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Census Day Has Passed, So Now What?

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By Pharoh Martin, NNPA National Correspondent –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - Census Day, April 1, has passed but that doesn't mean it's too late to turn in your 10-question Census form to be counted. The Census Bureau will continue to accept 2010 Census questionnaires by mail through mid-April.

For households that fail to mail back their forms, census workers will begin making door to door visits beginning May 1, and will continue doing so until mid-July.

Census data determines crucial dollar allocations and political representation within communities. The data determines the apportionment of congressional seats to states. It also determines the distribution of more than $4 trillion dollars in federal funds to local governments and communities over the next decade and lays the groundwork for what community services will be provided.

Still, only 54 percent of the nation's estimated 145 million households mailed back their census forms on April 1, reports the U. S Census Bureau. April 1 was the official deadline day to reply to the Census so that the federal government can begin conducting the nation's decennial headcount, as mandated by the U.S. Constitution.

The 2010 U.S. Census will cost taxpayers almost $12 billion, according to a 2008 budget request submitted by the Department of Commerce, making it the most expensive count ever.

"The Census Bureau and I would like to thank everyone who has already taken 10 minutes to fill out and mail back the 2010 Census," Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said in a statement.

"For those who have not yet had a chance to send it back, I'd like to reiterate that it's not too late to participate and doing so will save a lot of taxpayer money."

The massive address canvassing operation will cost taxpayers an average of $57 per household versus the 42 cents it takes to get a response back by mail to send a census taker door-to-door to collect the same information that they didn’t mail it back.

Approximately 140,000 census takers will follow-up in person with every single address that doesn't mail back a form in order. So if the Census form is still sitting on your coffee table expect a visit by a public worker carrying a U.S. Census Bureau badge. For the first time, workers will also carry around GPS-enabled handheld computers to record data. The handheld devices will improve accuracy of the count and precision of geographic data gathered, according to the Census Bureau.

In the case that nobody answers, a census taker will visit a home up to three times. A census taker can only ask census form-related questions but may require your phone number in order to follow up with questions regarding incomplete information.

"If we feel that you may have a discrepancy with your questionnaire we'll call you back," said 2010 Census chief operating officer Arnold Jackson in an earlier interview with NNPA News Service. "We may call eight million households out of 145 million."

By law, the Census Bureau is not allowed to share respondents' answers with any other governmental agency such as the FBI, the CIA or welfare and immigration agencies, nor with any court of law or even with the President of the United States. Its employees take an oath for life to keep census information confidential. Failure to uphold that oath is punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 and five years in prison.

If you did not receive a form or need a replacement, call the Telephone Questionnaire Assistance center at 1-866-872-6868.

You can also pick up what's called a "Be Counted" form from a service-based location such as a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter. Be Counted forms were designed to count people who are displaced or who lack a permanent address but can also be used for people who never received a form. The Census Bureau has said that people are not able to fill out forms online but they are experimenting with allowing Internet submissions in future Census counts.

Secretary of Agriculture Promises Improvements in Civil Rights, Fair Share in Advertising

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By Hazel Trice Edney, NNPA Editor-in-Chief –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has promised Black newspaper publishers that the department, with its long history of documented race discrimination, will do better at civil rights and the fair dissemination of advertising dollars in coming months and years.

Speaking to publishers of the National Newspaper Publishers Association during Black Press Week in mid-March, Vilsack reflected on what he described as “the unfortunate history that this department has had in civil rights” which has now prompted “the most comprehensive commitment to civil rights that … the USDA has needed for a substantial amount of time.”

He said among the first things he did upon appointment by President Barack Obama was to visit with a number of former secretaries of agriculture. “One of the things that the secretaries would comment on was the poor record of civil rights,” he said. “Agriculture took three significant steps in order to try to close that chapter.”

Vilsack outlined the steps as follows:

• To work aggressively to close the class action suit filed by Black farmers because of gross race discrimination. “We’re close on the Black Farmer case”, Vilsack said. “We need Congress to appropriate $1.15 billion that will then be distributed to thousands of farmers who were not treated fairly by USDA years ago.”

• The Second thing is to “do a better job internally in terms of promotions and hiring in order to make sure we are reflective of the diversity in America and specifically the diversity we find in rural America,” Vilsack said. He asked the publishers to help by getting the word out about internships that are available for college students who might be interested in long-term jobs at the USDA.

• The third and final thing was to “order an external review of all the programs that have previously been a part of the problem in creating these discrimination claims." He said a specialized firm “is in the process of reviewing all the activities in 14 states where most of the problems and issues occurred” and it will bring back recommendations in a year or so “to make sure these programs are not continuing to create claims of discrimination.”

He promised an in depth review:"Is it a training issue? Is it a personnel issue? Is it a program issue? Is it a lack of understanding about the application process issue? Or what precisely is it?”

Vilsack fielded strong questions from the audience from publishers who were not only concerned about how Black people will learn about the many economic and nutrition programs of the Department of Agriculture, but also concerned about the Black Press being overlooked as a means to that end.

NNPA Chairman Danny Bakewell told the Secretary that spending advertising dollars with Black newspapers could get the word to the audience he intends to reach. “We talk to 20 million Black people every week. We believe that we represent a significant market place and we want to make sure that we participate in the budgets and in the resources that are available,” Bakewell said.

Vilsack said although Agriculture works every day to fund small and Black businesses development, he was unaware of how much money is spent by the Department with Black newspapers: “Your issue is not one that I have focused on and I wouldn’t be able to tell you today how well or how poorly we’re doing. But, I appreciate you bringing it up and Chris we really need to think about the reallocation of our resources to make sure it’s fairly distributed,” he told a staff member.

Continuing to nail the issue, Richmond Free Press Editor/Publisher Ray Boone told Vilsack, “The greatest indicator of commitment is how you spend your money. I can look at your check book and tell whether you are serious,” Quoting civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer and Black farmers leader, John Boyd, he asked, “Where are your values?”

Vilsack said he would not pretend to know where every dollar has gone from the Department, but he said he has established a new Office of Outreach and Advocacy to make sure resources, including dollars and information, are getting to communities that need it most.

This writer asked Vilsack when First Lady Michelle Obama would speak directly to Black newspapers with her new “Let’s Move” campaign against childhood obesity. A White House press briefing with the First Lady and about a dozen publications early this year omitted Black newspapers.

Vilsack explained, “The First lady is introducing the obesity program to the country as a whole first. And then there will be targeted efforts over the next 12 to 24 months focused on specific communities.” He added, “I can promise you that we can take this message back to the ‘Let’s Move’ initiative and make sure the First Lady understands the need to reach out – not just to the Black Community and the Black Press - but actually in Spanish-speaking publications as well. This is a serious issue with minority kids. And so, there needs to be a targeted strategy. We will convey that message. I’m sure they’re aware of it. I’m sure they’ve got some thoughts about this … We will convey this message today.”

NNPA Foundation Chair Dorothy Leavell stressed that NNPA is not looking for one-time hit or miss strategies, but a long-term commitment.

“What I want is a real partnership with the Department of Agriculture,” Leavell told Vilsack. “Sometimes in the grand scope of things, we think we’re reaching everybody when we’re on TV. We think we’re reaching everybody when we’re on the radio. We think we’re reaching all of these people, but our people need to know that you’re talking to us. You’re not talking to us when you’re on TV. You’re talking to us when you’re in our publications…If we don’t get to the people that you are trying to reach; then we will have spent all of this money all of this time and we will still have the same problems.”

Vilsack sought to assure the publishers that he is serious about his respect for the Black Press: “Within rural America and in USDA, we get a much bigger bang for our buck - not with the News Weeks and the Times and the major publications. We get it with the regional and local publications. My view is that people read those local publications.”

HUD Study Weighs Cost of First-Time Homelessness for Individuals, Families

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Special to the NNPA from the Louisiana Weekly –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - When an individual or a family becomes homeless for the first time, the cost of providing them housing and services can vary widely, from $581 a month for an individual's stay in an emergency shelter in Des Moines, Iowa to as much as $3,530 for a family's monthly stay in emergency shelter in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Thursday released three studies on the cost of "first-time" homelessness; life after transitional housing for homeless families; and strategies for improving access to mainstream benefits programs.

HUD's cost study is the most comprehensive research on the price tag associated with first-time homelessness and creates a foundation to compare the costs of various homeless interventions. Taken together, HUD's three studies will inform policy discussions on what are the most effective strategies for assisting homeless persons and families in the future.

"These studies expand our knowledge of the true costs of homelessness and raises other questions that go far beyond dollars and cents," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. "Now we need to have a serious discussion over what strategies are not only most cost effective, but how we can help individuals and families from falling into homelessness in the first place."

HUD's study, "Costs Associated with First-Time Homelessness for Families and Individuals," examines how much it costs to house and serve nearly 9,000 individuals and families in six areas of the country. The report studies the cost of first-time homelessness among individuals in Des Moines, Iowa; Houston, Texas; and Jacksonville, Florida. In addition, HUD looked at the cost of first-time family homelessness in Washington, DC; Kalamazoo, Michigan; and a large area of upstate South Carolina.

HUD is currently investing $1.5 billion in funding through the Recovery Act's Homeless Preven tion and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP), to prevent individuals and families from becoming homeless and help those who are experiencing homelessness to be quickly re-housed and stabilized.

This report reveals that most of those individuals and families studied experience homelessness only once or twice and use emergency shelter for a limited period of time at fairly low cost. However, HUD also found that some of these households experience longer periods of homelessness and use more expensive programs. While overnight emergency shelter for individuals have the lowest costs, these shelters offer the fewest services in the least private settings and are often open only during evening hours. By contrast, transitional housing is the most expensive model for individuals, frequently offering more privacy and a comprehensive range of on-site services.

HUD's cost study found:

• Average costs for individuals are much lower than for families, with overnight stays at an emergency shelter for individuals having the lowest daily costs;

• For individuals, transitional housing proves more expensive than permanent supportive housing largely because services for transitional housing were usually offered directly by on-site staff than by mainstream service providers;

• For families, emergency shelters are usually equally or more expensive than transitional and permanent supportive housing because family shelters often offer 24-hour access and private units;

• In the three sample areas studied, first-time homeless individuals were predominantly male averaging between 39-41 years old; and

• Female individuals had fewer stays, but used homeless programs 74 percent longer than their male counterparts.

HUD also released two additional homeless studies Thursday: "Life after Transitional Housing for Homeless Families" and "Strategies for Improving Home less People's Access to Mainstream Benefits and Services."

The "Life after Transitional Housing for Homeless Families" study follows 195 families in 36 transitional housing programs in five communities for three, six and 12 months after leaving the program. Given the significant investment HUD makes in transitional housing programs, and in light of the program's costs mentioned above, it is important to understand the effectiveness of these programs. The five study communities were Cleve land/Cuyahoga County, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Houston and Harris and Benton Counties, Texas; San Diego City and County, California; and Seattle/King County, Washington. Among the study's findings:

• Participants in smaller transitional housing programs were more likely to have their own place to live after moveout and more likely to live with the same household members at the beginning and end of the follow-up year. Participants in larger programs experience higher levels of educational attainment at moveout.

• In some respects, longer stays in transitional housing produced important benefits including higher levels of educational attainment and employment and a greater likelihood of continued employment during the follow-up year. Families spending more months in transitional housing were significantly more likely to have a place of their own for an entire year after leaving the program.

• While transitional housing programs produced increasingly positive outcomes for families with longer stays, HUD found the number of barriers facing families did not impact outcomes. Given the significant costs associated with service-intensive transitional housing programs, HUD's report brings into question whether this housing model is the most appropriate intervention for those families who do not have significant barriers to housing.

In "Strategies for Improving Homeless People's Access to Mainstream Benefits and Services," HUD studied seven communities - Albany/Albany Co., NY; Albuquerque, NM; Metropolitan Denver; Miami-Dade Co., FL; Norfolk, VA; Portland, ME; and Pitts burgh/Allegheny Co., PA - to document how communities mobilized to improve homeless people's access to mainstream benefits and services in light of HUD's goal of dedicating a larger portion of HUD homeless assistance funding to housing.

Communities that experienced the greatest success had a strong central organization intent upon improving access of homeless individuals and families to mainstream service.

Typically, communities were successful at reducing structural barriers to benefits, such as physical access, complexity and length of application processes, and rules for documenting eligibility. In addition, the study finds evidence that people exiting HUD-funded programs were likely to be connected to mainstream benefits at rates that exceeded national rates for 2007.

These communities had the most success enrolling persons and families for food stamps and General Assistance. However, communities struggled with overcoming barriers that were beyond their control, such as eligibility requirements of programs, such as TANF and Medicaid, and capacity barriers, such as an insufficient number of slots available in mainstream treatment programs for substance abuse or mental health services.

 

Death Row Inmate: 'The Final Call Newspaper Helped to Save My Life'

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By Jesse Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - By listening to the upbeat tone of his voice on the phone, one could not tell that Reginald Clemons has been on death row in the state of Missouri for half of his life for a crime he says he didn't commit.

Last year he was on the brink of having his life ended before being granted a stay of execution and now he is cautiously optimistic about an upcoming hearing on May 10.

“I know that God has put me through all of this for a purpose. I don't know what purpose it is but I would not still be here without the prayers and works of my family and supporters,” said Clemons to The Final Call in a March 15 telephone interview.

“Last year I was staring death in the face but I am alive to keep fighting. I know it was due in large part to the support of Minister Farrakhan and the story that appeared in The Final Call newspaper. The Final Call helped to save my life. Without that story my plight would not have spread as fast and my wrongful execution would have been carried out in darkness,” said Clemons, 38, referring to the article appearing in FCN Volume 28 No. 35 dated June 9, 2009.

According to Clemons, at the upcoming hearing in May, Judge Michael Manners of Jackson County will either decide to give him a new trial, set a new execution date or recommend his immediate release.

“It is very unprecedented that they would bring in a judge from another jurisdiction but they wanted someone who could look at this case objectively. I hope he will see the crookedness that has been done by the prosecutor in this case the entire time,” said Clemons.

On March 8, the Missouri Attorney General's office asked that Judge Manners consider some evidence that has been held in cold storage at the police department's crime lab. According to the letter from the AG's office to the judge “the state has discovered three laboratory reports and certain physical evidence, including what is commonly referred to as a rape kit. The evidence had not been previously disclosed as part of the state's case against Mr. Clemons,” the letter said.

“Why was this evidence withheld all this time? This further shows the prosecutorial misconduct of Nel Moss,” said Clemons, who also has several inventions that he is seeking to get patented while imprisoned.

Clemons was convicted and sentenced to death in connection with the 1991 deaths of two White siblings, Robin and Julie Kerry, who drowned after falling from the Chain of the Rocks Bridge into the Mississippi River. Clemons has maintained his innocence and has stated that he gave coerced confessions after suffering multiple beatings from St. Louis Metropolitan police detectives.

On June 17, 2009, Clemons was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit granted a stay. On June 30, the Missouri Supreme Court appointed Judge Manners as special master to review Clemons' case.

“The appointment of a special master to a case like this is unheard of in the judicial history of St. Louis. This is only a testament to the intensified efforts on the ground. This new hearing gives us hope but we still have to wait to see what the judge decides,” said Zaki Baruti of the Universal African Peoples Organization.

Jamala Rogers, lead coordinator of the “Justice For Reggie” campaign, told The Final Call that the stay of execution was a victory and agrees that the grassroots mobilization has impacted this case.

“Missouri has never seen such a mobilization upsurge like this surrounding a case like they have seen for Reggie. He deserves his day in court. We're not stopping. We are still encouraging everyone to sign the petitions online because we want Reggie totally free,” said Rogers, who has worked alongside Vera Thomas, Clemons' mother, and this legal defense team.

According to Clemons' supporters, the two White victims went missing after visiting the Chain of Rocks Bridge with their White male cousin. The bridge had become a popular hangout for local teens. They added that the cousin told police that the girls had been raped and pushed from the bridge, while he was robbed and ordered to jump by an unknown assailant, and that he survived the nearly 80-foot fall into strong currents with no injuries and dry hair. Furthermore, the supporters note that the cousin confessed to the crime within hours but was never arrested.

Instead, the police apprehended Clemons and three other youth who were also hanging out on the bridge that night. The three Black males received a death sentence. The fourth young male, who is White, received a 30-year sentence and is presently on parole. The cousin of the victims would later retract his confession and the city courts awarded him $150,000 after he charged that St. Louis law enforcement beat the confession out of him.

In April 1991, a then 19-year-old Clemons testified to Internal Affairs that he was forced into confessing to raping the victims because of brutal beatings by two detectives during interrogation. Clemons recounted how his head was slammed repeatedly against the walls of the interrogation room which paralleled the documented stories of co-defendant Marlin Gray. Officers denied the claims.

In 2005, Gray was convicted and put to death by lethal injection. Co-defendant Antonio Richardson is now serving a life sentence and the lone White co-defendant in the case, Daniel Winfrey, was released on parole in 2007.

Both Clemons and Gray were given death sentences by the state under the law of “accomplice liability” although prosecutors conceded that Clemons neither pushed the women over bridge nor plotted their deaths. There has been no physical evidence, fingerprints, DNA or hair samples linking Clemons to the crime.

“This case is only a reflection of the racism against young Black men in this country. There are many young men like Reggie Clemons sitting on death row,” said Baruti.

Missourians lobbying for a moratorium on the death penalty

On March 17, as part of the Moratorium Now! network, eighteen organizations seeking an end to the death penalty in Missouri participated in a statewide lobby day at the capitol in Jefferson City. According to organizers, the purpose of the rally was to call for a two-year moratorium on executions in Missouri while a commission studies the death penalty system in terms of cost and fairness of the process and practice in the state.

“We applaud Rep. Deeken and Sen. Justus for their efforts. Although Rep. Deeken is a supporter of the death penalty he is concerned about wrongful executions,” Jeff Stacks of Moratorium Now! told The Final Call.

In the Missouri House of Representatives, Rep. Bill Deeken (R-Jefferson City) is the sponsor of HB 1683, the bill for moratorium and study. In the Senate, Sen. Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City) is the sponsor of the similar bill SB 930.

“We're pressing for this moratorium on the death penalty because there is a question of whether the state can get it right. The case of Reggie Clemons proves that state can't always get it right especially with evidence now coming out after nearly 20 years,” said Renee Boman, a field director for the group Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, to The Final Call.

Said Rogers, “I believe the death penalty needs to be abolished completely."

Fierce Debate Over U.S. Bill to Support Uganda Military

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Special to the NNPA from GIN –

(GIN) – Proposed US legislation authorizing military action against the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda has come under fierce debate. Critics say the bill will serve to prop up Uganda’s government which is under fire for criminalizing homosexuality.

“While the bill funds some humanitarian aid and post-conflict justice, the primary focus is on a military strategy to ‘apprehend or otherwise remove’ LRA leaders,” noted Samar Al-Bulushi, a consultant to the International Center for Transitional Justice. Human Rights Focus, a local NGO based in northern Uganda, also opposes a military option.

In Acholiland, northern Uganda, where the ethnic Acholi people have faced both the LRA and the government’s army, the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative urged a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

“As religious leaders whose primary concern is the preservation of human life, (we) advocate for dialogue and other non-violent strategies to be employed so that long term sustainable peace may be realised.”

On Nov. 17, 2009, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, bi-partisan legislation authored by Sen. Russ Feingold and co-sponsored by some 25 other senators. It requires President Obama to develop a new strategy to confront the LRA and sets aside $10 million for humanitarian assistance in areas outside Uganda where the LRA is operating.

A recent BBC investigation reportedly uncovered evidence of a massacre in the Democratic Republic of Congo by the LRA with over 300 victims. Both the LRA and the Ugandan government dispute the findings.

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