Hot Docs: Treasury's Foreclosure Prevention Plan Guidelines

Today's selection of timely reports.

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Treasury Releases Guidelines on Foreclosure Prevention Plan: The Treasury Department has released a set of guidelines for its foreclosure prevention plan that includes provisions for refinancing and loan modification. The Making Home Affordable program is designed to help between 7 million and 9 million homeowners avoid foreclosure. The plan has two components, the Home Affordable Refinance program and the Home Affordable Modification program. The refinance program will help those who have been unable to refinance at lower, fixed rates because of falling home prices and is due to end in June 2010. The modification program will help those who may be facing foreclosure by lowering monthly mortgage payments. That program is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2012. "It is imperative that we continue to move with speed to help make housing more affordable and help arrest the damaging spiral in our housing markets," said Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

Immigration Crime Fighting Tool Used in Minor Cases: A federal program designed to combat crime by deporting illegal immigrants involved in activities such as drug smuggling and gangs has been used in cases involving minor charges relating to traffic violations and carrying an open alcohol container. The Government Accountability Office, in its report "Immigration Enforcement: Better Controls Needed Over Program Authorizing State and Local Enforcement of Federal Immigration Laws," says the program was part of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act and authorized the federal government to train and use local police to enforce immigration rules. The purpose of the program was to address "serious criminal activity such as violent crimes, human smuggling, gang/organized crime activity, sexual-related offenses, narcotics smuggling, and money laundering committed by removable aliens." However, according to the GAO, program-related documents do "not identify this as the objective of the . . . program." The report recommends a clear statement of program objectives and better record keeping.

Swimming Lessons Do Not Increase the Risk of Drowning: Despite fears that swimming lessons for young children could increase drowning risk by making parents less vigilant, a study finds that such lessons have a protective effect. The study, by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and published in the March Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, examined medical records and conducted interviews of family members of children who drowned and reviewed similar situations in which children did not drown. Of 61 children between the ages of 1 and 4 who drowned, only two had received swimming lessons, while 35 of the 134 children who did not drown had taken swimming lessons. "From our calculations, we are confident that swimming lessons do not increase drowning risk in this age group and likely have a protective effect," said Ruth Brenner, lead author of the study.

Iranian Nukes Could Destabilize Region: The Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons could cause a "cascading instability" in the Middle East that could lead to attacks on Iran or a nuclear arms race in the region. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in its report "Preventing a Cascade of Instability: U.S. Engagement to Check Iranian Nuclear Progress," says the United States "should strengthen its policies to prevent, mitigate, or counteract cascading instability resulting from Iranian nuclear progress." The United States, the report argues, must offer incentives to Iran while working with allies and the United Nations to enact tougher international sanctions. "Unilateral offers to Iran are problematic because they could lead Tehran to believe that the international community is divided in a way that works to Iran's advantage."