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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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Florida Shootout Involving Hijacked UPS Truck Ends With 4 Dead

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  • Two armed robbers hijacked a UPS truck and held the driver hostage in an attempt to escape police on Thursday.
  • The police chase ended with a shootout that left both suspects, the UPS driver, and another civilian dead. 
  • Many are condemning the police officers for their actions and blaming them for the death of the innocent victims.

Armed Robbery Leads to Shootout

Two suspects and two civilians were killed in gunfire on Thursday after an armed robbery attempt led to a violent shootout.

The suspects, identified as Lamar Alexander and Ronnie Jerome Hill, held up a jewelry store in Coral Gables, Florida yesterday afternoon. Gunfire was exchanged between the thieves and a store employee, and police arrived shortly after. 

One female store employee was injured and taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital, NBC Miami reported

The suspects escaped in a van but ditched their getaway vehicle about a mile away from the jewelry store. They then hijacked a UPS truck, holding the driver hostage at gunpoint, local authorities said at a press conference Thursday night.

Police chased the robbers across two counties. Approximately an hour after the UPS driver was abducted, the pursuit ended with a shootout at a crowded intersection in Miramar. A total of 19 officers from five different agencies were firing at the UPS truck.

Videos from the deadly exchange have been posted on Twitter, showing police officers crouching behind civilian vehicles in standstill traffic as they shot at the truck. The gunfire is thundering and consistent.

The two suspects were fatally shot in the crossfire. The UPS driver was also killed, as well as another innocent bystander sitting in her car. 

When George Piro, the special agent who heads the FBI’s Miami Field Office, was asked if it’s possible that the civilians were killed by bullets fired by police officers, he remained vague. 

“As I mentioned earlier, it is very very early on in the investigation and it would be completely inappropriate to discuss that,” Piro said. “We have just began to process the crime scene. As you can imagine this is going to be a very complicated crime scene.”

Innocent Victims

The UPS driver has been identified by his family as Frank Ordoñez, a 27-year-old father of two young girls. According to his sister, Sara Ordoñez, he had just been promoted at work for the holiday season. 

“He was excited because he was saving up to buy an apartment, a home,” Sara Ordoñez told the New York Times. “We didn’t have it so easy, so he wanted to give the best for his daughters. Everything he would do was for his daughters.”

A GoFundMe has been created for Ordoñez’s family. 

UPS released a statement on their official Twitter page addressing the loss of their employee.

“We are deeply saddened to learn a UPS service provider was a victim of this senseless act of violence,” it said.

The second slain civilian has not yet been publicly identified.

Criticism of Police Action

An interview with Joe Merino, Frank Ordoñez’s stepfather, revealed that he blames the death of his son on the police’s “negligence” and “disregard for life for a victim.” 

“We’ve all seen hostage situations where local police surround the house, SWAT comes in, there’s a negotiator… and everyone walks away alive,” Merino said. “They didn’t give Frank that opportunity.” 

Many others condemned the decisions made by law enforcement, calling for the officers to be held responsible for the civilian deaths.

See what others are saying: (CBS) (NPR) (Washington Post)

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Nearly 700,000 People to Lose Food Stamp Aid Under New Policy

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  • A new rule was finalized on Wednesday that tightens work restrictions for the federal food stamp program.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 688,000 people will be cut from the program when the rule takes effect next year.
  • Those in favor of the change argue that it will push unemployed individuals to find jobs, while critics say it will hurt them more than it will help them.

New Rule

Trump administration finalized a new rule that could remove almost 700,000 people from the federal food stamp program. The rule, announced in a press release on Wednesday, creates stricter work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) final rule promotes work for able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 49 without dependents,” the press release said.  

Under current regulations, this demographic can receive three months of SNAP benefits throughout a three year period, unless they work or undergo professional training for at least 20 hours a week. 

States have had the ability to waive this time limit to account for economic turbulence, and counties with unemployment rates as low as 2.5% were eligible for these remissions. The new rule will make 6% the minimum unemployment rate to qualify for these waivers, according to the Washington Post.

It will take effect on April 1, 2020.

Impact on Americans

While the USDA originally estimated that up to 750,000 people would be cut from SNAP with this change, now they have adjusted that number to 688,000. 

The finalized regulation is the first of three proposed measures to limit access to the federal food stamp program. A new study by the Urban Institute found that if the other two rules are approved, nearly 4 million people would lose access to food benefits.

After the new rule was proposed in February, there was an abundance of public comments imploring the administration not to go through with it. 

But the USDA was not swayed and held strong in their argument that SNAP should be a form of temporary assistance instead of a long-term lifestyle. 

“Government can be a powerful force for good, but government dependency has never been the American dream,” said Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture. “We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand.”

Those who support the rule are optimistic that it will push unemployed individuals to find jobs. 

“The changes reflect the belief that more Americans can enter and reenter the workforce,” Brandon Lipps, the USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary, told the Washington Post. “So they can know the dignity of work.”

Critics of the change were extremely disappointed upon the news of the rule’s finalization, deeming it a step in the wrong direction.

“The Trump administration is driving the vulnerable into hunger just as the Christmas season approaches,” Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, said on the floor Wednesday. “It is heartless. It is cruel. It exposes a deep and shameful cruelness and hypocrisy in this administration.”

Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, chairwoman of the House Agriculture Committee’s subcommittee on nutrition, released a press statement on Wednesday after hearing the news.

“The Administration refuses to take an honest look at the people they are targeting with this rule and what challenges they face that contribute to their hunger…” she said. “…Instead of considering hungry individuals and their unique struggles and needs, the Department has chosen to paint them with the broadest brush, demonizing them as lazy and undeserving.”

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (NPR) (NBC)

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Melania Trump Blasts Law Professor for Dropping Son’s Name in Impeachment Testimony Joke

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  • Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan made a joke referencing President Donald Trump’s son in her impeachment hearing testimony on Wednesday. 
  • Melania Trump criticized Karlan on Twitter for bringing her child into a political matter.
  • Some condemned Karlan while others thought her wordplay was harmless. 
  • Many Twitter users called the FLOTUS hypocritical for defending her child but staying silent on her husband’s treatment of other minors, including teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg and migrant children experiencing inhumane treatment at the border.

Karlan’s Joke

Pamela Karlan, a Stanford law professor, dropped a controversial joke while testifying in the ongoing impeachment hearing against President Donald Trump on Wednesday. 

While explaining the difference between the POTUS and a king, she used a play on words with the name of his teenage son, Barron.

“The constitution says there can be no titles of nobility,” Karlan said. “So while the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron.”

Karlan’s joke received a scattering of laughter around the room, including a chuckle from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who posed the question of how the president compares to royalty.  

Melania Trump took to Twitter to defend her son, condemning Karlan’s name-dropping comment. 

“A minor child deserves privacy and should be kept out of politics,” the first lady wrote. “Pamela Karlan, you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it.”

Further Backlash

Karlan was put on blast by other prominent figures for her mention of the president’s son. Vice President Mike Pence called her joke a “new low.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida who strongly supports the president, chastised her directly on the floor Wednesday. 

“Let me also suggest that when you invoke the President’s son’s name here, when you try to make a little joke out of referencing Barron Trump, that does not lend credibility to your argument,” he said. “It makes you look mean.”

The Trump campaign released an official statement on the topic.

“Only in the mind of crazed liberals is it funny to drag a 13-year-old into the impeachment nonsense,” National Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said.

Karlan’s Apology

Later in the day, Prof. Karlan apologized for her remarks, but not without mentioning that she wishes Donald Trump would also admit to his faults. 

“I want to apologize for what I said earlier about the president’s son. It was wrong of me to do that,” she said during her testimony. “I wish the president would apologize obviously for the things that he’s done that’s wrong, but I do regret having said that.”

Defense of the Professor

While some were outraged by Karlan’s play on words, others spoke up to defend her, deeming the joke harmless.

Some Twitter users criticized the FLOTUS for being quick to defend her own son but staying silent on her husband’s treatment of other minors, including teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg and migrant children experience inhumane treatment at the border.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (NBC) (Newsweek)

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