Kalena Thomhave

Kalena Thomhave is a writing fellow at the Prospect.

Recent Articles

Is It Race or Class? To the Trump Administration, It Doesn’t Matter

A new study on upward mobility points to racial disparities across generations—but efforts that could work to reduce these disparities are not a priority of the GOP administration.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke Jennifer Donald, whose family receives money from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, eats dinner with her sons David and Donovan, and daughter Jayla, in Philadelphia. trickle-downers_35.jpg T he income inequality between black and white Americans affects not only the ability of poor black men to earn more money than their parents, but also the chances of black men who were raised in the wealthiest households to remain wealthy. And the income disparities between black and white adults exist even if they grew up in families with similar incomes, education, and family structure—even if they lived in the same neighborhood. That’s the conclusion of an expansive new study by Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren, two economists with the Equality of Opportunity Project, and Maggie R. Jones and Sonya R. Porter of the Census Bureau. Their results point to specific poverty interventions—namely, reducing systemic racism and discrimination—that policymakers may want to...

West Virginia Teachers Win—Will the Legislature Try to Undercut Their Victory?

West Virginia’s teachers won a 5 percent pay raise for all state employees. But it was the legislature’s corporate tax cuts that underfunded the teachers in the first place—and it may slash public services to pay for the raise.

(Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)
(Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP) West Virginia teachers, from right, Kara Brown, Katherine Dudley, Nina Tunstalle, and Lois Casto react to news that Governor Jim Justice and Senate Republicans had reached a deal to end the strike on March 6, 2018, in Charleston, West Virginia. T he West Virginia teachers’ strike, which had become the longest in the state’s history at nine days, ended Tuesday with a deal to increase the pay of teachers as well as all state employees by 5 percent. (Previously, union leaders had struck a deal for a 5 percent pay raise of teachers with only a 3 percent raise for state employees. With the Republican state Senate initially balking at the deal, rank-and-file teachers were rightfully skeptical that the legislature would agree to the raise, and continued striking.) The increasing costs of the teachers’ health insurance was another driver of the strike; Republican Governor Jim Justice has promised to set up a task force to look at the state’s...

West Virginia Communities Unite Behind Historic Teacher Strike

It’s day four of the West Virginia teachers’ strike, in which nearly 20,000 teachers across the state are demanding higher pay and better health insurance.

On Tuesday, union leaders finally secured a meeting with Republican Governor Jim Justice—meaning the strike could end today if demands are met. The teachers, coordinated by the American Federation of Teachers–West Virginia and the West Virginia Education Association, technically are barred from striking, so their recent approach is not only brave, but highlights the urgency of their difficulties: Many teachers are forced to take second jobs to make ends meet, and low salaries (teacher pay in West Virginia ranks 48th in the country) and inadequate benefits likely contribute to West Virginia’s teacher shortage.

Justice, a billionaire, signed into law meager pay raises last week, which prompted the walkout, had admonished the nearly 20,000 striking teachers—and 10,000 striking support staff—saying they “should be appreciative of where [they] are” and “should be back in the classroom.” Justice did propose raising the natural gas severance tax, saying the revenue could provide raises for teachers.

Residents and local businesses are demonstrating their support by bringing food, water, and coffee, to the teachers, says Chad Webb, the partnership coordinator of Reconnecting McDowell, an AFT-led county revitalization initiative. “Driving through McDowell County, businesses have [signs saying] ‘We support our teachers.’”

Local support for what amounts to the largest teachers’ strike in state history—across all 55 counties—is a continuation of West Virginia’s rich legacy of labor activism, with some teachers even wearing red bandanas—an homage to the coal miners of the early 20th-century labor battles, who wore red bandanas and were thus called “rednecks.”

Just over the state border, teachers in Pittsburgh, a city that shares that same strong labor history, are planning to strike this Friday if their union and the school district cannot reach a contract agreement.

Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Booed Over ‘Harvest Box’ Idea

The Trump administration’s controversial proposal to transform some Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) benefits into “America’s Harvest Box,” did not go over well at a national meeting of anti-hunger advocates.

“As with any innovative idea,” said Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Brandon Lipps, speaking at the Anti-Hunger Policy Conference in Washington on Monday, “there are questions to be answered and details to be worked out. We want to hear from you on this.”

He did.

Lipps was met by a chorus of boos from conference attendees when he claimed the Harvest Box program would be more “efficient” (it likely wouldn’t be), and that recipients would maintain more than half of their benefits on their EBT cards so they could “supplement the staple foods in these boxes.” Some attendees even walked out of the room, and one question from the audience, about how the USDA reconciled taking away people’s foods with preserving their dignity, was drowned out by cheers and applause.

“[Agriculture] Secretary Perdue is genuinely concerned about the soon-to-be $21 trillion deficit that we have in this country,” Lipps said to more boos, and even some laughs. (According to the Congressional Budget Office, the GOP tax plan will increase the deficit by $1.4 trillion to deliver tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.)

The recently released 2018 president’s budget proposes cutting SNAP by $213.5 billion over the next decade. The idea of delivering boxes of government commodity food to SNAP recipients in the form of so-called Harvest Boxes was met with fierce criticism from anti-poverty advocates.

Conference attendee Denalerie Johnson-Faniel, director of the Mercer Street Friends Food Bank in Trenton, New Jersey, told the Prospect that the Harvest Box idea is “antiquated” and that the USDA “didn’t put enough time and energy” into actually coming up an innovative proposal. She points to the nutrition issue with the boxes, highlighting the sodium present in government foods and how the box doesn’t provide fresh produce.

“It takes away the voice of the American citizen,” Johnson-Faniel says. “People should have a decision in what they eat.”

Washington State Shifts into New Ways of Thinking About Welfare and Transportation

Travel woes for low-income people lead to pilot program that expands transportation access—and opportunities.

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren Pedestrians walk past a gas station in Seattle screen_shot_2017-07-19_at_4.28.52_pm.png I t pays to listen. Washington state welfare case workers had heard plenty of stories from individuals in poverty about the hurdles they had to overcome to find and keep steady work, from irregular child care arrangements to physical or mental health issues and unpaid bills. But one problem dominated those conversations: finding reliable transportation. The quandary faced by people who receive cash benefits from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program (TANF) is especially severe because of the federal work requirements as a condition for receiving assistance. “We put these requirements in place without any real understanding of what it means [for a person] to live in poverty, and try to do everything we ask them to do, and raise a child,” says Babs Roberts, who directs the Community Services Division in Washington state’s Department of Social and Health Services...