Let’s Give Our Children a More Certain Future This Holiday Season

By Janet Murguía, President and CEO of NCLR, and Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus

The New Year usually symbolizes an opportunity for new beginnings and growth, but American households face a very different reality in 2013. On January 2, the fiscal cliff will leave many families with $2,000 less to put food on the table, or even a roof over their children’s heads, unless Congress comes to a budget agreement this month.

The fiscal cliff’s automatic, across-the-board budget cuts come at a time when children and their families are already struggling. Kids are facing the highest levels of poverty since the Great Depression, and Latino children are faring the worst: about 1-in-3 Hispanic kids live in poverty today. If sequestration goes into effect, federal funding for kids will be cut by an additional $6.4 billion in Fiscal Year 2013.

Children represent the largest constituency of Americans who would be impacted by the fiscal cliff at 30 percent of the U.S. population. And Latino children now make up nearly 1-in-4 children under the age of 18, and are critically important to our nation’s future. An analysis from NCLR (National Council of La Raza) highlights what sequestration means for our kids:

  • 96,000 children will not be served by Head Start, including 34,000 Latino kids
  • 80,000 children will not receive the Child Care Development Block Grant, including 16,000 Hispanic children
  • 1.8 million low-income public school students will not receive extra reading and math help because of cuts to Title I. The 37 percent of Latino kids who attend high-poverty schools could be affected by these cuts.

We saw from the recent presidential election that Latinos, as a voting bloc, highly favor greater investment in all our children. At 10 percent of the electorate and over 12 million voters, the historic turnout of Hispanic voters is a critical factor in urging politicians to take action for kids. A nationwide election eve poll released by Lake Research Partners on behalf of First Focus Campaign for Children (FFCC) shows overwhelming support from Latino voters for a wide range of federal investments in America’s children at levels higher than voters of all demographics and political affiliations.

The damage sequestration would mean to kids is simply unacceptable to Hispanic voters and the public at-large that broadly supports raising revenue and oppose budget cuts that impact kids. Latino children are one of the fastest growing segments of kids in school. Cutting programs that contribute to their development and ensure they are prepared to meet the requisites of a future labor market would not only hurt their personal future success but undercut the strength and competitiveness of the nation’s economy. This is not lost on Hispanic voters who consistently list education and children’s issues at the top of their priority list.

In another poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of FFCC, the majority of American voters disapprove of Congress making budget cuts to an array of children’s programs, including: education (75-24%), the Children’s Health Insurance Program (74-17%), Medicaid (73-27%), child abuse and neglect (66-33%), the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit (63-34%), student loans and financial aid for college students (59-40%), Head Start (59-40%), and child care (54-44%).

Despite the popularity of investing in America’s next generation, discretionary spending on children has declined by about $2 billion since 2010. Children have borne a disproportionate share of the spending reduction to combat the federal deficit. In fact, the share of federal spending going to kids fell six percent in the past year.

The budget and impending sequestration clearly do not align with our children’s needs, and what voters want. Kids and their families deserve better. Let’s hold our lawmakers accountable. Contact your representative and tell them to keep kids off the table.

As Fiscal Cliff Draws Nearer, There Is No Time For a Plan B

By Janis Bowdler, Director, Wealth-Building Policy Project

This New Year’s, many Americans across the country will have quite a bit weighing on their minds at a time when they are supposed to be clinking champagne glasses and making their resolutions for 2013.  In less than two weeks, our country will go over the fiscal cliff, resulting in a tax hike for millions of Americans and severe funding cuts to education, health care, and housing programs, to name a few.  That is unless Congress and the Obama administration can reach a deal on the federal budget.

For a brief moment earlier this week, it appeared that both sides were willing to compromise.

But that glimmer of hope was fleeting, and it seems negotiations are at a standstill.  Republican leadership is now pushing “Plan B,” which the House will vote on tonight at 6:00 p.m.

Simply put, “Plan B” is bad for Hispanic families.  It fails to meet NCLR’s principles for a fairer federal budget.  The plan further reduces tax liability for those at the top while pushing working families toward poverty.

The wealthiest would be the big winners should this plan pass.  Under “Plan B,” millionaires would get an estimated $50,000 tax cut, while 25 million middle class families making less than $250,000 a year would see their income taxes increase by an average of $1,000 apiece.  And,millions would lose access to the Child Tax Credit, as well as the Earned Income Tax Credit, which are valuable tools that help prevent many Latinos from falling below the poverty line.

All of this while also allowing the sequester to move forward, gutting critical investments in education, jobs, and housing.  For example, in many poor districts, where federal funding covers a substantial portion of their budgets, for every $1 million that a school district receives in federal funding, sequestration will take away $82,000.  For districts with disproportionately large Hispanic and Black populations, that loss could have devastating effects.

“Plan B” is not a viable option for Latinos or this country.  Thankfully, President Obama has already issued a veto threat.  However, that does not mean both sides should stop trying to reach an agreement.  We strongly urge House Speaker Boehner and President Obama to put America’s working and middle-class families ahead of politics.  We need a fair approach to deficit reduction where everyone pays their share.

We must end this stalemate.  Far too much is at stake for the American people.  Nobody wins if we go over the fiscal cliff, and the clock is almost up.

State job creation policies matter for Latinos

By Alicia Criado, Policy Associate, Economic and Employment Policy Project, NCLR

I recently received an email from Vicky, an NCLR supporter, who thanked me for reporting each month on how Latinos are doing in today’s economy.  She also shared that she is unemployed and has come to realize that being bilingual is not enough to help her land a job.  Vicky does not have postsecondary education has found that employers want the whole package in a worker:  adequate training, in-demand skills, and education beyond high school.

Many jobseekers like Vicky are keenly aware of what it takes to stand out in today’s job market, where the ratio of unemployed workers to job openings is more than three to one.  Just over five years from now, in 2018, only 10% of jobs in the U.S. economy will be open to workers with less than a high school degree.  Yet today nearly two out of five (38.4%) Latino adults—and almost half of foreign-born Latino adults (47.5%)—do not have a high school diploma.  These facts are alarming given that by 2050 one in three American workers will be Latino.

It is not clear that the legislators who Vicky and approximately 12 million Latinos helped elect in 2012 understand the needs of the Latino workforce.  According to our latest report, Now Hiring?  Latinos and the Job Creation Policies in the South Atlantic, legislators in South Atlantic states have made plans to create jobs without taking stock of the barriers that the burgeoning Hispanic labor force faces.  State policymakers are paying little to no attention to the intersections of local job creation policies and current state workforce development, immigration, and transportation systems.  Necessary investments in programs like basic skills training, which help Latinos successfully compete for jobs, are often overlooked.  Priority is placed on developing and expanding tax incentives to encourage companies to create jobs and endorsing actions like anti-immigrant legislation that hinder Hispanic workers’ access to employment.  These choices are to the detriment of workers and businesses alike, thus undermining job growth initiatives.

There is a need for significant policy adjustments at the state level to ensure that jobs in the fastest-growing industries are available to Latinos, the fastest-growing segment of workers.  Given the diversity of Latino workers, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work when developing strategies to meet their unique needs.  This is especially true for Latinos in the South Atlantic.  Disproportionate numbers of Hispanics in the region possess limited formal education or English proficiency and largely have inadequate access to language training.  For example, among Latinos over the age of 25 in Georgia, 44.2% have not completed high school and 70.5% have limited English proficiency.  If we look at this same population next door in Florida, we find that just 26.3% do not have a high school diploma and 57.4% speak English less than very well.  Solutions and approaches must be tailored to local needs.

Now more than ever there is a need for policymakers to ensure that Latinos have a seat at the table to inform the job creation agenda at the state level.  The needs and concerns of the Hispanic community should no longer be an afterthought.  The early warning signs uncovered in Now Hiring?  Latinos and the Job Creation Policies in the South Atlantic call for serious policy discussions on how to ensure that jobs are within reach for a broader share of workers and their families.  It is paramount that in this time of limited resources legislators endorse customized policy solutions that benefit employers and cultivate the workforce for years to come.  These discussions can’t wait because our economy won’t work without Latinos.

Read NCLR’s latest study, Now Hiring?  Latinos and the Job Creation Policies in the South Atlantic, to learn more about the barriers that Latinos face in the labor market and why job creation policies are failing to maximize the employment potential of America’s rapidly growing workforce.  For more information, please contact Alicia Criado, Policy Associate at NCLR, at acriado@nclr.org.

We’re a Unified Voice for Communities

By Jesus Altamirano, Regional Field Coordinator, Colorado

Not much can keep our Affiliates down when they band together.

Our Colorado Affiliates know this well. Recently, NCLR Affiliates El Comite de Longmont, Scholar-to-Leader Academy, GOAL Academy, and Mi Casa Resource Center, descended on Denver to speak to U.S. Senators Mark Udall (D) and Michael Bennet (D) about the impact of the impending debt crisis, the so called “fiscal cliff.” Like NCLR, our Colorado Affiliates are concerned about the effects extreme cuts would mean to the millions of American Latino families who rely on vital social services and they expressed just that to their senators.

Kudos to our Colorado Affiliates for being champions for communities! Check out some photos of their advocacy below and then tell us what the impending fiscal cliff crisis could mean to you.

Colorado advocates in their meeting Colorado advocates outside the meeting Colorado advocates in their meeting

The Federal Housing Administration: Unsung Hero of the Housing Market

By Jose A. Garcia, Policy Fellow, Wealth-Building Policy Project

The Federal Housing Agency (FHA) is one of the unsung heroes of the housing market.  Despite helping to save the housing market following the mortgage crisis in 2007, the FHA is continuously attacked, erroneously, for its commitment to provide mortgage liquidity in times of need and encourage lending to low income households.

American Enterprise Institute (AEI) recently released a report on the riskiness of the Federal Housing Administration’s (FHA) lending practices.  The report conflates and confounds data to reach misleading conclusions and recommends unnecessary changes.  FHA’s current financial challenges are overwhelming due to loans insured between 2007 and early 2010 as well as a single loan product:  seller-financed mortgages.  However, its losses are not due to creditworthy borrowers with lower credit scores and lower down payments, and AEI would do well to remember that correlation is not causation.  Furthermore, FHA no longer insures seller-financed loans.

If that is not enough for you, let’s look into this further.  For decades, lenders have been able to successfully provide reliable and sustainable mortgage products to low income communities across the country that are profitable for the markets and fair to vulnerable borrowers. A decade long study conducted by UNC Center for Community Capital of 46,000 low-income homeowners found that of those who received traditional 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages with a small down payment, 95% of homeowners were paying their mortgages. UNC’s study shows that correctly structured home loans to low-income households perform quite well, leading to sustainable homeownership and sound business opportunities for lenders.

For many low- and middle-income American households and communities of color, the FHA is a critical part of the mortgage lending repertoire to access homeownership.  By insuring loans made by private lenders—even during severe economic downturns—the FHA provides stability to the housing market and access to credit.  This was never truer than after the recent housing crisis, when credit became difficult to access and many lenders turned to the FHA.  Now the 78-year-old agency may need help to continue its good work, and if it does, American taxpayers should lend a hand.  Doing so benefits not only families looking to purchase their first home but the economy at large.

The FHA helped hold down the fort as the housing market reeled from the aftermath of bad loans and Wall Street greed.  Based on an analysis by Moody’s analytics, the agency’s actions in 2011 alone helped prevent housing prices from decreasing an additional 25% and from a 40% decrease in the sales of new and existing homes, saving three million jobs and half a trillion dollars in economic output.  By stepping in, the FHA rescued tens of thousands of middle-class families from losing their home equity and, in many instances, their homes.  The agency did this by backing a larger share of mortgage originations as private investors fled the housing market.  At the peak of the housing bubble,  FHA insured one-third of loans made in 2009, compared to 5% before the alarms rang in 2006.

Despite the important role that the FHA played in keeping the housing market from total economic collapse, Edward Pinto from AEI stated that, “This paper reports on a comprehensive study that shows the FHA is engaging in practices resulting in a high proportion of low- and moderate-income families losing their homes.”  Fiscal projections point to a shortfall between what the FHA needs to cover all its claims over the next 30 years and how much it has on hand.  FHA’s possible shortfall was not caused by lending to low- and middle-income households but rather due to maintaining liquidity in the housing market.  The shortfall does not mean a definitive need for taxpayer monies to cover it—it will be months before we know that for sure.

The FHA has already addressed unsustainable programs that contributed to its trouble.  Its seller-financed down payment assistance program, which called for the originator to cover the down payment, often resulted in originators inflating the purchase price of a home in order to do so.  This in turn led to financially unstable loans, especially during the recession, that resulted from the subprime debacle.  Congress banned the program from FHA insurance in 2008, after FHA had tried to eliminate the program for years.

While the seller-financed down payment program did not work, most FHA products do.  Low- and middle-income borrowers and communities of color have benefited from sustainable and profitable mortgage loans insured by the FHA.  The FHA provides a necessary service that the conventional market does not provide.  However, by pointing fingers at the FHA, critics are undermining the ability of an agency that has been critical in keeping the mortgage market accessible and affordable, providing sustainable pathways to homeownership for millions of Americans.

Now It’s Personal: Viewing the Fiscal Cliff from the Perspective of Youth

By Mario Enríquez, Líderes Associate, NCLR

The fiscal cliff has been a hot topic in recent weeks.  From the TV screen to endless posts on our newsfeeds, we can see that the fiscal cliff will not be good for anyone, especially youth.  As a young person you may ask yourself, “What is the fiscal cliff and how exactly does it affect me?”  Some might say, “Why should I care about this?”  The reason is simple:  Out of all the demographic groups in this country, young people will feel the impact of the fiscal cliff the longest, not only now but for decades to come.  Yes, many of us may not earn enough right now to potentially lose $2,000 in taxes, but we should consider how this will affect us down the road.

Failing to avert the fiscal cliff will only exacerbate the already deep hole we are digging for ourselves with our national student debt and our unemployment rate.  As a member of the Millennial Generation, I have seen my friends struggle to find a job that fits their career goals. Black and Latino youth, who are the fast-growing segments of our young people, are suffering unemployment rates of 23% and 18% respectively.”  These rates are much too high, and we cannot bear the burden of inaction from Congress.

We grew up believing in the notion of the American Dream, that if we work hard we can succeed and prosper in America.  We have aimed to achieve this dream for ourselves, for our families, and for our communities.  We know the value of hard work and are ready to join the workforce in our respective fields.  Young people across this country should not have to worry about massive student debt.  We need to start holding the Obama administration and Congress accountable to ensure that we, too, have a fair shot at pursuing the American Dream.

I ask you to think about your personal situation and what life would be like if you didn’t have opportunities to succeed.  What would that mean for you?  We are the leaders of today and tomorrow, and I know that if we stand our ground and make our voices heard, Congress will listen.  We need to start taking action not just for ourselves but also for our families who we fight for every single day.  Let’s get out there and show the power we have as rising leaders in this country!

Fiscal Cliff Will Add to Texas Education Budget Woes

By José Ibarra,Texas Field Organizer and Capacity-Building Strategist, NCLR

For Texas, a state that experienced a $27 billion shortfall during the last legislative session and cut $5.4 billion from the state education budget, going over the fiscal cliff will add yet another problem to an already contentious issue.  Of the education funds slashed in 2011, $1.4 billion was cut from grants and discretionary spending that largely impacted full-day pre-k, parent engagement, bilingual, after-school, credit recovery, and dropout prevention programs—all of which are largely attended by students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including many Latinos.

Should lawmakers in Washington, DC fail to resolve the fiscal cliff, the Texas budget will fall short by more than $1 billion.  Over half that amount will come out of an already taxed education budget in a state where 62% of the student population is composed of racial or ethnic minorities.

A further cut of slightly more than $1 billion could translate into further job and program losses, including the firing of 1,400 teaching and educational support jobs.  This would come on top of 25,000 layoffs for teachers and support staff in 2011 and 2012, despite an increase of approximately 332,000 students in the last four years.  Most of the service cuts will come from Title I grants and special needs programs, which already operate on limited funds and affect underprivileged students.

The bottom line is that Texas cannot afford additional financial strains, especially with regard to the education budget that already saw drastic cuts in 2011 and prompted six lawsuits in state courts surrounding school finance.  It is our obligation to urge federal lawmakers to resolve the fiscal cliff and prevent further cuts to the programs and services that affect the well-being of our children, our state, our economy, and our country.

Housing on the Precipice

By Jose Garcia, Policy Fellow, Wealth-Building Policy Project, NCLR

Home for GoodAs 2013 approaches, the clock most people are watching is not in Times Square but in Washington, DC, where the countdown to the fiscal cliff has begun.  Lawmakers face a self-imposed deadline of December 31 to figure out how to deal with tax hikes and spending cuts.  If an agreement is not reached, the Congressional Budget Office projects that it could cost the U.S. two million jobs next year.  This drastic job loss could hamper the housing recovery, and the timing could not be worse.

The U.S. is still reeling from a recession that drained more than $17 trillion in wealth from American families, disproportionately affecting low- and middle-income families and communities of color.  Hispanic families lost an alarming 66% of their household wealth.  Their ability to save and invest in their families, their communities, and our nation’s economy has been severely limited by high rates of unemployment, stagnant wages, and an increased cost of living.  Yet on the cusp of a new year, the U.S. is trying to balance the budget by putting the confidence of consumers and our few, hard-earned economic inroads at risk.  For Latino families, the fiscal cliff could mean a return to double-digit unemployment, affecting their ability to keep a roof over their heads.

If an agreement is not reached, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will suffer 8.2% in cuts to a number of programs, including $1.5 billion to tenant-based rental assistance and $4 million to its Housing Counseling Program.  For homeowners, fewer jobs could lead to a new wave of foreclosures as newly unemployed workers struggle to make mortgage payments.  Decreases to funding for housing counseling could further erode Latino home equity, as there will be less assistance available to help families save their homes.

Cuts to housing subsidies put at risk the housing of millions of families who rely on these subsidies to make ends meet.  For these renters, this assistance provides a way to cover the cost of basic living expenses and survive economic shocks from unplanned emergencies like car repairs.

The fiscal cliff also threatens to slow the momentum in the housing market, as nervous consumers may be less likely to purchase a new home.  Uncertain about tax hikes or job losses, prospective buyers may hold off on purchasing a home until they feel more secure about their economic prospects.  Fewer homebuyers could stall growth of the housing market, and from there the fiscal cliff could lead to an economic slump that may result in greater reliance on economic assistance.

As was evident during the last election, the issues that are important to Latinos can no longer be ignored.  Hispanic voters have rejected a strategy that would focus only on spending cuts.  Instead, Latinos want to see a balanced approach that raises revenue by requiring everyone to pay their fair share of taxes.  Like all Americans who are still recovering from a deep recession, Latinos are most concerned with rebuilding our nation’s economy.  Recent polls show that Latino voters overwhelmingly support strategic investments in education and infrastructure over cutting taxes as the best way to spur economic growth.  The fiscal cliff provides the U.S. with an opportunity to work toward a better future for all by helping our workforce acquire the skills needed in today’s market, and by taking care of the elderly who worked tirelessly to make the U.S. one of the most prosperous nations in the world.  This can all be accomplished while still balancing the budget and avoiding sequestrations.  We need to be smart about the budget challenges that our nation faces.  We cannot afford to put the housing of working families at risk just to keep giving tax breaks to rich individuals and corporations.

We Need Immigration Reform to Keep Families Together

Janet MurguiaBy Janet Murguía, President and CEO, NCLR

(This post is part of the Moms Rising blog carnival, “Protecting Family Unity, Strengthening Communities and Ensuring a Thriving Economy with the Contributions of Immigrants.” Be sure to visit the site and read the contributions of more than 30 Congressional, non-profit leaders, and advocates from around the country.)

Every morning in this country, mothers and fathers focus on getting their children ready for school and then get to work themselves. But imagine having to do all this knowing that at any moment your family could be separated thanks to outdated immigration policies. This is the reality for nearly one in ten American families, in which at least one parent is a non-citizen and one child is a citizen.

One example of this kind of family is Liz and Jose. Liz, a U.S. citizen, is married to Jose, an undocumented immigrant, and they have three children who are also U.S. citizens. In addition to providing for the family and sharing household responsibilities, Jose has been supportive of Liz as she advances in her career and pursues new opportunities as a medical support specialist. Liz and Jose have established deep roots in their community. They bought a home and they attend their local church every Sunday, going out for tacos after.

However, shortly following a camping trip, Jose was detained by the police and turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE initiated removal proceedings and Liz was told to purchase a one-way plane ticket for Jose to return to Mexico, a country he had not seen in years. Liz contacted an attorney and a local advocate to help keep her family together. She wrote, “I want the love of my life back home with his family, our children, and me so we can continue to live the life and the future that we had planned for our kids. My babies Zarrianna, Osvaldo, and Esteven want daddy back home.”

There are millions of children and spouses who have been separated from their loved ones in this way. They are now enduring tremendous pain and struggling to survive without their support. We hear their stories all too frequently. Families should be able to thrive together and provide the best that they can for their children. Instead of a process that tears families apart, our country deserves a common-sense immigration policy, one that includes a roadmap for people who are working hard and desperately want to be full members of our great country. We need Congress to pass immigration reform that reflects our strong American values of family, hard work, and opportunity.

We’re Taking Our Concerns about the Fiscal Cliff Straight to the White House!

If you’ve been following us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or our blog, you know that we’ve been doing lots of work on the so-called “fiscal cliff” that has been bandied about in the media over the past few weeks.

At NCLR, we’re especially proud to bring you a message from one person who had a seat at the table where these talks are happening.  This past Friday, Fernando Garavito joined Vice President Joe Biden and others to talk about the impact that the fiscal cliff will have on Latino families.  Fernando, who works for NCLR Affiliate CASA de Maryland, joined the lunch as a representative of the Latino community, along with others who represented people with disabilities, students, African Americans, and more.

Check out Fernando’s short story below and let us know what falling off the fiscal cliff will mean to your family.  Share your own story here or in the comments below.

Here are a few other stories we have received from our network:

Nancy: Taxes on the extremely wealthy should be returned to the levels they were during President Clinton’s administration. People making $250,000 or less should have their taxes kept low so that we do not fall back into a recession.

Wayne: The wealthy have had it easy for years not only because they don’t have financial problems like we of the middle class, but because they have a huge surplus of money to meet emergencies unlike we of the middle class. Since they have benefited most by the growing debt, it is only fair that they now “pay their dues”!

Linda: We have a 32 yr old daughter who is bi-polar and will never be able to hold a job. Her husband took her children and dropped her on our doorstep. Because of cuts, in the state she gets no legal help, no financial aid, and no medicaid. That means she is not able to get all the medication she needs and she can’t get a lawyer to fight her husband for it. We are struggling ourselves (my husband is a disabled veteran who is still job hunting 4 months after getting a Master’s in Social Work) and all we can do is give her a place to stay and food to eat. In two months we will have to start paying back student loans even though my husband has not found work. Any cuts will just make it harder.