Hannah Levintova

Hannah Levintova

Assistant Editor

Hannah came to Mother Jones after stints at NPR and the Washington Monthly. A proud New Englander, she enjoys tea, good books, and cold weather.

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The GOP Is Trying to Give the 25 Richest Americans a $334 Billion Tax Break

That's enough money to cut US student debt by one-third.

| Fri May 1, 2015 9:00 AM EDT

In mid April, the Republican-controlled House voted to repeal the estate tax, which, despite the GOP's "death tax" messaging, affects only the superrich: Of the nearly 2.6 million Americans who died in 2013, just 4,687 had estates flush enough to trigger the tax. That's because the bar to qualify for the estate tax is quite generous: The first $5.43 million of an individual's wealth is exempt from the tax, and that amount goes up to $10.86 million for married couples. After that point, the tax rate is 40 percent.

The Center for Effective Government (CEG) calculated how much the 25 richest Americans would save if this repeal on the estate tax were to become law. The final tab: $334 billion.

Center for Effective Government

That's a lot of cash! CEG calculated that $334 billion in taxes would be enough to:

  1. Cut the nation's student debt by one-third: The total could be distributed by giving $25,000 in debt relief to each of the 13 million Americans trying to pay off student loans.
  2. Repair or replace every single deficient school AND bridge in America: Give kids more resources for a better education, and get the country's structurally deficient bridges up to snuff.
  3. Give every new US baby a chunk of change: $1,000 at birth, and then $500 a year until their 18th birthday, making a $10,000 nest egg to put toward education, a home, or other opportunities.
  4. Repair all leaking wastewater systems, sewage plumbing, and dams: Thus improving the health of lakes, rivers, and oceans nationwide.

Of course, it's unlikely the tax will actually get repealed. Even if the bill makes it past the Senate, President Obama has promised to veto it. But as the election season heats up with economic inequality at its forefront, the repercussions of the bill are likely to be more political than financial. As Robert J. Samuelson writes at the Washington Post, the GOP has "handed Democrats a priceless campaign gift: a made-for-TV (and Internet) video depicting Republicans as lackeys of the rich."

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Who Subsidizes Restaurant Workers' Pitiful Wages? You Do

A new report says taxpayers spend $9.4 billion helping food industry workers each year.

| Mon Apr. 20, 2015 8:45 AM EDT

For Americans who like to eat out occasionally, the full-service restaurant industry is full of relatively affordable options—think Olive Garden, Applebees, or Chili's. But these spots aren't exactly a bargain once a hefty hidden cost is factored in: The amount of taxpayer assistance that goes to workers earning little pay.

Food service workers have more than twice the poverty rate of the overall workforce, and thus more often seek out public benefits. A new report published last week by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC), a restaurant workers' advocacy and assistance group, calculated the tab and found that from 2009 to 2013, regular Americans subsidized the industry's low wages with nearly $9.5 billion in tax money each year. That number includes spending from roughly 10 different assistance programs, including Medicaid, food stamps, and low-income housing programs like Section 8.

Here's the breakdown per program:

Restaurant Opportunities Centers United

The amounts were calculated by combining Census and Bureau of Labor Statistics figures on the programs' cost and enrollments with the number of Americans working in full-service restaurants.

ROC also found that employees at the five largest full-service restaurant companies alone cost taxpayers about $1.4 billion per year. According to the report, these five companies employ more than half a million of the sector's more than 4 million workers.

Here's another striking statistic: If you add up these five companies' profits, CEO pay, distributed dividends, and stock buy-backs, the total comes to a bit more than $1.48 billion—almost exactly what taxpayers spend on these five companies' workers, $1.42 billion.

ROC's report notes another key point: Polling shows that most Americans want a tax system that requires Corporate America to pull its weight. If customers start realizing that their meal costs a lot more than the check says, they just might lose their appetite.

This Letter From a Gay Veteran's Brother Is the Most Heartbreaking Response to Indiana's Law We've Read Yet

| Wed Apr. 1, 2015 3:57 PM EDT

On Tuesday morning, Indiana's largest newspaper, the Indianapolis Star, published a full front-page editorial calling on Gov. Mike Pence to repeal the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the new bill that has incited national furor because it allows businesses to refuse service to gay people, citing their religious beliefs.

Tuesday's Indianapolis Star. @markalesia/Twitter

By the end of the day, the paper received a heartbreaking letter from Nick Crews of Plainfield. Crews writes about walking his dogs to the local market that morning to pick up two copies of the day's Star, something he never does. He continues:

With the papers under my arm, I walked to Plainfield's Maple Hill Cemetery, and found my brother's grave. My brother, who had been a troubled Vietnam War vet, was gay at a time when being gay was a very difficult thing to be. When he died of AIDS in 1985 in a far-off city, his refuge from his closed-minded native state, some in our family were sufficiently ashamed that his cause of death was not discussed.

At the grave I opened the Star. I said, "Well, Charlie, times have changed, thank God. It turns out you were on the right side of history after all." Then I read aloud as much of the paper's editorial as tears would let me get through.

And today I'm doing what I never thought I'd do. I'm renewing my subscription to the Star. I'm doing this because, if for no other reason, I believe we must all support those who stand against discrimination and for inclusiveness. I do it too as thanks to the Star whose courage and right-mindedness on this issue made this moment of personal closure possible for me.

Read his entire letter here.

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