident as the co-signer. My father's uncle offered to help but . . . he was denied the credit.”
She wanted us to co-sign for a private loan in the amount of $35,000 to cover her first year of college. My heart sank. We couldn’t co-sign. Or we wouldn’t. I wanted to discourage her because of unfavorable and variable rates, immediate repayment, and long-term consequences of excessive indebtedness. I spoke with her university’s financial aid officer who intoned piously that the cost of the university experience was but one factor to consider: Cordera needed to hold onto her dreams, despite the crippling price tag of those dreams.
We’ve been hearing an awful lot about the national debt lately – particularly during the current election cycle – and specifically, we’ve gotten an earful about the problem of our enormous debt to China. Though some mistakenly believe we borrow all of our money to finance our upside-down economy from China, the truth is that they hold only about one-tenth of our total debt, which is about the same amount as we owe to Japan.
What’s staggering is that, even at 10 percent of our total indebtedness, that still amounts to well over one trillion dollars. That, in itself, is close to $3,700 for every man, woman, and child in the United States, plus interest. And if you consider that we owe ten times that much, it’s nothing short of depressing.
Maybe someone pursuing a Ph.D. in Liturgical Theology and Ethnomusicology is shouldn't be the one to offer this reflection.
Heck, maybe a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering or in Astrophysics would be a wise economic choice. I can't say.
I've been mulling over some of the news stories out there hyping either end of the (political?) reality of spending more money (and time, let's not forget time) on higher education. It leads me to a couple of questions:
Does the present rate of student debt have a snowball's chance in Tartarus in being repaid? Will the students, especially the so-called "nontradtional student" like myself, actually see a return in their investment?
If you believe NPR, the answer may be "no."
Top 10 Reasons Alabama’s New Immigration Law Is A Disaster For The State’s Economy; Undocumented Immigrants Facing Deportation: Caught Up In Confusion, Lost Records, Inconsistent Policy Enforcement, And Difficult Choices; A Deeper Look At Income Inequality; Why The Debt Panel Is In Trouble; How Congress Occupied Wall Street (OPINION – Sarah Palin); 68 Percent Of The Sons Of The 1 Percent Work At Their Dad's Company; More Than 1 In 5 U.S. Children Poor, Census Says.
Chris Hedges' statement on Occupy Wall Street read in part:
As part of the political theater that has come to replace the legislative and judicial process, the Securities and Exchange Commission agreed to a $550 million settlement whereby Goldman Sachs admitted it showed "incomplete" information in marketing materials and that it was a "mistake" to not disclose the nature of its portfolio selection committee. This fine was a payoff to the SEC by Goldman Sachs of about four days' worth of revenue, and in return they avoided going to court. CEO Lloyd Blankfein apparently not only lied to clients, but to the subcommittee itself on April 27, 2010, when he told lawmakers: "We didn't have a massive short against the housing market, and we certainly did not bet against our clients." Yet, they did.