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Report: Shift to Digital Phones Could Hurt Communities of Color

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By Stephon Johnson
Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News

If information is the new currency, communities of color could go broke.

A new report by the Greenlining Institute, titled “DISCONNECTED: What the Phone System’s Digital Transition Will Mean for Consumers,” alleges that the immediate shift to digital phone networks could leave certain communities without basic standards like affordable services and access to 911 for emergencies.

The Greenlining Institute is a Berkeley, Calif.-based research and advocacy nonprofit with a focus on racial justice.

According to the report’s findings, because major telephone providers plan to upgrade the technology they use in their telephone networks, including switching to all-digital networks, the FCC needs to enforce basic standards during the transition to make sure phone service is available and affordable.

“People in rural areas could lose service, and low-income consumers might not be able to get basic phone service they can afford,” reads the report.

But many major carriers argue that the Federal Communications Commission should reduce its ability to enforce the basic standards that the Greenlining Institute’s study advocates. They advocate the elimination of FCC and state oversight of all-digital networks based on the argument that they should be treated as information services and not telecommunications services.

The report points out that all of these findings combined would affect all telephone users but would hurt low-income consumers and communities of color the most because those groups are less likely to have home Internet service and spend more time on their phones.

This week, the FCC planned on looking at these issues during a meeting, when the Technology Transitions Policy Task Force will present a status update.

“While analog televisions and digital televisions use different technologies, they are both televisions,” stated the report’s conclusion. “While gas and electric cars use different technologies, they are both cars. A call made on an analog telephone network and a call made on a digital telephone network may use different technologies, but both calls are telephone calls.”

The report called upon policymakers, industry and other stakeholders to design an analog-to-digital telephone transition that “protects, enhances and improves the universally available phone service that we have today.”

Paul Goodman, legal counsel for the Greenlining Institute and co-author of the report, said that all phones share the same purpose, no matter how they are being used.

“A century ago, America realized that telephone service isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity, and built a careful system of consumer safeguards into our phone network,” said Goodman in a statement. “All of those safeguards could be at risk if the FCC fails to recognize that, for consumers, a phone call is a phone call, regardless of what technology carries the signal from point A to point B.

“FCC Chair Tom Wheeler seemed to acknowledge this recently when he said that ‘technology doesn’t change the basic relationship between networks and those that use them,’ and now that understanding must be backed up with action,” concluded Goodman.

Obama Praises Mandela as 'Great Liberator'

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By George E. Curry
NNPA Editor-in-Chief

SOWETO, South Africa (NNPA) – President Barack Obama described Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first Black elected president, as “the last great liberator of the 20th century” and thanked the grieving nation for sharing their beloved former leader with the rest of the world.

Speaking Tuesday at a rain-soaked memorial service here attended by nearly 100 current and former international leaders, Obama said, “It is a singular honor to be with you today, to celebrate a life like no other. To the people of South Africa, people of every race and walk of life – the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us. His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and your hope found expression in his life. And your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy.”

Mandela died last Thursday at the age of 95 after a long illness. The memorial service kicked off a week of celebrations that will culminate Sunday with his burial in his ancestral village of Qunu, in the Eastern Cape region. Flags are flying throughout the country at half-staff.

Coincidentally, the memorial service fell on United Nations Human Rights Day. Obama used the occasion to deliver stern words to leaders who repress their own people yet profess to admire Mandela, whom Obama mostly referred to as Madiba, the former president’s Xhosa tribal name.

“There are too many people who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality,” President Obama said. “There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.”

Like many U.S. civil rights leaders, Obama drew a parallel between Mandela’s struggle for majority rule in South Africa and African-Americans’ struggle to overcome slavery and Jim Crow laws that treated Blacks as second-class citizens.

“We know that, like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation. As was true here, it took sacrifice – the sacrifice of countless people, known and unknown, to see the dawn of a new day. Michelle and I are beneficiaries of that struggle,” Obama said to applause. “But in America, and in South Africa, and in countries all around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not yet done.”

Mandela, a former amateur boxer, gave his last public speech in the soccer stadium where the tribute was held. Fittingly, the stadium is located in Soweto, a township were Blacks were forced to live under apartheid and where Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu have homes.

Accompanying Obama on Air Force One were former president George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter arrived in South Africa on separate aircrafts.

Like many international gatherings, journalists observe every detail, including whether adversaries shake hands.

Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shook hands but, White House officials were quick to note that it amounted to nothing more than an exchange of pleasantries.

“Nothing was planned in terms of the president’s role other than his remarks,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with Obama. “He really didn’t do more than exchange greetings with those leaders on his way to speak, it wasn’t a substantive discussion.”

The fact that Obama and Castro were at the same event demonstrated the breath of Mandela’s impact on their world.

“He was more than one of the greatest leaders of our time. He was one of our greatest teachers,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told those in attendance. “His baobab tree has left deep roots that reach across the planet.”

Following in the footsteps of Mandela is a tough act to follow, as South African President Jacob Zuma has already discovered. He and the ruling ANC Party are unpopular because of a poor economy and record economic inequality. When Zuma rose to give the keynote speech Tuesday, he was widely booed. Some gave the thumbs down sign or rolled their wrists, a soccer gesture for substitution.

“There is no one like Madiba. He was one of a kind,” Zuma said, as the booing subsided. “Mandela believed in collective leadership. He never wanted to be viewed as a messiah or a saint. He recognized that all of his achievements were a result of working with the A.N.C. collective.”

President Obama relayed how Mandela’s fight for freedom impacted him personally.

“Over 30 years ago, while still a student, I learned of Mandela and the struggles in this land. It stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities – to others, and to myself – and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today. And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be better. He speaks to what is best inside us.”

Gen. Thanduxolo Mandela, a relative who offered one of the eulogies, said: “I am sure Madiba is smiling from above as he looks down at the multitude of diversity gathered here, for this is what he strove for – the equality of man, the brotherhood of humanity.”

Many In-home Workers Live in Poverty

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By Freddie Allen
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – In-home workers, 90 percent of them women, often live in poverty, earn low wages and work grueling hours without many of the protections enjoyed by most workers, according to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, a non-profit think tank focused on public policy that affects low- and middle-income families.

These are the workers who cook meals, clean homes and care for the elderly, the disabled and children. Nearly 20 percent of all in-home workers are Black even though Blacks account for less than 11 percent (10.9 percent) of workers in other jobs.

The EPI study looked at economic impact that low wages and thin benefits earned by in-home workers has on their lives.

According to the report, The Occupational Safety and Health Act doesn’t apply to people who hire domestic workers their own homes.

Unlike autoworkers, teachers and even professional athletes, in-home workers can’t organize to achieve better benefits and contracts. The fact that they often work alone contributes to their marginalization.

“Federal antidiscrimination laws, such as the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, all generally only cover employers with multiple employees, meaning most in-home workers are excluded from these protections. This is also true of the Family and Medical Leave Act,” stated the report.

In-home workers make about six dollars less than workers in other occupations and roughly 12 percent of in-home workers receive health benefits from their employers. More than 23 percent of in-home workers live below the poverty line, compared to just 6.5 percent of other workers.

“More than half—51.4 percent—of in-home workers live below twice the poverty line, compared with 20.8 percent of workers in other occupations, stated the report, earning less than what it takes to make ends meet.

Despite low wages and subpar benefits, researchers estimate that the in-home worker industry will grow at a rate that’s 40 percent faster than other occupations by 2020, due largely to the incredible growth among strong personal care aides and home health aides.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment of home health aides is expected to grow by 69 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of personal care aides is expected to grow by 70 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations.”

As the industry grows, employing more minorities that will be responsible in funding entitlement programs like Social Security, it will become increasingly more important to ensure that they earn fair wages.

“Though individual employers of in-home workers can and should improve their employees’ wages and benefits, policy changes at the state and federal level are needed to rectify the exclusion of many in-home workers from employment and labor laws,” stated the report.

The EPI report noted that New York, Hawaii, and California have already started to develop protection programs for domestic workers.

The report also recommended establishing paid sick days, a stronger safety net and raising the minimum wage which would help to buoy the pay earned by in-home workers.

In a press release on the EPI report, economist Heidi Shierholz said that in-home workers are “a critical and growing part of the economy, yet, they are grievously underpaid and lack the benefits that similar workers receive in other sectors.”

Shierholz continued: “Our country is wealthy enough so that workers who play such vital caretaking roles should be able to earn a decent wage. We need policies to protect these workers and help ensure they’re paid what they deserve.”

The U.S. Revolution that Supported Mandela

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By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Nearly three decades ago, a handful of prominent Black activists began organizing a movement that would eventually help break the back of apartheid in South Africa and force the U.S. government and American companies to end their support of White minority rule on the continent.

What was called the Free South Africa Movement began on Thanksgiving Day 1984, when then-U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner Mary Frances Berry, TransAfrica executive director Randall Robinson, then-D.C. Congressman Walter Fauntroy, and current-D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (then a law professor at Georgetown University), were granted a meeting at the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C.

The group called for an end to apartheid and the release of all political prisoners in South Africa. When their demands were ignored, the activists staged a sit-in at the South African embassy on Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.

All but Norton were arrested for trespassing, and their actions made national, then international news.

“There were already protests before, but no one got any momentum,” Berry recalls. “We wanted to get arrested. And we tried to get people lined up to get arrested the next day.”

They got arrested the next day, the day after that and the following day. In fact, every day for a year, the Free South Africa Movement held demonstrations at the South African Embassy in Washington, D.C.

The nascent movement attracted support from celebrities, members of Congress and other high-profile people, many of whom joined the protest and allowed themselves to be arrested in order to draw more attention to the issue. Before long, chapters of Free South Africa sprang up across the United States.

“Let us not forget that Britain, the U.S. and all of the western powers labeled Mandela a terrorist and steadfastly propped up the apartheid regime—they were on the wrong side of history,” says civil rights leader Jesse Jackson. Mandela is not gone, he remains with us always. He’ll always be a chin bar to pull up on. He has left this earth, but he soars high among the heavens, and his eloquent call for freedom and equality is still heard among the winds and rains, and in the hearts of the people the world over.”

Mary Frances Berry, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, remembers the personal side of Mandela.

“In dealing with him in personal interactions — having the privilege to be with him and talk to him in an informal setting — he was very funny. Not at all full of himself, and completely down to earth even though he was larger than life. He considered himself on the same level as an ordinary person, and he didn’t take himself too seriously. He loved a joke and always had witticisms.”

While maintain pressure on the streets, movement organizers organized a legislative assault on apartheid, resulting in passage of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986.

It took an entire year to get it passed by Congress and presented to President Reagan for his signature. Instead of signing, however, Reagan vetoed it. But supporters had enough votes to override the veto.

Next in line were U.S. companies that profited from doing business in the White-ruled nation, including Shell Oil, which had been exploiting workers in South Africa. Boycotts were launched against Shell as well as the Krugerrand, a South African currency that would become an illegal import under the Anti-Apartheid Act.

Even while the United States and other governments had condemned Mandela and continued to support the South African government, anti-apartheid movements gained traction. Something about South African apartheid had struck a chord, especially for people of African descent.

“There were chapters of FSAM all over the country and there were many White people in those chapters, but the leadership was always Black. People got involved because our message was simple. At that time, if people didn’t remember Jim Crow or the Civil Rights Movement, then their parents did,” says Berry. “We told people that the South African government passed laws just like what we did here. It resonated with people in this country.”

Melvin Foote, founder and president of the Constituency for Africa, has worked to foster African and African American relations for more than 35 years. He remembers watching Mandela become a global symbol of injustice.

“When people of African descent learned about apartheid, it didn’t sound too much different than what happened with slavery,” he says. “And I think with Mandela – who would’ve thought you’d have this tall, very strong, powerful man come out of prison after 27 years with his fist up, and do the things he did. He got us to think differently about Africa.”

Foote says, “He was one of the greatest people to walk the Earth, certainly in our lifetime. There’s discussion of Mandela happening in China, India, all over the world.”

Foote sees parallels between Black South Africans’ regard for Barack Obama, and Black Americans’ regard for Nelson Mandela, especially for those who visited South Africa during Mandela’s presidency.

“[South Africans] based their revolution against apartheid on us,” Foote says. “People, especially White people, try not to make that connection, try not to foster any relationship between Africans and Black Americans…but the South African revolution was very much based on the Civil Rights Movement.”

For Berry, Mandela’s life and anti-apartheid work taught her that movements require perseverance, especially during low moments. And, she learned how to make movements effective.

“It reinforced the view that it takes grassroots movements working together with political action to make change,” she states. “If you organize around a simple issue – and messaging has a lot to do with it – and if the issue is clearly one of morality, you can prevail.”

Uninsured Blacks Eligible for More Aid

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By Jazelle Hunt
Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – As President Obama continues a revised campaign to shore up American confidence in the Affordable Care Act, a new report released today points out that six out of 10 uninsured African Americans who are eligible for insurance through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces – 4.2 million people – may also be eligible for federal options and/or financial assistance with healthcare costs.

According to the report from the Department of Health and Human Services, 2.2 million may qualify for either tax credits to help purchase plans in the Health Insurance Marketplace, while the other 2 million may qualify for free to low-cost coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). To be eligible for the Health Insurance Marketplace one must be nonelderly and lawfully living in the United States.

Under the law, states can decide whether or not to expand Medicaid coverage to people living on at least 138 percent of the federal poverty line (currently, it’s $15,857 per year for a single person, and $38,047 per year for a family of five). This provision expands the safety net for people who are just above the poverty line, but still unable to afford packages from private companies. The government is required to provide 100 percent of funding for the first three years (phasing down to no less than 90 percent federal funding in subsequent years) to any state that expands Medicaid.

Today, 6.8 million African Americans of all ages are uninsured. Florida, Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, and New York are home to the highest populations of uninsured African Americans who are eligible for the ACA’s provisions. Of those, only New York has expanded Medicaid.

If all 50 states expanded Medicaid, 95 percent of uninsured African Americans would be eligible for Medicaid, CHIP, or Marketplace tax credits, including those without dependents in the home who have traditionally been barred from Medicaid. In addition to using the virtual marketplace to compare plans offered by the private companies in their own state, the uninsured also have the option to become insured through Medicaid, insure their children through CHIP, or use federal tax credits to mitigate the cost of a private plan from the marketplace.

Currently, 26 states have done so, and according to the report, Medicaid currently covers 60 percent of eligible uninsured African Americans. However, an additional 2.2 million eligible uninsured African American adults with family incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level live in states that are not expanding Medicaid. Twice as many uninsured African Americans live at the 138 percent FPL threshold, but only 1.5 million live in Medicaid expansion states. That leaves nearly 3 million people stuck between having too much income to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private plans in the marketplace without assistance.

That assistance comes in the form of tax credits to help purchase plans from the Marketplace. In states that do expand Medicaid, individuals and families with household incomes from 138 to 400 percent of the federal poverty level may be eligible for the credits (that’s $38,047 to $110,281 per year for a family of five). In states that do not expand Medicaid, those with family incomes between 100 and 400 percent of the FPL may qualify for tax credits (or $27,570 to $110,281 per year for a family of five).

The tax credits are significant. For a family of four with an income of $50,000 in Houston, Texas’ Houston County for example, the second-lowest coverage insurance package would cost $658 monthly, before applying the tax credit. With the credit, they’re covered for $282 per month (or $74 per month, for the lowest level of coverage).

For a single 27 year-old with an income of $25,000 in the south Los Angeles area, the second lowest level of coverage is $182/month before the credit, and $145 after (or, $122 and $92, respectively, per month, for the “catastrophic” plan).

This report is another in a stream of reports, speeches, and grassroots level talking points on the benefits of enrolling in the Health Insurance Market began initiated last week by the Obama administration. The reception so far has been mixed.

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