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COMMENTARY: Standing Up for Those Struggling to Survive

THE AFRO — The Maryland Department of Human Resources estimates that more than 650,000 Marylanders receive nutrition help each month through the federal-state partnership known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

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Rep. Elijah Cummings (MD.-7). (Courtesy Photo)

By Congressman Elijah Cummings

I was hungry; You gave me something to eat

Here in Maryland, one of America’s wealthiest States, one in every eight households faces a constant struggle against hunger; more than one in every five households with children struggle to obtain enough food to provide regular, healthy meals for their family; and nearly one in ten Marylanders lives below the federal poverty line.

I recall these harsh and unacceptable statistics from the advocacy coalition, Maryland Hunger Solutions [http://www/mdhungersolutions.org], for a compelling reason. When so many of our neighbors are struggling just to survive, eliminating the pain of hunger in America should constantly remain in the forefront of our minds.

Contained within the anonymity of these statistics, these Maryland neighbors are human beings just like you and me. As a people striving to be more just, more human, and more humane, we must not turn away. We must not cast these neighbors aside.

We must think, hard and long, about how best to eliminate this widespread and unacceptable hardship, and then we must act.

An attempt to override the Congress

Our nation has responded to the imperative of feeding our most desperately hungry people with a series of “Farm Bills” that support agriculture while also providing food for the poorest of our poor citizens.  Without these bipartisan compromises, many farms would fail, harming us all, and millions of Americans would be closer to starving.

The Maryland Department of Human Resources estimates that more than 650,000 Marylanders receive nutrition help each month through the federal-state partnership known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Some of these Maryland SNAP recipients have become eligible based upon their receipt of other federal benefits (like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), although the amount of financial help that they receive is still calculated based upon their income.

This “broad based categorical eligibility,” was retained in the bipartisan compromise Farm Bill that the Congress passed last year – a compromise that the Trump Administration is now attempting to override.

The Administration’s Department of Agriculture has proposed a regulation that would severely restrict the right of states like Maryland to utilize “broad based categorical eligibility” and, thereby, to expand eligibility for SNAP from 135 percent to 200 percent of the federal poverty line.

I was hungry. You gave me nothing to eat.

For millions of Americans, including tens of thousands here in Maryland, if the Trump Administration’s proposal to limit eligibility for SNAP succeeds, the consequences will be catastrophic.

An estimated 3 million Americans (perhaps 50,000 here in Maryland) would lose the nutrition assistance that they need in their struggles to survive; and hundreds of thousands of American children would become ineligible for free school meals.

The Trump Administration’s Department of Agriculture has admitted that its proposed restriction of SNAP eligibility will make food insecurity worse and make it harder for millions of Americans to get by.

Republicans often make speeches about helping hungry Americans escape the cycle of poverty, but this SNAP proposal disproportionately harms the very Americans who are working, struggling to make ends meet, and might, with some extra help, actually be able to succeed.

Republicans talk about states’ rights when it suits them, but not when it comes to the flexibility of states to meet the needs of their food-insecure populations.  To those who will suffer, this must seem a bitter irony indeed.

Stand Up

As our rapidly transforming economy continues to leave working families and our most vulnerable behind, federal programs like SNAP are desperately needed.

We also must remind the Trump Administration that, under our Constitution, the Congress, and not the President, determines how federal dollars are to be spent.

As House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts has declared,

“Congress rejected this very proposal in the 2018 Farm Bill, and it is unlawful for the administration to attempt to override the law without congressional authorization.

This Administration has made its disregard for the welfare of our people – and our law – quite clear.  Now, we must fight for what is right.

Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Afro-American Newspapers.

This article originally appeared in The Afro.

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PRESS ROOM: First Book, an Innovative Leader in Education Equity, Releases Groundbreaking Research Illustrating the Impact of COVID-19 on Emotional Wellness of Students in Underserved Communities

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Collaborating with First Book to provide educators with evidence-informed activities and curriculum is one more step forward in making sure they feel more prepared to support their students,” said Ariana Hoet, Ph.D., clinical director of On Our Sleeves and pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Educators have been on the frontline supporting children’s mental health before and throughout the pandemic with limited resources. We know the pandemic has exacerbated worries around children’s mental health, so this need is even more crucial than ever.”

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Nearly One Thousand Educators Participated; Report that over half (53%) of the students they serve struggle with their mental health

WASHINGTON, First Book, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring education equity for children living in poverty, today announced the results of a national survey designed to identify emotional wellness challenges faced by school-age children. In addition to reinforcing earlier findings regarding the devastating mental health effects of COVID-19, this survey shed new light on the severity of this impact — especially in communities of need. It also established that emotional wellness issues have become a significant barrier to education for many students who attend schools in these communities – a majority of whom are children of color. Pediatric psychologists from Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s On Our Sleeves movement for children’s mental health partnered with First Book to offer a clinical perspective on survey questions and process.

In the new survey findings, educators report that 53 percent of the students they serve struggle with their mental health and only 20 percent of educators feel prepared to support the mental well-being of their students. Of significant concern, 98 percent of educators say mental health challenges act as a barrier to children’s education. And notably, educators are facing their own mental health challenges. Student mental wellness issues have a ripple effect on educators who feel helpless and unsupported.

“Educators across the country are speaking out about the urgency of the mental wellness issues that their students are facing, how they don’t feel prepared to address the issues, and how those issues act as a barrier to learning. Based on what we’re hearing from our Network of educators, this is truly a crisis,” said Kyle Zimmer, president and CEO, First Book. “First Book is committed to supporting low-income communities that have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic and the data revealed in this survey is guiding us in providing educators with high-quality, research-driven tools to nurture emotional wellness and develop healthy habits that prepare students to not only learn but thrive.”

On an ongoing basis First Book solicits input from its Network of more than 525,000 educators – all of whom serve children in need – to enable the organization to directly address the needs of practitioners and the children they serve. Mental wellness was spotlighted as a critical problem exacerbated by COVID-19, leading the organization to design focus groups and a survey to better understand the magnitude and scope of the issue, as well as what is needed to address this barrier to education. Nearly 1,000 educators responded to the survey providing startling data. The results provided a framework for the resource, which is now available, entitled: Taking Care: An Educator Guide to Healthy Habits for Student Emotional Wellness, a free resource created in collaboration with On Our Sleeves. The resource and study are now available through First Book.

“Collaborating with First Book to provide educators with evidence-informed activities and curriculum is one more step forward in making sure they feel more prepared to support their students,” said Ariana Hoet, Ph.D., clinical director of On Our Sleeves and pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Educators have been on the frontline supporting children’s mental health before and throughout the pandemic with limited resources. We know the pandemic has exacerbated worries around children’s mental health, so this need is even more crucial than ever.”

According to the First Book study, the top three life circumstances or experiences that contribute to children’s mental health challenges are 1) unstable or difficult home life; 2) hunger/food insecurity and 3) isolation due to Covid-19. Because these three factors often intersect as children grapple with returning to normalcy post-pandemic, the resources First Book provides to educators are essential tools for helping them become better equipped to aid students who are still dealing with the effects of Covid-related depression, trauma, loneliness, and loss.

First Book’s findings are particularly relevant given recent warnings issued by professional organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association. These groups have declared a national emergency in children’s mental health and have noted that psychological strains, made worse over the past few years by pandemic-associated isolation, anxiety, fear, and grief, have caused a crisis in several societal sectors including education. They also emphasize that children in communities of color have been disproportionately impacted due to previously unresolved inequities linked to structural racism.

Additional key findings in First Book’s survey include:

  • 72% of educators say the pandemic has introduced new mental health challenges among students/children;
  • 65% of educators report the pandemic has exacerbated the existing mental health challenges students already faced;
  • 80% of educators believe gaining access to mental health support is a high or emergency priority in relation to students’ overall needs at this time;
  • 98% of educators say mental health challenges act as a barrier to children’s education;
  • 93% of educators became aware that a student was struggling with mental health issues due to a noticeable change in behavior;
  • 92% of educators indicated they are very or extremely interested in accessing support resources focused on promoting the general mental health and well-being of all students;
  • 51% of educators report that a student’s race/racial identity is relevant to their mental health;
  • 68% of respondents indicate that they take a child’s race and/or culture into consideration when supporting their mental well-being (e.g. observe family/cultural norms, design a culturally inclusive curriculum, and foster open and trusting relationships with their students);
  • 74% of educators are very or extremely interested in accessing support resources to help them approach mental health challenges related to race, identity, and intersectionality;
  • Older children reportedly struggle more than younger children. Educators serving middle and high school students estimate that 59% and 60% (respectively) of the students they serve struggle with mental health, while early childhood and elementary educators estimate 50% and 52% (respectively) of their students struggle.  This compares to the general population at 53%;
  • Educators in urban and suburban communities consider addressing mental health as a stronger priority (83% high/emergency priority) vs. their rural counterparts (75% high/emergency priority).

About First Book

Founded in Washington, D.C., in 1992 as a 501(c)3 nonprofit social enterprise, First Book is a leader in the educational equity field. Over its 29-year history, First Book has distributed more than 200 million books and educational resources, with a retail value of more than $2 billion. First Book believes education offers children in need the best path out of poverty. First Book breaks down barriers to quality education by providing its Network of more than 525,000 registered teachers, librarians, after school program leaders, and others serving children in need with millions of free and affordable new, high-quality books, educational resources, and basic needs items through the award-winning First Book Marketplace nonprofit eCommerce site. The First Book Network comprises the largest and fastest-growing community of formal and informal educators serving children in need.

First Book also expands the breadth and depth of the education field through a family of social enterprises, including First Book Research & Insights, its proprietary research initiative, and the First Book Accelerator, which brings best-in-class research-based strategies to the classroom via relevant, usable educator resources. First Book Impact Funds target support to areas of need, such as rural communities or increasing diversity in children’s books. For more information about First Book, please visit http://www.firstbook.org.

About On Our Sleeves®

Children don’t wear their thoughts on their sleeves. With 1 in 5 children living with a significant mental health concern and half of all lifetime mental health concerns starting by age 14, we need to give them a voice. On Our Sleeves®, powered by behavioral health experts at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, aims to provide every community in America with free resources necessary for breaking child mental health stigmas and educating families and advocates, because no child or family should struggle alone.

Since the inception of On Our Sleeves® in 2018, more than 3 million people in every state across America have interacted with the movement’s free pediatric mental health educational resources at OnOurSleeves.org and educator curricula have reached more than four of five classrooms across the United States.

To schedule an interview with a spokesperson for First Book, please contact Ian Kenison at ikenison@firstbook.org.

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Moore Brown: Maryland Set to Have Two Black Statewide Officials

NNPA NEWSWIRE — If they are elected, Maryland would be the first state to have two Black statewide officials. Wes Moore has caught lightning in a bottle. He has run ads that have been narrated by Oprah Winfrey and has captured the excitement of the moment in Maryland.

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By Lauren Victoria Burke, NNPA Newswire Contributor

On July 19, Wes Moore and Congressman Anthony Brown won their primary contests to be Governor of Maryland and Attorney General.

Maryland is a deep blue state that currently has a moderate Republican Governor. It is expected that Moore and Brown will have a major advantage over their Republican competitors.

If they are elected, Maryland would be the first state to have two Black statewide officials. Wes Moore has caught lightning in a bottle. He has run ads that have been narrated by Oprah Winfrey and has captured the excitement of the moment in Maryland.

Moore’s main opponent was former DOJ Civil Rights chief and DNC Chair Tom Perez. Perez came in second to Moore. The results were 36 percent for Moore, 27 percent for Perez and 19 percent for Peter Franchot.

Wes Moore’s victory is verification that Black statewide candidates in states with over 20 percent of the Black vote can run and win strong campaigns.

Current Governor Larry Hogan has said publicly that he will not vote for the Republican nominee for Governor. That nominee, Dan Cox, is a supporter of Donald Trump.

“Dan Cox …is a QAnon whack job who was in favor of calling Mike Pence, my friend, a traitor, when they were talking about hanging him,” Hogan said at a news conference on July 19.

Attorney and former prosecutor Glenn Ivey defeated former Congresswoman Donna Edwards in a primary to replace Anthony Brown in Maryland’s 4th district. Ivey is all but certain to be elected to Congress in such a blue district.

Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent investigative journalist and the host of the podcast BURKEFILE. She is a political analyst who appears regularly on #RolandMartinUnfiltered. She may be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke

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DOJ Indicts Four Police Officers Who Allegedly Lied to Secure Search Warrants for Breonna Taylor’s Home

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Breonna Taylor should have awakened in her home, as usual, on the morning of March 13, 2020. Tragically, she did not. She was just 26 years old. As Attorney General Garland just stated, today’s indictments allege that Louisville Police Detective Joshua Jaynes and Sergeant Kyle Meany drafted and approved what they knew was a false affidavit to support a search warrant for Ms. Taylor’s home. That false affidavit set in motion events that led to Ms. Taylor’s death when other LMPD officers executed that warrant,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke on August 4. 

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By Lauren Victoria Burke, NNPA Newswire Contributor

Tamika Palmer, Breonna Taylor’s mother, has long been insisting that Louisville police have never been at her daughter Breonna Taylor’s apartment on the night they shot her dead.

On August 4, the Department of Justice, led by the Attorney General and Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Kristen Clarke, announced the indictments of four police officers who fatally shot Ms. Taylor during a nighttime raid on her apartment.

They asserted that the officers lied in order to get a search warrant for Taylor’s apartment.

The Justice Department announced that the indictments against the four current and former police officers would include federal charges of using “unconstitutionally excessive force.”

“Breonna Taylor should have awakened in her home, as usual, on the morning of March 13, 2020. Tragically, she did not. She was just 26 years old. As Attorney General Garland just stated, today’s indictments allege that Louisville Police Detective Joshua Jaynes and Sergeant Kyle Meany drafted and approved what they knew was a false affidavit to support a search warrant for Ms. Taylor’s home. That false affidavit set in motion events that led to Ms. Taylor’s death when other LMPD officers executed that warrant,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke on August 4.

“The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution ensures that people are subject to searches only when there is probable cause supporting a search warrant. Falsified warrants create unnecessary hazards for the public and for the police, who rely on facts that fellow officers report in carrying out their public duties,” Clarke added.

“These charges focus on the conduct of the Louisville Metro Police Department’s Place-Based Investigations Unit. In the first indictment filed today, we allege that in early 2020, that unit was investigating suspected drug trafficking in the West End [area] of Louisville. On March 12, 2020, officers from that unit sought 5 search warrants they claimed were related to the suspected drug trafficking.  Four of those warrants targeted properties in the West End where that activity was allegedly occurring,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland before Clarke spoke.

Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent investigative journalist and the host of the podcast BURKEFILE. She is a political analyst who appears regularly on #RolandMartinUnfiltered. She may be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke

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