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Great Recession May Cause Some to Retire Later

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Many Black families, ill prepared to weather personal financial storms, lost their homes during the Great Recession and burned through what little assets they had just to keep from going under.

A new report by the Urban Institute details why many Blacks will be working well into their golden years and how the federal government perpetuates the widening wealth gap between Blacks and Whites.

The report titled, “Impact of the Great Recession and Beyond,” said that plummeting home prices and skyrocketing unemployment rates “made matters worse” for many homeowners, especially Black homeowners.

“The young and families of color experienced the largest percentage declines in wealth as a result of the Great Recession, driven in large part from declines in housing,” stated the report.

The Urban Institute said that family wealth was not only lost through the housing market, but also through the stock market and early withdrawals from retirement savings.

During the Great Recession, Blacks lost more than 30 percent (31.7) of their retirement savings, and Whites lost 18 percent of their retirement savings. Researchers say that it’s possible that Blacks, facing Depression-era levels of unemployment, borrowed from meager retirement accounts, which means that some older Blacks may be forced to stay in longer or re-enter the job market in their golden years.

Black families also lost 47 percent of their nonretirement assets, including cash, stocks and bonds compared to Whites, who lost 21.7 percent of their nonretirement assets.

As White families get older, their wealth trajectory increases, which means they’re able to save more money for things such as college education, financial emergencies and retirement, but for Black families the passage of time had little or no effect on the rate of wealth they were able to accumulate.

“In their 30s and 40s, Whites have about 3.5 times more wealth than African Americans and Hispanics,” stated the report. “By the time people reach their early to mid-60s, Whites have about seven times the wealth of African Americans and Hispanics.”

During the Great Recession, United for a Fair Economy, a group that advocates for economic justice, estimated that it would take nearly 600 years for Blacks to achieve wealth parity with Whites.

Even worse, policies crafted by the federal government to help all homeowners often hurt low- and middle-income homeowners.

Black families don’t often benefit from the money the federal government spends on “long-term asset development” like the mortgage interest deduction program.

“These subsidies primarily go to high-income families and do not seem well geared to dealing with particular economic conditions and cycles, nor the low wealth of the young and low-income,” stated the Urban Institute report. “A common misconception is that poor or even low-income families cannot save, but, in fact, many can and do—especially in homes and saving accounts.”

A report by The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said that the mortgage interest deduction program cost $70 billion a year, “but it appears to do little to achieve the goal of expanding homeownership.”

The report said: “The main reason is that the bulk of its benefits go to higher-income households who generally could afford a home without assistance: in 2012, 77 percent of the benefits went to homeowners with incomes above $100,000. Meanwhile, close to half of homeowners with mortgages — most of them middle- and lower-income families — receive no benefit from the deduction.”

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities suggested that mortgage interest deduction be converted into a mortgage interest credit that could help struggling families afford to be homeowners.

In a 2012 report, the CBPP recommended that a renters’ tax credit could also help level the playing field in the housing market.

“It could reduce each household’s monthly rent by an average of $400; its value alone would lift 270,000 families out of poverty and lift four of five of the poorest families it assists out of deep poverty,” the report said.

At the state-level, the renters’ tax credit could help reduce homelessness among veterans, keep at-risk families together and assist low-income elderly and people living with disabilities find housing.

The CBPP report on the renters’ tax credit said that, “Such initiatives would not only further important policy goals and provide needed help to some of the nation’s most vulnerable people, but they would also generate savings in health care, child welfare, and other systems.”

Med Students Don’t Wait to Give Back

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, there are only 2.3 physicians for every 1,000 people in the United States. That number is even lower in some states with large African American populations, such as South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Enter the Student National Medical Association. The SNMA is the oldest and largest student-run organization of medical students of color. It not only cultivates the pool of medical professionals of color and nurtures thousands of mostly African American student members as they matriculate through medical training, but it also instills a duty to serve, particularly in communities where health care access is inadequate.

“The people in this organization are the next wave of medical leadership, and will practice largely in underserved communities of color,” says SNMA national marketing manager, DeJuana Thompson. She began positioning herself for her current position after seeing SNMA members from the University of Alabama chapter volunteer clinic services around her hometown of Birmingham. “They were offering medical services in our community that we normally didn’t have access to. Once I saw that, I’ve been involved ever since.”

In 2011 when Thomson began working with the SNMA, a new initiative to deepen the SNMA’s community impact was brewing next door in Mississippi. That year, a team led by Michael L. Jones at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, launched the Community Health Advocacy Training Program. The program partners with churches and other community hubs to train laypeople to become health advocates in their neighborhoods.

“Mississippi leads the nation in most chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease,” says Jones, who works as the director of Healthy Linkages at the University Medical Center while running the CHAT program in his spare time. “But we also have low rates of health literacy, and a low number of primary health care physicians.”

In one free six-hour training, volunteers learn to accurately measure blood pressure, weight, body mass index, and glucose levels, interpret medication instructions, provide basic nutritional counseling, and help others navigate the health care system. The program also trains both lay people and medical professionals to create more advocates by teaching others these clinical skills. To date, Jones and his volunteer partners have trained approximately 2,500 advocates, mostly in the Jackson, Miss. area.

“We wanted to devote attention and resources to laypeople in the community, and empower them to take a more active role in their healthcare,” Jones explains. “Because if we could empower those individuals, they’re the ones who touch people every day. They’re the ones who are trusted in their communities. I’m not going to be able to have the same reach.”

The following year, Amber Clark, a student at Brown University Alpert Medical School (and then-community service liaison for SNMA Region 7), learned about Jones and the CHAT program through a mutual colleague and brought it to the SNMA. For the 2013 SNMA Community Health Advocate Training pilot program, Jones trained 25 medical students of color from all over the country to go into their schools’ surrounding communities and develop more community health advocates.

“We wanted a wildfire effect,” Clark explained. “This program is important for minority communities because we’re the most adversely effected by these disparities that are 100 percent preventable. We have to let [communities] know, you have a say in your health, and we’re giving them the tools to do that. It’s very uplifting and empowering.”

The CHAT program isn’t the only way SNMA student members address their communities’ disparities.

Project H.O.P.E. (Health Optimization through Patient Education) is another major initiative from the student members of the University of South Alabama College of Medicine chapter. The program brings together high school students and members of their community living with HIV/AIDS for monthly conversations. “African Americans ages 15-24 are among the highest groups of individuals being infected with the HIV/AIDS virus,” the project’s mission statement explains. “It is our belief that by educating our youth about the detrimental effects of HIV/AIDS, we can counteract and/or slow this number.”

The organization is also looking beyond the big-name ailments that Black communities suffer disproportionately. The Michigan State University College of Human Medicine chapter of the SNMA, for example, hosts an annual bone marrow drive targeted at donors of color in the Lansing, Michigan area.

According to the National Marrow Donor Program, (the largest marrow registry in the world, each year 12,000 Americans need a bone marrow transplant to save their lives, and 70 percent will not have a donor match within their families. They will need to look to unrelated donors, who must be the same race and ethnicity to increase the chances of success. But only 7 percent of bone marrow donors are African American. Black patients who need a transplant to survive have a less than 50 percent chance of finding a matching nonfamily donor.

“MSU-CHM SNMA is dedicated to making bone marrow available for those groups that are less likely to find a match,” the chapter explains. “The National Marrow Donor Program could save the life of anyone anywhere in the world.”

Incoming SNMA national president and Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine student, Topaz Sampson, takes the commitment to serve underserved populations very seriously. With her tenure, she plans to broaden the SNMA’s focus to include the needs of LGBT, immigrant, and refugee communities.

“Because we’re a socially conscious and culturally competent organization, we have to be prepared to treat patients from all walks of life,” says Sampson, who is interested in becoming a psychiatrist. “We recognize this great lack in representation and access and we have to be the best physicians we can be in our communities.”

Clark, who hopes to go into physical medicine and rehabilitation, also believes that an emphasis on community service within medical training has far reaching effects.

“This may sound crass, but just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you’ll make a great physician. You need people skills, you need to be able to relate to your patients, and serving the communities in which you’ll be working fiver you those skills,” she says. “For a community, it’s great to see people who look like you, screening you. It’s very empowering and uplifting, and it leads to better health for all of us.”

NAACP Outraged Over Georgia's New Gun Law

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By James Wright
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

The interim president of the NAACP on Friday excoriated Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s decision to sign a bill that allows gun owners to carry weapons into churches, bars, schools and some state government buildings, calling the move unwise and unsafe.

Lorraine Miller, who also is the NAACP’s CEO, said the Republican governor and the state legislature “have placed the state of Georgia in grave danger.”

“We are appalled and outraged,” she said. “Not only are our streets less safe due to a lack of common sense gun safety laws, but now our churches, schools and restaurants are too.”

The bill, signed Thursday by Deal, also licenses residents with concealed carry permits to possess guns in certain areas of airports. The new law will go into effect in July.

Miller lambasted the decision, opining that “even in the Wild West, gun owners were required to turn over their guns before entering bars.”

The NAACP has long been an advocate for gun control laws nationwide. It has often cited statistics that show that blacks die at higher rates because of gun violence than whites.

“This law, combined with the state’s destructive ‘stand your ground’ law will put more innocent people, particularly young men of color, in danger when an armed person substitutes racial bias for reasonable fear and fire away,” Miller said. “This is an insult to the thousands of families who have lost a loved one to gunfire in Georgia.”

Wrongfully Convicted Man Files Suit Against City

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By Michael McGee
Special to the NNPA from The Dallas Examiner

“My life has been in upheaval for five years.”

The Dallas Examiner first published Finding Normal After Not Guilty Verdict in June 2013. The article described the story of Reggie Ruffin who stated he was arrested in 2009 and 2010 for unrelated violent felonies. After many court dates and repeated claims by Ruffin of his innocence and improper investigations by the authorities, he was found not guilty of all charges in two separate jury trials.

Recently, Ruffin has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city, the police and the offices of the mayor and district attorney for what he claims was malicious prosecution.

He filed case number 3:2014cv00046 in January in the U. S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit Court, Texas Northern District. Through Ruffin v. District Attorney’s Office et al, he maintains that the arrests and subsequent prosecutions left him in economic ruin due to legal fees and time lost from work, despite evidence throughout the investigations that, claim Ruffin and attorney Kevin Kurtz, indicated the felony charges had no merit.

Ruffin also argues that when employers see his arrest data in a background check they pass him over for full-time work because he cannot get his record expunged. Since 2009 Ruffin has had to hop from job to job using temp agencies and said he cannot renew his truck driver’s license.

“I do want financial relief from what has happened because my life has been turned into total chaos,” he said.

Ruffin explained that the legal battle is not just about him. Along with his own case, he and Kurtz are planning to file a class action suit with others who have faced similar circumstances.

“Right now my main objective is to try to reach out and find other people that have gone through this,” he affirmed.

Ruffin pointed out that to make ends meet while on probation, waiting on an expunction, or awaiting trial, some individuals have limited options. “A lot of times people have to resort back to shady types of activities that may cause you to get violated.”

“This is part of their tactic to wear a person down to go ahead and take the plea bargain,” Ruffin indicated.

Ruffin said that in itself showed unfairness within the Texas legal system – a state where there are 15 private correctional or work facilities, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Unit Directory.

“Your chances of finding a suitable job are very, very, very limited,” he stated.

Ruffin estimated that it could take two to five years to resolve his federal case.

Community Saved Seattle's only Black Broadcasting Company

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Special to the NNPA from The Seattle Medium

SEATTLE – Chris H. Bennett, chairperson of Kris Bennett Broadcasting, Inc., announced that on Good Friday at approximately 1:45 p.m., an email was received a new non-profit lender with a crucial message: ”Heritage Bank settlement payoff is wired…”

With those words, the first phase of a community’s effort to “Save Our Voice” was successfully completed. According to Bennett, the transaction ended a fight that lasted more than two years after his company’s future was put in jeopardy when the assets of Bay Bank, its original lender, were awarded to Tacoma-based Heritage Bank, which would not extend or honor the previous bank agreed loan to Kris Bennett Broadcasting.

Bennett Broadcasting extended special thanks to the co-hosts of the community effort, Rev. Ruth Saunders and Rev. Kitti Ward, who worked tirelessly to lead the community’s fight to save KRIZ,KYIZ,KZIZ and KBMS.

Bennett was quick to give all praises to God saying, “This was a total God blessed community effort in this process that started with the very first thousand dollars coming personally from the community Pastor Rev. Dr. Samuel Berry McKinney. It then continued with many more of the community thousand dollar checks, five hundred dollars checks and cash, the hundred dollars checks and cash, the fifties, the twenties, the tens, fives, the ones and the loose change in the ‘message wine bottle’ filled with dimes.”

“The joint effort of Pastors Carey Anderson of First AME Church and Aaron Williams of Mount Zion Christmas Eve worship service with all collections going to ‘Save Our Voice,’ Kris Bennett Broadcasting community advertising partners special fashion show/dinner at the FAME/ MLK Community Center and yes, Quartet Commissioner, Rev. Doc’ Rivers, community Parade of Quartets at Pastor Lawrence Willis’ True Vine Missionary Baptist Church as well as organizations such as the Central Area Chamber of Commerce under the leadership of DeCharlene Williams, Kent Black Action Committee and Black Ministers Alliance. Special Thanks to Pastor Robert L. Manaway and the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church family for a generous collection and for being the ONLY continued faith broadcast partner for over 30 years.”

There were many community ambassadors in this community effort as many gave not only treasure but time and talent and resource contacts, including Elma Horton, Alvin Whittaker, Carol Versey Cobb and their team of community talent that prepared the community’s Black Press Breakfast that raised net proceeds of $15,000. Then there was one of the most profound, God sent and God blessed resource efforts of Attorney Professor Rev. Carl Livingston, who introduced the broadcasting group to the non-profit lender, who restructure the original loan

Bennett said, “Our goal and mission was ‘a million dollars for a million reasons,’ which some naysayers snickered and made jokes about the amount even though many of the naysayers were some of the ‘a million reasons’ benefactors. No, we did not raise the million dollars in plain revenue/cash; the total cash proceeds were approximately $65,000, a tremendous community effort. But every success cannot be totally measured by cash collected in a campaign; resources are just as important. The real answer is YES; we raised enough revenue and resources to reach our goal. And yes, this is another miraculous blessing from God with all praises going to Him. Prayers work! Special thanks to all our prayer warriors; we know God was in the mix.

“What seemed like an impossible battle proves that all things are possible with God. We trusted and kept our faith in God as we humbled and wrapped ourselves in the blood of “Jesus” and the campaign, ‘a million dollars for a million reasons,’ was a huge success. It just goes to ‘the living testimony,’ if you take care of your community, your community will take care of you and we will be forever grateful to this community at large and our faith-based community in general.”

Campaign Co-Coordinator, Rev. Ruth Saunders, stated: The most profound statement throughout the campaign was the message in the bottle. One contributor brought in an empty wine bottle with 700 dimes in it. We wrote on the bottle, ‘SAVE KRIZ.’ It is as if a bottle drifted from miles away with a heart-wrenching cry–“SAVE KRIZ. We made the ‘message bottle’ a symbol of our commitment—hundreds of people coming together and uniting in a common cause.

“From the beginning this campaign was God driven and God directed with the three-fold purpose of reconciliation, restoration and revenue. We call it the three Rs. Mr. Bennett humbled himself before God and this community and trusted the scripture in Matthew 7:7-8 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (NIV)

Bennett said, the next phase is retention of the broadcast group and the avoid being placed in a vulnerable position again.

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