water and bridge

Road Blocks

I live about seven minutes away from my high school by car. Every day I would drive to school and cross over a little, one-lane, iron bridge from my town into the town where my high school resides. When I arrived home after my finishing my freshman year of college it was to my great dismay to see that this little bridge was closed. A sign was posted that stated the bridge would be open again in 2020, my graduation year. Three to four years worth of renovation, all for this little bridge. How could it possibly take so long to fix this minor piece of infrastructure?

However, this is not the first time the bridge has been closed.  Previously the bridge would reopen after a few months of repairs, then close again to restart the cycle. So why not just make a full repair then? Why wait until now.

I was aggravated that my drive across town doubled in duration, so I decided to look into it. Here is what I discovered:

The bridge is technically considered part of Fetters Mill Historic District.

The bridge spans both Lower Moreland Township and the Borough of Bryn Athyn.

Why do these things matter?

Buildings and other structures that are parts of a historic district have very particular rules guarding the changes which can be made to them. The rebuilding or repair process is lengthy. It involves a full plan to be developed and submitted before any construction can begin. These plans must include a great understanding of the historical context, opinions from the public and explanations of the ways in which the most original content will be preserved. Every step of the process must be carefully documented in order to assure that maximum historical value is sustained and protected. A posting by the Borough of Bryn Athyn announced that the main truss will be removed and rehabilitated off site whilst other pieces will have to be replaced entirely to accommodate new weight limits and other PennDOT safety requirements.

In addition, the bridge spans over two townships which means that they must work in conjunction to ensure the bridges repairs. While the Federal Highway Administration and PennDOT are the main contributors to this multimillion dollar project, both townships involved must contribute the remaining balance in order for the project to be put into action. Townships have the ability to distribute funds in ways in which they deem fit to maintain the infrastructure necessary to keep things running smoothly. The bridge may not be the most pressing matter for either township so this can cause delays in funding.

This project does not simply involve someone hiringe a contractor to build a new bridge. It involves the Federal Highway Administration, PennDot, Lower Moreland Township, the Borough of Bryn Athyn, the National Park Service, the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office and more. All of these groups must collaborate to renovate this tiny, little bridge.

So after a little research I have a greater understanding of why repairing the tiny bridge is going to take so long. Now I can see why little has been done to the surrounding buildings in the past and why they have put off the bridge repairs for so long.

immigration

The Future of Korean Citizens Traveling to the US

I’m about to enter my senior year of college and I’m already thinking about my graduation ceremony. Will the weather be nice? Who will be the guest speaker at commencement? Will my family be there to see me receive my diploma? Until recently, I have always considered the last one to be an unnecessary concern because my parents strongly believe that graduations are tributes primarily for the parents, rather than the students. They are patiently waiting to be honored for hearing me complain about that professor who assigned too much work and that friend who stole my food. However, the current international political climate, has made me reevaluate the possibility of my family visiting me in America and their safety if they do come.

My father, one of my brothers, and myself are United States citizens of Korean descent, unlike my mother and other brother who, only carry Korean passports. As a family, we have always enjoyed the privilege of traveling without ever worrying about immigration issues. Especially when flying to and from the US, we never had to think about being sent back because of where we come from. But, with North Korea’s recent intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch, and growing tensions with the U.S., China and South Korea, who knows what the future holds.

Kim Jong-Un’s nuclear program has escalated greatly. In the beginning, very few people thought North Korea would ever successfully create and launch a missile. June 7th marked the tenth attempt to cause damage in 2017 alone; then on July 4th, South Korea confirmed North Korea’s successful launch of a missile. The failed attempts had the world reacting, the US government deployed an anti-missile system, called Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD). Although Park Geun-Hye, South Korea’s first female president who was impeached over corruption charges, approved the installation of THAAD, the recently elected Moon Jae-In has ordered a review of the anti-missile system. If failed attempts cause this, then what will this new advancement cause? Will my family be safe in South Korea? If they come to the US, will they be safe here, or become victims of profiling and legalized discrimination?

Last time America had a major issue with an East Asian country, it was WWII and Japanese – American citizens were legally placed in internment camps. After the Pearl Harbor attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt placed 120,000 Japanese Americans into internment camps, 62% of whom were US citizens. The camps were made legal by the Executive Order 9066, allowing military commanders to create “military areas” where anyone can be excluded from. America has gone too far in the past. With tensions at an all time high, discrimination in the name of national security is a legitimate concern.

 

Obviously, I know, there is a difference between North Koreans and South Koreans, but does America know that? If a Hijabi woman of any ethnicity can get stopped at airports for additional screening, who is to say, the rights of South Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, and other East Asians will not be infringed upon. The Patriot Act, created after 9/11, gives the government permission to intrude on our lives, once it’s in the name of anti-terrorism. So what if it is my family being stopped at the airport, calls being monitored, or even being barred from entering the country, those of us with and without citizenship alike?

I do not know the answers to most of my questions, but I do know that in the United States, land of the free, freedom can be withdrawn, conditional, and relative. Until tensions decrease between the US and North Korea, my family’s future together at graduation will remain uncertain. Hopefully the right political moves are made to de-escalate the problem and work towards cordial diplomacy, or at least not the brink of war.

buildings

Undergrad Underserved

After spending my freshman year of college crammed in what was formerly a “single” dorm room with a disgustingly dirty roommate, I was determined to find different housing options for the rest of my undergraduate career.  I was sick and tired of living amongst mountains of old take-out containers and rotting banana peels in a noisy mold- ridden dorm.  I wanted to move off campus; somewhere I could get away from the hecticness of school and live amongst regular people, not students. I know most people see their college years living with hundreds of other students to be their glory days, but it just wasn’t for me.

This is what sparked my interest in off-campus apartment living.  I thought this would be an easy task, especially in a city like Philadelphia, where there is a boom in housing developments  waiting to be rented out, but I was wrong.

I researched my options, and when I found a couple apartments I liked, I’d walk over to gather more information.

I reached out to each landlord, and would politely ask if I could have a tour of the unit. After each tour, the landlords would begin to ask me some additional questions which seemed very normal.  But they all ended asking the same question, “are you an undergraduate or recent graduate?”

Not thinking much of this question, I answered honestly: “I am currently an undergrad at a university in the city.  And this is where every meeting reached a grinding halt.  All the landlords said they don’t rent to undergraduates, it’s a “house rule” and that I should come back to look at apartment options after I have graduated. Needless to say, I left all of those meetings vexed.

How can they deny me an apartment simply because I was an undergraduate?  Is that even legal? I was angry at myself for even telling them the truth. If I told them I wasn’t a student, maybe they would’ve rented to me.  What right do they have to ask me that?  What was the difference between a 19 year old with a job, and a 19 year old student?  I thought there was no way a landlord could legally discriminate against students.  So, I did some research.  Essentially, what I found out was that landlords can (legally) pick and choose who they rent their properties to as long as they are not discriminating against a group that is protected under The Federal Fair Housing Acts.  These acts protect from discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, gender, age, familial status, physical or mental disability, and some states also have passed laws protecting discrimination based on marital status, gender identity, and sexual orientation.  But unprotected groups like students, animal owners, smokers, those without proper employment, and those with criminal records can be discriminated against.  I felt defeated and forced accept my fate.

…or was I?

In the end, I worked the system by having my parents sign the lease and simply add my name to the list of approved roommates.  Although I was the only one living in my new apartment at the time, it was legally rented in my parents’ name.  I wasn’t proud, but I achieved my goal. No more college roommates.

Has anyone experienced something similar to this? If so, what actions did you take?

Comment below!

music

HIPAA: How I Possess Access Already

After a visit to the doctor, I was told I could not see my medical records because I had not yet paid for my appointment. I felt uneasy being denied access to information about my body and health, but I decided to brush it off and follow the orders of my doctor. Healthcare providers exist to make sure I live a longer and healthier life, so they should always work in my best interest, right? I was wrong. Back then, I was unaware of my rights under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996. Not knowing what I was entitled to, I was taken advantage of.

What even is HIPAA? HIPAA was enacted to provide health insurance coverage for those who change or lose their jobs and to secure the privacy of health records. HIPAA’s passing was especially important because of the shift from paper to digital records of people’s medical history. Just from reading the tabloids, you can see how easy it is to hack into a personal smartphone or computer and steal people’s photos. Just imagine how urgent it was to implement a system to keep individuals’ digital medical records under lock and key. Not only would it be embarrassing to have your every conversation with the doctor floating around on the Internet, but also potentially dangerous.

While I knew that HIPAA was designed to protect some of the most intimate details of my life, it didn’t make sense that my doctor was protecting my records from me. So I dug a little deeper and learned that HIPAA requires health insurers and providers to comply with any citizen’s right to see their medical records and control who else has access to those records.

I also learned that once you submit a request for medical records, the hospital is required to respond within 30 days. This applies even when you have not yet paid your hospital bills. Healthcare providers are only allowed to charge a fee only for the labor for copying the medical record, the supplies for creating the paper or digital copy, and postage for mailing health records.

There exist only a few kinds of records providers can withhold, including psychotherapy notes and information that could reasonably endanger your or someone else’s safety. If your provider denies your request for access to certain records, you can always ask another provider to review your situation. He or she will determine if you can access your health information.

Through my research, I learned a lot about my rights to access my own medical records. The most frustrating of my findings is that not all individuals and organizations are considered to be “HIPAA-covered entities.” According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services website, HIPAA-covered entities can be categorized as health plans, clearinghouses, and healthcare providers.

Other institutions, such as elementary schools and the American Red Cross, are not required to comply with HIPAA. So make sure to check with your healthcare provider if they are a HIPAA-covered entity. That way you know you will always have access to your medical records. If you believe your HIPAA rights are not being protected, you can file a complaint with your provider or with the Department of Health and Human Services.

dairy

What ShopRite Taught Me About Milk

Ever since I found out drinking regular milk gives me the most painful stomach aches, I have always used milk substitutes in my everyday life. In coffee shops, I ask for soy milk in my coffee. Whenever I find myself in an ice cream shop, I make sure to look for non-dairy options. Before I bake anything, I make sure I have enough almond milk in the fridge. Once I made the mistake of mixing my almond milk with a little bit of regular milk to make the right amount of pancakes, and I couldn’t stand up straight for the rest of the day because of the pain.

So, here I am: a twenty-one year old, lactose-intolerant college student, living in the center of Philadelphia. The problem with this is that I am living in the second city in the United States to institute a sugar tax on beverages, including milk substitutes.

Yes. The city of Philadelphia is raising the prices of certain almond, cashew, soy milks for the same reason it is taxing people for the sugar in soda. As someone with a food intolerance, I find it unfair to raise the prices of products that help people avoid pain and a trip to the hospital. And I certainly didn’t understand why the price labels for certain “original” flavored milk-substitutes in grocery stores include additional tax when the Philadelphia Beverage Tax website explicitly states, “Unsweetened nut and plant milks are not taxable.”

It took a lot of trips to the closest grocery store, which for me is ShopRite, to figure out the nuances of this recently established tax. It quickly became clear that the flavor titles, such as “original” and “vanilla,” mean very different things across various brands. For example, Pacific’s Vanilla Almond Milk is unsweetened, and therefore, is exempt from the beverage tax, but the Almond Breeze’s Vanilla Almond Milk includes a $0.48 tax in its price.

philly beverage tax, soda tax, allergies, lactose intolerance

 

A more confusing example of the labeling contradiction on milk-substitutes cartons is the use of the term, “original.” Within the Wholesome Pantry brand, the Original Soymilk is not affected by the tax, whereas the Original Almondmilk is charged an additional $0.96. The only consistent aspect of this labeling fiasco is that it is entirely inconsistent. Wholesome Pantry, Silk, Almond Breeze, and WestSoy all have unsweetened products that are exempt from the beverage tax, however some other non-dairy products they offer are taxed.

The Philadelphia Beverage Tax website explains which drinks are subjected to the tax. It says:

Sweetened nut and plant milks are taxable unless the USDA has deemed them nutritionally equivalent to dairy milk and that nut or plant milk is 50% or more of the finished beverage. Unsweetened nut and plant milks are not taxable.

The website, however, fails to mention that the names of flavors is not indicative of whether or not the product is pre-sweetened. Unlike the categories of dairy milk (skim, 2%, whole) which are clearly defined, the categories of nut and plant milks are not subject to standardized definitions. Unless you are familiar with the names of sweeteners, there is no quick method of determining if the products you are buying are correctly taxed.

If you suspect any mistakes in the pricing of your beverages, you can call to notify your local and state Director of Consumer Protection. (https://www.consumeraffairs.com/links/pa.htm)