As more Americans lose all or part of their incomes and struggle with mounting debts, another crisis looms: a wave of personal bankruptcies.
Bankruptcy can discharge or erase many types of debts and stop foreclosures, repossessions and wage garnishments. But our research shows the bankruptcy system is difficult to navigate even in normal times, particularly for minorities, the elderly and those in rural areas.
COVID-19 is exacerbating the existing challenges of accessing bankruptcy at a time when these vulnerable groups – who are bearing the brunt of both the economic and health impact of the coronavirus pandemic – may need its protections the most.
If Americans think about turning to bankruptcy for help, they will likely find a system that is ill-prepared for their arrival.
It’s a hard road
There are many benefits to filing bankruptcy.
For example, it can allow households to avoid home foreclosure, evictions and car repossession. The “automatic stay” triggered at the start of the process immediately halts all debt collection efforts, garnishments and property seizures. And the process ends with a discharge of most unsecured debts, which sets people on a course to regain some financial stability.
We know from our empirical research, however, that filing for bankruptcy comes with costs. In a Chapter 7 case, known as a liquidation when a debtor’s property is sold and distributed to creditors, households may be required to surrender some of their assets. The post-bankruptcy path to financial stability is often bumpy.
In a Chapter 13 reorganization case, households must commit to making monthly payments equal to their disposable income for three to five years. But the majority of people, unfortunately, are unable to keep up with their payments for that long and do not end up eliminating their debts.
Monetary costs can also be substantial. Attorney fees average $1,225 to $3,450. Court fees are over $300. And of course, there are also other downsides, such as social stigma, negative credit and lower future earnings.
Nonetheless, struggling Americans may find bankruptcy one of few viable options to address their worsening money problems, particularly as the pandemic shows no signs of ending soon.
Yet, as a consequence of nationwide shelter-in-place orders, consumer bankruptcy filings have declined significantly in recent weeks.
In the last 10 days of March, when states began issuing such orders, we found that Chapter 13 filings fell 45% compared with the last 10 days of March 2019, based on a docket search on Bloomberg Law. Filings in all of April – when most states were under lockdown – plunged 60%, while Chapter 7 filings were down 40%.
This suggests that there’s pent-up demand for bankruptcy protection – in terms of what we’d normally expect – on top of the impact from the coronavirus recession.
The current limited physical access of many bankruptcy courts presents additional problems, especially to already vulnerable groups. There is significant variation in how courts are handling the situation, but most require access to technology. This means that ethnic and racial minorities, seniors and people living in rural areas face systemic barriers to filing because of their more limited access to transportation and technology.
Self-represented filers, who navigate bankruptcy alone to avoid the hefty attorneys’ fees, face additional challenges and make up approximately 9% of bankruptcy cases. These filers typically have lower income and fewer assets – and thus are less able to afford the benefits of having an attorney – and are more likely to be black.
In some districts, only attorneys can file electronically, so people handling the process themselves must mail in their petition or find some other way of getting it to the courts, such as via physical drop boxes.
But such methods still assume access to technology. A computer, the internet and a printer are needed to access and print the petition. Libraries and other institutions that traditionally provide technology access for those who do not have it are, for the most part, closed.
Some courts are allowing initial email submission of the petition from those without attorneys, but petitioners are still required to follow up by sending original documents via the mail or drop boxes. Access to a computer, the internet and a printer remains necessary.
Finally many states require “wet signatures” on bankruptcy petitions. That is, people have to sign their names in ink, as opposed to using an electronic signature. To smooth filings while courts are physically closed, several states have waived this requirement for those using an attorney.
But even then, access issues still abound. People must first send their attorney the vast array of documents needed for filing – typically amounting to dozens of pages. Filers still need to be able to copy, scan and email documents. For those without computer access, they have to mail original documents, a somewhat risky proposition when important papers could get delayed, stolen or lost.
A bad time to file
In other words, the middle of a pandemic is not the best time to file for bankruptcy.
And without more aid to individuals soon, U.S. bankruptcy courts will likely face a tsunami of filings, not only from average Americans but companies as well. This will clog up the system, which is why many experts are calling on Congress to shore up bankruptcy courts with more judges and funding.
But a first priority should be shoring up individuals, for whom bankruptcy is seen as a last resort. If more aid isn’t forthcoming, the bankruptcy system may be too overwhelmed to handle even that.
[The Conversation’s newsletter explains what’s going on with the coronavirus pandemic. Subscribe now.]
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Guerilla gardening: how you can make your local area greener without getting into trouble
Many people are gardening on land that is not theirs – here are some things to consider to avoid getting into trouble.
When Richard Reynolds first started gardening around London’s streets, he was so worried he might be arrested that he worked under the cover of darkness. Reynolds was one of the UK’s first modern guerrilla gardeners, a movement that encourages people to nurture and revive land they do not have the legal rights to cultivate.
This issue is particularly pronounced among city dwellers, ethnic minorities and young people. A 2021 survey conducted in England revealed that those aged 16-24 were more than twice as likely to lack access to a garden or allotment compared to those aged over 65.
This article is part of Quarter Life, a series about issues affecting those of us in our twenties and thirties. From the challenges of beginning a career and taking care of our mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet or just making friends as an adult. The articles in this series explore the questions and bring answers as we navigate this turbulent period of life.
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Guerrilla gardening is a particularly good option for these groups of people. It can involve planting herbs or vegetables for a whole community to enjoy, spreading seeds or plants, tidying weeds, or even something as simple as picking up litter.
But if you’re considering becoming a guerilla gardener, it’s important to understand your rights. Could you be arrested for it? And should you wait until after dark?
Can you be prosecuted?
It’s important to remember that much of the unused or abandoned land that is potentially suitable for guerilla gardening in towns and cities throughout the UK is owned by local councils. Common examples of such locations include broken pavements with missing slabs, wasteland and the central areas of roundabouts.
Although much of this land is already open for the public to walk over, actively gardening on it would become an act of trespass.
The law of trespass sounds scary. However, gardening on this land would be a breach of civil law rather than a crime. This means that most guerrilla gardeners are unlikely to receive a fine or a criminal record.
Landowners do have the legal right to use “reasonable force” to remove trespassers from their land. But, fortunately, it seems most councils have ignored guerrilla gardeners, having neither the time, money or inclination to bring legal action against them.
Colchester Council, for example, were unable to track down the identity of the “human shrub”, a mysterious eco-activist who restored the flowers in the city’s abandoned plant containers in 2009. The shrub returned again in 2015 and sent a gift of seeds to a local councillor.
In other areas of the UK, the work of guerilla gardeners has been cautiously welcomed by local councils. In Salford, a city in Greater Manchester, there is a formal requirement to submit an application and obtain permission to grow on vacant spots in the city. But the local authority tends not to interfere with illegal grow sites.
There seems to be an unwritten acceptance that people can garden wherever they want, given the abundance of available space and the lack of active maintenance. This also offers the additional advantage of saving both time and money for the local council.
You should still be careful about where you trespass though. In some areas, guerrilla gardening can lead to unwelcome attention. During the May Day riots of 2000, for example, guerrilla gardeners were accused of planting cannabis seeds in central London’s Parliament Square.
Gardening at night may draw the wrong attention too, particularly if you are carrying gardening tools that might be misunderstood by the police as threatening weapons.
How can you start?
There are many different types of guerrilla gardening that you could get involved in, from planting native plant species that benefit pollinators and other wildlife to tidying derelict land to create safer places for the local community.
One of the simplest forms of guerilla gardening is planting seeds. Some environmental projects circulate “seed bombs” and others use biodegradable “seed balloons” that are filled with helium and deflate after a day, distributing seeds by air.
Whatever you try, as a guerrilla gardener you shouldn’t harm the environment or spoil other people’s enjoyment of the space around you. Remember that weeds and wilderness have an environmental value too. And think carefully about the species you are going to plant so that you can protect local plants and wildlife.
The most attractive species to humans might not provide the best home or food for wildlife. Some can even outcompete native plants and drive them towards extinction. Planting certain harmful, invasive or poisonous species like ragwort, knotweed or Himalayan balsam is even prohibited by law.
That said, some guerrilla gardeners have used social media to organise “balsam bashing” events, where people come together to pull up this harmful invasive plant.
Guerrilla gardening takes many forms and can bring great benefits for people and the environment. You’re unlikely to be arrested for planting and growing trees and other greenery in public spaces. But remember that these spaces should be shared with everyone, including your local wildlife.
Ben Mayfield does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.uk
Fractyl Health’s GLP-1 gene therapy spurs 25% weight loss in obese mice, clinical trials slated for 2024
One of the biggest problems facing the burgeoning class of weight loss drugs is that people must take them day after day, week after week. When the injections…
One of the biggest problems facing the burgeoning class of weight loss drugs is that people must take them day after day, week after week. When the injections of semaglutide — the ingredient in Ozempic and Wegovy — stop coming, so do the benefits. Lost weight is regained.
But researchers at Fractyl Health, a Lexington, MA-based biotech, believe they have a solution to that problem: a one-time gene therapy injected into the pancreas that lets the body make its own GLP-1 agonists in perpetuity.
New data slated to be presented today at a diabetes conference in Germany suggest that obese mice injected with the therapy lost nearly 25% of their body weight after just two weeks, according to a copy of the company’s presentation obtained by Endpoints News.
The results leave many questions unanswered, including how safe and effective the approach will be beyond the first two weeks, although the presentation indicated that such studies are ongoing. Fractyl declined requests for an interview.
The company previously announced plans to begin testing the treatment in people with diabetes and obesity in 2024. It’s a bold step towards moving gene therapy beyond the rare diseases typically pursued by biotech companies.
“It’s hard to get people to take injections once a week, and if we can figure out how to do something closer to one and done, that would be a big step for patients,” Randy Seeley, who directs an obesity research center at the University of Michigan School of Medicine, told Endpoints in an interview.
“But how permanent this will be can’t really be answered in a mouse,” he added. Seeley is a consultant to Fractyl, and the company supports research in his lab.
Fractyl was originally just developing the GLP-1 gene therapy for type 2 diabetes. In a diabetic mouse model, human pancreatic islets and human beta cell lines, the treatment significantly enhanced glucose-stimulated insulin secretion, improving blood sugar levels.
GLP-1 needs to act on receptors in the brain for its weight loss effects, and since the therapy is injected directly into the pancreas, the company didn’t expect the diabetic mice would lose weight, Seeley said. But surprisingly, they did, shedding 23% of their mass after four weeks compared to a control group.
Those results spurred the company to test its gene therapy in a diet-induced obesity mouse model. Twenty mice were fed a high fat diet for 25 weeks before half of them got a single injection of the gene therapy while the other half received daily injections of semaglutide.
Both groups of mice began losing weight a day after the injections. Within five days, the mice who got the gene therapy were losing weight faster and shed 24.8% of their body weight after just two weeks, even as they maintained their high fat diet. The mice on semaglutide lost 18.4% of their weight, according to the data presented at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes Scientific Congress.
“The most surprising part of the data is how much weight these animals lose,” Seeley said. “it’s better than semaglutide, and it’s not exactly clear how that occurs.”
Given the uncertain long-term effects of taking GLP-1 drugs for weight loss, a potentially permanent gene therapy approach is sure to raise many questions.
“If you’re taking your once-a-week version, if something goes wrong, we can turn it off and we just take it away,” Seeley said. “But with gene therapy, there’s no way to turn it off. It’s unknown what happens, and so it is going to take both some careful thought.”fed congress treatment testing clinical trials therapy european germany
Trans To Be Banned From Female Hospital Wards In UK
Trans To Be Banned From Female Hospital Wards In UK
Authored by Steve Watson via Summit News,
The UK Health Secretary is to issue a proposal…
The UK Health Secretary is to issue a proposal to ban trans patients from female hospital wards in the UK, as well as reinstating ‘sex specific’ language in National Health Service materials, according to reports.
The Daily Mail reports that “Steve Barclay will unveil the plans to push back against ‘wokery’ in the health service amid concerns that women’s rights are being sidelined.”
Daily Mail: "Trans women patients 'to be banned from female wards' under plans to be announced by Health Secretary Steve Barclay today"https://t.co/dPU9wbKEZL— Emily Wilding Davison (@Wommando) October 3, 2023
The proposal would see only people of the same biological sex sharing wards, with care coming from doctors and nurses of the same sex, when it comes to intimate health matters.
“We need a common-sense approach to sex and equality issues in the NHS. That is why I am announcing proposals for clearer rights for patients,” Barlcay stated, adding “It is vital that women’s voices are heard in the NHS and the privacy, dignity and safety of all patients are protected.”
He added “And I can confirm that sex-specific language has now been fully restored to online health advice pages about cervical and ovarian cancer and the menopause.”
As we previously highlighted, the word ‘women’ was removed from such materials and replaced with non-gendered terms to be “more inclusive”:
A source close to the Health Secretary told the Telegraph that “The Secretary of State is fed up with this agenda and the damage it’s causing, language like “chestfeeding”, talking about pregnant “people” rather than women. It exasperates the majority of people, and he is determined to take action.”
“He is concerned that women’s voices should be heard on healthcare and that too often wokery and ideological dogma is getting in the way of this,” the source added.
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