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Republican Budget Would Shred Safety Net

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The Republican House budget will shred the social safety net designed to protect the most vulnerable citizens, severely cutting programs ranging from student loans to food stamps, according to a nonpartisan think thank.

“The budget would cause tens of millions of people to become uninsured or underinsured, make it harder for low-income students to afford college, shrink nutrition assistance, and squeeze many other such programs,” writes Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). “Consequently, it’s sure to significantly increase poverty, hardship, and inequality.”

In an effort to balance the federal budget without raising taxes or restoring them to pre-recession levels, House Republicans plan to shrink spending in a variety of areas—especially health care and anti-poverty, food assistance, and housing assistance programs. The cuts will total $5.5 trillion over the next 10 years.

The House of Representatives Budget Committee’s proposal would drastically reduce or end federal funding to such programs, or reform them into state-run or meager versions of themselves.

Under this plan, the Affordable Care Act would be completely defunded, sacrificing the $1 trillion in federal income it generates through taxes, and also eliminating states’ expanded Medicaid. The CBPP finds that 14 million Americans would be left uninsured. The uninsured rate for Black people in particular has dropped from 24 percent to 16 percent, in the two years since ACA implementation.

Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and other health programs would also lose $1 trillion in funding by 2025. Greenstein, who has served three presidential administrations before creating CBPP, points out that this cut comes on top of the losses from repealing health care reform.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is slated to lose $125 billion. In 2013, Black people were 25.7 percent of all SNAP recipients; the same year, a national-representative Pew Research Center survey conducted the same year found that Black people were twice as likely as Whites to have used the food stamp program at some point in life.

The proposed budget would retain these and other mandatory safety net programs through federal block grants. Full responsibility for managing the grants and running the programs would be left to state governments. The CBPP asserts that block grants would not be enough on their own for most states to adequately administer these programs, and low- to moderate-income families would suffer most for it.

Medicare would lose $148 billion over the next decade, and would become a “premium support model” voucher system, in which seniors can choose their own insurance plan via marketplaces (similar to the current Affordable Care Act). Medicare would apply each recipient’s benefits directly to the insurance company he or she has chosen.

Black seniors with Medicare tend to have significantly lower-than-average incomes and savings as well as more chronic health conditions than others, making Medicare much more critical to their survival. As wealth gaps widen and health disparities persist, the need for effective Medicare will likely continue or deepen for Black retirees in the future.

In addition to weakening social programs, the proposed House budget also caps the maximum Pell Grant award limit for outstanding low-income college students, on the grounds that the recent expansion of what constitutes “need” shortchanges the most needy students.

There would be $759 billion less for discretionary funding. This money supports non-mandatory, but important provisions, such as job training opportunities, early childhood programs, climate change and renewable energy research, scientific and medical study, transportation, and more.

The only increased spending would go toward the War on Terror, which would see an additional $20 billion over the next 10 years.

In addition to spending less, the budget plans to revamp the tax code to secure new federal revenue. The proposal provides scant details on how this will be done.

The CBPP points out that the government already misses out on $1 trillion per year through waivers, credits, and tax breaks that disproportionately benefit the upper class; this is more than double the cost of the non-defense discretionary programs previously mentioned.

“Cutting only spending entitlements while shielding tax entitlements would be highly regressive,” Greenstein writes in a separate analysis of the budget. “It also would constitute a highly selective approach to so-called ‘entitlement reform’— cutting entitlement programs whose benefits go principally to poor and middle-class families, while asking for no deficit-reduction contribution from the entitlements that are heavily skewed to people at the top of the income scale and include some particularly wasteful and special-interest-oriented programs.”

Budget resolutions are only a blueprint for a future detailed appropriations bill that will allocate every penny and eventually reach the White House for signature.

Families USA, a national health care consumers group, said the repeal of the Affordable Health Care Act would be devastating.

“The Affordable Care Act is the most significant health care reform since the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid half a century ago,” it said in a statement. “In just five years, it has reduced by one-third the portion of the population that is uninsured. Approximately 16.4 million uninsured Americans have gained health coverage.”

President Barack Obama has long asserted that he would veto any bill that spells an end to the Affordable Care Act. He also told a White House audience of educators last week that there would be “a major debate” on any attempts to divest in education. The stalemate will likely result in another partial or full shutdown this fall.

Greenstein warns: “If [the Committee’s] policies were to become law, ours would be a coarser, more mean-spirited nation with higher levels of poverty and inequality, less opportunity, and a future workforce that’s less able to compete with its counterparts overseas.”

Giuliani Supporting Loretta Lynch Nomination

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In recent weeks, Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, claimed that President Barack Obama didn’t love America, blamed the president for creating the atmosphere that led to the shootings of two police officers being shot in Ferguson, Mo., and said that he should speak more like the beleaguered Bill Cosby on issues of race.

There is one issue, however, that he is in total agreement with President Obama — Loretta Lynch’s qualification to become the next attorney general.

“Loretta Lynch is more than qualified. She’s over-qualified to be the attorney general,” said Giuliani. “She is as well-qualified as some of the bests attorney generals that we’ve had.”

During a call with reporters last Friday, Giuliani admitted that he didn’t often agree with President Obama, but whether the president is a Republican or a Democrat he is entitled to his choice.

The former mayor and presidential candidate said that the confirmation process has become distorted over time.

“Republicans torture Democrats and Democrats torture Republicans. Who started it? Only God knows and it has now become the Hatfields and McCoys,” said the former New York City mayor.

Giuliani said that he was impressed by the way that Lynch, as a United States attorney in New York, prosecuted cases to protect New York City and, on the few occasions that she had to investigate the city, she was fair.

“She makes decisions on the merit,” said Giuliani. “She’s not a political operative in any sense.”

Lynch, who was first confirmed as a United States attorney during the Clinton administration in 1999 and again during the Obama administration in 2010, has also undergone three FBI background investigations.

Giuliani joined a chorus of lawmakers, law enforcement officials and civil rights leaders urging Senate Republicans to confirm Lynch.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), called the delay in confirming Loretta Lynch political.

“The politics that Republicans have played with her nomination are deplorable and opposition to her nomination is nothing more than a political ploy to once again use any means necessary to show their disdain for President Obama,” said Butterfield. “This is a travesty. We should not deny the president of the United States his choice of a qualified candidate.”

Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of 200 civil and human rights groups, said that the Senate Republican majority is using every excuse it can find to delay or obstruct Lynch’s confirmation.

“And the one thing these excuses all have in common is that none of them have anything to do with the nominee herself,” said Henderson. “We know that senators can walk and chew gum at the same time and that this is just the latest turn in what has been the most mishandled and manipulated confirmation process in memory.”

Even Eric Holder, the current attorney general who was held in contempt of Congress on a Republican-majority vote in 2012 over a gun trade investigation, recently quipped that the Republican Congress has delayed the Lynch confirmation because they discovered a new fondness for him.

Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that when it comes to the Senate calendar, Loretta Lynch was being asked “to sit in the back of the bus,” and that the delay was, “beneath the decorum and dignity of the United States Senate.”

Louis Freeh, a partner of Pepper Hamilton, LLP and a former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), agreed that politics is driving opposition to Lynch’s nomination.

“The nomination is being held up for political reasons. Some of the senators didn’t like her answers on immigration,” said Freeh. “The fact of the matter is that she supports the immigration policies of the president. What nominee would come before the Senate for the attorney generalship who did not support the policies of the president? Nobody has made any credible arguments about her competency her independence or her integrity.”

Freeh continued: “You don’t want any attorney general to start his or her tenure there otherwise qualified with that sort of a cloud.”

Giuliani said that the president is entitled to appointments that agree with his point of view and that playing partisan politics over nominations not only impedes the ability of any president to get his job done, but also discourages people from going through this process.

“It is a golden opportunity for my political party to show that we’re going back to the original intent of the framers of the Constitution in the way that the confirmation process should work,” said Giuliani. “Maybe, just maybe, if we have a Republican president two years from now we can appeal to the Democrats to do the same thing.”

Increased Black Home Ownership Would Slice Wealth Gap

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Researchers studying the affects of public policy on the racial wealth gap estimated that the median wealth of Black households would rise 451 percent if Blacks owned homes at the same rates as Whites.

“With policies that advance the rate of Black and Latino homeownership to the same rate as White households, Black median wealth would more than quadruple and Latino media wealth would more than triple,” said Catherine Ruetschlin, a senior policy analyst at Demos, a public policy group that advocates for political and economic equality.

A joint effort by Demos and the Institute on Assets and Social Policy (IASP), a research group that advocates for economic opportunity, security and equity for individuals and families, detailed the key factors in housing, education, and the labor market that have contributed to the racial wealth gap for generations.

The report by said that the median Black household had $7,113 in wealth holdings compared to the median White household, which had $111,146 in wealth holdings in 2011.

“Black households hold only 6 percent of the wealth owned by White households, which amounts to a total wealth gap of $104,033, and Latino households hold only 8 percent of the wealth owned by White households, a wealth gap of $102,798,” stated the report. “In other words, a typical White family owns $15.63 for every $1 owned by a typical Black family and $13.33 for every $1 owned by a typical Latino family.”

According to the report if public policy eliminated racial disparities in income, the median Black wealth would grow $11,488 and if disparities in college graduation rates were eradicated, median Black wealth would grow $1,313.

Thomas Shapiro, the director at IASP, said that the racial wealth gap is one of the most critical issues as the United States moves into the 21st century. Shapiro said that researchers designed a new tool called the “Racial Wealth Audit,” to get a real, objective handle on the impact of policy on wealth accumulation in the United States and what the racial wealth gap really looks like.

Tamara Draut, the vice president of policy and research at Demos, said that while researchers and policy analysts have been heartened by the burgeoning debate surrounding rising inequality in the United States and the implications that it has for all of our standards of living, the underlying racial divide that underpins so much of the inequality in this country is less understood and less talked about.

“In addition, Black and Latino college graduates saw a lower return on their degrees than White graduates: for every $1 in wealth that accrues to median Black households associated with a college degree, median White households accrue $11.49,” stated the report.

Black families also experienced lower returns on the income that they earned, when compared to White families.

“If households of color had the same wealth returns estimated for White families with similar incomes, the racial wealth gap would decrease by 43 percent,” said Tatjana Meschede, the research director at IASP. “To make progress in closing the racial wealth gap, policies need to address both income inequality and differential wealth returns to income.”

Meschede said policy recommendations to address income inequality included raising the minimum wage, the creation of a federal jobs program and increasing unionization.

“Homeownership is the largest reservoir of wealth and financial stability that American families have,” said Thomas Shapiro, the director at IASP. “It’s just that it is so inequitably distributed at this point in time in the value of wealth that it creates.”

With the creation of the Federal Housing Administration in 1934, the United States government sanctioned lenders to use “redlining” to systematically deny Blacks access to that reservoir of wealth for decades.

“While redlining was officially outlawed by the Fair Housing Act of 1968, its impact in the form of residential segregation patterns persists with households of color more likely to live in neighborhoods characterized by higher poverty rates, lower home values, and a declining infrastructure compared to neighborhoods inhabited predominantly by White residents,” stated the report. “Discriminatory lending practices persist to this day. When households of color access mortgages, they are more often underwritten by higher interest rates.”

Draut said that some economists and lawmakers have drawn the wrong conclusions about what happened during the financial collapse and that misunderstanding is preventing faster progress towards the policies that we need.

“We know that lower-income homeowners can afford homes, stay in their homes and not be subject to foreclosure, if they have safe, traditional mortgages,” explained Draut. “The defamation of wealth and the resulting foreclosures were really due to the aggressive marketing and selling of toxic mortgages to communities of color that directly put their homeownership status in danger.”

Shapiro expressed concerns about some of the current conversations taking place on Capitol Hill and at the Treasury Department around financial reforms in the housing industry, adding that some policymakers have floated the idea that prospective buyers should take on more risk, possibly in the form of larger down payments.

“Those are precisely the kinds of reforms that will continue to block families of color from homeownership,” said Shapiro.

In order to close the wealth gap, Ruetschlin said that policies that perpetuate differences in homeownership rates and returns should be changed.

The report recommended stricter enforcement of housing anti-discrimination laws, authorizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make it easier for struggling homeowners to modify loans and lowering the cap on the mortgage interest tax deduction.

Ruetschlin said that, the investor class and international governments increasingly point to widening inequality as a real threat to economic stability and that the amount of wealth a family holds affects their ability to survive that shock when volatility occurs.

She explained, “Growing inequality can really undermine stability overall and make it even harder for an increasingly large portion of the population to weather those shocks when they come.”

Record Number of Former Workers Without Benefits

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Senior Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – With no federal unemployment insurance and rapidly disappearing state coverage, the percentage of people benefiting from unemployment insurance is at its lowest level in more than three decades, according to a report by According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank focused on low- and middle-income families.

EPI said the unemployment insurance recipiency rate tumbled to 23.1 percent in December 2014, beating the previous record low of 25 percent set in September 1984.

State lawmakers continue to slash jobless benefits, enacting policies that make it harder for the programs to work effectively. The policies have a disproportionate impact on unemployed Blacks who often face greater challenges than Whites, as they struggle to stay connected to the labor market and make ends meet while they search for jobs.

“Many critics of UI programs wrongly assume that the lion’s share of jobless workers get benefits,” stated the report. “This is plainly wrong over the history of UI and especially in the more restrictive states. The U.S. short-term recipiency rate was 34.7 percent in 2014, meaning that over 65 percent of short-term jobless workers did not get state UI benefits.”

The report continued: “Some of the difference may be due to workers’ choices or preferences, but some may reflect discrimination in hiring and the reported reasons for separation from those jobs, both of which can affect eligibility.”

Even though unemployment rates are higher for Blacks than Whites, Blacks are less likely to receive unemployment benefits even when compared to workers with similar characteristics.

“One in 4 unemployed non-Hispanic white workers with less than a high school education receive UI, while 1 in 8 unemployed non-Hispanic black workers with less than a high school education receive UI,” the Urban Institute report explained. “This means many low-wage unemployed African American workers are likely suffering more economic hardship than their white counterparts—an especially adverse outcome given that African Americans likely have fewer assets to fall back on.”

In a press release about the report, Rick McHugh, an attorney and policy advocate who works on UI issues, said that a smaller percentage of jobless workers is receiving unemployment benefits than ever before.

“Because there were no federal benefit extensions in 2014, workers who exhausted state benefits had less protection from the harm caused by unemployment than any similar cohort of jobless workers since the late 1950s—when Congress first began benefit extensions,” said McHugh.

And according to a 2012 report by the Urban Institute, an independent public policy and research group, “Black unemployed workers have the lowest receipt of unemployment insurance, 23.8 percent compared to whites’ 33.2 percent.”

Since 2011, the states that cut how long workers could receive unemployment benefits were primarily in the South where most Blacks live. Excluding Oklahoma, Arizona and South Dakota, 7 out of 10 states with the lowest short-term UI recipiency rates in 2014 have higher percentages of Black residents than the national average.

“In 21 states, 70 percent or more of short-term jobless workers did not get UI benefits in 2014,” stated the EPI report.

The report said that jobless workers in Louisiana (32.4 percent Black population), Georgia (31.4 percent Black pop.), South Carolina (27.9 percent Black pop.) and Florida (16.7 percent Black pop.) had some of the lowest short-term UI recipiency rates in the country.

The highest short-term UI recipiency rate in the country was 65.7 percent in New Jersey (14.7 percent Black) and the lowest was South Carolina at 14.8 percent.

When lawmakers in North Carolina (22 percent Black) cut the duration for UI and the dollar amount for weekly benefits, “recipiency rate fell by 16.3 percentage points, 8.6 times more than the overall national decline, since the cuts went into effect,” the report said.

Researchers suggested that throwing more federal money at states that want to keep UI programs “as small and stingy as possible” won’t fix the problem. They said that UI advocates should focus on setting federal standards for benefits and financing.

“The point of unemployment insurance is to help workers who are out of work through no fault of their own, and give them a chance to support themselves and their families while they look for another job.” said Will Kimball, a research assistant at EPI, that specializes in wages, labor markets, macroeconomics, international trade, and health insurance. “When states cut the generosity and length that benefits were available, they failed the workers who need help the most.”

Earlier this month the Labor Department reported that the Black unemployment rate increased from 10.3 percent in January to 10.4 percent in February and the labor force participation rate, the share of workers that are employed or looking for jobs, also increased from 61 percent to 61.2 percent over the same period.

Even as the economy continues to grow, the Black unemployment rate is still more than double the White unemployment rate, which fell from 4.9 percent in January to 4.7 percent in February. Employers added 295,000 to the economy in February and the national unemployment rate ticked down to 5.5 percent.

But for those lucky enough to have jobs, wages largely remain stagnant.

In a blog post on wage growth, Elise Gould, a senior economist and director of health policy research at EPI, said that, because corporate profits are near all-time highs, employers can pay their workers more without having to raise prices.

“They might even find that workers who are paid more have more company loyalty, leading to better recruitment and retention, and higher productivity,” wrote Gould. “It’s a reminder that the path we’ve chosen – one where economic gains are disproportionately enjoyed by those at the top – is a choice.”

Gould said that increases in the minimum wage across the country (18 states in 2014) show that the right policies can help turn things around.

“And this change made a difference: while real hourly wages fell or stagnated across the board last month, low wage workers actually saw a modest wage increase,” said Gould.

That modest increase is good for Black workers who disproportionately earn low wages.

“We’re still far enough away from full employment that additional fiscal stimulus would pay big dividends. This is unfortunately not on the table, politically speaking, though economically it would be relatively easy,” said Gould. “But it’s important that policymakers – particularly those at the Federal Reserve – not put the brakes on the recovery prematurely.”

Counting the Victims of Police Violence

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA)—As Eric Holder ended his tenure as U.S. Attorney General, he said, “The troubling reality is that we lack the ability right now to comprehensively track the number of incidents of either uses of force directed at police officers, or uses of force by police,” he said, at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event. “This strikes many – including me – as unacceptable.”

As it stands, both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice compile information on police killings, as reported by police departments themselves. But there are challenges with the reliability with this data. By law, collecting and providing this information to the government is mandatory only for police agencies that receive certain federal funds; police killings found to be unjustified are not included in the FBI’s measures; and reporting guidelines can vary from place to place, to name a few issues.

Over the past few years, citizens have attempted to step in where official entities would not, creating well-regarded crowdsourced online databases such as KilledbyPolice.net, FatalEncounters.org and the U.S. Police Shootings Database (launched by Web sports blog, Deadspin).

MappingPoliceViolence.org is the newest addition to this effort. Mapping Police Violence builds on this tally by merging and crosschecking those first two databases. It compiles a month-by-month death toll for 2013 and 2014; and by combing through media reports and other public data, the contributors have confirmed the race of every victim in 2014.

Samuel Sinyangwe, a 24-year-old Ferguson protester and one of the project’s directors, said that this detail is missing for approximately 60 percent of the victims in the source databases.

Though the project highlights the disproportionate killing of Black people, it includes all reported deaths by date, location, race, age, gender, cause of death, and medical condition (e.g. under the influence, mentally disabled, etc.). Additionally, users can compare police departments around the country by population, murder rate, and how “likely to threaten Black life” they are.

“When you compare White folks and Black folks who were killed by police, there are big differences. White folks tended to be more likely to have a mental illness, to be armed, to be older… or to be drunk or under the influence. So they were more likely to have some condition that made it more challenging for police to deal with them,” Sinyangwe says.

“However for Black folks, they were less likely to do all of these things, and then they were still more likely to be killed. You can only do that analysis if you looked at all races and were able to compare and contrast.”

By Mapping Police Violence’s count, police killed at least 1,175 people in 2014. Of these victims, 302 were Black – a disproportionate rate of 26 percent – and 56 percent of these Black victims were unarmed. Most victims were shot, but other causes of death included Tasing, physical restraint, being hit by cars, and in one case in New York, falling from a window.

“What you can show quite plainly with this tool is that, in fact, places with the same amount of crime, the same demographics, have very different levels of police violence. So crime is not an excuse,” Sinyangwe said. “We’re hoping to really help [communities and organizers] make the case for why a given city or police department is really culpable for this and really needs to make a change.”

According to the data, Florida, Texas, and California had the highest number of Black victims last year (each responsible for between 20 and 35 deaths). Police departments responsible for the most deaths last year include Chicago Police Department (13 killed), followed by Los Angeles and New York (10 each), and Prince George’s County Police Department in Maryland (five deaths).

Sinyangwe points out that for the city of St. Louis, if the current trend continues, Black males 27 and younger will have a statistically greater chance of being killed by police than dying in a car accident.

The data also shows a marked drop in police killings after Michael Brown’s death and the start of the Ferguson protests. In August 2014, police killed 140 people around the country, 43 of them Black; the next month, those numbers fell to 80 and 19, respectively. They still have not returned to their August 2014 levels, for any demographic.

MappingPoliceViolence.org is run by Ferguson protesters and organizers, and is a project of the movement’s online hub, WetheProtesters.org. Volunteers around the country contribute to, sort, and verify the information.

“What I hope, and what DeRay [McKesson], [Johnetta Elzie], and I are building the capacity to do, is to use this tool to support groups on the ground…to be able to really make the case, using the best data available, for long-term institutional change,” Sinyangwe says.

“Particularly in the Midwest, and then a little bit in the South, there really are hotbeds for police violence. The question is, can we actually do something on a preventative end instead of waiting until a huge tragedy happens?”

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