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Community College Reforms May Pose Challenges for Foster Youth

October 29, 2012

SB1456, passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Brown last month, is one of the first steps towards a planned overhaul of California’s Community Colleges.  Although aspects of this shift hold promise, thoughtful implementation and a bolstering of resources for Student Success and Support Programs are essential to avoid any potential for a negative impact on foster youth.  The stated goal of the bill is to improve college success.  According to former California Community Colleges Chancellor Jack Scott, “the Student Success Act of 2012 will help our students earn degrees and certificates more quickly, improve transfer rates to four-year universities and allow us to better help students needing job training skills.” With only fifty-four percent of all community college students earning a certificate, associate degree or transferring within six years of attending a community college, there is certainly much room for improvement.  The goals of the measure are clearly laudable, but will the reality measure up to the rhetoric?

The legislation primarily tackles two issues that came from recommendations to the California Community College Board of Governors from the Student Success Task Force.  The first major provision is designed to strengthen and realign Student Success and Support Programs which include services such as orientation, assessment, counseling and the development of an academic plan.  Accompanying this provision is a requirement that students identify an academic and career goal upon application and declare a specific course of study after a period of time of enrollment. Unfortunately the measure did not include a budget allocation but instead relies on a reorientation of services and increased efficiencies, the actual impact of which is uncertain.  For foster youth, requiring an academic plan has the potential to improve outcomes, but only if Community Colleges have adequate resources to provide academic planning services in a timely manner.  Currently the average counselor to student ratio is 1900:1.  Increasing funding for core services at Community Colleges would substantially increase the likelihood that this measure will achieve its stated goals.

The second provision is to implement academic and progress standards for eligibility to obtain a waiver of tuition.  This waiver, known as the Board of Governors’ fee waiver or more familiarly by students as “The BOG,” makes college possible for thousands of current and former foster youth for whom tuition fees would likely be an insurmountable barrier.  At $46 per unit, fees for a full time student are well into the hundreds of dollars per term.  The underlying premise is that in an era of scarce resources, the BOG waivers should be prioritized for students who are progressing towards an educational goal.  The hope is that this change will also incentivize low-income students to stay on track and perform academically.

The unfortunate reality however is that because many foster youth continue to enter college unprepared academically it can take some time for a foster youth to acclimate to the college environment, complete remedial requirements, learn the necessary study skills and gain the confidence to be successful.  During this transition period, grades can suffer.  Those who work with foster youth on college campuses have expressed concern that these new standards will prove to be a barrier to foster youths’ academic success, counteracting the progress has been made in recent years to better support these youth.  It is understandable that in these lean times, the Board of Governors wants to focus resources on students who are on track towards a goal but there is the potential that foster youth and other disadvantaged students – who may require more time than traditional students to sort out their path – could be adversely affected by the changes. The legislation calls for the incorporation of provisions to ensure that the standards “do not unfairly disadvantage financially needy students” and how this manifests during implementation of the law will be key to ensuring that foster youth are not inadvertently disadvantaged.

Report Back from the Select Committee on Homelessness Hearing in San Francisco

October 9, 2012

Last Thursday in San Francisco Assemblymember Toni Atkins’ Select Committee on Homelessness held their sixth hearing, which focused on youth. A panel of experts was invited to provide testimony on housing, social, legal and health care barriers for homeless youth, LGBT[i] youth and transitioning foster youth. Chairwoman Atkins was joined by Assemblymembers Tom Ammiano, Mariko Yamada, Norma Torres and Mark Leno, and an audience of 40-50 community members. Committee members and those who testified celebrated recent victories in the legislature for homeless youth such as AB 1856 (Ammiano) on LGBT awareness for foster care providers, SB 1172 (Lieu) on banning sexual orientation change efforts, and SB 1133 (Leno) on the prosecution of human traffickers, and acknowledged the significant work still needing to be done. Committee members seemed inspired and motivated by recommendations made by those who testified, which covered a broad range of innovative yet common sense proposals for policy and practice.

Ophelia Basgal, a regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development discussed a 2012 report, Housing for Youth Aging Out of Foster Care, and Matthew Doherty of the State Interagency of Homelessness reviewed the 2012 amendment to Opening Doors, the nation’s first strategic plan to end homelessness. The 2012 amendment was developed to specifically address what strategies and supports should be implemented to achieve the plan’s original goal to “prevent and end homelessness for families, youth and children by 2020.” Shahera Hyatt of the California Homeless Youth Project shared the latest draft of More Than Just a Roof: California State Action Plan to End Youth Homelessness, a report requested by Senator Carol Lieu being officially released in November.

Sherilyn Adams of Larkin Street Youth Services and Sparky Harlan of Bill Wilson Center presented perspectives of local seasoned homeless youth providers, articulated current obstacles that remain for serving this population and strategies for addressing them. Adams shared with the Committee that of Larkin’s 352 beds for the San Francisco homeless youth population, 22 are dedicated for LGBTQQ[ii] youth, and that 50% of youth that access services at Larkin come from outside California. This spoke to the “sanctuary”, as put by Assemblymember Ammiano that is San Francisco for LGBTQQ youth fleeing unsafe home environments from across the county. Sparky Harlan spoke to a range of issues, including how the wide use of cell phones by youth is contributing to an undercounting of homeless youth, and how challenging it can be to access basic health care for youth who are still tied to their parents’ health care plans but not in contact with their family. The Committee also heard from former San Francisco City Supervisor Bevan Dufty, now the director of Housing Opportunity, Partnership and Engagement (HOPE), who discussed housing barriers for homeless youth and challenges with the court and juvenile systems.

John Burton Foundation policy director Amy Lemley touched on the importance of access to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for former foster youth with disabilities. She discussed AB 1331 (Evans), a policy that five years into implementation, Lemley reported is working for youth exiting foster care. AB 1331 requires counties to screen all youth in foster care for a disability and to submit an application for SSI as necessary. Read more about this in a 2010 report. Lemley acknowledged that while AB 1331 is making progress with former foster youth, there is still work to be done for other populations such as youth exiting juvenile probation. “Are we doing what we can to bring this entitlement into the homeless community?” asked Lemley. She also discussed the extension of foster care to age 21 (as made available by AB 12) and the expansion of the Transitional Housing Placement-Plus (THP-Plus) Program, identifying both as effective strategies to combat youth homelessness amongst current and former foster youth.

Lastly, Lemley shared her concerns about the 2011 Realignment of Child Welfare Services. She questioned whether the amount of money being provided to counties under realignment is adequate in drawing down the necessary federal funding to provide services for abused and neglected children and youth. Lemley left the Committee with an important consideration – “Less kids in care does not always mean progress”. She was referring to the implicit message that the shrinkage of the federal welfare case load means fewer children are being abused and neglected.

Twelve people testified during the public testimony session, half of which were youth. These community members brought important and challenging points to the Committee, including the importance of bringing activists to the table when trying to make change in a community; the strong need to bring the voices of African Americans to the table, who comprise a disproportionately high percentage of the homeless youth population; and the challenges undocumented mothers and their children face in accessing public housing. During public testimony in response to the recommendation that California adopt a bill of rights for homeless persons as Rhode Island has, Assemblymember Ammiano shared that he will be introducing a bill in January that would call for just this.

The youth who testified were members of the Santa Clara and Los Angeles chapters of the California Youth Connection. Some of them travelled a significant distance to describe their past and current struggles with accessing housing and brought a very real and sobering perspective to the table. One young man, Darnell Johnson, about to celebrate his “first anniversary”, as he put it, to having safe and affordable housing, provided an appropriate closing to the hearing – “It’s a long road ahead of us, but it’s definitely worth the journey.”



[i] LGBT refers to individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender

[ii] LGBTQQ refers to individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning

Administration Releases May Budget Revision

May 15, 2012

By Amy Lemley

Yesterday, the Brown Administration released the May revision of its proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2012-13. This much-anticipated document outlines how the Administration proposes to address the State’s $15.7 billion budget deficit, up from an estimated $9.2 billion in January due to lower-than-expected revenue, increasing financial obligations to public education and the blocking of earlier budget proposals by the federal government and courts.  According to the Administration, this budget shortfall will be addressed through a combination of additional cuts, new revenue from the Governor’s November ballot proposition and “other solutions” which include short-term borrowing among other strategies.

The main developments for Foster Care and Child Welfare Services in the May Revision include:

 Additional funds for AB 12 implementation: Concerns have been raised by both counties and advocates that the level of funding allocated to Child Welfare Services in inadequate to implement the programs, particularly given the recent implementation of AB 12 which expands access to foster care for older youth. Prior to the May Revision, the Administration committed to increasing funding for Child Welfare Services by $200 million by prioritizing growth funds in future years. The May Revision further addresses this issue, increasing the allocation for Foster care and Child Welfare Services by $53.9 million over a three-year period:  2012-13 ($18.2 M), 13-14 ($20.4) and 14-15 ($15.3 M).

Increased allocation for EPSDT: Another area of concern among children’s advocates and mental health providers was inadequate base level funding for EPSDT, the Early and Periodic Screening Diagnosis and Treatment program. While not technically a child welfare program, EPSDT provides critically needed mental health services to children that prevent placement in foster care and assist in addressing ongoing mental health needs.  The May Revise appears to partially address this issue, increasing the allocation for EPSDT and Mental Health Managed care has increased by $48.1 million, from $732.8 million to $780.9 million.

 Increased base level for Child Welfare Services and Foster Care: The base for Child Welfare Services, Foster Care and Adult Protective Services is established in 2011-12. Based on the Administration’s estimate, the allocation to these programs has increased by $5.5 million, from $1,616.7 million to $1,622.2 million.

THP-Plus Foster Care:  The issue of whether or not counties may use funding allocated for THP-Plus and THP-Plus Foster Care for other purposes was not addressed in the May Revision. This language was originally included in the programmatic trailer bill released by the Administration on April 27, 2011. According to CDSS, how this issue is resolved hinges largely on Assembly Bill 1712. AB 1712 proposes to have CDSS license THP-Plus Foster Care providers rather than have then approved by county child welfare agencies, as originally proposed by AB 12. Counties could then elect to place non-minor dependents in THP-Plus in the same manner that they place non-minor dependents in a group home or foster family agency.

Foster Youth Services: The Administration has removed Foster Youth Services from the Weighted Student Formula proposal, which will preserve county-based Foster Youth Services programs. For more information about the initial proposal, follow this LINK.

Intensive Treatment Foster Care Rates – The May Revision includes a new proposal to implement an interim increase to the ITFC rates, based on the recommendations from a workgroup comprised of counties, providers and the state, effective July 1, 2012. The per-child rates will increase, from the current range of $2,687 to $4,028, to a range of $4,034 to $5,581 per child.  The rate will enable counties to divert additional foster youth from group home placements, resulting in anticipated savings of $1.8 million GF ($5.9 million total funds).

Other Related Issues: For more information about related policy areas, such as child care and CalWORKs, read an excellent summary by the County Welfare Director’s Association of California by following this LINK.

Decade of Progress Threatened by THP-Plus FC Proposal

May 8, 2012

By Amy Lemley

In its budget trailer bill released Friday April 29th, the Administration has proposed to give county child welfare agencies the discretion to use funding provided for THP-Plus and THP-Plus Foster Care for other purposes. This is a big step backward for California’s decade-long effort to end homelessness among former foster youth.

 As many of you know, THP-Plus was established by the California State Legislature in 2001 to address a growing, yet largely invisible issue: homelessness among youth who “age out” of the foster care system. At the time, two out of three youth who “aged out” of foster care in California experienced a bout of homelessness within 24 months of being discharged from foster care.

 Since then, California has made important gains in ensuring that youth make a successful transition from foster care to independent living. THP-Plus has grown to serve over 2,000 young adults annually, age 18 to 24 in 51 counties. The program has been rigorously evaluated and has been found to help our state’s most vulnerable youth increase their levels of employment and education and reduce their levels of criminal justice involvement and homelessness

 Based on this success, a new placement option was created in the passage of Assembly Bill 12, modeled after THP-Plus called THP-Plus Foster Care. THP-Plus Foster Care is a critical part of the continuum of services for youth who participate in extended foster care because it provides a combination of affordable housing and supportive services. This combination is essential to ensure that youth participating in extended foster care actually develop and hone their independent living skills prior to their discharge from foster care. THP-Plus Foster Care is particularly important as an alternative placement for youth living in group homes, which are expensive and fail to adequately prepare youth for discharge from foster care.

 That’s why I am so concerned about the Administration’s proposal to make THP-Plus Foster Care an option for counties. Last Wednesday, a range of stakeholders provided public testimony at the Assembly Budget Subcommittee outlining their concerns:

 The proposal will result in limited implementation of THP-Plus Foster Care: As realignment is currently structured, the base level of funding for Child Welfare Services is inadequate. The California County Welfare Directors Association calculates that the shortfall is $260 million. Given this shortfall at the outset of realignment, it is likely that certain counties will not elect to implement THP-Plus Foster Care, which has a cost of roughly three times the basic foster care rate due to the provision of comprehensive supportive services. Instead, counties would likely elect to use funding allocated for THP-Plus Foster Care to address shortcomings in their child welfare services budget, despite the fact that THP-Plus Foster Care is a necessary placement and one intended when AB 12 was passed.

 The proposal violates federal requirement for state-wideness: THP-Plus Foster Care is part of California’s federal Title IV-E program under AB 12 and is therefore part of the federal entitlement. As such, counties do not have the legal authority to “opt in” or “opt out” of parts of a federal entitlement which California has included in its Title IV-E State Plan and for which it is claiming federal financial participation. Providing counties with the discretion to establish variable county child welfare systems sets a dangerous precedent, would not meet federal state-wideness requirements, and exposes the State to legal challenge.

 The proposal turns extended foster care into a cash-only program with no supportive services: Without THP-Plus Foster Care, the most prevalent placement for youth in extended foster care will be the Supervised Independent Living Program (SILP). This placement was originally envisioned for youth with a high-level of readiness. It provides youth with a direct monthly cash benefit of $776, which they can use to pay to live in a setting of their choice, provided it meets basic health and safety standards. The only supportive service provided to a youth placed in a SILP is a monthly visit with a child welfare worker, far less than the average of 8 hours per month provided to a youth living in THP-Plus. Without availability of THP-Plus Foster Care, SILPs will become the placement of choice, and the primary benefit to non-minor dependents will be cash. This was not the intention of AB 12. AB 12 was intended to provide older youth in foster care with hands-on training and support to develop the skills to become successful adults. By making THP-Plus Foster Care an optional placement, the Administration’s proposal undermines this intent and turns extended foster care largely into a cash-aid program without supportive services.

 The proposal abandons youth placed in group homes: AB 12 includes a provision that restricts placement of youth in a group home to those who have a serious mental or physical disability. Youth who do not meet this criterion are required to exit their group home placement when they turn age 18 or graduate from high school, whichever occurs first. This restriction was included with the understanding that these youth would be able to avail themselves of THP-Plus Foster Care. If this placement is not available in all counties, youth exiting group homes will not have a placement option that provides the appropriate combination of supportive services. As of January 1, 2012, there are over 2,000 youth in foster care in this circumstance. Most of these youth do not have a serious mental or physical disability that would enable them to remain in their group home placement, leaving them without a real placement option for extended foster care.

 The proposal reduces the overall effectiveness of AB 12: The case for extended foster care was made by demonstrating that youth who participate will fare better than youth who are required to be discharged at age 18. Research led by Professor Mark Courtney found that youth who participate in extended foster care are less likely to become arrested or incarcerated than youth who exit foster care at age 18. These results, however, are based on the inclusion of a range of youth, including the most vulnerable youth, who require supportive services. If these youth do not participate in extended foster care because there is no placement available for them, they will experience rates of arrest and incarceration similar to those prior to passage of AB 12 and the policy to extend foster care to age 21 will have no measurable effect.

 THP-Plus has been an essential part of that progress and under AB 12, THP-Plus Foster Care will provide the same high-quality services with federally-leveraged funding.

 The Administration’s proposal to allow county child welfare agencies the discretion to use funding currently allocated for THP-Plus and THP-Plus Foster Care for other purposes reverses this progress and undermines the intent of the California State Legislature when it overwhelmingly adopted the policy in 2010. The Legislature should reject this proposal.


Troubling Similarities: Welfare Reform and Realignment

April 23, 2012

By Amy Lemley

Sometimes, an article is published that reminds you of the essential role that a free press plays in a democratic system. One such article was written on April 4th by Jason DeParle in the New York Times.

Mr. DeParle sheds light on the fact that despite increasing poverty and unemployment, the welfare caseloads in most states have remained flat. In eleven states, the number of individuals receiving assistance has actually decreased since the recession.  

How could this is be? Isn’t welfare an anti-poverty program intended to support families during hard times and help them move back into the economic mainstream? Once, perhaps, but no longer, thanks to the 1996 “reform” of welfare, which replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF). More significantly, the 1996 legislation ended the program’s status as an uncapped entitlement and froze the level of federal funding available to states.

As the article documents, the result has been ever-shrinking TANF caseloads despite rising rates of poverty. Just one in five poor children now receives cash aid, the lowest level in nearly 50 years. Clearly, the link between demand for assistance and the provision of assistance has been severed.

My fear is that under realignment, child welfare in California may suffer the same fate. Under this scenario, California would experience increasing child maltreatment and decreasing levels of child welfare services.  My fear is motivated by a troubling number of similarities between the “reforms” of 1996 and realignment in 2012.

Like TANF, child welfare in California under realignment is now essentially capped. However, instead of a fixed ceiling as was established under welfare reform, the funding available for counties to perform child welfare functions is fixed by a “base” level combined with “growth” from sales tax revenue. This would not be troubling if the California state sales tax was guaranteed to grow faster than the cost of providing child welfare services. Unfortunately, no such guarantee exists. Instead, we know from recent history that there are periods of economic downturn when sales tax wanes. Even when times are good, we also know that the cost of providing services often outpaces inflation.

So where does that leave counties? In a very bad place, I would argue. Instead of the current system, whereby funding expands when more children are being maltreated and contracts when maltreatment decreases, counties are now left with a funding stream set by how much stuff Californians buy at their local mall. Call me crazy, but this doesn’t sounds like a very responsible way to manage a program for our most vulnerable children.

In the face of a capped funding stream, counties have the same incentive faced by states after 1996 welfare reform: decrease caseload. If California’s caseload were sky high, this incentive to decrease caseload may be a correcting one. However, this is not the case in California, which has decreased its foster care caseload from over 100,000 in 2000 to less than 60,000 in 2012.

So how do we ensure that California’s child welfare system does not go the way of TANF, with increasing need in the community and decreased access to services? I would argue three things are needed.

First, let’s not start realignment with one foot in the grave. According to an analysis by the California County Welfare Director’s Association, the base set by the Administration for Child Welfare Services is at least $260 million lower than required. It does not adequately account for full implementation of extended foster care under Assembly Bill 12 or the new requirements of the Katie A lawsuit.

Second, we must add new accountability measures to ensure that California’s child welfare system responds to the level of child maltreatment in communities. Senator Darrell Steinberg has introduced Senate Bill 1432, which would improve how California measures child maltreatment in the community. It would also establish minimum compliance thresholds and require the California Department of Social Services to take action if a county child welfare system, after receiving technical assistance for a specified period of time, does not improve.

Most importantly, however, the State General Fund should serve as a fiscal backstop for the child welfare system under realignment. If there is inadequate funding for these vital services because sales tax growth doesn’t keep pace, the state should step in and ensure the safety and well-being of California’s abused and neglected children rather than abandon them to unnecessary trade-offs at the local level. If realignment works as we have all been promised, offering counties this insurance should not be a problem.

TANF is an instructive lesson about how fiscal policy drives programmatic decisions. By capping the funding, TANF caseloads have been driven into the ground, leaving behind a generation of children. Let’s not look back 20 years after realignment, and see that we have made the same mistake with California’s child welfare system.

Sacramento, We Have a Problem…

April 16, 2012

By Amy Lemley

Starting in June, youth living in group homes in California will begin to graduate from high school.  The social worker of one such young person contacted our office last week, asking where her client is supposed to be placed after graduation, since according to AB 12, after age 18 or graduation from high school, whichever is first, placement in a group home is prohibited unless the non-minor dependent has a serious medical condition.

While the problem faced by this social worker may seem like a small one, it is not.  According to the Center for Social Services Research, there are over 2,000 17 and 18 year-olds living in a group home as of January 1, 2012.  As June nears, we will increasingly be asking ourselves the same question: where are these young people supposed to live once they graduate from high school or turn 18?

Certainly some will be eligible to remain in their placement based on a documented medical condition.  For the vast majority of these young people, however, the answer to this question is less clear.

When AB 12 was written, the idea was to allow young people living in a group home to “step down” into a new placement option: THP-Plus Foster Care.  This new placement was modeled after the existing THP-Plus program, which provides a range of supportive services in a semi-supervised setting. THP-Plus Foster Care was considered a good option for young people exiting a group home because of its combination of intensive support and autonomy.

Unfortunately, we are a long way away from the implementation of THP-Plus Foster Care. Despite an October 1, 2011 statutory deadline, the California Department of Social Services has not issued an All County Letter instructing counties how to implement THP-Plus Foster Care.  CDSS recently notified stakeholders that it would shortly issue the ACL, but it won’t be soon enough to help these youth.  Even the most nimble county will require a few months to execute contracts with its nonprofit providers using the new statewide approval standards.  In the mean time, hundreds of youth will be left without an appropriate placement- one that provides them the essential combination of a safe place to live with hands-on guidance in the areas of education, employment, health and parenting.

Some may argue: what about the Supervised Independent Living Placement?  Yes, that is an option, but one that was intended for youth demonstrating a high level of readiness for independent living, since the only supportive service provided in a SILP is a monthly visit with a child welfare worker.  Asking a young person to transition from a highly-structured environment, staffed 24-hours a day to a room in an apartment with minimal supportive services seems like a stretch, even to an optimist like me.

Others agree- at least one county representative I have spoken to says their county agrees that many youth in group homes need more intensive support services.  Their plan is to discharge youth in group homes into their county’s THP-Plus program until THP-Plus Foster Care is up and running and then work with the youth to re-enter foster care.  While I applaud the creativity in this approach, it is rife with problems.  First, it eats up part of the youth’s 24 months of THP-Plus eligibility.  Second, it denies THP-Plus to youth who are not eligible for extended foster care, but are still in need.  More importantly, it assumes that these youth will be able to successfully navigate the multiple transitions this strategy requires, including completing the re-entry process.

There has been a strong push to reduce group home utilization over the last seven years, due to its high cost and poor outcomes.  After years of efforts to drive down group home utilization, the young people currently placed in group homes are not there simply because someone didn’t think about placing them with a foster family or didn’t want to make the effort to locate a relative.  Led by both federal and state policy, counties have made these efforts and group home utilization has dropped, from 6,381 group home placements in January 2000 to 3,733 in January 2012.  The youth today who are living in a group home are there because it is their only option.

Absent a good placement option for youth required to leave a group home, I am concerned that they will not elect to participate in extended foster care.  Instead, they will exit care and face all of the problems that we know await them: homelessness, incarceration, exploitation and low-educational attainment.

Extended foster care was designed to help young people living in group homes, not just “high performing” youth who go on to college or those in stable placements who can continue to live with a relative.  Youth living in group homes are part of California’s foster care family and have an equal right to participate in extended foster care.

Given this, it is essential that we do whatever possible to support young people confronting this situation.  Most importantly, CDSS must issue the All County Letter as soon as possible to enable counties to begin to implement THP-Plus Foster Care.  Next, counties must act swiftly to implement THP-Plus Foster Care to bring this important placement option on-line.  Finally, we must refuse to turn our backs on these young people and be as flexible as possible when thinking through placement options.  We must ensure that youth living in group homes do not pay the price for our collective failure to develop necessary administrative procedures.

Time to Press the Pause Button on Realigning Children’s Mental Health

April 10, 2012

By Guest Blogger Angie Schwartz, Alliance for Children’s Rights

California is in the midst of a grand experiment regarding the funding structure of programs designed to protect vulnerable children.  In July 2011, the California Legislature adopted “realignment,” a fiscal policy that shifts a portion of the state sales tax, along with seven functions from the state level to the county level, including the core programs of California’s child welfare system.  These core programs include Foster Care, Child Welfare Services, Adoptions and Adoptions Assistance, and Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment (EPSDT) mental health program. While realignment of programs aimed at providing support and protection to vulnerable children is problematic, the realignment of EPSDT is particularly troubling and will likely result in lasting harm to our state’s most fragile citizens. Read more…