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Africa: Obama Ignores African Journalists at Summit in U.S.

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By Genevieve Quinta
Special to the NNPA from The Michigan Citizen


The closing press conference of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit with United States President Barack Obama was dominated by questions about local policy issues, sparking indignation from African journalists last Wednesday.

Obama rushed onto the stage an hour and 14 minutes late and launched into his closing speech on the summit, Aug. 6, which saw more than 40 heads of states or representatives from African countries converge on the U.S. capital.

After a statement on the success of the summit, Obama took questions from a pre-selected list of journalists, of which only one was from Africa.

White House press members dominated the question and answer session, focusing on local policy issues, such as immigration, and the crisis in the Middle East and Ukraine.

The press core was given front row seats to the conference while African journalists scrabbled for space behind the cameras at the U.S. Department of State.

Some waved their arms hoping to get a chance to ask Obama a question or two about the summit, but the chance never came.

After the short Q&A, Obama left the stage and was whisked out the building, leaving many hot under the collar.

“What did we come all this way for?” a journalist asked.

The three-day summit was the first of its kind, initiated by Obama following is visit to Africa last year.

It focused on issues of trade and investment between the US and Africa, peace and regional stability and good governance.

Blacks in the South and Midwest Hurt Most by Jobless Cuts

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent


WASHINGTON (NNPA) – When cash-strapped states in the South and Midwest slashed unemployment benefits after the Great Recession, claiming it was an effort to save money and boost the economy, they only succeeded in disproportionately hurting Black families already struggling to make ends meet.

In a recent analysis of the impact of state cuts to jobless benefits, the Economic Policy Institute reported that Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina and South Carolina decreased the total number of weeks that the unemployed could receive benefits to below 26 weeks, even though no other state had dipped below that mark in more than decade.

When Congress approved the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program in 2008, the overall employment rate was 5.6 percent and the long-term unemployment rate was 1percent. But when Congress let the program expire in 2013, the jobless rate and the long-term unemployment rate were much higher; 6.7 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively.

The unemployment rate for Blacks was nearly 12 percent (11.9 percent) in December 2013, nearly twice the national average.

The eight states, primarily in the South and Midwest, moved ahead of Congress and cut the number of weeks that people could receive unemployment benefits citing the need to “shore up insolvent state accounts in the federal Unemployment Trust Fund (UTF),” according to the report.

Not only were UTFs in 27 other states also insolvent, the states that made the cuts experienced little to no benefits in their economy or labor force rates.

“The fact that you don’t see any significant effects of the cuts, positive or negative, was surprising to me,” said Valerie Wilson, an economist and director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy (PREE) at the Economic Policy Institute.

Wilson said that states that made the cuts didn’t gain any labor market improvement, aside from what was already happening, and on the budget side, they didn’t save a lot of money either.

“The justification for doing it was really weak,” said Wilson. “It makes a point that those decisions were made not necessarily for economic reasons, as much as they were politically driven.”

Wilson said that, on the other hand, the loss of income from the jobless benefits was disproportionately borne by African American workers, because in those states where those benefit cuts were made, African Americans are a larger share of the workforce than their overall population.

In Georgia, Blacks accounted for roughly 31 percent of the labor force and 58.3 percent of the long-term unemployed, compared to Whites who accounted for about 56 percent of the workforce and 35 percent of the long-term unemployed.

Even Missouri, where Blacks were only 10 percent of the labor force, they were 18.3 percent of the long-term unemployed, compared to Whites who made up more than 83 percent of the labor force and about 73 percent of the long-term unemployed.

In a July 2013 report, the Urban Institute said that Blacks represented 10.5 percent of workers that held jobs and 22.6 percent of the long-term unemployed, nationwide.

Some state lawmakers have argued that extending unemployment insurance (UI) creates a class of citizens who would rather depend on the government than search for gainful employment.

The EPI report offered empirical evidence that proved otherwise, including 2011 research by Jesse Rothstein at the Goldman School of Public Policy and Department of Economics University of California that showed that “most of the effect of UI extensions on unemployment stems not from any barrier to job-finding introduced by these extensions, but from the inducement to workers to remain in active job-search, which means that they will be classified as unemployed rather than out of the labor force. UI extensions that keep workers engaged in active job-search not only do not harm job-finding rates, they may actually increase them by boosting workers’ job search intensity.”

In 2013, Henry Farber of Princeton University and Robert Valletta of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco “did not find a substantial effect of extended benefits on time to exit to employment” and  “that there may be individuals who remain attached to the labor force, perhaps searching at a low level, because extended benefits are available.”

William Spriggs, chief economist for the AFL-CIO, scoffed at the idea that cutting UI benefits, somehow creates jobs.

“That would be like saying, if I don’t make you a millionaire, then you’ll become a millionaire, because then you’ll start looking to become a millionaire,” said Spriggs. “Well, all I can do is look.”

The EPI report found “little evidence that extending unemployment aid provides a disincentive to work that is large enough to materially change the trajectory” of key economic indicators. EPI researchers explained a weak demand for workers most likely responsible for the stubbornly low rate of workforce participation in those states.

The report noted that other more effective means existed to shore up resources for state Unemployment Trust Fund (UTF) accounts.

“Compared with a tax hike that would have achieved the same boost to the state UTF account’s balance, the savings per covered worker in the six of these eight states for which data are available ranged from $0.06 to $0.69 per week,” stated the report. “In short, unemployed workers lost an average $252 per week of curtailed benefits just so states could save roughly 37 cents per covered worker per week in [State Unemployment Tax Acts] taxes, holding trust fund account balances equal.”

The report also recommended that states build their trust fund reserves when the economy is good and expand their tax bases.

“The fact that African Americans already have high rates of unemployment, already have high rates of long-term unemployment, makes it especially egregious that a cluster of southern states and a few Midwestern states decided to cut their benefits,” said Wilson.

Wilson said that, long-term unemployment is still very elevated and the level of long-term unemployment didn’t justify cutting the benefits between 2011-2013.

Wilson explained: “It’s just poor timing given that there is still a significant portion of the population who have been out of work for a long time and could really use those benefits to help their families.”

Blacks Suffer Because Shortage of Organ Donors

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By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent


WASHINGTON (NNPA) – At the start of 2002, Everett Lee, 57 at the time, considered himself “healthier than all get out.” So when he found himself winded with the smallest tasks, he knew something was wrong.

He scheduled a physical with his doctor as soon as possible, including blood work, EKG, and x-ray.

“[My doctor] said, ‘the blood has to go to the lab, I’ll give you a call back Friday.’ Well, he didn’t call Friday,” Lee says. “He called me Saturday morning at 9 a.m. – and you know that’s a bad sign – and said, ‘Everett you need to go to the hospital, right now.’”

Lee received an emergency blood transfusion over the weekend, and by Tuesday, he had been diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. He started chemotherapy the following day.

Blood illnesses such as leukemia and sickle cell anemia can be cured through bone marrow transplants. But African Americans are least likely of all racial groups to find a viable donor, according to the National Marrow Donor Program. The nonprofit runs the world’s largest blood-cell database, known as the Be The Match Registry.

The dearth of donors of color affects all transplants, from blood-related procedures, to tissues such as corneas, to organs such as skin and kidneys. In fact more than 37,000 Black patients are awaiting organ transplants today – that’s 30 percent of the national organ transplant waitlist, according to the federal Organ Procurement and Transplant Network (OPTN).

There are only 16,014 still-living and still-registered African Americans who have donated an organ over the last 26 years. Last year, only 17 percent of posthumous donors were Black.

The organ and tissue donor registry is both federal and state based. Every state has its own registry, usually via the motor vehicle department. The OPTN keeps track of all of the donors registered nationally, and helps states coordinate matching, donation, organ transport, and transplant.

Signing up to be an organ-and-tissue, or bone marrow donor are simple, but separate processes. To be a posthumous organ and tissue donor, one must sign up through the state’s department of motor vehicles, or using DonateLife.net. A wallet-sized donor card will be issued through the mail. To become a living organ or tissue donor one must register with the federal United Network for Organ Sharing, and undergo a full physical and psych evaluation. To join the marrow registry as a potential donor, one can request a cheek-swab DNA kit and application from BeTheMatch.org.

Matching donors to patients is a painstaking process dependent on many factors. For organ and tissue transplants, these factors include blood types, body sizes, patient need, distance between patient and donor, and more. For bone marrow—or more accurately, any blood-creating procedure—the main factor is HLA, a DNA marker that immune systems use to tag all cells as part of the body. This makes it easier to identify foreign cells.

Corey Franklin works in transplant support, guiding donors through the process. Last year, he found himself on the other side of the desk.

He had signed up to be a marrow donor during a drive at his church back in 2002.

“I was already a registered organ donor. I just said, ‘Ok, I’ll sign up.’ I believe in helping people,” Franklin says. “I think like everyone, when you register you never imagine you’ll get called.”

But the call came last year; he was identified as a potential match for a 10-year-old girl in Paris. Such calls begin a four-to-six week process in which potential donors undergo tests to see if they have more matching markers and to verify their overall health. Meanwhile, patients undergo immune system suppression treatments and tests to ensure they can handle the procedure. With as close to 10 matching markers as possible and a clean bill of health for both people, the donation takes place.

“It was a lot of anxiety…waiting for the donation date. I remember being in the pre-op room and my [blood] pressure was through the roof, like what have I gotten myself into,” Franklin recalled.

He was to undergo the bone marrow method, a surgical procedure in which doctors extract liquid marrow from the lower back pelvic bone, under general anesthesia.

“I remember being in pain when I woke up, I was shaking because I was kind of cold. I was happy it was over. I think a few days after my donation, the epiphany hit me that I really did something. Not everyone can say ‘I saved someone’s life,’” says Franklin.

He says he has not been in contact with the recipient because of restrictive French regulations.

“One of the best things I say [to new donors] is that you’re going to suffer some pain as you go through the procedure, but it’s something you’re experiencing for a short amount of time, whereas you’re giving somebody another chance at life,” Franklin says. “It’s something I wear proudly and would definitely be willing to do again.”

The bone marrow method is used in 25 percent of donations. The rest use a process called PBSC, which is similar to donating blood.

Lee received a PBSC donation just five months after his initial diagnosis. His donor was a woman in Rockville, Md. who shares the same name as his youngest daughter. They had a 9.5 out of 10 HLA match.

“The rule is you have to wait a year for contact. After one year, on June 12, 2003, I called her on her job and said, ‘Hello, this is Everett Lee, and I’m the recipient of your blood cells,” Franklin recalls. “That call was great. And I got to meet her – she was 27 or 28 at the time, a single mom, and a great lady. [She] didn’t want any honor or stuff, to her it was not a big deal.”

Ideal marrow donors are healthy people between 18 and 44, but people of color are particularly needed.

Jasmon Augustine, a senior at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, is learning this through her involvement with the campus’ chapter of Be The Match.

“I think if people hear from someone who looks like them, someone who is involved not just saying for them to get involved, and showing the benefits of what they would be doing,” Augustine explains, “then that helps it sink in more. Even if they can’t or don’t want to get involved, they might be willing to pass along the information to friends.”

Dr. Clive Callender, surgeon and founder of the Howard University Hospital Transplant Center, came to similar conclusion. To raise awareness he launched a grassroots effort in Black communities around the

“Communities are completely unaware that African Americans are disproportionately affected, that we have the greatest need for organ and tissue transplants. But we also have to turn that awareness into action,” he said.

With the success of this pilot, Dr. Callender founded the Minority Organ and Tissue Transplant Education Program (MOTTEP) to expand the effort to all people of color. At first, MOTTEP’s mission was simply to build a more diverse donor pool through education on the issue. Over time, he realized that mission wasn’t enough.

“Unfortunately, minorities are winning the race from the cradle to the grave,” he says. “It’s very important to be healthy, because in order to be a donor you have to be compatible, healthy, and willing.”

Kidney failure, for example, is a particular issue for African Americans – 73 percent of transplants performed on Black people last year were for kidneys.

Today, Lee’s leukemia is in remission.

“I’ve been to drives and expos…I’d be talking to Blacks and telling them about [donations] and my experience, and they say, ‘I’ll be back.’ They don’t want to get on the list. But we are the lowest on the registry, which means every time a Black person gets blood cancer or a blood disease, we have a much lower chance of finding a donor than a White person does.”

Who Won the War on Poverty?

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent


WASHINGTON (NNPA) – President Ronald Reagan quipped: “In the 60s we waged a war on poverty, and poverty won.”

Did it?

This month, 50 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act, effectively kicking off the War on Poverty, is a good time to answer that question.

Today, the Census Bureau reports that 49.7 million Americans are living in poverty. That’s 15 percent of the nation, a poverty rate that has persisted since President Clinton left office. The child poverty rate, which had also plateaued around 18 percent before the Great Recession, has now crept up to 23 percent. The number of people in deep poverty – those who’d have to make twice their current earnings to meet the federal threshold of poverty – has hovered around 5 percent since 1973. Today, that figure doubles for children.

For Black Americans, the poverty rate is 25.8 percent. A staggering 40 percent of Black children live in poverty as of 2012, the most recent Census Bureau data.

But it’s also true that poverty has dropped from 26 percent to 16 percent since 1967, if measured with the inclusion of income from government assistance. If the Census Bureau measured poverty without that inclusion, today’s poverty rate would be closer to 30 percent. During the Great Recession alone, the poverty rate would have jumped three percentage points in two years (24 to 27 percent).

In other words, safety net programs such as Social Security, the Earned Income Tax Credit, housing vouchers, and so on have stabilized the poverty rate, even during the Recession.

Whether the war is being won or not, it’s clear that the battle is still underway. And just as poverty is still thriving, so too is the debate on how to eradicate it.

Former vice-presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is taking aim at the topic with the release of “Expanding Opportunity in America,” a discussion draft from the House Budget Committee, which he chairs. The proposal lays out a plan to fund assistance programs “more wisely” by consolidating the most successful ones – Head Start, food stamps (SNAP), housing assistance vouchers, and others – into a “Grant Opportunity” program.

Under this program, states would receive the same amount of federal funding for safety net programs, but states would be allowed to allocate those funds among the programs as they see fit.

To receive the Opportunity Grant, states must create a plan that moves people from poverty to independence; requires all able-bodied recipients to work or “engage in work-related activities” in exchange for benefits; encourages innovation among services providers; establishes a third-party evaluation method.

Ryan would like to pilot the Opportunity Grant program in a few to-be-determined states on a voluntary basis.

“The goal is to make it easier for low-income families to get the assistance they need and to find work,” the proposal reads. “Right now, families must visit a variety of offices and providers to get aid. Under this proposal, they will work with a single provider for all their needs.”

The proposal also seeks to strengthen Earned Income Tax Credit benefits and other work incentives; reform education provisions such as Pell grants and curricula models; reform the criminal justice system, including loosening mandatory minimum guidelines; and require Congress to review regulations that may disadvantage low-income Americans.

Not everyone is impressed.

“It’s filled with little gems. It proposes to take up to 11 programs and put them into this block grant. The Congressman says we would hold the money the same. But you should note that Congressman Ryan hasn’t taken back his budget,” says Peter Edelman, professor at Georgetown Law Center and faculty co-director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy.

“For four years in a row he has proposed cutting $5 trillion over 10 years, and 69 percent of that is from programs that help low-wage, low-income people.”

Poverty is a complex problem. This complexity is a major reason it persists, and is also why some advocate a crafted, multilayered approach.

For example, underemployment and unemployment are one aspect of the problem. Stagnant wages are another. At the same time, housing, childcare, and higher education costs continue to rise. There is also the link between race and poverty.

A chief criticism of this multilayered approach is that there are already too many costly state and federal agencies and programs, with questionable effectiveness. A recently released report from the House Budget Committee, titled, “The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later” describes the current safety net system as “duplicative and complex.”

“There are at least 92 federal programs designed to help lower-income Americans. Congress has taken a haphazard approach to this problem; it has expanded programs and created new ones with little regard to how these changes fit into the larger effort,” the report reads. “Rather than provide a roadmap out of poverty, Washington has created a complex web of programs that are often difficult to navigate.”

But there are other ways to resolve poverty without cutting programs or spending more money. Last week, Edelman and Cook served on a panel sponsored by the American Bar Association to explore the question: What is the role of government, advocates, and more specifically, the role of lawyers, law schools, and the organized bar in addressing poverty? Edelman, Cook, and the other panelists agreed that the best path toward alleviating poverty is through both government action, and community partnerships/strategies.

“One has to continue to put pressure on the powers that be to construct and envision new innovative policies that really work at the ground level,” Cook explained. “But also we’ve got to work at the grassroots level. When both of those emphases meet you have potential for a powerful, and potentially transformative situation.”

In the meantime, the War on Poverty continues unabated.

Black Women-Owned Businesses Up by 258 Percent

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent


WASHINGTON (NNPA) –From the rubble of the Great Recession, women business owners are emerging victorious with record growth and economic impact. Even so,  women entrepreneurs still face barriers to success.

Today, 30 percent of all American businesses have a woman at the helm. African American women in particular are a driving force, establishing their enterprises at six times the national average, according to a 2013 American Express OPEN report. Between 1997 and 2013, African American women-owned businesses grew by 258 percent and made $226.8 billion in revenue.  They employ 1.4 million people, which is more than the combined population of Atlanta, St. Louis and Miami.

Another study from the Global Initiative for Women’s Entrepreneurial Research found that by 2009, women-owned businesses supplied 23 million jobs – or 16 percent of all jobs available at the time – with an economic impact of $3 trillion. In terms of job growth, women owned businesses rank second only to publicly traded companies.

But available data suggests there is much more unearthed potential.

“While women-owned businesses are the fastest-growing segment of businesses, and many succeed, women must overcome barriers that their male competitors do not face,” a report from the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship state. The committee held a hearing recently at which it released the report and discuss its findings. “In the area of capital, studies find that women do not get sufficient access to loans and venture capital.”

Some of turned rampant unemployment into an opportunity.

In 2002, Karen Lawrence was laid off in the post-9/11 recession. Tired of fighting to get back into the corporate world, she channeled her event management skills into a startup. Using her savings and severance package, she launched It’s My Affair, LLC.

“It wasn’t enough. But I started small,” Lawrence says. “Getting people to take you seriously as a business owner, especially when you’re small, is the hardest part.”

Despite excelling with the opportunities given, women entrepreneurs still face obstacles echoing from decades of codified sexism. Chief among these obstacles is access to capital. For example, a study from the Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation found that women receive 80 percent less capital than men for first-year financing.

The Senate committee report also points out that women-owned small businesses (WOSBs) represent 30 percent of all small businesses, but only 17 percent of U.S. Small Business Administration loans went to women entrepreneurs. And this may be their best opportunity to access funds; the SBA says women are three to five times more likely to be approved for an SBA loan than for a conventional loan.

Government contracts offer another example of WOSBs’ restricted access to lucrative opportunities.

Federal contracting opportunities amount to approximately $500 billion worth of business. Sometimes, small businesses are able to get a shot at this money by providing services to government agencies through sole source authority. This authority lets federal entities bypass the bidding or application process and award contracts that pay up to $6.5 million for manufacturing, or $4 million for other industries, to one business. Currently, 15 percent of small business awards are granted to disadvantaged businesses using this authority.

The WOSB Procurement Program was established in 2000 to help federal agencies funnel contracts to WOSBs/economically-disadvantaged WOSBs. Of seven similar procurement programs for disadvantaged businesses, the WOSB Procurement Program is the only one that does not have sole source authority. Even if they have the capacity to handle these big-money contracts alone, WOSBs can only subcontract on them, thus splitting the earnings with other firms.

“It’s very hard to compete when you have to compete with large corporations and firms that have already done business with the government. I don’t think they look at small business owners,” Lawrence says of her experience with federal contracting.

The goal of the WOSB Procurement Program was to have 5 percent of all federal contract dollars awarded to WOSBs. The federal government has never hit this goal. It came closest in 2012, thanks to a boost from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which awarded 14.65 percent of its contracts to women owned businesses.

Even without sole source authority, the process of working with the federal government is a complex one, Lawrence says.

“There are so many rules and regulations they have to abide by, it creates a barrier for women and some minorities,” she said. After many attempts, she finally landed her first federal contract last year. “It was a learning curve, even with [free, SBA- sponsored] classes. If you’re not awarded a contract, follow up and find out why…. that helped me correct what I was doing.”

Despite the obstacles, women entrepreneurship will likely continue to grow, especially if proposed interventions come to pass. For starters, an amendment to grant sole source authority to the WOSB Procurement Program is neatly tucked into the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015, which has been passed in the House and is moving its way through the Senate.

The Senate committee also finds that the SBA Microloan and Intermediary Lending Programs are “well-suited to target women owned borrowers,” though they need to be modernized through Congressional action.

On the unconventional side, the explosion of crowdfunding – using social networks and websites to seek donations to raise capital for projects – has been particularly useful for women. Because it is such a new phenomenon, the law is still catching up. Most recently, the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act of 2012 established some regulations.

The Committee report explains, “When fully implemented, the JOBS Act through crowdfunding has the potential to greatly expand the investor base and allow women-owned companies to appeal to a wider investor audience, such as other women investors.”

Data suggests that the Millennial generation, defined as those born between the mid 1980s and early 2000s, is particularly attuned to entrepreneurship. A Kaufman Foundation study found that 54 percent of young people are interested in starting a business or have done so already, and that the rate is “notably higher—10 to 11 percent” for young adults of color.

Lawrence advises aspiring entrepreneurs to become experts on the market they’re entering, make connections, and take advantage of resources such as a local SBA office, Women’s Business Center, or nonprofit/state-sponsored classes. She says learning how to properly present your business for federal contracts is a skill all its own.

“It takes a lot of research to figure out what’s available to you. The SBA has done a good job in the past with helping find out what’s available,” she says, adding that repeated engagement with these resources yields best results. “The information is out there, but you have to find it.”

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