To the Proposed Gun Violence Prevention Measures, We Say Yes

Children's Mariachi
Photo by: Kate Gardiner

In a statement yesterday, NCLR praised President Obama’s bold actions to stem gun-related violence in America through 23 executive orders and renewed calls to Congress to stop the pipeline of guns that contribute to the carnage of innocent people.  We were especially pleased to see that the issue was being addressed from a broader lens than solely mass shootings, as tragic and heartbreaking as they are.  We need a holistic approach to this complex issue which also addresses the violence that communities of color face on a daily basis.

“We praise the president’s swift, thoughtful action as well as his challenge to Congress to enact new measures and broaden this long-overdue national conversation,” said our President and CEO, Janet Murguía.  “There are many promising first steps in his announcement, including measures aimed at getting guns out of the hands of the wrong individuals.”

Action on the president’s proposal couldn’t come soon enough.  Today in America, every three hours a young person is killed by firearm violence.  Every 14 hours, that teen or child is Latino.  These rates do not reflect an environment where all Americans are free to worship, assemble, and live as they please.  They are simply unacceptable.

Because we know our children disproportionately suffer from policing in schools and a punitive educational atmosphere, putting even more armed guards in our children’s schools cannot be the solution to reducing this kind of violence.

Instead, we applaud the president’s responsiveness to a concerned civil rights community with a pronouncement of efforts to break the “school-to-prison pipeline” in poor majority-minority schools, as well as his efforts to reinstate access to mental health services for disadvantaged students.  For the first time in years, resources are proposed to allow more flexibility for mental health and social resources to be directed toward behavioral problems.

“We are hopeful that local, state, and federal lawmakers will work with the White House on policies that do not just address the accessibility of guns,” said Murguía, “but also ensure that we are providing the kind of support, guidance, counseling and mental health services that can help children—especially youth routinely exposed to violence—learn to cope with issues without resorting to violence.”  We hope to work with them in the next year to flesh out proposals.

Cervical Cancer and Latinas: Twitter Chat This Tuesday!

By Ricky Garza, Communications Department, NCLR

How does cervical cancer affect you?

Your answer might be “not very much,” but you should know that all Hispanic women are at higher risk of developing the disease after contracting human papillomavirus (HPV).  Fortunately, there are easy steps you can take to minimize your risk.

This Tuesday, January 22 at 5:00 p.m. EST, find out what those steps are when Cervical Cancer Free America and the Center of Excellence in Women’s Health at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health partners with us to host a Twitter chat on cervical cancer and Latinas.  Follow #LatinoHealth on Twitter to join the conversation and promote preventative practices in your community!

We’ll be talking about commonsense ways to protect yourself and your loved ones from contracting HPV, including getting vaccinated, getting regular Pap tests, always using a condom, not smoking, and limiting your number of sexual partners.  More than all other ethnic groups, Latinas suffer from disproportionate diagnosis and eventual death from cervical cancer, but that can be changed with increased Pap tests and preventative measures.

Now, as part of health care reform, most women should qualify for a free Pap test without a co-pay at least once every three years.  Today, about three out of four Latinas have had a test in the last three years.  Together we can reach 100%!

Join us and Cervical Cancer Free America on Tuesday to make cervical cancer history!

Don’t Believe the Detractors: We Can Fix Immigration Now

You’ve undoubtedly heard by now about the president’s plan to push for immigration reform in the first year of his second term.  This is a fast-moving train, to be sure, but members of both political parties have already indicated that they are ready to bring something forward.  For the first time in more than a decade, it looks like we might pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Detractors of reform, however, have recently started claiming that Congress must “get its priorities straight” and focus instead on shoring up the U.S. economy.  The idea is that the immigration fight (and a host of other issues that the president has prioritized) is not one we can afford to wage at this point.  It should be put on hold…again.

Naturally, we disagree.  If American families can focus on more than one issue at a time, so can Congress.  We sent our very own Clarissa Martínez-De Castro to Thom Hartmann’s The Big Picture to drive this point home.  Representing the opposition was conservative columnist David Selig.  The interview is tense at times but well worth watching.  The segment in question begins at 15:00 and lasts about ten minutes.

The Immigrant Experience as Told Through Pop Music

Happy Saturday!

Immigration reform is kicking into high gear and for the first time in more than five years, our leaders in Washington are talking seriously about making reform a reality.

In that spirit, we offer you a new video from the recording artist, IMMI featuring Gray Devio. “Immigrant” sends a powerful message about who we are in America and why people from around the world flock to be part of our grand experiment.

Enjoy!

Combating Cervical Cancer in the Latina Community

By Marcela Vargas, Project Coordinator, Institute for Hispanic Health

Cervical Health Awareness MonthFor me, the word “cancer” is one of the most frightening words in the English language. As someone whose family has been touched several times by this ugly word, I understand the fear and anxiety that even thinking about cancer can bring about. Like anything worrisome, it’s tempting to push that word out of our minds and pretend that cancer doesn’t exist. However, I also understand the danger of ignoring it.

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month and it’s an issue that hits us close to home at NCLR for several reasons. For starters, Latinas have the highest rate of cervical cancer among racial groups and the second highest rate of death from cervical cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Despite these high rates of disease and death, Latinas age 18–44 have lower screening rates than Whites and Blacks.

What’s particularly heartbreaking about cervical cancer, however, is that it is not only highly preventable, but also highly treatable. Getting routine Pap tests is a valuable way of catching cervical cancer when treatment is still simple and effective. The CDC reports that 60% of cervical cancers occur in women who have never received a Pap test or have not been tested within the last five years.

So why aren’t Latinas getting tested? Research on this topic has found that there are a lot of factors that come into play. Common reasons women don’t get tested include embarrassment, cost, and fear of getting abnormal results. However, there are also many factors that promote cervical cancer screening. For example, low-cost or free services for cervical cancer screenings exist at places such as federally funded health centers or Title X family planning clinics. And, in terms of education, we here at NCLR are doing our part to empower and promote the well-being of the Latina community.

I recently started working at NCLR, focusing on their Mujer Sana, Familia Fuerte (Healthy Woman, Strong Family) project. Mujer Sana, Familia Fuerte was funded by the CDC in late 2009 to address the need for effective cervical cancer education among Latinas. This community-based project seeks to improve knowledge, change attitudes, and get women to seek cervical cancer screenings, especially among Latinas in Washington, DC and Chicago. I’m happy to report that thanks to partnerships with inspiring organizations and the work of some dedicated promotores de salud (lay health workers), we’ve been able to reach thousands of Latinas with important cervical cancer prevention information.
If I’ve learned anything from my time working here and my family experiences, it’s the power of getting tested. Sure, the thought of getting tested or receiving an abnormal result can be daunting, but the thought of not finding out in time to do something about it is much more frightening.

Keep visiting the NCLR blog for more in this series as we take a closer look at cervical cancer for Cervical Health Awareness Month.

Our Affiliates Are Paving the Way for Safer Communities

PromiseNeighborhood_pic
Photo: Department of Education

When it comes to education, our Affiliates make the grade. The federal government has also taken note.

Recently, the Department of Education announced the winners of the 2012 Promise Neighborhoods grants. Three of our Affiliates were among 17 organizations that received a total of $60 million in grants. At a speech on school safety in Washington, DC, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan emphasized the role that Promise Neighborhoods plays in keeping communities safe.

“Children must be safe, healthy, and supported by adults across an entire community to reach their fullest potential,” said Duncan in a press release. “Against all odds, Promise Neighborhoods work to provide families and children with the support they need to help break the cycle of poverty that threatens too many of our nation’s communities.”

The NCLR Affiliates that received the grants are Youth Policy Institute (YPI) in Los Angeles, Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) in San Francisco, and Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation in Brooklyn, New York.

Promise Neighborhoods, first launched in 2010, is a community-focused program that funds local-led efforts to improve educational opportunities and provide comprehensive health, safety, and support services in high-poverty neighborhoods. To help leverage and sustain grant work, 1,000 national, state, and community organizations have signed on to partner with a Promise Neighborhood site, including over 300 organizations supporting 2012 grant winners. The grants are part of the Obama administration’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, which is aimed at breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty through what the White House calls “innovative and inclusive strategies that bring public and private partners together.”

YPI and MEDA are both receiving implementation grants, which will help the two Affiliates build upon previous work that was funded with planning grants. Each Affiliate is set to receive $6 million.
Cypress Hills has been awarded a planning grant in the amount of $371,222.

“NCLR congratulates all three Affiliates who are exceptional models of community-based organizations,” said Sonia M. Pérez, NCLR Senior Vice President, Strategic Initiatives. “Their dedication, efforts and results exemplify the power of the NCLR Affiliate Network and the roles that these organizations play in strengthening neighborhoods across the country.”

Fewer Dreams Deferred in California Thanks to New Law

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Photo: Office of Antonio Villaraigosa

For undocumented students in California, 2013 brings a new blessing.  As of January 1, California has started letting undocumented students access the state’s public financial aid system.

From the Riverside Press-Enterprise:  “The law covers students who attended high school in California for at least three years and graduated from a California high school.  It also benefits U.S. citizens and legal residents who attended California high schools but later moved out of state, making them previously ineligible for state financial aid.”

The projected number of students expected to apply for the grant is 20,000, less than 1% of the state’s college students.  Still, a contentious debate ensued upon the bill’s introduction in the legislature.  Relentless advocacy, however, from thousands across the state helped ensure the bill’s passage.  NCLR’s Affiliates were among that number.

TODEC Legal Services, an NCLR Affiliate, and its community programs director, Luz Gallegos, helped organize instrumental lobbying trips.  More from the Riverside Press-Enterprise:

“Luz Gallegos, community programs director for TODEC Legal Services, a Perris immigrant-assistance group, said that when immigrants obtain higher-paying jobs, they contribute more in taxes.

“Under an Obama administration policy that went into effect in August, young undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements can obtain temporary work permits.

“In 2011, Gallegos traveled three times with a busload of other Inland residents to Sacramento to lobby for passage of the Dream Act.”

We congratulate all the dedicated activists and organizations that were instrumental in this legislative victory.  DREAMers in California are one step closer to fulfilling their potential.

Quick fix: Recent Mortgage Settlement Still Leaves Latino Homeowners Vulnerable

By Janis Bowdler, Director, Wealth-Building Policy Project, NCLR

Sign Of The Times - Foreclosure
Photo: Jeff Turner.

With all the commotion that surrounded the fiscal cliff debate, it was easy to overlook the recent news of yet another new mortgage settlement that will pay cash to homeowners who experienced fraud or abuses committed through mortgage servicing. The settlement replaces the Independent Foreclosure Review (IFR)—an enforcement action made by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) against servicers under its supervision for violations in the foreclosure process—with $8.5 billion in cash payments. Not only does the amount pale in comparison to the need, the abrupt change in approach also puts the credibility of the entire process in jeopardy.

The Independent Foreclosure Review (IFR) was a terribly flawed enforcement action during which banks hired independent consultants to assess abuses and compensate the homeowner. The project was severely inefficient and used an underwhelming amount of public outreach to inform families that it was there to help them. As a result, participation was low; as of December 13, only 356,000 of the estimated 4.4 million families eligible have filed for assistance. To further muddy the waters, several of the reviewing groups chosen to serve as “objective” entities were not actually disinterested parties. Though the OCC claimed to thoroughly vet such groups, they have since removed some participants due to conflicts of interest.

The good news is that the settlement could reduce the immense cost and bureaucracy required to conduct the reviews, thereby speeding aid to families who have been waiting much too long. However, this is small consolation in light of the potential pitfalls of this approach. The deal—which was negotiated with an alarming level of secrecy—could leave struggling homeowners with another failed program. The deadline to file a request for review was pushed back several times because of inadequate outreach conducted by OCC and the servicers, evidenced by the dismal participation rates. In fact, despite launching in November 2011, the OCC and servicers only implemented a dedicated campaign to reach hard-hit neighborhoods, including communities of color, over the last six weeks. Moreover, we have not seen any data indicating whether or not the outreach was successful.

Poor outreach notwithstanding, news reports suggest the OCC has arbitrarily determined that those who filed for a review will be awarded greater compensation, even though this has nothing to do with a person’s level of harm. It is not fair to determine after the fact that filing for a review entitles you to a higher level of compensation. If families knew about this in advance, they would have been more likely to file before the agreement.

That the sluggish IFR process halted in such an abrupt and nontransparent manner is truly unfortunate, as it will undoubtedly impact millions of Americans and the economy as a whole. Experience shows that quick fixes come up short in delivering relief and justice to families who have been irreparably harmed by wrongful foreclosures and other servicing abuses. If corrective action is not taken, the OCC will miss yet another opportunity to help the most harmed families, reinforce accountability through data collection, and lay tracks to avoid future offenses.

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.