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Dr. Michael Forster

Shortsighted SNAP rollback harms public health

While HB1523 perhaps rightly garners the lion’s share of news attention right now, other recent government action threatens to do far more immediate damage to many more Mississippians.  I’m referring to the state’s decision not to request a federal waiver of work requirements to qualify for Supplementation Nutrition (“food stamp”) assistance, as it has throughout the recession up until now.  The Department of Human Services projects that roughly 50,000 state residents are likely to lose benefits.

The logic of the decision is this: Economic conditions in the state have improved enough that the waiver is no longer needed.  Recipients otherwise not exempt for reasons such as disability, or having young children, can now be expected to work or to attend educational programs preparing them for work.  It’s time to steer people toward jobs, as the governor has put it, and not dependence on government aid.

But there’s more wishful thinking than economic reality propelling this “logic.”  Mississippi’s economy continues to drag (precisely the reason public officials cite to explain depressed tax revenue, in fact), underlying one of the highest state unemployment rates in the nation, roughly 7%.   Unfilled jobs, moreover, are far from evenly distributed throughout the state; many rural counties suffer unemployment rates two or three times higher than the state average.  At the same time, Mississippi continues to endure one of the highest overall poverty rates, with fully 22% “food insecure” households.

Food insecurity virtually guarantees poor nutrition; and poor nutrition, if not outright malnutrition, is a salient element in the complex of factors contributing to exceptionally poor health and poor health outcomes in our state.  Cutting SNAP benefits will only worsen the harm to health.

Dr. Michael Forster

Lead in drinking water is a public health catastrophe

It turns out that the water crisis in Flint, Michigan is just the tip of the iceberg.  A USA TODAY investigation making the news today has turned up about 2,000 water systems across the country – 350 of them supplying drinking water to day care centers and schools – indicating excessive lead contamination over the past four years.  Approximately six million Americans are directly affected.

Even small quantities of lead pose serious human health hazards, notably to children and pregnant women, damaging developing brains, reducing intelligence, and prompting attention and other behavioral disorders. Lead is also implicated in a range of adult health problems, including hypertension, kidney disease, and increased risk of stroke. There is no established “safe” level of lead exposure.

Who or what is the culprit in this emergent catastrophe?   More than anything now, it’s decaying public water infrastructure, designed – in many cases upward of 100 years ago –  by well-meaning engineers relying on lead as a pliable and durable pipe material.  Under the best of conditions, some lead will leech into the water supply; aging leaded pipes and pipe joints pose far worse problems for public health.

Replacing hazardous infrastructure is an expensive proposition, but one that must not be dodged.  There is simply too much at stake.

Jim Coll

Top Stories – March 2016

Here are a few of the top University of Southern Mississippi stories for the month of March 2016.

USM students continue to favorably compete with the best in the nation.

Jaylen Hackett and JD Rimann are the University’s newest finalists for Truman Scholarships. Hackett, a political science/economics major from Mobile, Ala., and Rimann, a history/English/political science major from Round Rock, Texas, hope to follow in the footsteps of previous Southern Miss Truman scholars – Stephanie McCracken (2014), Brandon Hersey (2013), Marie Holowach Federer (2011) and Lance Brown (1999).

Recently, USM has more than proven its mettle as a heavyweight contender for this elite scholarship. In the last five years, six of the University’s eight nominees have advanced to finalist status — with three being named Truman scholars.

Named in honor of the late U.S. President Harry S. Truman, the Truman Scholarship is awarded to high-achieving college juniors. The scholarship provides up to $30,000 for graduate study in public service fields and leadership training. The 2016 Class of Truman Scholars will be announced on April 22.

Read more: http://news.usm.edu/article/southern-miss-students-named-truman-scholarship-finalists

Several Greek Life organizations and students have also earned regional and national honors, including Betsy Mercier, who was named Delta Delta Delta national philanthropy chairperson of the year. Tri-Delta also won the St. Jude Chapter of the Year award from that national organization.

Read more: http://news.usm.edu/article/southern-miss-greek-life-gets-winning-results-super-saturday

Outstanding USM student programs continue to provide a model for public higher education institutions throughout the country.

In late February, the University’s Luckyday Citizenship Scholars Program was honored with the Jon C. Dalton Institute Best Practice in Campus Programming Award.

The Best Practice Award is given by the Institute annually to a program or practice that has contributed significantly to the field of college student character and values development. A panel of judges, including practicing student affairs professionals and preparation program faculty, review all nominated program materials.

The Jon C. Dalton Institute on College Student Values was established in 1991 for student affairs professionals, educators, graduate, and undergraduate students interested in character development in college students. The award is presented annually at Florida State University.

Read more: http://news.usm.edu/article/southern-miss-luckyday-program-accepts-best-practice-award-jon-c-dalton-institute

The University continues to host events that attract audiences from across the country and throughout the world.

In early March, the University’s National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security hosted the inaugural Professional Sport Facilities Safety and Security Summit. More than 80 industry experts attended the summit which serves as the only annual combined meeting for professional and minor league safety and security professionals. The list included security professionals like Jim Mercurio, vice president, stadium operations/general manager for the San Francisco 49ers, who recently helped coordinate safety and security for Super Bowl 50.

On April 6-8, the 50th anniversary of our de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection will be recognized during the Fay B. Kaigler Chidren’s Book Festival on the Hattiesburg campus. The 100th birthday of famed American writer and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats (1916-1983) will also be celebrated with a special Centennial Keats Lecture given by Deborah Pope at the Keats awards ceremony and luncheon April 7.

The festival recently benefited from a $100,000 gift from Richard Peck. The famed author’s gift will help defray registration and travel costs for some regular attendees of the festival whose sponsors have budget challenges involving travel expenditures.

Read more: http://news.usm.edu/article/author-richard-peck-makes-gift-southern-miss

USM takes great pride in serving those who serve others, and we were recently again honored for our commitment to active military, their family members and veterans.

The University has been rated as a 2016 Top Military Friendly Online College – one of only 81 to receive that designation nationally – by Military Advanced Education & Transition (MAET).

In evaluating more than 500 schools, MAET researched online schools across the nation and analyzed them in four areas: military culture, online support, financial aid, and flexibility.

Read more: http://news.usm.edu/article/southern-miss-receives-top-military-friendly-online-college-honor

Dr. Michael Forster

Cut carbon emissions for human health

So clearly, now, the debate is over – Climate change is all-too-real, “a” if not “the” principal cause is carbon emissions related to human activity, and many of the expected effects of climate change – extreme weather, disruption of food supplies, shifting disease vectors among them – pose grave threats to public health. The landmark Paris climate accord this past December left no doubt – global carbon emissions must be reduced, radically and rapidly.

So why is Ernest Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, celebrating, in today’s Clarion-Ledger, a court-related delay in the Environmental Protection Agency’s imposition of state-by-state carbon emissions?  Yes, Mr. Pyle, regulation to cut carbon pollution may mean that “higher costs will be passed on to Mississippi families in the form of higher energy bills.”  But it just may be that those families recognize that a hopefully healthy future for their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren is worth the price of some higher costs now.

Short-term pocketbook issues are real, but they’re not all there is, certainly not when a livable future hangs in the balance.  Let’s take our heads out of the sand once and for all, and look ahead to the long term.

Dr. Michael Forster

Flint, Michigan public health crisis: isolated incident, or more to come?

Eyes around the country are on Flint, Michigan, where a money-saving switch in water source has led to dangerous levels of lead leeching into the water supply, disproportionately affecting poor children and threatening all drinkers’ health, both immediately and for years to come.  There’s plenty of blame for bad decision-making, incompetence, and poor response to go around.  Michigan Governor Synder has taken his share of blame, apologized, and promised to correct the problem.

The Flint debacle is fraught with issues – of race, poverty, and austerity politics among them.  But how unique is Flint, really?  A key proximate cause of the lead contamination is a badly decaying water carrying infrastructure – a condition plaguing urban areas, large and small, in the “rust belt” and outside it, all over the country.  Is Flint unique, or just first?  We can only neglect fundamental conditions of  sanitation and safety before human health starts to suffer – often in painfully dramatic fashion.