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Government

Rep. Terri Sewell: Democrats introduce sweeping Democracy Reform Package

GREENE COUNTY DEMOCRAT —

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 By Greene County Democrat

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Friday, January 4, House Democrats introduced the For the People Act, a package of democracy bills including sweeping election, campaign finance, and ethics reforms designed to give American voters a stronger voice in government.

The package also includes a commitment to passing legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965, which was gutted in the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision. Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell (D-AL) is the lead sponsor of the Voting Rights Advancement Act, a bill to restore the VRA and strengthen protections against discrimination in elections.

“The American people asked for reforms that give everyone a fair voice in our elections, and Democrats are delivering,” said Rep. Terri Sewell. “In Alabama’s 7th District, our families marched, bled, and died for their right to have a fair voice in our democracy, but today new strategies for disenfranchisement are keeping eligible voters from engaging in our elections.

The For the People Act fights back with reforms to stop gerrymandering, strengthen campaign finance laws, and close ethics loopholes. As we begin work in the House to investigate voter discrimination and the state of voter protections in our elections, I am proud to see a commitment in the For the People Act to restoring the vote. There is much work left to do, but today’s introduction takes a big step towards building a government of, by, and for the people.”

Congresswoman Terri A. Sewell (D-AL) was sworn in to the 116th Congress on January 3, 2019, beginning her fifth term in the House of Representatives.

Sewell is one of 102 women who were sworn into the House on January 3 who are a testament to the power of the women who have marched, protested, and voted for their seat at the table.

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African American News & Issues

Reparations: How ‘Intentional’ Government Policy Denied Blacks Access to Wealth

Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act eliminated racial discrimination in lending, the Black community continues to be denied mortgage loans at rates much higher than their white counterparts.

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Stock photo of a vault with access denied written across it

When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, the Black community owned less than 1% of the United States’ total wealth, the Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans was told during its fourth meeting.

Mehrsa Baradaran, a professor at the University of California Irvine, School of Law, shared the statistics during the “Racism in Banking, Tax, and Labor” portion of the two-day meeting on October 13.

From her perspective, the power of wealth and personal income is still unequally distributed. And that inequality, in her view, has always been allowed, preserved and compounded by laws and government policy.

“More than 150 years later, that number has barely budged,” Baradaran told the Task Force, tracing the wealth gap from the period after the Civil War when President Lincoln granted formerly enslaved Blacks their freedom to the present day.

“The gap between average white wealth and Black wealth has actually increased over the last decades. Today, across every social-economic level, Black families have a fraction of the wealth that white families have,” she said.

Baradaran has written a range of entries and books about banking law, financial inclusion, inequality, and the racial wealth gap. Her scholarship includes the books “How the Other Half Banks” and “The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap,” both published by the Harvard University Press.

Baradaran has also published several articles on race and economics, including “Jim Crow Credit” in the Irvine Law Review, “Regulation by Hypothetical” in the Vanderbilt Law Review, and “How the Poor Got Cut Out of Banking” in the Emory Law Journal.

Baradaran, a 43-year-old immigrant born in Iran, testified that her work on the wealth gap in America was conducted from a “research angle” and she respectfully “submitted” her testimony “in that light,” she said.

In her research, Baradaran explained that she discovered an intentional system of financial oppression.

“This wealth chasm doesn’t abate with income or with education. In other words, this is a wealth gap that is pretty much tied to a history of exclusion and exploitation and not to be remedied by higher education and higher income,” Baradaran said.

According to a January 2020 report, the Public Policy Institute of California said African American and Latino families make up 12% of those with incomes above the 90th percentile in the state, despite comprising 43% of all families in California.

In addition, PPIC reported that such disparities mirror the fact that African American and Latino adults are overrepresented in low-wage jobs and have higher unemployment rates, and African American adults are less likely to be in the labor force.

Many issues support these activities that range from disparities around education, local job opportunities, and incarceration to discrimination in the labor market, according to PPIC.

“While California’s economy outperforms the nation’s, its level of income inequality exceeds that of all but five states,” the report stated.

“Without target policies, it will continue to grow,” Baradaran said of the wealth gap. “And I want to be clear of how this wealth gap will continue to grow. It was created, maintained, and perpetuated through public policy at the federal, state, and local levels.

“Black men and women have been shut out of most avenues of middle-class creations. Black homes, farms, and savings were not given the full protection of the law. Especially as these properties were subjected to racial terrorism. The American middle-class was not created that way (to support Black communities),” Baradaran said.

A June 2018 working paper from the Opportunity and Inclusive Growth Institute written by economists familiar with moderate-to-weak Black wealth backs up Baradaran’s assessment.

Published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, the authors of the report wrote that strategies to deny Blacks access to wealth started at the beginning of the Reconstruction era, picked up around the civil rights movement, and resurfaced around the financial crisis of the late 2000s.

Authored by Moritz Kuhn, Moritz Schularick, and Ulrike I. Steins, the “Income and Wealth Inequality in America, 1949-2016” explains a close analysis of racial inequality, pre-and post-civil rights eras.

The economists wrote that the median Black household has less than 11% of the wealth of the median white household, which is about $15,000 versus $140,000 in 2016 prices.

“The overall summary is bleak,” the report states. “The historical data also reveal that no progress has been made in reducing income and wealth inequalities between black and white households over the past 70 years.”

Baradaran recently participated in the virtual symposium, “Racism and the Economy: Focus on the Wealth Divide” hosted by 12 District Banks of the Federal Reserve System, which includes the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

There are some positives that are not typically included in discussions about the challenges Blacks have experienced historically in efforts to obtain wealth, Baradaran said. Many African Americans, specifically in California, were able to subvert the systems that discriminated against them.

“Black institutions have been creative and innovative serving their communities in a hostile climate,” Baradaran said. “I’ve written a book about the long history of entrepreneurship, self-help, and mutual uplift. Historically Black Colleges and Universities have provided stellar education and Black banks have supported Black businesses, churches, and families.”

California’s Assembly Bill (AB) 3121, titled “The Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans,” created a nine-member commission to investigate inequity in education, labor, wealth, housing, tax, and environmental justice.

All of these areas were covered with expert testimony during the two-day meeting held on October 12 and October 13. The task force is charged with exploring California’s involvement in slavery, segregation, and the historic denial of Black citizens’ constitutional rights.

Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act eliminated racial discrimination in lending, the Black community continues to be denied mortgage loans at rates much higher than their white counterparts.

“Banks and corporations have engaged in lending and hiring practices that helped to solidify patterns of racial inequality,” Jacqueline Jones, a history professor from the University of Texas told the Task Force.

The Racism in Banking, Tax and Labor segment also featured testimonies by Williams Spriggs (former chair of the Department of Economics at Howard University. Spriggs now serves as chief economist to the AFL-CIO), Thomas Craemer (public policy professor at the University of Connecticut), and Lawrence Lucas (U.S. Department of Agriculture Coalition of Minority Employees).

The Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans will conduct its fifth and final meeting of 2021 on December 6 and December 7.

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Business

California Warns Businesses, Landlords Using Felonies and COVID-19 to Discriminate

So far, the state has sent more than 500 notices to businesses informing them that they have violated protections put in place to protect people seeking work.  

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stock image of discrimination written in chalk on a chalkboard

The California state government has been reminding businesses across the state that it is illegal to discriminate against job applicants because of they have committed felonies or misdemeanors in the past.

Authorities in Sacramento have also taken steps to make sure businesses do not use COVID-related restrictions to deny entry to customers they do not want based on race or other factors.

So far, the state has sent more than 500 notices to businesses informing them that they have violated protections put in place to protect people seeking work.

“The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) announced a new effort to identify and correct violations of the Fair Chance Act, a pioneering state law that seeks to reduce barriers to employment for individuals with criminal histories,” a statement the DFEH released last week reads.

The Fair Chance act, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2018, was written to increase access to employment for Californians with criminal histories in an effort to reduce recidivism, among other goals. Employers with five or more employees are prohibited from asking a job candidate about conviction history during the hiring process or when advertising a vacancy.

The DFEH says it is implementing new technologies to conduct mass searches of online job applications that include unlawful statements. For example, some businesses explicitly state in hiring advertisements that they would not consider applicants with criminal records.

“Using technology to proactively find violations of the state’s anti-discrimination laws is a powerful strategy for our department to protect Californians’ civil rights,” said DFEH Director Kevin Kish. “DFEH is committed to preventing employment discrimination through innovative enforcement actions and by providing clear guidance to employers.”

DFEH also released a toolkit to aid employers in adhering to the Fair Chance Act guidelines. The toolkit includes sample forms and guides that employers can use to follow required procedures; a suggested statement that employers can add to job advertisements and applications to let applicants know that they will consider individuals with criminal histories; answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the Fair Chance Act and an informational video that explains the Fair Chance Act.

In addition, DFEH plans to release an interactive training and an online app in 2022.

The DFEH also released guidelines for businesses that will be implementing COVID-19 related entry restrictions to protect against discrimination based on race, sex, religious background and nationality.

While businesses have been encouraged to stay vigilant with mask mandates and vaccination verification for entry, the DFEH says it has also found it necessary to preemptively address refusal of entry that could be racially motivated masked as a COVID precaution.

“As Californians navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing has provided guidance to protect civil rights and mitigate risk of COVID-19 transmission in employment, housing, healthcare, and, in our guidance released today, businesses open to the public,” said Kish. “We can and must uphold civil rights while simultaneously disrupting the spread of COVID-19.”

DFEH encourages individuals to report job advertisements in violation of the Fair Chance Act or other instances of discrimination.

DFEH is also encouraging the public to report housing ads that include discriminatory language that exclude certain racial groups, immigrants, people with felonies, applicants with Section 8 or HUD vouchers; etc.

Visit the DFEH website to file complaints.

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Activism

Ask County Supervisors Not to Spend Millions in Tax Dollars on Oakland A’s Real Estate Deal

Please attend the meeting Tuesday, October 26 and express your opinion; call or e-mail your supervisor and Keith Carson, president of the Board of Supervisors, through his chief of staff Amy Shrago at (510) 272-6685 or Amy.Shrago@acgov.org

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A rendering of the proposed new A’s ballpark at the Howard Terminal site, surrounded by port cranes and warehouses. Image courtesy of MANICA Architecture.

The East Oakland Stadium Alliance (EOSA) and other groups are asking local residents to attend and speak at next week’s Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting to oppose a proposal to spend county residents’ tax dollars to pay for the Oakland A’s massive multi-billion-dollar real estate deal at Howard Terminal at the Port of Oakland. 

Please attend the meeting Tuesday, October 26 and express your opinion; call or e-mail your supervisor and Keith Carson, president of the Board of Supervisors, through his chief of staff Amy Shrago at (510) 272-6685 or Amy.Shrago@acgov.org

The Stadium Alliance urges community members to “let (the supervisors) know that Alameda County residents don’t want our tax dollars to pay for a private luxury development. This proposal does not include privately funded community benefits and would harm our region’s economic engine – the port- putting tens of thousands of good-paying jobs at risk.”

 

“The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.”

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