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House GOP Approves Cuts to Amtrak Budget Despite Crash

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Emergency and transportation personnel work at the scene of a deadly train wreck, Wednesday, May 13, 2015, in Philadelphia. An Amtrak train headed to New York City derailed and crashed in Philadelphia on Tuesday night killing at least seven people and injuring dozens more. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Emergency and transportation personnel work at the scene of a deadly train wreck, Wednesday, May 13, 2015, in Philadelphia. An Amtrak train headed to New York City derailed and crashed in Philadelphia on Tuesday night killing at least seven people and injuring dozens more. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Andrew Taylor, ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Republican-controlled House panel on Wednesday approved deep spending cuts to Amtrak’s budget just hours after a deadly crash in Philadelphia.

The Appropriations Committee backed a $55 billion transportation and housing measure after rejecting Democratic attempts to boost spending on Amtrak by more than $1 billion, including $556 million targeted for the railroad’s Northeast corridor, site of the derailment. The vote was 30-21 along party lines.

The GOP bill would cut Amtrak’s budget by $251 million, to $1.1 billion, for the upcoming fiscal year.

“Every day, tens of thousands of passengers travel our nation’s railways on Amtrak — a majority of those along the Northeast Corridor where yesterday’s tragic accident occurred,” said Rep. Chaka Fattah, who represents Philadelphia. “These riders deserve safe, secure, and modern infrastructure.”

President Barack Obama asked for almost $2.5 billion for Amtrak in his February budget, much more than he’d requested in previous years. Obama’s proposed boost is mostly dedicated to capital investment in track, tunnels and bridges and includes $400 million in grants for capital construction along Amtrak’s Northeast corridor.

There were early indications that Tuesday night’s tragedy may have been due to excessive speed. An Associated Press analysis of a surveillance tape found that the train was going about 107 MPH as it approached a curve where the speed limit less than half that.

“We must pass a multi-year transportation funding bill that increases — not decreases — federal investment in highway, transit and rail programs before other disaster occurs,” said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md.

The vote came as Congress stares down a deadline in 18 days to reauthorize legislation to pay for highways and transit programs.

Amtrak is one of many flash points in the underlying measure, which Democrats say shortchanges important programs for the poor and contains giveaways to the trucking industry.

In recent years, cuts by House Republicans have been restored in House-Senate negotiations, but the railroad’s budget has remained generally flat.

Fattah’s $1.3 billion amendment to fully fund Obama’s Amtrak request failed along party lines after Republicans pointed out that it would have broken budget limits and left the bill vulnerable to procedural challenges.

Top panel Democrat Nita Lowey of New York said the measure undercuts important accounts, including those dedicated to transportation safety and capital construction. Lowey said the bill “drastically short-changes job-creating investments critical to hardworking American families, like roads, bridges, and rail systems and access to safe and affordable housing.”

But Chairman Harold Rogers of Kentucky said majority Republicans are hamstrung by automatic spending cuts known as sequestration that are forcing a freeze in the operating budgets of domestic agencies funded by lawmakers each year. These cuts are the result of a hard-fought 2011 budget deal between Obama and Republicans and are more punishing than originally intended because Congress has yet to find substitute cuts or revenues to replace them.

“We have no choice but to abide by the law,” Rogers said.

The White House and Democrats are pushing to boost domestic programs and insist that they’ll thwart GOP efforts to increase the Pentagon’s budget if domestic agencies aren’t given comparable relief. Republicans have padded war accounts — which are exempt from spending limits — to add to the Pentagon’s budget by $38 billion, a 7 percent increase that matches Obama’s overall request.

The measure is the largest of 12 spending bills considered so far by the GOP-controlled House and includes cuts to an almost $2 billion account for rehabilitating public housing and grants to states and local governments for housing for the poor. In a letter delivered Monday, the White House reminded lawmakers of recent rioting in Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods and said the measure would hurt efforts to end homelessness and hurt families.

But the White House didn’t specifically object to the Amtrak cuts in the letter, sent by Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan.

On Wednesday White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest wasn’t pointing fingers about the accident, though he said more Amtrak funding would “benefit the traveling public and be good for our economy.”
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Bay Area

Double-Double Legacies? Next Black Caucus Members Expected to Be Familiar Names

Last week, the CLBC also threw its support behind another woman of African descent who is also familiar with that body, Mia Bonta of Oakland. She could also join the group’s ranks in the next couple of months.

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Dr. Askilah Weber

Mia Bonta

Last week, the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC), a group comprised of African American elected officials serving in the state Legislature, was preparing to welcome its newest member, former La Mesa City Councilwoman Dr. Akilah Weber.

With a solid lead, the younger Weber, who is African American, declared victory in the 79th Assembly District race for the San Diego seat her mother, Dr. Shirley Weber, previously held for almost a decade, from 2012 to 2021.

After she is sworn in, Weber will be the newest member of the CLBC.

Weber won with 51.97% of the vote out of a pool of five candidates. Marco Contreras, the only Republican running for the position, trailed her with 33.4% of the votes.

Gov. Gavin Newsom nominated the elder Weber to serve as Secretary of State in December, succeeding Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA), who is currently California’s junior Senator in the United States Congress.

“Can’t wait to have you in the CABlackCaucus,” Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), chair of the CLBC, said earlier this month when he heard Weber was leading the race in a special election held in April to replace her mother.

Last week, the CLBC also threw its support behind another woman of African descent who is also familiar with that body, Mia Bonta of Oakland. She could also join the group’s ranks in the next couple of months.

Bonta, who is currently Alameda Unified School District president, announced her candidacy on April 12 for the state Assembly seat in District 18 that her husband, Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), currently occupies. The district covers an East Bay area that includes the cities of San Leandro, Alameda, and Oakland.

In March, Newsom appointed her husband, who is Filipino-American, as the next California attorney general, pending Senate confirmation.

“The California Legislative Black Caucus proudly endorses Mia Bonta for Assembly,” said Bradford. “Diversity in leadership is critical to ensuring equity in policymaking, and as an Afro-Latina woman, Mia offers a perspective that has long been underrepresented in Sacramento. Her experience advocating for children and families in her community and deep understanding of today’s policy issues would make Mia a valuable addition to the state Legislature. I and the Caucus will be working to make her success a reality.”

Weber says she wants to continue her mother’s legacy as she works to ensure that “we build a better tomorrow that improves the future for all Californians.”

In her victory statement, Weber said “Tonight’s win and these results are staggering; I am deeply honored and humbled by the faith that the voters have placed in me. My campaign is focused on one mission: creating healthier communities for everyone who lives and works in the 79th district.”

Weber, a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist, is expected to be sworn into the Assembly this month.

Weber leads the Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology Division at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego and has health care high up on her list of priorities.

Weber thanked her team and the voters for her victory.

“Hundreds of people worked hard to earn this victory, and I am so grateful for their friendship, commitment, and trust. I want to thank my family, without whom none of this would be possible, all of the volunteers and supporters who fueled our campaign, and most of all the voters for their trust and confidence,” Weber said.

Bonta says, if she wins, she will focus on education and housing affordability, which are “personal issues” for her.

“I grew up and my family moved 13 times in 16 years,” she told local East Bay television station KQED. “I have built into me the experience of feeling that housing insecurity – and I know the impact that has on one’s ability to be able to get to work, to keep work, to be focused on an education pathway.”

Another special election for the 54th Assembly seat in the Los Angeles area is coming up.

State Sen. Sydney Kamlager (D-Los Angeles) vacated that Assembly seat when she won a special election in March for the 30th Senate District seat previously held by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors member Holly J.  Mitchell.

Six Democrats have thrown their hats into the highly contentious race: Financial adviser Samuel Robert Morales; attorney and State Commissioner Cheryl C. Turner; grocery worker Bernard Senter; businesswoman and non-profit executive Dallas Fowler; community organizer and educator Isaac Bryan; and Heather Hutt, former state director for Kamala Harris when she was a senator.

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Activism

Nation’s First Bill to Extend Victim Services to Survivors of Police Brutality

This would ensure that survivors of police violence and loved ones of those killed by police are no longer dependent on either a police report documenting the victimization, which is often elusive, or the opinion of involved police when assessing a victim’s responsibility. 

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The California Senate’s Committee on Public Safety this week unanimously passed SB 299. Authored by Senator Connie Leyva (SD-20), which would extend services to victims of police violence and expand eligibility for survivors of homicide victims.

“It is unacceptable that in order to receive assistance through the Victim Compensation program, police reports and the opinion of police would carry such heavy weight in the application for compensation when the injuries were sustained as a result of police actions,” Senator Leyva said.

 “SB 299 will improve access to vital resources for victims of police violence as they recover from the physical and emotional injuries caused due to the actions of police or—in the cases of individuals killed by police—be able to bury their loved ones with dignity and respect,” he said. 

“Just as the state’s Victims Compensation program can use evidence beyond police reports for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking, so too do victims of police violence deserve similar recognition of their circumstances so that they can get fair access to the help they need.”

Police reports and opinion can also prevent families of homicide victims from obtaining compensation, without any recourse or due process. Families in shock at a violent loss then struggle to bury their loved ones. SB 299 would, for the first time, expand eligibility to make sure survivors of homicide victims are not denied based on the contents of inaccurate, unfair or biased police reports.

“We cannot continue to let the police decide who is a ‘deserving’ victim,” says Youth ALIVE! Director of Programs, Kyndra Simmons. “This has prevented many survivors and victims, including victims of police violence, from accessing the resources and support meant to help them heal.”

“Qualifying for victim compensation was life-changing for me after my son Jordan was killed,” says Tonya Lancaster, trauma survivor and Youth ALIVE! client. “I want to see that support for everybody who needs it.”

Under existing law, victims of limited types of crimes are eligible to receive compensation from the California Victim Compensation Board’s Restitution Fund. That compensation can cover a range of needs spanning medical expenses, burial expenses, wage and income loss and much more. 

SB 299 would extend this eligibility to include incidents in which an individual sustains serious bodily injury or death as a result of a law enforcement officer’s use of force, regardless of whether the law enforcement officer is arrested for, charged with, or convicted of committing a crime. 

This would ensure that survivors of police violence and loved ones of those killed by police are no longer dependent on either a police report documenting the victimization, which is often elusive, or the opinion of involved police when assessing a victim’s responsibility. 

“We cannot tolerate treating victims of police violence with any less care and compassion than we extend to other crime victims,” said Controller Betty Yee, California’s chief fiscal officer. “We must work toward a just, fair, and peaceful society, and this expansion of victim compensation is one small step in that work.”

“”Advocacy for victims must include all victims and survivors, regardless of who caused the harm. That’s why my office started a first-in-the-state program in 2020 to ensure that our Victim Services Division compensates victims of police violence like any other victim,” said San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin.  

“Unlike victims of other crimes, victims of police brutality are commonly denied access to victims compensation funds to cover burial costs, medical expenses, lost income, therapy and more,” said Prosecutors Alliance Executive Director Cristine Soto DeBerry. “No one should have to start a GoFundMe page to cover the costs of burying a loved one lost to violence.”

SB299 is co-sponsored by California Controller Betty Yee, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón, Californians for Safety and Justice, the Prosecutors Alliance of California, and Youth ALIVE! It will be heard next by the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

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Community

Is America Failing Millennials and Generation Z’s?

Out of the 20 mass shootings and violent attacks since March 1st, one very distressing element stands out—a number of the attacks were carried out by GenZ’s (14-24 years) and Millennials (25-38 years), from diverse racial groups, and regions of the United States.

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During the last two weeks of March and first week of April 2021, Americans were shocked with alarming news of mass shootings and violent attacks in Atlanta, Georgia, Boulder Colorado, Washington, D.C. and York County, South Carolina. Out of the 20 mass shootings and violent attacks since March 1st, one very distressing element stands out—a number of the attacks were carried out by GenZ’s (14-24 years) and Millennials (25-38 years), from diverse racial groups, and regions of the United States.
For example, on April 7, 2021 in York County, South Carolina, 32 year old Millennial and former NFL Player Philip Adams committed a mass shooting of a renowned local Doctor, his wife, grandchildren and two workers. Early reports say Adams, who later committed suicide, suffered from football related brain concussions. On April 2nd in Washington, D.C. 25 year old Millennial Noah Green rammed his car into two Capitol Hill Officers and killed one of the Officers, and injured the other.
Reports from his family indicate Noah was suffering from prescription drug use, paranoia and depression. He was killed at the scene of the violence. On March 18th, 21 year old GenZ Robert Aaron Long, killed eight (8) Asian spa workers and their customers, at massage parlors in Georgia. He claimed sex addiction as a reason for his behavior. And on March 22nd in Boulder, Colorado, 21 year old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, and killed ten people at a grocery store. His relatives and schoolmates say Aliwi was bullied in school for being Muslim and retaliated with anger.
These four young men who perpetrated violence were from diverse racial groups, and in different regions of the country. But, what they had in common was they were either Millennials or GenZ’s who were obviously suffering from serious mental health issues. What was being done to help them? Where were their parents, mentors, faith leaders, aunts, uncles, social workers, colleagues, etc.? Did they have trained support or, were they dealing with their crisis mostly alone?
Generation X and Baby Boomers in America have to stop being self-absorbed and start paying attention to depressed GenZ and Millennial individuals. According to the 2019 US Census reports, these groups now make up the largest age-based demographic groups in the United States. These young people know how and where to purchase guns, how to make guns using 3D technology—known as Ghost Guns and they are strongly influenced by video games, violent movies, aggressive sports and even aggressive relatives who commit domestic violence.
Research by the Anne Casey Foundation finds that GenZ’s are suffering from high levels of depression, and this must be taken seriously. Plus, they are impacted by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Armaud Arbery, many more Black men and women…
But, how can Generation X and Baby Boomers help Millennials and GenZ’s who are suffering from anxiety, Covid-Lockdowns, student debt, job loss and other societal factors? Since taking office, President Joe Biden is starting to focus on these issues. On April 8, 2021, the President and Attorney General Merrick Garland, announced a series of Executive Orders designed to stop violence and promote violence prevention. Their plan will target grants for communities, to mobilize violence prevention programs. These actions are to be applauded but, it is important that the programs be implemented effectively, with feedback from affected communities of color.
Black Women for Positive Change, a national multi-cultural, intergenerational network of women and Good Brothers, has sponsored ten (10) years of Annual Weeks of Non-Violence. During those years, we have heard a multitude of stories from participants about causes of violence, depression and anxiety. We have found that many GenZ’s and Millennials suffer from lack of parenting, mentorship and productive, engaging activities. We have also found stigmatization of mental health and fear of families of color to seek help for disturbed youth. In addition, our outreach informs us that Millennials and GenZ’s complain about lack of opportunities and dreams for their futures.
Therefore, it is important for the Biden Administration to factor in the need for “Opportunities” in violence prevention programs to assist youth with overcoming the obstacles of the Covid-19 pandemic, job loss, single headed households under pressures, and other issues. New approaches are needed to provide GenZ’s and Millennials with opportunities to move forward, overcome obstacles and have productive, positive lives.
Dr. Stephanie Myers/Washington, DC, is National Co-Chair, Black Women for Positive Change, and Jan Perry/Los Angeles, CA., is Chair, Social Action Committee, Black Women for Positive Change. www.blackwomenforpositivechange.org

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