Happy New Year, and welcome, 2016! Well, maybe not so much. There's a lot to look forward to this year: a new president will be elected, the Supreme Court is taking on some life-changing cases regarding discrimination, unions and abortion rights, and maybe if we get lucky this could be the year that gun reform finally begins (even if it takes an executive order to make it happen). Unfortunately, the changing of the calendar also means the start of a number of disappointing state laws and restrictions. Here are four new ones that are bound to make life harder for those with the least resources.
1) New Jersey food stamp cuts. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is having a very small surge in the 2016 GOP presidential race, with the Washington Post even calling him the candidate the fourth most likely to win the nomination. Meanwhile, Christie is burnishing his conservative credentials in every Republican's favorite way: sticking it to the poor. His latest? Refusing to seek an additional waiver that could have blocked some participants from being cut from local SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) lists. "Now those who had been getting food stamps thanks to the waiver will have three months to meet the work requirements in order to keep receiving the benefit," reports Bryce Covert at ThinkProgress. "Unlike many other safety net programs, spending time searching for a job won't count, so anyone who can't find employment or a spot in a training program will automatically be cut off." After all, who needs to make sure that their constituents are fed when they have an endorsement to win?
2) Unemployment benefits shrink in Missouri. Like many states with Republican-dominated legislatures, Missouri has been struggling economically despite the ongoing federal recovery. Now the gap between rich and poor will be widening even further as new restrictions on welfare benefits and unemployment payments kick in. TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) benefits will now be capped at 45 months rather than the 60 months of lifetime benefits that existed prior. Unemployment benefits are dropping from a 20 week maximum to just 13 weeks - only one week more than South Carolina, which has the shortest unemployment benefits in the country.
3) Texas minors may be unable to access abortions without parental approval. For many teens who get pregnant and do not want to carry to term, telling a parent is a part of the process and a way to get guidance about the decision to end a pregnancy. Not every teen can talk to a parent or let a parent know about the pregnancy in the first place without serious consequences, including being removed from the home, potential violence or other dangerous situations. It's for those family relationships that judicial bypass exists, but in Texas, anti-abortion lawmakers wish it didn't. Thanks to a series of new restrictions on the bypass process ranging from in-person meetings, higher burdens of proof that it is in a teen's best interest not to inform a parent, restrictions on where a bypass can be obtained and a lack of time limits on how long it takes for a judge to rule, bypass might exist in name only depending on which county that pregnant teen resides in.
4) Texas guns are everywhere. It may be harder than ever to access an abortion in Texas, but carrying a life-endangering weapon is now easier than ever in the state. January 1 marked the implementation of the state's new open carry law, since apparently being able to carry a gun everywhere but not have it visible was just too onerous for gun lovers. "The celebrations for the new year also marked a new open-carry gun law taking effect in Texas," reports NPR. "Handgun license holders in Texas will now be allowed to carry their guns in visible holsters on their hip or shoulder. Previously, Texans wanting to carry a handgun had to obtain a concealed handgun license and conceal their weapon. With the new law, the more than 826,000 state license holders will be allowed to openly display their handguns in most public places." Now businesses across the state are trying to decide whether to ban guns and alienate customers, or allow guns and alienate customers.