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U.S. Justice Department Attacked for Fighting Discriminatory Lending

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Wall Street Journal editorial claims agency is “intimidating” banks

By Charlene Crowell, NNPA Columnist –

(NNPA) Usually when government is criticized, it’s because someone is dissatisfied with a lack of effective performance. But for the U.S. Department of Justice, recent high-profile criticism is due to a series of effective actions.

On August 31, a member of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board publicly criticized DOJ’s Civil Rights Division for “intimidating banks” into lending to borrowers of color at below-market rates – a charge that is simply untrue. The piece ignores facts that the newspaper has reported: the rise of reckless lending during the housing bubble, and the fact that more than 60 percent of borrowers who received subprime loans had credit scores high enough to have qualified for standard conventional loans.

The Justice Department did not let the charges go unanswered. Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division responded a few days later with a letter to the Journal that said in part, “All qualified home buyers should have access to sustainable credit without being subject to illegal discrimination. The Justice Department will unapologetically continue to ensure they can do so.”

The full text of the Perez response is available at: http://rspnsb.li/nd5fgA. Unfortunately the space allowed for the rebuttal did not afford a complete account. There are a series of verifiable and appropriate reasons why the Civil Rights Division is so hard at work.

Had the Journal editorial board been familiar with the considerable body of research on foreclosures, it might have learned how communities of color were targeted and financially abused – particularly in mortgage lending. The research developed by the Center for Responsible Lending spans several years and offered early warnings about foreclosures and a 2010 report that showed how Black and Brown communities lost $350 billion in wealth through foreclosures.

I suspect that the victims of predatory mortgage lending are less concerned about editorial rhetoric than they are with more urgent concerns like financially piecing together lives hit hard by foreclosures; the shortage of adequate and affordable rental housing for former homeowners; or their former neighbors who now owe more than the homes are worth. Neighborhoods hard hit by foreclosures have suffered an equity drain on the single most important investment most people make in a lifetime – their home.

Each year, the DOJ’s report to Congress on the Equal Credit Opportunity Act Amendments of 1976 provides an in-depth review of the scope and volume of discriminatory lending over the past year. The 2010 report stated that the DOJ Civil Rights Division received more referrals that year (49) in 2010 than it had received in “at least the last 20 years”. By comparison, from 2001-2008, the total number of referrals received was only 30.

In terms of governmental accountability, DOJ efforts in 2010 brought actions correcting ill-advised practices and fair lending violations, including the following:

The largest monetary award for victims in a fair lending case - AIG Federal Savings Bank and Wilmington Finance settled to pay up to $6.1 million to African-American customers who were charged higher broker fees than non-Hispanic white customers; and

The first time a lender was held responsible for failing to monitor brokers who originated its home loans. The fore-mentioned lenders turned a blind eye to brokers that charged borrowers of color higher fees than other similarly-situated white borrowers.

The DOJ annual report also advised Congress that “Lawsuits challenging redlining and reverse redlining practices are significant weapons in the battle against predatory lending. And we expect that some of the investigations begun in 2010 will lead to suits or settlements in 2011.”

Here’s hoping that DOJ’s Civil Rights Division keeps up the good fight.

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

Welfare Cuts Put Thousands of Families in Jeopardy

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By Eric T. Campbell, Special to the NNPA from The Michigan Citizen –

DETROIT — In a matter of days, Gov. Rick Snyder will sign legislation that will effectively discontinue welfare assistance for over 12,000 Michigan families. That bill, which goes into effect Oct. 1, will enforce a federal limit on cash assistance for long-term recipients. The policy will be applied retroactively, meaning that any family reaching the allotted 60-months on or after the Oct. 1 deadline will be cutoff immediately.

State organizations, charities and non-profits advocating for low-income residents are scrambling for information. Gilda Z. Jacobs, president of the Michigan League for Human Services, says that based on a two-child-per-family model, up to 25,000 children will be affected by the welfare reform bill.

“Our feeling is that, at a time when Michigan is struggling so much, our governor should be helping citizens become more sustainable, instead of putting up barriers to economic stability,” Jacobs said. “A lot of people use this cash assistance to pay for rent. So we’re concerned about the increase of homeless children. There really isn’t the capacity to absorb these families into the community.”

Welfare reform bills 4409 and 4410 have passed both the Michigan House and Senate. A letter from the Department of Human Resources went out on Aug. 9 to 14,000 Michigan families stating, “Your federal lifetime limit for cash assistance will likely be reached on Oct. 1, 2011.” The dual bills amend Michigan’s Social Welfare Act and make revisions to the Family Independence Program (FIP), which designates cash assistance for low-income families with children.

In response to the Republican-backed welfare reform, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO) is spearheading a non-violent protest action, dubbed Resurrection Marches, every Thursday, outside the Michigan State Building on W. Grand Boulevard.

Angela Johnson, a mother of five and a grandmother of five, carried an oversized copy of the Aug. 9 letter sent out by the DHS during the Aug. 25 march. She has been receiving state assistance on and off, depending on her employment status, since 1980. After years of working for the Wayne County Treasurers Office, she was laid off in July 2010. When her unemployment runs out, she will be unable to receive welfare now that Michigan is enforcing the federal time limit.

“I’ve had jobs that have allowed me to come out of the system,” Johnson told the Michigan Citizen. “I have my unemployment as my source of income right now. Once that expires, I won’t have any income coming in. I’ll have my food stamps and medical until they cut that.”

MWRO’s Miriam Kramer says workers like Johnson, who for years have been in and out of the system, will be affected immediately, because of the welfare bill’s time limitation includes all time spent by a welfare recipient in the system.

“Snyder has cut across the board when it comes to the working class,” Kramer told the Michigan Citizen. “Be you unemployed and on public assistance, be you employed, whatever, he’s attacking every element of the working class. And now today, we’ve been out here trying to make people understand: If you stand by and let this go down, then you’re next on the totem pole.”

Kramer says welfare reform will split families as the state removes children from homes that are without resources and income.

“Common sense tells us that’s what this will lead to — if your water’s shut off, your children will get taken,” Kramer continued. “I’m asking the people to get out here, join us in this fight. Not only the picketing, but all the other stuff we come up with because we’ve got to start fighting. This is war not only on the poor today, but everybody else that’s a part of the working class.”

The Michigan League for Human Services has recently completed a county-by-county breakdown showing that over half of all welfare recipients affected by Snyder’s welfare reform reside in Wayne County.

The demographic implications were not lost on U.S. Rep. John Conyers as he joined the MWRO march on Aug. 25. He spoke to the Michigan Citizen, saying: “This is an enormous step backward and it’s typical of what’s going on in Lansing and so I ask that everyone inquire of the state representatives and state senators that voted for this bill to kindly explain to us why. Because I want history to show who was supporting this incredible backwards step in terms of providing social services to the citizens of this state.”

After Hurricane Irene, Questions Remain on Revised Date for Official MLK Ceremony

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By Charles D. Ellison, Special to the NNPA from The Philadelphia Tribune –

It was one of the most highly anticipated and sure to be star-studded events of the summer. An edgy public, already sweaty and parched from hot, humid, record-breaking heat and the endless drudgery of a Capitol Hill gone mad, seemed eager to usher in the official launch of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.

The latest marble and granite addition to Washington’s heralded line-up of monuments appeared on schedule. The performance stage was set-up and visitors were streaming in, the first wave of what organizers estimated would be 250,000 people.

But, Irene had other plans.

Regardless of the event, or the intentions and the stature of the public figure memorialized, Mother Nature always dictates the final terms. By the Thursday ahead of the first gatherings and red carpets, it was abundantly clear that Hurricane Irene’s Category 2 force winds would be felt as far up the East Coast as Vermont. Forecast models showed the swirling monster of rain and wind hitting Washington, D.C., and suddenly organizers were faced with the prospect of a postponed event.

Initially, that prospect became political and controversial, even though it was standard operating procedure prior to a natural disaster. Memorial foundation CEO Harry Johnson was strangely defiant as weather reports predicted the inevitable.

“We’re going forth with our program,” was Johnson’s position that Thursday, even as Amtrak was canceling service south of D.C. “We will bring you back tomorrow to talk about if, in fact, we’ll have any change, but today we’re still confident that we’re moving forward with the dedication of the Martin Luther King Memorial.”

It became a caustic back-and-forth with Washington’s press corps, with fresh images of an Indiana State Fair stage collapse that killed five only weeks before in the background. At one point, Johnson was walking away, ignoring repeated questions and attempts for some sense of disaster planning surrounding the event. People from afar had already landed, making their way to the memorial and with plans for a weekend of festivities.

Johnson welcomed them in “… come rain or shine,” stubbornly holding up the faith that perhaps Irene would change course.

But, it was a strange week in D.C. A 5.9 magnitude earthquake shook up the nation’s capital and had forced a rearrangement of key events. The gala kick-off that Wednesday was moved from the National Building Museum to the city’s convention center, along with a weekend interfaith service moved from a quake-damaged National Cathedral to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

“I’m not sure if it’s just bad luck, or Dr. King himself doesn’t like his memorial,” dryly joked one visitor to the memorial, who asked not to be identified.

Johnson had been managing quite a bit of controversy as the final product was unveiled. Some critics were still hot over the use of Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin and Chinese granite. Others, like the Daily Beast’s Black Gopnik, were calling the memorial too small at 29 feet and too “white,” with the face of King looking too “pale and freckled.” The Washington Post’s Courtland Milloy wrote that it looked far too much like "Han Solo frozen in carbonite from the movie ‘Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back,’” and that the King statue was “… a tad pouty.”

Now, with the event indefinitely postponed, questions linger about when it will finally happen. The uncertainty adds to unsettling reports that the memorial foundation still hasn’t met its fundraising goals.

“We haven’t made any final decisions, yet,” said Johnson in a brief interview with the Philadelphia Tribune. “We still have to consult with the White House and National Park Service.”

Johnson seemed confident that a final decision would be announced within the next week or two. On rumors that the event would be integrated into the upcoming Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference in late September, Johnson was non-committal.

“That’s a date that’s been put out there,” added Johnson. “It’s still too early to determine.”

As for fundraising, Johnson seemed pleased that the gap was closing — having dropped from what was once a $6 million deficit to a current figure of $4 million.

But, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation spokesperson Muriel Cooper, while enthusiastic, seemed unsure about how a King Memorial event would fit into the CBCF’s program. While it might seem like a natural fit given the typically massive audience draw of the ALC each year, memorial organizers will need to meticulously plan the event around some major headliners that same weekend.

“I too have heard that date being thrown out there,” said Cooper, confirming that CBCF and memorial organizers have met. “But, it would depend on what date they choose or when they do it.” Cooper raised concerns over scheduling conflicts with events such as the Saturday Prayer Breakfast and the Phoenix Awards Dinner.

Democrats Gear Up for 2012 Despite Political Minefields

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By Sommer Brokaw, Special to the NNPA from The Charlotte Post –

While Democrats gear up for their 2012 national convention in Charlotte, their presumptive presidential candidate is wrestling with political realities.

A “year out” rally was held for the 2012 Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena this week, a year to the day before President Barack Obama is expected to claim nomination for a second term. The convention is scheduled to open on Sept. 3, 2012.

“The energy and excitement we feel from the people of North Carolina is really a great fuel for the work we have to do,” said DNC CEO Steve Kerrigan, who led the site selection team that chose Charlotte. “We’re expecting a huge turnout…as a result of the excitement and energy that people feel about the president being re-nominated in North Carolina and in Charlotte.”

However, Obama’s popularity is slipping.

Frank Newport, PhD, who manages and analyzes The Gallup Poll, recently cast a bleak outlook on Obama’s 2012 prospects. Obama’s job approval rating, according to three-day averages based on phone interviews conducted across the nation, slipped after the debt ceiling deal, hitting a new low of 39 percent for Aug. 11-13, and recovering to 41 percent Aug. 22-24.

“Ten incumbent presidents have sought re-election since World War II, and none has won a second term with final pre-election job approval ratings below 48 percent,” Newport said in a Gallup Politics report. “The last two presidents who lost their re-election bids – George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter – had job approval ratings in the 30 percent range in the fall of the election year. Thus, Obama’s challenge is not only to move his rating back above 40 percent, but also to push it close to or above 50 percent.”

In addition to disapproval of his agreement to raise the federal debt ceiling, Obama faces pressure for more job creation after the recession that started at the end of George W. Bush’s second term and budget cuts spurred by the 2010 Republican takeover of the House of Representatives. Liberals and African Americans – core Democratic constituencies – have become more vocal in taking Obama to task over jobs, the deficit and his handling of tea party Republicans.

But Kerrigan said Obama’s difficulties haven’t drained convention enthusiasm.

“We’re excited about this opportunity to really showcase the work we’re doing in getting ready for a convention that’s a year away,” he said. “This isn’t just about what happens on the floor, it’s about opportunities across the board with economic development and organizing, and reaffirming who we are as Democrats. The president has been working tirelessly in job creation, it will be exciting to highlight all our hard work.”

Thelma Byers-Bailey, a Charlotte voter who has dabbled in political activism, is excited about the DNC’s impact.

“I’m not concerned about his poll numbers because they fluctuate with emotion and emotion rarely has anything to do with progress,” she said. “I think it’s good for the economy. It’s good for Charlotte image-wise. Charlotte wants to play with the big dogs. This one of the things the big dogs like to do. So it’s good for us.”

Shortly after it was announced that Charlotte would be the site for the 2012 DNC, the Carolina Regional Minority Partnership Coalition formed to ensure that minority businesses are able to equally participate and have timely access to information. “It’s a work in progress, and we’re doing all we can to make sure that minority vendors are fully included this time around,” said Charlotte attorney James Ferguson, chair of CRMPC.

Vice Chair Colette Forrest added: “I think the most important thing that’s lacking is information: How do I bid for a contract? What is the bid process? Who do I submit my bid to? That type of critical information right now hasn’t been made public. I think our organization could serve as that conduit by getting information from the Democratic National Convention officials and providing it to the public and our membership.”

Forrest isn’t worried about polls.

“Over the last 14 years, I’ve been working on campaigns, and I’ve never known anyone, especially a minority, to be called to participate in a poll,” she said. “I don’t really get too caught up with numbers because to me the most important poll is the poll that occurs on election day.”

African-Americans Less Likely to Wear Seat Belts

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By Cyril Josh Barker, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –

Labor Day weekend, millions of Americans hit the highways to get to their weekend vacation destinations. However, the lack of a simple task is killing Blacks on the roads at an alarming rate.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), the No. 1 leading cause of unintentional injury death for all African-Americans is motor vehicle crashes. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for African-Americans ages 1 to 14. Of those killed while passengers in a vehicle, 52 percent of Black children were not restrained at the time of the crash.

Though wearing a seat belt is the best way to avoid injury, Blacks are still failing to buckle up. The problems have become so severe that it has been declared a public health.

For the last two years, Synergy Enterprises and USDOT have teamed up to bring awareness to the issue and get more Blacks to buckle up and save lives. Project director Karen Braxton and corporate monitor Roy Walker say there are several reason why Blacks aren't buckling up.

"From what we've heard, there are people who don't think it's cool to wear seat belts," Braxton said. "They're also not comfortable for people who have weight issues and deal with obesity."

Braxton added that many parents are often confused about when to stop using car seats for small children. Parents also don't use car seats at all or just don't buckle up if they are just going a short distance. Walker said that fashionable styles of driving are also a factor.

"Some people think it's macho when they are leaning while driving a car. A lot of people also don't have faith in seat belts or they fear that they could be trapped in a crash."

Oftentimes, people purchase cars with seat belts that don't work and never get them fixed or replaced. Many car models have devices that alert drivers when their seat belts are not on with a constant audio signal. Braxton said some drivers go as far as breaking their seat belts to eliminate the noise without any guilt.

And while New York City residents rely heavily on public transportation, cab drivers could do more to ensure riders are wearing their seat belts.

In an effort to get the word out about seat belt safety, Walker said USDOT had partnered with several national Black organizations.

"We are partnering with 15 national organizations, including the National Council of Negro Women, the National Medical Association and the National Urban League," Braxton said. "The NAACP is also looking out for how to get the message out to their membership. Most of the organizations have taken a keen interest in the issues and are very surprised about the stats."

Walker said churches are also playing a vital role in the campaign - June 12 was deemed "Seat Belt Sunday," when Black church leaders spoke to their congregations about the importance of buckling up and provided them with the scary statistics. Announcements were also put in church bulletins.

"Everyone can have a role in being a hero by encouraging someone to do something as simple as buckle," said Walker.

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BVN National News Wire