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Wealthy Parents in Illinois Exploit Loophole to Earn Financial Aid and Scholarships

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  • Reports by the Wall Street Journal and ProPublica show that affluent parents in Illinois are transferring the guardianship of their children to friends and family in an effort to save on college tuition.
  • By transferring legal custody, the child can identify themselves as financially independent from their families on financial aid applications, resulting in more aid money.
  • This practice is legal, however, school officials are calling the practice unethical, and the Education Department is looking into the matter.

Illinois Families Game Financial Aid

Recent reports show that affluent parents in Illinois are transferring the guardianship of their children to friends and other relatives so that their children will be awarded more financial aid money when applying for college.

According to both ProPublica and the Wall Street Journal, at some point during their child’s junior or senior year of high school, families will legally give custody of their child to a friend or family member. This allows their child to identify themselves as financially independent from their families when they apply for financial aid and college scholarships and can result in the student receiving more money.

The Journal spoke to one Chicago-area family that used this practice, which is legal. The family they spoke to makes over $250,000 in annual income and live in a house valued at over $1 million. The mother claimed that they had already spent over $600,000 on college tuition on older kids.

After their daughter’s guardianship was transferred, the only income she had to claim was a little over $4,000, which she earned from a summer job. She ended up attending a private school with a tuition of $65,000, and got $27,000 in merit scholarships and $20,000 in need-based aid.

The family told the Journal that the process of transferring guardianship pretty easy and mainly just involved paperwork. The co-worker taking custody had to attend one court hearing, but the daughter did not have to go, and neither did her parents.

Logistics and Potential Consequences of the Process

Even though this practice is legal, colleges in Illinois are concerned about its use and question the morality behind it. But still, several schools in Illinois are starting to take a closer look at the situation.

Andrew Borst, the director of undergraduate enrollment at the University of Illinois told the Journal it could take opportunities away from students who actually come from low-income families.

“Our financial-aid resources are limited and the practice of wealthy parents transferring the guardianship of their children to qualify for need-based financial aid—or so-called opportunity hoarding—takes away resources from middle- and low-income students,” he said. “This is legal, but we question the ethics.”

The Journal looked at court documents and found 38 cases where juniors or seniors in high school had their guardianship transferred. Many of those families lived in homes valued over half a million dollars.

In Illinois, even if a parent can provide care to a child, a court can still transfer guardianship so long as the parents relinquish care, the child and the new guardian consent, and a court finds that it is in the child’s best interest. In most of the 38 cases, the language used to justify why it is in the child’s best interest usually resembled, “The guardian can provide educational and financial support and opportunities to the minor that her parents could not otherwise provide.”

ProPublica spoke to someone who became a child’s legal guardian for this reason. He said he wrestled with the ethics of the matter, because his wife works at a college, so he saw the situation from both sides. They were afraid that by doing this, they could take aid away from another family, even though he was told this would not be the case.

“It’s one of these gray areas, and my heart wanted me to do it for the family,” he said to ProPublica. “But I also have a conscience. I wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing.”

Consulting Firm Behind the Practice

So, how did these families manage to do this? Both the Journal and ProPublica say that many followed a path created by a consulting firm called Destination College. The group is based in Chicago and says it works to make college more affordable for families and their children.

“Our team of tax, financial and academic planning experts specializes in creating a customized guide, making sure the students are matched to the major and school of their interests, and the parents can comfortably afford it,” Destination College’s website says.

The firm claims to save students an average of $30,000 a year on college. Nowhere on the site does it directly suggest that families transfer the guardianship of their child, but there is language that could be hinting at the practice.

Destination College offers three packages: Basic, Preferred, and Premier. One of the features in the Premier package is: “College Financial Plan, Using Income and Asset Shifting Strategies to Increase Your Financial and Merit Aid and Lower Out of Pocket Tuition Expenses.”

Lora Georgieva, the founder of Destination College, has denied giving comments to both outlets.

According to the Journal, the Education Department is reportedly looking into this practice. It is currently unclear whether or not this is happening in any states outside of Illinois. However, other schools in the midwest have been alerted about the practice, and some have said they will keep an eye out for evidence of its occurrence.

In order to prevent this from happening in the future, some have recommended amending language in the Federal Student Aid handbook.

One suggestion given to the Journal read, “If a student enters into a legal guardianship, but continues to receive medical and financial support from their parents, they do not meet the definition of a legal guardianship and are still considered a dependent student.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (ProPublica) (HuffPost)

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FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses

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The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.


New FDA Authorization

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.

The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.

Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.

Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.

Hazy Recommendations, For Now

Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.

The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.

In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.

However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.

An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.

Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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Paris Hilton Urges Lawmakers To Crack Down on Abusive Teen Treatment Facilities

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The heiress alleges that she was a victim of abuse in these types of centers for two years and wants to ensure that no child suffers through the same experience.


Paris Hilton Details Abuse Within “Troubled Teen Industry”

Socialite and entrepreneur Paris Hilton spoke outside of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to support the Accountability for Congregate Care Act, which is set to be introduced in the near future.

Hilton joined Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to advocate for the legislation, which aims to create a “bill of rights” for children in treatment and behavioral centers.

The heiress has alleged that she spent two of her teenage years in these types of facilities and was subject to rampant abuse. She is far from alone. 

During a press conference, Hilton said that one night when she was 16, she woke up to two large men in her bedroom forcing her out of her house. She said she screamed for help because she thought she was being kidnapped, but her parents watched as she was taken away to a “troubled teen” program. 

“Like countless other parents of teens, my parents had searched for solutions to my rebellious behavior,” she explained in an op-ed for The Washington Post this week. “Unfortunately, they fell for the misleading marketing of the ‘troubled teen industry’ — therapeutic boarding schools, military-style boot camps, juvenile justice facilities, behavior modification programs and other facilities that generate roughly $50 billion annually in part by pitching ‘tough love’ as the answer to problematic behavior.”

Hilton said she was sent to four different facilities where she was “physically and psychologically abused.” 

“I was strangled, slapped across the face, watched in the shower by male staff, called vulgar names, forced to take medication without a diagnosis, not given a proper education, thrown into solitary confinement in a room covered in scratch marks and smeared in blood and so much more,” she explained during the press conference. 

“At Provo Canyon School in Utah, I was given clothes with a number on the tag. I was no longer me, I was only number 127,” she continued. “I was forced to stay indoors for 11 months straight, no sunlight, no fresh air. These were considered privileges.”

Goals of the  Accountability for Congregate Care Act

Hilton claims that a lack of transparency and accountability has allowed this structure of abuse to thrive for decades. In some cases, she said it has taken children’s lives. Now, she wants Congress and President Joe Biden to act. 

“This bill creates an urgently needed bill of rights to ensure that every child placed into congregate care facilities is provided a safe and humane environment,” Hilton said of the Accountability for Congregate Care Act.

“This bill of rights provides protections that I wasn’t afforded, like access to education, to the outdoors, freedom from abusive treatment, and even the basic right to move and speak freely. If I had these rights and could have exercised them, I would have been saved from over 20 years of trauma and severe PTSD.” 

Foster children, children being treated for mental disorders, and other children in youth programs would be impacted by the bill.

Hilton was one of several survivors and advocates who fought for the legislation on Wednesday. Rep. Khanna thanked them for using their stories to fight for change. 

“No child should be subjected to solitary confinement, forced labor, or any form of institutional abuse,” he wrote. “Thanks to Paris Hilton, my colleagues & the survivors & advocates who joined us today to discuss how we can hold the congregate care industry accountable.”

While only Democratic legislators are currently sponsoring the bill, Hilton called for a bipartisan effort to fight for the rights of children. 

Ensuring that children are safe from institutional abuse isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue,” Hilton said. “It’s a basic human rights issue that requires immediate attention.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Hill) (NBC News)

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Surgeons Successfully Test Pig Kidney Transplant on a Human

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The procedure has been hailed as a major scientific breakthrough that could eventually open the door to a renewable source of desperately needed organs.


Groundbreaking Procedure

Surgeons at the NYU Langone Transplant Institute revealed Tuesday that they temporarily attached a kidney from a genetically modified pig to a human patient and found that it worked normally.

The operation was the first of its kind and could one day lead to a vast supply of organs for those who are in severe need. According to the Associated Press, more than 90,000 people in the U.S. are in line for a kidney transplant. Each day, an average of 12 die while waiting.

With the family’s consent, the groundbreaking procedure was performed on a brain-dead patient who was kept alive on a ventilator.

According to the surgeons, the pig used was genetically engineered to grow an organ that wouldn’t produce a sugar that the human immune system attacks, which would then trigger the body to reject the kidney. 

The organ was connected to blood vessels on the patient’s upper leg, outside the abdomen, and it was observed for over 54 hours, with doctors finding no signs of rejection.

Concerns and Hurdles Ahead

While the procedure was successful, this doesn’t mean it’ll be available to patients anytime soon. Several questions about long-term functionality remain, and it will still have to go through significant medical and regulatory hurdles. 

Details of the procedure haven’t even been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal yet, though there are plans for this. 

Experts are also considering the ethical implications of this type of animal-to-human transplant. For some, raising pigs to harvest their organs raises concerns about animal welfare and exploitation. Such medical procedures have already earned criticism from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.

“Pigs aren’t spare parts and should never be used as such just because humans are too self-centered to donate their bodies to patients desperate for organ transplants,” PETA said in a statement, according to The New York Times.

On the other side of the debate are people like Dr. Robert Montgomery, the director of the N.Y.U. Langone Transplant Institute who performed the breakthrough procedure in September.

“I certainly understand the concern and what I would say is that currently about 40% of patients who are waiting for a transplant die before they receive one,” he told BBC.

“We use pigs as a source of food, we use pigs for medicinal uses – for valves, for medication. I think it’s not that different.”

See what others are saying: (CNN)(BBC) (The New York Times)

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