To help combat tax fraud, Alabama recently became the first state in the nation to employ a selfie verification system. Presently, an identity thief can file a tax return without one’s knowledge and obtain a refund payment before they are discovered. To address the issue, the Alabama Department of Revenue has released a voluntary mobile app through which users can receive an automated message once the department receives a tax return in their name. The tax filer then takes a selfie to verify their identity (matched to state driver’s license records) and the department will prioritize review of the return with greater assurance.
South Dakota has unveiled what is believed to be the nation’s first clemency application that is entirely online. Under the system, applicants are guided step-by-step through the process to make sure that they have provided all required information, with the system informing them what is missing before submitting an application. Incomplete applications often slow a lengthy process, and it is hoped that the new initiative will speed the process of submitting an application and setting up a hearing with the parole board, leading to a faster determination for clemency. The governor and his staff can also review pardon application materials electronically by logging into a portal, making the review and decision-making process less cumbersome.
Los Angeles County has approved a pilot program to keep foster children from having to switch schools when they move to a new home. Transitioning into a new school after moving in with a new family can create further upheaval for foster kids, many of whom have already experienced trauma and loss. The pilot program will involve providing transportation for the students to the schools they were attending before being moved, reimbursing caregivers, altering bus routes within districts, and contracting with a private car service. The program responds in part to a recent federal education law designed to fortify the educational stability of children in foster care.
Chicago is leading the way in creating opportunities for youth from poor or minority backgrounds to learn and participate in urban planning initiatives. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s Future Leaders in Planning program trains high school students to view Chicago’s neighborhood development issues from an urban planning perspective, with last year’s projects involving the creation of alternative developments for a 62-acre lot and an affordable housing plan for areas in the region. Since 2009, MapsCorps has been using its youth participants as data scientists, helping them learn to collect and produce data to aid their community while giving them technology and job experience. In addition, the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s fellowship program helps teens better understand and participate in building design.
Cambridge, Massachusetts, is considering a proposal that would place lockboxes stocked with NARCAN, the brand name for naloxone, a nasal spray used to reverse opioid overdoses, in public places to decrease emergency response times. Under the plan, bystanders who come across someone experiencing an overdose emergency would need to call 911, receive instructions about the status of the person, and then be directed to a lockbox in the vicinity where they would be provided with a code to unlock it and directions on how to administer the drug. A recent exercise involving the Cambridge Police Department, medical officials, and representatives from the start-up that created the lockbox was recently tested. NARCAN is non-habit-forming and has no effect on those not overdosing.
A growing number of schools are taking a second look at increasing recess times, recognizing the academic and psychosocial value of unstructured time spent with one’s peers. In Concord, Massachusetts, elementary students have two recess periods — one 20-minute break in the morning and one 40-minute combined recess/lunch in the afternoon. In Medway, Massachusetts, elementary school students have moved from 15 minutes to 25 minutes of recess. Many school officials understand the importance of a longer recess to provide cognitive downtime and improve social skills, but observe that they also must balance fitting in the required academics during the school day.