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Public Policy Hosts Weekend of Learning and Service

About 30 undergraduate students from California and beyond convened at UCLA for a weekend of learning and public service, part of the not-for-profit Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) program. UCLA Luskin Public Policy hosted the program, “Advancing Social Justice Through Public Service: Lessons From California,” with senior lecturer Kenya Covington coordinating a full weekend of lectures, conversations and off-campus experiences. Students ventured out to MacArthur Park west of downtown Los Angeles, the Crenshaw District and the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl to hear how policymakers are grappling with homelessness and gentrification. They heard from several MPP alumni from both the policy field and academia, and learned about public service career paths from Dean Gary Segura and other UCLA Luskin staff. Several members of the public policy and urban planning faculty shared research, insights and data-gathering techniques during the Oct. 4-6 event, including Amada Armenta, Kevin de León, Michael Lens, Michael Stoll and Chris Zepeda-Millán. Public Policy Chair JR DeShazo encouraged the students to engage intellectually, socially and emotionally as they explored policy challenges and prepared to make an impact in their own careers. The students formed working groups to synthesize what they had seen and heard, and presented their findings at the close of the program. Joining the large contingent of students from four-year and community colleges in California were participants from Arizona, Illinois, Michigan and Washington. The public service weekend was one of several outreaches around the country that are coordinated through PPIA to promote diversity in public service.

View photos from the PPIA public service weekend on Flickr.

PPIA Public Service Weekend


 

Graduating Students Seek Out Solutions Near and Far The capstone research projects that are now part of all UCLA Luskin programs tackle local challenges or examine issues that extend far beyond campus and California

By Stan Paul

Newly graduated Social Welfare master’s degree recipient Deshika Perera’s research project extended across the United States and as far north as Alaska.

Evan Kreuger helped create a nationwide database as a basis for his research into LGBT health and health outcomes to culminate his Master of Social Welfare (MSW) studies at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Perera and Kreuger are members of the first graduating class of Social Welfare students to complete a capstone research project as a graduation requirement for their MSW degrees. Like their UCLA Luskin counterparts in Urban Planning and Public Policy who must also complete capstones, working individually and in groups to complete research and analysis projects that hone their skills while studying important social issues on behalf of government agencies, nonprofit groups and other clients with a public service focus.

“It’s been fun; it’s been interesting,” said Perera, who worked with Associate Professor Ian Holloway. Her qualitative study examined the relationship between the Violence Against Women Act and nonprofits, focusing on programs that provide services to indigenous survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence on reservations and in remote areas of the U.S.

As a member of the pioneering class for the MSW capstone, Perera said that although the new requirement was rigorous, she enjoyed the flexibility of the program.

“I feel we got to express our own creativity and had more freedom because it was loosely structured,” Perera said, explaining that she and her fellow students got to provide input on their projects and the capstone process. The development of the requirement went both ways. “Because it was new, [faculty] were asking us a lot of questions,” Perera said.

“We strongly believe that this capstone experience combines a lot of the pieces of learning that they’ve been doing, so it really integrates their knowledge of theory, their knowledge of research methods and their knowledge of practice,” said Laura Wray-Lake, associate professor and MSW capstone coordinator. “I think it’s really fun to see research come alive and be infused with real world practice.”

Krueger, who also was completing a Ph.D. in public health at UCLA while concluding his MSW studies, previously worked as a research coordinator for a national survey on LGBT adults through the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute. He said he had a substantial amount of data to work with and that he enjoyed the opportunity to combine his research interests.

“I’m really interested in how the social environment influences these public health questions I’m looking at,” said Kreuger who has studied HIV and HIV prevention. “I kind of knew what I wanted to do, but it was a matter of pulling it all together.”

For years, MSW students have completed rigorous coursework and challenging educational field placements during their two-year program of study, and some previous MSW graduates had conducted research in connection with sponsoring agencies. This year’s class included the first MSW recipients to complete a new two-year research sequence, Wray-Lake said.

View more photos from Public Policy’s APP presentations.

Applied Policy Projects

In UCLA Luskin Public Policy, 14 teams presented a year’s worth of exacting research during this year’s Applied Policy Project presentations, the capstone for those seeking a Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree.

Public Policy students master the tools to conduct policy analysis during their first year of study. In the second year, they use those tools to create sophisticated policy analyses to benefit government entities and other clients.

The APP research is presented to faculty, peers and curious first-year students over the course of two days. This May’s presentations reflected a broad spectrum of interests.

Like some peers in Social Welfare, a few MPP teams tackled faraway issues, including a study of environmental protection and sustainable tourism in the South Pacific. Closer to home, student researchers counted people experiencing homelessness, looked at ways to reform the juvenile justice system, sought solutions to food insecurity and outlined ideas to protect reproductive health, among other topics.

“Our students are providing solutions to some of the most important local and global problems out there,” said Professor JR DeShazo, chair of UCLA Luskin Public Policy.

After each presentation, faculty members and others in the audience followed up with questions about data sources, methodologies and explanations for the policy recommendations.

View more photos from Urban Planning’s capstone presentations.

Careers, Capstones and Conversations

Recently graduated UCLA Luskin urban planners displayed their culminating projects in April at the annual Careers, Capstones and Conversations networking event, following up with final written reports for sponsoring clients.

Many planning students work individually, but a cohort of 16 Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) students worked together to complete a comprehensive research project related to a $23 million grant recently received by the San Fernando Valley community of Pacoima. The project was the culmination of almost six months of analysis in which the MURP students helped the nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful, other community partners and government agencies prepare a plan seeking to avoid displacement of residents as a result of a pending major redevelopment effort.

“I think our project creates a really amazing starting point for further research, and it provided concrete recommendations for the organizations to think about,” said Jessica Bremner, a doctoral student in urban planning who served as a teaching assistant for the class that conducted the research. Professor Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, was the course instructor.

View more photos from Social Welfare’s capstone presentations. 

MSWs Test Research Methods

In Social Welfare, the projects represented a variety of interests and subject matter, said Wray-Lake, pointing out that each student’s approach — quantitative and/or qualitative — helps distinguish individual areas of inquiry. Some students used existing data sets to analyze social problems, she said, whereas others gathered their own data through personal interviews and focus groups. Instructors provided mentoring and training during the research process.

“They each have their own challenges,” said Wray-Lake, noting that several capstones were completed in partnership with a community agency, which often lack the staff or funding for research.

“Agencies are very hungry for research,” she said. “They collect lot of data and they have a lot of research needs, so this is a place where our students can be really useful and have real community impact with the capstones.”

Professor of Social Welfare Todd Franke, who serves as a lead instructor for the capstone projects, said his students worked on issues that impact child welfare. Others studied the relationship between child neglect and involvement with the juvenile justice system. Another capstone focused on predictors of educational aspirations among black and Native American students. The well-being of caregivers and social workers served as another study topic.

Assistant Professor Amy Ritterbusch, who also served as a capstone instructor, said her students focused on topics that included education beyond incarceration, the needs of Central American migrant youth in schools, and the unmet needs of homeless individuals in MacArthur Park. One project was cleverly titled as “I’m Still Here and I Can Go On: Coping Practices of Immigrant Domestic Workers.”

“They all did exceptional work,” Ritterbusch said.

Heymann Leads Research on Disability Rights and Gender Equality

Two research efforts led by Jody Heymann, distinguished professor of public policy, medicine, and health policy and management at UCLA, were released recently at the United Nations and in the journal Lancet. Heymann is founding director of the WORLD Policy Analysis Center, which presented a report to a U.N. session on the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities. The report by the WORLD center, part of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, assessed compliance with the convention, which lays out global commitments to uphold the rights of those with disabilities. Since its adoption in 2006, 177 of the 193 U.N. member states have ratified the convention. “Every child on the planet has the right to fully accessible, quality education and every adult has the right to dignified work without discrimination, but not all countries are fulfilling these rights,” Heymann said. “Our analysis shows that the world is further behind in guaranteeing these fundamental human rights to persons with disabilities when compared to other groups.” The Lancet published research Heymann led on another topic: improving health by breaking down gender barriers. The researchers reviewed policies such as tuition-free primary education and paid parental leave, and assessed their potential to transform gender norms, battle inequality and make communities healthier. “Policymakers need to take the steps that have been proven to reduce discrimination and increase gender equality in education, work and income, each a social determinant of health,” the research team found.


 

Nelson Esparza MPP ’15 Named Public Policy Alumnus of the Year New member of the Fresno City Council is honored at alumni reception and luncheon

Public Policy hosted its 21st annual alumni reception and luncheon on May 18, part of UCLA’s campuswide Centennial Launch. Nelson Esparza MPP ’15, who recently won election to Fresno’s City Council, was honored as 2019 Alumnus of the Year. Esparza thanked his UCLA Luskin professors, staff and peers, adding, “When one of us gets elected to office or serves in a position and does good in the community … that reflects greatly upon all of us.” Two first-year students were awarded fellowships made possible by an alumni fund. Irma Castaneda was recognized as “an extremely driven, organized and selfless person who is often looking for ways to help others, especially first-generation students and those who are not well-represented and advocated for in both the MPP and higher education overall.” Devon Schechinger was honored for bringing together classmates in social gatherings aimed at “making our communities and our environment healthier and safer. … She has the quiet determination of an effective change maker.”

UCLA Luskin has followed Esparza’s journey as a public servant:

 

‘My experience at the Luskin School was just invaluable. It wasn’t just the nitty-gritty of the public policy that we got into in the classroom. It was the leadership aspects that I was able to engage in with my peers inside and outside of the classroom.’ — Esparza after winning election to the Fresno City Council in 2018

Read more: UCLA Luskin Alumni Emerge as Local Leaders With Election Wins

‘The Board of Education is especially personal because I am the students of my district. I faced the same barriers and obstacles that students in my district are battling every day.’ — Esparza after winning a seat on the Fresno County School Board in 2016

Read more: A Crash Course in Politics

View photos from Public Policy’s alumni reception on Flickr.

Public Policy Alumni Reception and Luncheon

Shah on Benefits of Decriminalizing Sex Work

Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah was featured in a Vox “Consider It” episode discussing the issue of sex work in the United States. “For the most part, sex workers are women who are making the choice to do [sex work] as a source of livelihood. We can argue about how good or bad of a source of livelihood this is, but ultimately, sex work is work,” Shah said. “The sex market is often characterized as one of moral repugnance because of moral beliefs that we shouldn’t put a price on sex.” Nevertheless, public policy experts have found numerous benefits associated with the decriminalization of sex work. Shah explained that during the six years that indoor prostitution was decriminalized in Rhode Island, there was a decrease in gonorrhea incidents and reported rape offenses. “Based on current research, decriminalization of sex work is overall better for women,” Shah concluded.


Lens, Manville Shape Discussion of How Housing Can Be Coupled to Transit L.A.’s future must accommodate a shift in housing concentrated not where transit lines used to run but where they go today — or will be soon

By Naveen Agrawal

With Metro spending billions of dollars in Los Angeles over the next few years and transit-oriented development seen as key to denser building, encouraging ridership and mitigating environmental issues, the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies hosted a panel on Feb. 20, 2019, around the topic of coupling more housing to transit.

Held in partnership with the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate as part of the Housing, Equity and Community Series, the event focused on some of the latest local and statewide developments. It featured a panel of professional and practicing experts moderated by Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy at UCLA Luskin and associate director of the Lewis Center.

Framing the discussion was UCLA Urban Planning Associate Professor Michael Manville, who shared results from a recently released Lewis Center report on what a transit-oriented future might look like, focusing on five current — and two planned — Metro rail and bus stations. The report emphasized the impact that land use patterns can have on transit ridership and neighborhood quality, and it offered recommendations for future zoning scenarios.

Manville spoke of framing a narrative around two different transit and housing systems: what we have and what we want. Among the discrepancies between the visions is that much of the city’s housing is concentrated around where train stations used to be — not where they are today.

Arthi Varma, deputy director of the city’s planning department, shared some of the early results of its Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) Affordable Housing Incentive Program. Created in November 2016 by voter approval of Measure JJJ, the TOC program is a local-density program available within one-half mile of major transit stops.

In 2018, its first full year of implementation, half of all applications for new dwelling units were filed under the TOC program, Varma said. Of the applications received since the program has been active, 18 percent (2,377 out of 13,305) are affordable units. The Planning Department issues quarterly housing reports.

Laura Raymond, director of the Alliance for Community Transit, shared her perspective on the development of the TOC program. In particular, she emphasized that many low-income communities surveyed by her organization expressed strong preference for increased density.

From a community organizing perspective, this issue is one that spans transit and housing, Raymond stressed, but discussion is also needed around labor markets and the types of jobs created near transit — as well as environmental justice.

Elizabeth Machado, an attorney at Loeb & Loeb, LLP, provided an overview of the factors that make it difficult to build in Los Angeles, which include the high price of land, zoning limitations and political challenges. The state has delegated most planning and zoning issues to localities, Machado said, but she noted the introduction of SB 50 as a move by Sacramento to accelerate local governance or force action from the top down.

Visiting Professor Steven Nemerovski

Visiting Professors Encourage Careers in Government With a dysfunctional government and Election 2020 firing up interest in politics, faculty stress importance of getting involved

By Stan Paul

“If government is so dysfunctional, why should I work there?”

That question guided a noontime discussion hosted by Visiting Professor of Public Policy Steven Nemerovski on Feb. 20, 2019, at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

One answer, Nemerovski said, is that when nothing is getting done — at the federal level in particular — “that’s the time when you need talented people the most.”

Nemerovski is one of three visiting professors — all with decades of experience — at UCLA Luskin in the winter quarter. Citing his own unique career path, which has spanned politics, government, business and law, the adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs encouraged the gathered students to consider government as a starting point for developing a successful and multifaceted career.

“There is no right way” into politics, said Nemerovski, who is teaching an undergraduate and graduate-level course in advocacy and legislation. He said government experience should be looked at as an extension of education, an early step in a student’s career process. “You have to go into it thinking that way,” he said.

Another teaching visitor this quarter is Gary Orren, the V.O. Key, Jr., Professor of Politics and Leadership at Harvard University, who is again teaching a graduate course “Persuasion: Science and Art of Effective Influence,” which he says “lies at the heart of our personal and professional lives.”

Orren, who has taught at the East Coast institution for nearly half a century, is also able to share his experience as a political advisor in local, state, national and international election campaigns.

Michael Dukakis, former Massachusetts governor and 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, has also returned to campus this winter, as he has for more than two decades. Dukakis is co-teaching a course on California policy issues in the School’s new undergraduate major as well as his graduate course on institutional leadership.

In January, Dukakis led a Learn-at-Lunch discussion with UCLA undergrad students on the 2020 campaign. He noted that, since the 2016 election, young people’s interest in politics has increased dramatically and current events have only fired them up.

“They are streaming into my office asking about public service,” he said.

That sentiment was heard at the lunchtime conversation with Nemerovski, who offered a number of career lessons and insider tips.

Nemerovski, who has served as an attorney in government service, a campaign manager and lobbyist, and now president of a consulting firm specializing in advocacy at the state and federal levels, explained that his own career path did not start in a straightforward way or as early as he recommends to students.

He highlighted the importance of “picking a team” and “finding a cause” — of connecting passion with expertise. Admittedly, he said, he did not have a particular calling from the start in his home state of Illinois, but by becoming involved in lobbying, he developed a true career-long passion for health care issues.

He cautioned that becoming an expert can only get a person so far and stressed the importance of establishing relationships. He said he still has important connections from more than four decades of work in his various roles, and he has invited many in his network to speak to his classes. This quarter, Nemerovski’s students had the opportunity to hear from several current and former legislators from Illinois and California.

One of the many benefits of maintaining relationships with people throughout a career, he said, is that “you will grow with them.”

Nemerovski also shared a few enduring political rules of thumb: “In the world of government and politics, you have to be from somewhere” and “We don’t want anybody that nobody sent.”

And in launching and nurturing a career involving work in and out of government, Nemerovski said, “There’s nothing wrong with a little luck.”

Students Tackle Climate Change in Visit to L.A. City Hall

Climate change — and what Los Angeles leaders and planners can do about it — was the topic of this year’s UCLA Luskin Day at City Hall held Feb. 15, 2019. Now in its 15th year, the event sees UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, Social Welfare and Public Policy students traveling to the iconic City Hall to discuss and debate a current policy issue with policymakers, officials from government agencies and community leaders. This year’s topic, “How Can Planning Combat Climate Change?” came from Councilmember Paul Koretz of District 5. Colleen Callahan MA UP ’10, deputy director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI), served as program adviser for group of 18 students. Koretz wanted “outside-the-box ideas for addressing climate change through planning and policy solutions,” Callahan said, “and how to leverage what the city is already doing and build on new opportunities.” First-year MPP student Noreen Ahmed said, “I thought it was really valuable because the people we interviewed went straight into talking about what the issues were, what they cared about, how climate change is involved in what they are doing.” Ahmed also had the opportunity to interview Los Angeles city planners. Koretz will receive a written memorandum of findings and policy recommendations from the students, according to organizer VC Powe, executive director of external programs and career services. “What happens here in Los Angeles doesn’t stay in Los Angeles,” Koretz told the visiting group. “We are one of the most watched cities in the world. We take action and it spreads statewide — sometimes nationally, sometimes globally. We hope that what we do here in Los Angeles can literally help save the world in terms of dealing with climate change.” The annual trip is co-sponsored by UCLA’s Office of Government and Community Relations—Stan Paul

View photos from the day on Flickr.

UCLA Luskin Day at LA City Hall


 

UCLA Report Provides Strategies for Making Covered California More Affordable Public Policy's Wes Yin helps develop policy options to keep insurance costs down

By Mary Braswell

With California taking steps to revamp its health care system, research by the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs is guiding the conversation.

The report, published Feb. 1, details strategies to improve the affordability of Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace. It was co-authored by economist Wes Yin, associate professor of public policy at UCLA Luskin.

Affordability is “the top challenge for individuals who are insured as well as those who remain uninsured,” according to the report (PDF), which lays out a wide array of proposals to meet that challenge, including:

  • capping out-of-pocket premiums for all eligible Californians;
  • offering expanded cost-sharing benefits, which would lower deductibles and the cost of office visits; and
  • creating a California-only penalty for those who opt out of coverage, to replace the penalty that was phased out by the federal government.

“This will help push the conversation forward, now with policy options that we know will improve affordability and market stability,” said Yin, who wrote the report with economist Nicholas Tilipman of the University of Illinois, Chicago, and Covered California’s policy and research division.

Commissioned under a state law, the report was presented to the governor’s office and state Legislature. It was developed amid a shifting landscape for health care in California.

On Jan. 30, Covered California reported mixed figures for 2019 enrollment. Although the number of Californians held steady from 2018 to 2019, the number of new enrollees dropped by 23.7 percent. In addition, on the first day of his term, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled his own far-reaching health care plan, calling for increased premium subsidies and Medicaid coverage for undocumented youths up to age 26, among other reforms.

“Our analysis gives policymakers a sense for how different approaches benefit Californians and at what cost,” Yin said. “So this report bolsters the governor’s effort to improve health care access.”

The dialogue, he said, will include a debate over the state’s funding priorities.

“From a wider lens, it’s helpful to think about how we can best spend that next public dollar,” Yin said. “It could be health care, it could be pre-K programs, it could be public education or parental leave benefits. These are all important. And there is a strong argument for improving the affordability of health care coverage and reducing cost-sharing burdens. Coverage improves health — especially mental health — it improves chronic disease management and it drastically reduces the risk of catastrophic spending and debt incurred by consumers.”

The report includes proposals to address the divisive issue of penalties for Californians who choose not to buy health insurance. Covered California attributes the decline in new enrollments to removal of the federal individual mandate penalty beginning this year. A statewide penalty would create a fresh incentive to opt in.

“The penalty appears to be quite impactful,” Yin said. “What we’re seeing in Covered California the past year shows that, and our modeling also shows that. Zeroing out the penalty has directly caused premiums to increase and enrollment to drop. Including a penalty while making plans more affordable can be both an effective and fair way of expanding coverage and lowering premiums.”

The report also notes that premium costs can vary widely for consumers based on their age and geographic location. “For consumers nearing retirement age living in high-cost regions, premium costs can exceed 30 percent of income for the most common benefit package,” it said.

To make health insurance more affordable for those consumers, California could use subsidies to cap all premium payments at 15 percent of annual income. Currently, subsidies are offered only to people who earn up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or $103,000 for a family of four. Consumers who earn just over the 400 percent threshold would not qualify for federal premium subsidies, Yin said. A 15 percent cap would also eliminate this so-called tax-credit cliff.

The report’s policy options are based on a model developed by Yin and Tilipman that shows the potential effects that various policy proposals would have on health care enrollment, consumer health spending and public spending.

As elected officials and consumers debate competing visions of health care reform — from repealing the federal Affordable Care Act to moving to a state-run single-payer system — Yin said the proposals are aimed at expanding coverage and increasing affordability as much as possible.

“Let’s find ways to build on the successes of the Affordable Care Act and make it work better,” Yin said. “These are models for improvement.”

Shah Publishes on Sanitation Practice Improvement

Public Policy Professor Manisha Shah’s research on improving sanitation practices in Indonesia has been published in the Journal of Development Economics. Shah and two co-authors measured the effects of scaling up both the construction of toilets and the education of communities about the negative health consequences of open defecation. Poor sanitation habits can have dire consequences: Worldwide, an estimated 1.7 million people die each year because of unsafe water, hygiene and sanitation practices, according to the World Bank. The researchers studied Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), a program active in 60 countries, to determine its effectiveness when scaled up over large sections of rural Indonesia. Among their findings:

  • CLTS led to modest increases in toilet construction and decreased community tolerance of open defecation.
  • Roundworm infestations in children declined, but there was no impact on anemia, height or weight.
  • When the program was implemented by local governments instead of agency teams, its effectiveness declined.
  • The poorest households chose not to build toilets, highlighting the potential advantages of offering financing or subsidies through the program.

As Shah’s research illustrates, interventions that work on a small scale face challenges when implemented on a large scale. “Currently, there are very few studies that explicitly examine the scale-up process through the lens of a rigorous quantitative evaluation,” wrote Shah and co-authors Lisa Cameron and Susan Olivia. Their findings are designed to increase the chances of success of these programs by reducing dependence on trial and error.