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Obamacare Still Faces Uncertainty, Opposition

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By Starla Muhammad and Eric Ture Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call

CHICAGO – The March 31 deadline for uninsured Americans to enroll in health insurance through the Affordable Healthcare Act dubbed “Obamacare” has come and gone. But questions about President Barack Obama’s signature legislation remain along with criticism about “extensions” to mid-April for those who did not meet the March deadline.

At Final Call presstime, over 6 million people had signed up for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace website, according to HealthCare.gov. Obama administration officials set an original goal of 7 million.

Up until midnight March 31 the administration and individual state operated health care online marketplaces worked at a blistering pace to enroll as many people as possible. Celebrity tweets, social media postings, print ads and endless commercials targeting Black and Latino communities announced the final days and benefits of enrolling. New campaigns, goals and eventually deadlines were revamped in efforts to make healthcare a reality for many who were previously shut out.

“African-Americans will benefit greatly from the Affordable Care Act as a disproportionate percentage of Blacks will become newly eligible for health care coverage,” said Thomas Duncan, CEO of Trusted Health Plans, Inc. in Washington, D.C. Trusted Health Plans is the only operating majority-owned Black Medicaid managed care organization in the U.S.

“But now, Obamacare will open the door to preventive care, primary care, and strategic specialty care for millions of African-Americans and others,” added Mr. Duncan.

Those who are already insured through employers or federal programs like Medicare or Medicaid are not required to sign up for the Affordable Care Act.

Those who are uninsured, but can afford health insurance and choose not to buy it through the ACA will face an “individual shared responsibility payment” penalty. The penalty in 2014 is 1 percent of yearly income or $95 per person for the year, whichever is greater and the fee increases each year, according to Healthcare.gov. Payment would be due when federal taxes are filed.

Certain factors may offer exemptions from penalties including: The lowest-priced coverage available to you would cost more than 8 percent of your household income or you’re uninsured for less than 3 months of the year.

There are also hardship exemptions for those that missed the March 31 deadline including: You were homeless, you received a shut-off notice from a utility company or you were determined ineligible for Medicaid because your state didn’t expand eligibility for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. A complete list of exemptions and how to apply for exemptions is available onwww.healthcare.gov/exemptions.

The next opportunity for open enrollment is not until November.

Reactions from critics of the ACA, coming mainly from Republicans since the rollout of the program, remained divisive and combative. “What the hell is this, a joke?” Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) was quoted as saying at a March 26 press conference. He was responding to the Obama administration decision to extend the deadline for those who began signing up for the ACA by phone or online but are not able to complete the process by March 31. They will not lose their place “in line” for coverage.

Mr. Boehner accused the president, a constitutional lawyer, of “manipulating the law.”

“For those who are considered ‘in-line’ we don’t know the number of consumers who may be in line so we’re planning enough flexibility to be able to handle everyone in line—it could take a few days, it could take a week or so to work through that. If a consumer is applying for a special enrollment, that will vary,” said an e-mail response from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to The Final Call.

In addition to bi-partisan splits on the ACA, views also vary along racial lines. According to the Pew Research Center 77 percent of Blacks approve of the law while only 18 percent disapprove. Yet among Whites only 33 percent approve compared to 62 percent disapproval. Latinos were evenly divided with 47 percent approving and disapproving of the ACA.

Much of the divide is blamed on lack of basic understanding about the law. But the constant undercurrent of a Black president enacting legislation that specifically expands health benefits to the poor is viewed by many as another reason for such fierce opposition.

“The reason that they (Republicans) are so opposed to it is because it moves toward leveling the playing field of life,” said Ava Muhammad, attorney and student national spokesperson of the Nation of Islam and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, during a March 28 presentation on the merits of the ACA.

The Student Executive Council of the Nation of Islam presented the special Friday evening presentation at Mosque Maryam to outline general information about the ACA to members of the Nation of Islam and the community. The program was also available via webcast.

“This is why the president is being called a Marxist and a Socialist by White extreme racists and by their Negro minions because what he is doing is taking a step toward the beginning of the end of the insurance industry,” added Atty. Muhammad

In addition to Atty. Muhammad presenters included Mustapha Farrakhan, student Supreme Captain of the Nation of Islam; and Derian King of the Robbins Insurance Agency, Inc., a Chicago-based Black female owned business started in 1947.

The ACA gives the chance for people who had no means to go to the doctor before, a chance for preventative healthcare for themselves and their families which is particularly critical for Blacks who suffer disproportionately from health problems, presenters noted.

For more information about the Affordable Care Act including eligibility, exemptions and penalties, visit http://www.healthcare.gov

Task Force of Ministers to Address Stand Your Ground Laws

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Rev. R.B. Holmes, a civil rights leader and pastor of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Fla., is heading up a task force of 40 ministers to undertake a 12-point action plan to revitalize the Black community, taking on issues ranging from the repeal of controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws to supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Holmes made the announcement here last week at a news conference at the National Press Club.

“In our 12 Point Action Plan, we will take the leadership to save our boys and girls, to build schools in our own neighborhoods, to repeal and repair ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws across America, to support historically Black colleges and universities, and the importance of business ownership and the significance of marriage and the family,” said Holmes.

He said the action plan also includes evangelism, renewable energy and preservation, restoring voting rights for ex-offenders, social justice, advocating for veterans, health care support and increasing the minimum wage.

Holmes also announced plans to run for president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., “the nation’s oldest and largest African American religious convention with an estimated membership of 7.5 million,” according to the group’s website. The election is September 4.

“In a time when it seems more popular to be a celebrity than a servant, we stand behind Dr. Holmes with great expectations,” said Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, pastor of the Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore. “Jesus gave the clear indication that if you want to be great all you have to do is serve.”

Bryant said that historically, the Black church has always been on the front line, giving a voice to the voiceless.

“Historically, it has always been the voice of a Black Baptist preacher to correct America and to put us back on track, historically it has always been the voice of a Black Baptist preacher speak truth to power, uncompromising and in the words of Hosea Williams ‘unbought and unbossed.’”

(Unbought and Unbossed is also the title of former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s autobiography, published 40 years ago).

Bryant said that something has to be done to repeal “Stand Your Ground laws” that basically empowers a person to use deadly force if they merely perceive that their life is in danger.

“We hoped that government would do it, but they have not. We hoped that legislators would do it, but they would not. Whenever there has been real change in America it has whenever there has been real change in America it has always been under the leadership of a preacher,” said Bryant. “Under the leadership of a preacher who did not need banquet tickets to the governor’s mansion, who did not need a reserve parking spaces to be seen in front of the camera, because we understand that the real movement is not a sound bite, a real movement is about what we do after the benediction.”

The so-called “Stand Your Ground” laws have been enacted in nearly two dozen states and research has shown that the laws disproportionately affects Blacks.

A study on justifiable homicides by the Urban Institute found that White-on-Black homicides are 281 percent more likely to be ruled justified than a Black-on-White homicide and is ‘Stand Your Ground’ states that disparity is greater.

In addition being accompanied by other ministers, Holmes was flanked by parents of high-profile children personally affected by Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” laws.

“[Stand Your Ground] laws target Black males. Black and brown boys do not benefit from the Stand Your Ground laws,” said Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida teenager who was profiled, shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a White Hispanic neighborhood watchman in Sanford, Fla., in 2012.

Fulton applauded the work of the new task force.

“It’s bringing the conversation to the table. A lot of people don’t want to talk about it, because it’s an uncomfortable subject, but we need to bring it to the table, we need to talk about it, so that we can resolve these issues,” she said.

Phyllis Giles, mother of Michael Giles, said that the role that the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law plays in court cases is unfair and often carries racial undertones.

In 2010, Michael Giles, a 26-year-old active duty United States airmen went to a Tallahassee nightclub with some friends. When a brawl broke out at the club, Giles was separated from his friends. Giles had a concealed weapons permit for a gun he had in his car. As he searched the raucous crowd for his friends, someone punched Giles in the face knocking him to the ground. Fearing for his life, Giles pulled out his gun and fired, striking his attacker in the leg.

Giles was arrested and charged with attempted second-degree murder. Witnesses supported Giles claim and his lawyers argued that he was justified in using deadly force. Even though the married father of three, who served two tours in the Middle East didn’t have a criminal record, the jury decided against him. Giles was convicted of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon that cost Giles his career and is serving a mandatory sentence of twenty years in prison.

Phyllis Giles said that it’s important for the community to come together to address the disparities associated with the “Stand Your Ground” law and Black ministers should lead the charge.

It starts in the church and it will end in the church and God will bring it all together, said Giles.

Ron Davis said that he hopes that Holmes’ efforts lead to reforms in the SYG laws in Florida.

“If you don’t file for ‘Stand Your Ground’ you shouldn’t get the benefit of ‘Stand Your Ground’ in a self-defense case in the jury instructions,” said Ron Davis, the father of Jordan Davis, the Jacksonville, Fla., teen who was shot and killed by Michael Dunn, a White computer programmer who objected to the volume of music playing in the SUV carrying Davis and his friends in November 2012.

Holmes’ group also wants to make sure that aggressors in deadly altercations can’t rely on murky ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws in court.

Like George Zimmerman, Michael Dunn claimed self-defense, but didn’t rely on the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law in court. Davis said that shooters often go free, because of confusing instructions that judges give to juries in self-defense cases that include ‘Stand Your Ground’ language.

A bill that would amend the current law in Florida is slowly working its way through the Florida state legislature. The bill seeks to clearly define who can use the “Stand Your Ground” defense and would also allow law enforcement to set policies governing neighborhood watch groups.

Davis said that it’s important that pastors get involved in the fight to repeal or repair ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws, because when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the other pastors stood up in the 1960s, it really made a difference.

“That’s why we don’t have to drink out of the ‘colored’ water fountains, that’s why we don’t have to sit on the back of the bus,” said Davis. “People forget that these were pastors getting their heads busted for better civil rights, so we need the pastors on the front line again.”

UNCF: A Mind is 'a Wonderful Thing to Invest In'

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – For the first time in 42 years, the United Negro College Fund has altered its signature phrase. Now, a mind is not only “a terrible thing to waste,” but “a wonderful thing to invest in.”

The change is part of a UNCF’s campaign to provide emergency support in the face of a financial aid crisis facing Historically Black Colleges and Universities and their students. UNCF President Michael Lomax selected the National Press Club as the venue to call for renewed financial support for the 37 HBCU member institutions.

“Today our member schools are facing a financial crisis as severe as any in UNCF history,” Lomax said. “The irony of this situation is that the financial crisis comes at a time when interest by African American high school students in attending HBCUs has been on the rise for over a decade.”

Between 2001 and 2013, UNCF member private colleges have seen a 78 percent rise in applications. But this rise in interest, plus lack of funds for scholarships and increased need among families who are just now recovering from the recession, have converged to form a perfect storm that threatens students’ ability to attend.

In his remarks, Lomax condemned recent changes to the Direct PLUS loan as one of the largest stumbling blocks for current and aspiring HBCU students. The Direct PLUS loan is a low-interest, credit-based, federal loan for parents to fund their children’s college education. The newly-required credit check bars only those with significant “adverse” credit issues, such as a tax lien, home foreclosure, or 90-day-late debt payment. The PLUS loan was particularly beneficial to families of color with little to no credit, as well as those with too much income to qualify for need-based aid, but too little to foot the bill.

In October 2011, the Department of Education toughened its definition of adverse credit, in response to an internal report warning against granting loans to those who may be incapable of repaying them. Now, parents with any accounts in collection within the last five years; any unpaid collection accounts (ever); any loan defaults, (ever, even if the claim has been paid); and any defaulted contracts or leases, are ineligible for a Direct PLUS loan.

Consequently, many Black colleges are complaining that they are losing students who otherwise would be on campus.

Parents and colleges were neither consulted during decision-making, nor informed of these changes in advance. Many families who had been initially awarded funds for the 2011-2012 school year were surprised to find themselves suddenly no longer eligible for the 2012-2013 year.

“We were blindsided by the changes that, literally, from one day to the next, made many thousands of these parents ineligible for parent PLUS loans,” Lomax said. “The impact on students who depended on PLUS loans was immediate, and devastating. Many who arrived at their college dorms after summer break, in fall 2012, were literally turned away at door.”

According to Lomax, approximately 28,000 HBCU students were affected, accounting for more than half the PLUS loan denials that school year. UNCF member schools reported a $155 million loss in revenue. As a result of public outcry, largely led by HBCUs and the Congressional Black Caucus, the Department of Education pledged a review of its credit requirements, and established a process for parents to appeal their loss of eligibility.

In the meantime, there is not enough money to go around among private aid organizations. UNCF, for example, has raised $3.6 billion in it existence to send more than 400,000 students to college. But for every student it awards today, nine more applicants are denied.

Those who are awarded are likelier to graduate, compared to African Americans students in general. According to a report, “Building Better Futures: The Value of the UNCF Investment,” 70 percent of UNCF scholarship awardees in 2006 were likely to graduate within six years.

Lomax elaborated, “The [national] six-year graduation rate for African Americans is 40 percent. If we could increase that rate by just 7 percentage points, we would graduate close to 16,000 more African Americans with bachelor’s degrees each year.”

Additionally, 94 percent of African American freshman who were awarded loans in 2006 re-enrolled the following year. Nationally, the retention rate was 78 percent for all students.

In addition to scholarships for Black students, HBCUs themselves are also valuable. African American students, particularly first generation and low-income students, tend to view HBCUs as a more affordable and more welcoming option for quality higher education. On average, tuition at UNCF member HBCUs is 30 percent less than that of comparable institutions.

And there are more intrinsic draws, Lomax said.

“First, [high school students] say [HBCUs] feel like home – they feel like family. Second, they believe HBCUs will help them explore themselves as an individual, rather than as a statistic. And finally, at an HBCU, they feel they can learn more about where they come from,” he explained. “This is a powerful set of motivations…but desire and high motivation however, are not the same as scholarship funding.”

Lomax also discussed the preparation level of today’s incoming freshmen, the value (and lack thereof) of for-profit colleges, and the balance between trade schools and college.

Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Danny Davis (D-Ill.) were also in attendance at the National Press Club event. Both Congressmen are HBCU alums, and took the opportunity to speak in support of renewed investment.

“If it hadn’t been for these colleges and universities, I wouldn’t be standing here today,” Lewis stated. “Without these colleges and universities, we wouldn’t have a modern-day Civil Rights Movement. These colleges and universities bring about a non-violent revolution, a revolution of values, a revolution of ideas.”

Mixed Record on Progress of Black Women

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By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Despite the stubborn persistence of racial disparities in health, there is cause for Black women to celebrate.

“Overall, our life expectancy continues to rise, while teenaged pregnancy rates have dropped dramatically. And most recently, the rate of HIV infection among Black women has fallen tremendously, down over 20 percent in just two years’ time,” says a new report, “Black Women in the United States, 2014: Progress and Challenges,” presented by the Black Women’s Roundtable, a division of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.

But not all of the news about Black women is good.

Their homicide rate is more than triple that of White women. Black women are twice as likely as White women to be the victims of violent crime, robbery, and aggravated assault. And Black women are also significantly more likely to be a victim of stranger rape than White women.

The report, issued in the waning days of Women’s History Month, takes a comprehensive inventory of the Black women in America. The 86-page report features white papers on a range of topics, including such as the economy, violence and the justice system, and retirement.

In a section on health, the authors compile all the stark realities of Black womanhood in one place. For example, one in four Black women over 55 years old is diabetic, while four in five are overweight or obese. African American women living in the 12 southeastern states with the highest incidents of stroke are the group most likely to have high blood pressure.

Further, childbirth remains a particularly dark spot for African American women; the maternal mortality rate is three times higher than that of White women, and a baby born to a Black woman is 2.3 times more likely to die than one born to a White woman.

The section on education paints the picture of dogged determination against racial and gender disadvantages.

Among young African American women, the dropout rate is on a decline and high school graduation rates have tripled in 60 years. In the 2009-2010 school year, Black women earned 66 percent of all bachelor’s degrees earned by Black Americans, 71 percent of master’s degrees, and 65 percent of doctorates.

Black women also comprised the majority of the Black demographic across law, medical, and dental schools. And despite being underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math careers, they are closer to their male counterparts in degree attainment and even outpace Black men at the doctoral level.

The major educational challenges lie in childhood, where African American girls have an out-of-school suspension rate six times as high as their White counterparts, starting as early as pre-K. Black children are three times as likely as others to attend a school in which less than 60 percent of teachers are fully licensed and certified, and go on to a high school that doesn’t offer a range of college prep courses.

“All told…Black women continue to demonstrate a strong and consistent commitment to self-empowerment through the pursuit and successful acquisition of education,” the authors write. “Yet, the educational journey of Black women has not been one of universal success.”

The report paints a similar picture of Black women’s economic standing.

According to the report, Black women have the highest labor force participation rates among all women, and are starting their own businesses at six times the national average rate. They are only second to Black men in labor unionization rates (comprising 12.3 and 14.8 percent of all unionized workers, respectively) – and those who are unionized enjoy higher wages and better benefits compared to all non-union women.

But hard work doesn’t pay off as much for African American women.

The report states that Black women earn 90 percent of what Black men earn, and just 68 cents per dollar earned by White men. It cites another study that found that half of all single, African American women had no, or negative wealth. Black women are also more likely than any other group to be working poor (16 percent of Black women, compared to 11 percent of Black men and 5 percent of White women.).

These gaps translate to the retirement crisis affecting most Americans, but particularly African Americans.

“Sharply stated, Black America suffers a severe retirement gap, and Black women bear the brunt of that circumstance,” the report states. “In fact, as retirees, Black women experience a poverty rate that is over five times that experienced by white men (16 percent versus 3 percent).”

More than one section of the report was devoted to the power of the Black female vote.

Despite being just 12 percent of the electorate, African American women can be political game-changers when they vote en mass. In the 2008 presidential election, for example, 68.1 percent of voting-age Black women reported voting compared to 67.9 percent of White women, 51.8 percent of Hispanic women, and 47.5 percent of Asian women, according to Census data.

They flexed their electoral muscles again in the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial race. Despite being just 11 percent of all Virginia voters (who are 72 percent White), their support was enough to put Democrat, Terry McAuliffe, in office by a narrow 2.5 percent margin. It was also enough to break a 32-year trend in which the party of the current sitting president usually loses the Virginia gubernatorial race.

Black Women’s Roundtable plans to begin expanding its Power of the Sister Vote initiative, which aims to mobilize Black women across the country as a steady and influential voting bloc.

The report is the first in what is expected to be an annual series of reports on Black women.

“In these pages are the triumphs and tragedies surrounding Black Women’s lives across a variety of different indicators and areas of inquiry,” writes Melanie L. Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable. “And though, we find that on many accounts, significant progress has been made since key historical markers such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Brown v. Board of Education, and the onset of the War on Poverty, there are many areas that remain in need of dire national attention and urgent action.”

Black Preschoolers' Suspensions Triple that of Whites

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Even before they typically learn to read, Black preschoolers – some as young as 4 years old – are taught a disgusting lesson: They are three times more likely to be suspended from school than their White classmates, according to a recent study by the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Education.

“Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than white students. On average, 5 percent of White students are suspended, compared to 16 percent of Black students,” the Department of Education study found.

Black children account for 18 percent of the nation’s preschoolers, but nearly half of students in that age group suspended more than once, compared to White children who represent 43 percent of preschoolers and 26 percent of students suspended more than once, according to the report.

Daniel Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies for the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, told the Associated Press: “Just kicking them out of school is denying them access to educational opportunity at such a young age. Then, as they come in for kindergarten, they are just that much less prepared.”

Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Rhode Island, and South Carolina reported the widest gaps in the racial disparity suspensions between Black and White students. New Jersey, New York and North Dakota reported the smallest gaps.

Black students also account for nearly 30 percent of students referred to law enforcement in what many civil rights advocates have called the school-to-prison pipeline.

“Black students represent 16 percent of student enrollment, 27 percent of students referred to law enforcement, and 31 percent of students subjected to a school-related arrest. In comparison, white students represent 51 percent of students enrolled, 41 percent of referrals to law enforcement, and 39 percent of those subjected to school-related arrests,” stated the report.

For the first time in 14 years, the Education Department collected data from all 97,000 public schools and its 16,500 school districts, responsible for 49 million students.

“This data collection shines a clear, unbiased light on places that are delivering on the promise of an equal education for every child and places where the largest gaps remain. In all, it is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a press release. “As the President’s education budget reflects in every element – from preschool funds to Pell Grants to Title I to special education funds – this administration is committed to ensuring equity of opportunity for all.”

The Education Department report comes on the heels of research funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies and the Open Society Foundations that showed that implicit bias contributes to racial disparities in student suspension rates from kindergarten to the 12th grade.

In a study titled, “The Essence of Innocence: Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children,” researchers from the University of California, the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the University of Pennsylvania, concluded that after 9 years old, “Black children and adults were rated as significantly less innocent than White children and adults or children and adults generally.”

A majority of the survey participants were White women, the same group that is also over-represented among public school teachers.

Researchers found that Black boys may be perceived as more than 4.53 years older than their actual age, which meant that a 13 year-old might be “misperceived” to be an adult by law enforcement officials.

The report continued: “These outcomes are particularly worrisome for Black children, who are 18 times more likely than White children to be sentenced as adults and who represent 58% of children sentenced to adult facilities, the report stated.

In recent speeches Attorney General Eric Holder has urged school administrators, lawmakers and parents to work together to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline that often has far-reaching consequences for young people that get swept up into the criminal justice system.

Holder said that the report was critical and showed that racial disparities in school discipline policies are not only well-documented among older students, but actually begin during preschool.

“Every data point represents a life impacted and a future potentially diverted or derailed,” Holder said. “This Administration is moving aggressively to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline in order to ensure that all of our young people have equal educational opportunities.”

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