By: Melissa Brown and Kirsten Fiscus, Montgomery Advertiser
Before Johnny Ford drove into downtown Tuskegee and climbed into an electronic lift bucket with a saw on Wednesday, he prayed. When the saw touched the concrete ankle of the Confederate soldier statue perched over the town square, he remembered. Ford remembered his childhood friend, Sammy Younge, a Black Navy veteran and civil rights worker gunned down in 1966 after asking to use a whites-only bathroom. Ford remembered Tuskegee University students streaming into town streets when Younge’s accused killer was acquitted, attaching chains and ropes to the towering monument to the Confederacy in a failed effort to pull it from its pedestal. “I pledged then to remove the statue,” Ford said. On Wednesday July 7, 2021, Ford attempted to fulfill his pledge to remove the “painful” Confederate memorial from the heart of his hometown. In the early afternoon, Ford and another, unidentified person began sawing at the leg of the downtown statue. “I was doing it for Sammy Younge. And the students who tried to pull the statue down,” Ford said. ” … The message has been sent. Everybody has just been waiting on someone to do it. It’s my council district. It’s my responsibility to do it. The people elected me, in this district. This is the first time the county and city government have taken a position to see it removed. Of course, they haven’t been able to do it because of the legal [implications]. They’re afraid of the threats from the Legislature and the attorney general. But I’m not afraid of the governor and the attorney general.” Ford said the two stopped sawing at the request of Macon County Sheriff Andre Brunson, who got wind of the attempt Wednesday afternoon and came to the square. “Looks like he had a chop saw or something. I told him he wasn’t going to destroy the statue, not knowing he’d already chopped through one ankle,” Brunson said. “… He said he was doing it for whatever reason, and I told him he’s not going to destroy it. He was talking about what it stands for, and I told him I’m not going to allow you to commit a crime in front of me.” Ford said he moved to physically remove the statue from its platform, not damage it, after his council district constituents voted in a public meeting last week to take action. Brunson said Ford and others could face multiple charges, including destruction of property. Ford could also face civil penalties under Alabama’s Monument Preservation Act, which prohibits a local government from legally removing a monument 40 years old or older. Cities that do so face fines up to $25,000. “I welcome that. Sometimes you have to get into good trouble in order to bring about change,” Ford said, referencing a familiar refrain from the late civil rights leader John Lewis. “During the ’60s, we were fighting for voting rights and we went to jail. We did what we had to do. This issue is very, very serious with me. This statue represents slavery. It stands for the Confederacy, whose fight was to keep slavery. My forefathers were enslaved. I take that very, very seriously.” In a telephone interview with the Greene County Democrat, Ford said, “ The Confederate statue is now on its last leg, we hope it will soon b e removed since the City Council and County Commission have voted that it be moved from the Tuskegee Town Square.”
Black family eligible for Child Tax Credit Good news for parents: Monthly payments through the new federal enhanced child tax credit will begin July 15. The credit will go to roughly 39 million households with about 65 million children, or 88% of children in the U.S., according to the IRS. The expanded credit was established in the American Rescue Plan signed into law in March. In 2021, the maximum enhanced child tax credit is $3,600 for children younger than age 6 and $3,000 for those between 6 and 17. Those payments will be sent out as an advance on 2021 taxes in monthly installments that could be as much as $300 per month for younger children and $250 per month for older ones. The credit is per child in each household, meaning a family with three children ages 4, 8 and 12, for example, could receive up to $800 on a monthly basis (A $300 credit for the 4-year-old, and $250 each for the older kids.) “For working families with children, this tax cut sends a clear message: Help is here,” said President Joe Biden in a Monday statement. Here’s what families need to know ahead of the July 15 start. Who qualifies for the maximum credit? Most American families qualify for some amount of money through the child tax credit. The full credit is available to married couples with children filing jointly with adjusted gross income less than $150,000, or $75,000 for individuals. The enhanced tax credit will phase out for taxpayers who make more money and cease for individuals earning $95,000 and married couples earning $170,000 filing jointly. Taxpayers who make more than that will still be eligible for the regular child tax credit, which is $2,000 per child under age 17 for families making less than $200,000 annually, or $400,000 for married couples. Most families eligible to receive the payments don’t have to do anything right now, according to the IRS. The agency will use the information filed on 2020 tax returns first to determine eligibility and will notify taxpayers, Ken Corbin, commissioner of the IRS’ Wage and Investment Division, during a Friday tax conference. For those who haven’t filed 2020 taxes, the IRS will use 2019 returns. The IRS is also working to make a portal available for non-filers to submit their information and receive the credit. The agency also plans on making an additional portal for taxpayers to submit other changes going forward, such as updating family information if there’s a change in custody, which parent is claiming the child and credit or if you have a child during the year. How will payments be sent? As with the stimulus checks sent out by the IRS earlier this year and last, most of the monthly child tax credit payments will be sent by direct deposit — some 80% of those eligible will get the money this way, according to the agency. If the IRS has direct deposit information on your tax return, it’s likely this is how you’ll receive the monthly credit. If you don’t have direct deposit, the IRS will also be sending out paper checks and debit cards to some families. When will future payments be sent? The IRS said that future payments will be made on the 15th of each month, unless the 15th falls on a weekend or holiday, at which point the money will be sent on the closest business day. Families can plan their budgets around receiving the payment mid-month, the IRS said. So far, the monthly payments are only scheduled to continue through the end of 2021. Families will receive the second half of the credit when they file their 2021 taxes in 2022. But that could change — President Biden has suggested making the enhanced credit available through 2025, and other Democrats want to make it a permanent benefit. Can I opt out? What happens if I do? Families can opt out of receiving the monthly payments for the credit through an IRS portal. Those who do this won’t get the monthly amounts but will still receive the full credit they are eligible for when they file their 2021 taxes in 2022. Some families may choose this route because they don’t need the monthly payments immediately or prefer to get a large lump sum of money back from the IRS as a tax refund, said Elaine Maag, a principal research associate at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center “There’s evidence that shows that some people really like getting that large tax refund, and can use it as an opportunity to purchase a large household item like a refrigerator or put together first and last month’s rent so they can move,” she said. To see how much you could expect to receive, personal finance website Grow created a calculator that factors in your filing status, annual income and the number of dependents you have.
Today, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, along with several other civil rights organizations wrote Democratic members of Congress urging them to close the Medicaid coverage gap in upcoming legislation. The groups pointed out that the current coverage gap leaves over 2 million people, including 600,000 African Americans living in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas living below the poverty line, without access to affordable health insurance coverage. “In the states that have undertaken it, Medicaid expansion has narrowed racial and ethnic disparities in both coverage and access to care, and it has saved lives. But these more than 600,000 African Americans living in the eight Southern states that have refused to take up the Medicaid expansion have experienced none of these gains, solely because of where they live. Overall, 60 percent of people in the coverage gap in the 12 non-expansion states are people of color, reflecting long-standing racial and ethnic disparities in health care access that Medicaid expansion would do much to address. In these states, African Americans are 19 percent of the adult population but 28 percent of those in the coverage gap,” they noted. The groups also urged members of Congress to address the coverage disparity in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “The COVID-19 pandemic amplified pre-existing inequities in health care, with deadly consequences for many in the Black community as well as other communities of color,” they said. “Therefore, we are urging Congress to address this by providing a federal pathway to coverage for the millions of African Americans and other people of color shut out of their state’s Medicaid program.” Given the systemic racial and economic disparities in the American healthcare system, the groups concluded by insisting that Congress move to address this coverage gap immediately, to ensure that mistakes of the past are not repeated to the detriment of the most vulnerable communities. You can view the full letter at the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights webs
Zaila Avant-garde understood the significance of what she was doing as she stood on the Scripps National Spelling Bee stage, peppering pronouncer Jacques Bailly with questions about Greek and Latin roots. Zaila knew she would be the first African American winner of the bee. She knew Black kids around the country were watching Thursday night’s ESPN2 telecast, waiting to be inspired and hoping to follow in the footsteps of someone who looked like them. She even thought of MacNolia Cox, who in 1936 became the first Black finalist at the bee and wasn’t allowed to stay in the same hotel as the rest of the spellers. But she never let the moment become too big for her, and when she heard what turned out to be her winning word — “Murraya,” a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees — she beamed with confidence. It was over. Declared the champion, Zaila jumped and twirled with joy, only flinching in surprise when confetti was shot onto the stage.“I was pretty relaxed on the subject of Murraya and pretty much any other word I got,” Zaila said. The only previous Black champion was also the only international winner: Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica in 1998. The bee, however, has still been a showcase for spellers of color over the past two decades, with kids of South Asian descent dominating the competition. Zaila’s win breaks a streak of at least one Indian-American champion every year since 2008. Zaila has other priorities, which perhaps explains how she came to dominate this year’s bee. The 14-year-old from Harvey, Louisiana, is a basketball prodigy who owns three Guinness world records for dribbling multiple balls simultaneously and hopes to one day play in the WNBA or even coach in the NBA. She described spelling as a side hobby, even though she routinely practiced for seven hours a day. “I kind of thought I would never be into spelling again, but I’m also happy that I’m going to make a clean break from it,” Zaila said. “I can go out, like my Guinness world records, just leave it right there, and walk off.” Many of top Scripps spellers start competing as young as kindergarten. Zaila only started a few years ago, after her father, Jawara Spacetime, watched the bee on TV and realized his daughter’s affinity for doing complicated math in her head could translate well to spelling. She progressed quickly enough to make it to nationals in 2019 but bowed out in the preliminary rounds. That’s when she started to take it more seriously and began working with a private coach, Cole Shafer-Ray, a 20-year-old Yale student and the 2015 Scripps runner-up. “Usually to be as good as Zaila, you have to be well-connected in the spelling community. You have to have been doing it for many years,” Shafer-Ray said. “It was like a mystery, like, ‘Is this person even real?’” Shafer-Ray quickly realized his pupil had extraordinary gifts. “She really just had a much different approach than any speller I’ve ever seen. She basically knew the definition of every word that we did, like pretty much verbatim,” he said. “She knew, not just the word but the story behind the word, why every letter had to be that letter and couldn’t be anything else.” Most of the bee was held virtually, and only the 11 finalists got to compete in person, in a small portion of a cavernous arena at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Florida that also hosted the NBA playoff bubble last year. The in-person crowd was limited to spellers’ immediate family, Scripps staff, selected media — and first lady Jill Biden, who spoke to the spellers and stayed to watch. The format of the bee, too, underwent an overhaul after the 2019 competition ended in an eight-way tie. Scripps’ word list was no match for the top spellers that year, but this year, five of the 11 finalists were eliminated in the first onstage round. Then came the new wrinkle of this year’s bee: multiple-choice vocabulary questions. All six remaining spellers got those right. Zaila won efficiently enough — the bee was over in less than two hours — that another innovation, a lightning-round tiebreaker, wasn’t necessary. She will take home more than $50,000 in cash and prizes. The runner-up was Chaitra Thummala, a 12-year-old from Frisco, Texas, and another student of Shafer-Ray. She has two years of eligibility remaining and instantly becomes one of next year’s favorites. Bhavana Madini, a 13-year-old from Plainview, New York, finished third and also could be back.
By: The Philadelphia Inquirer PHILADELPHIA — President Joe Biden called the right to vote “a test of our time” and urged Americans to protect it amid GOP-led changes to election laws and threats to voting rights, casting the battle as a globally watched test of U.S. democracy in a speech at the National Constitution Center on Tuesday. “We’re facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War,” Biden said in a roughly 25-minute speech to supporters. We’re facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War,” Biden said in a roughly 25-minute speech to supporters. “That’s not hyperbole — since the Civil War.” He directly tied the fight to former President Donald Trump’s false attacks on the 2020 election, while pointing to the numerous courts cases, audits, and reviews that have upheld the result. “The big lie is just that: a big lie,” he said. “You don’t call facts ‘fake’ and then try to bring down the American experiment just because you’re unhappy. That’s not statesmanship, that’s selfishness. That’s not democracy, that’s the denial of the right to vote. It suppresses. It subjugates.” He called for efforts to pass Democrats’ sweeping voting rights bill, the For the People Act, blasted false attacks on the 2020 election, and repeatedly said that U.S. allies were watching the fight for signs of the health of the world’s leading democracy. Biden also called for voters to rise up in opposition to Republican legislation. But at the same time, he offered little hint of how Democrats’ sweeping voting reforms could make it through Washington, indicating the limits of his powers and how far he is willing to push, even as allies urge him to support an end to the Senate filibuster. Republicans argue that Democrats are trying to impose national standards on elections, tilt the rules in their own favor, and force major taxpayer funding of campaigns, as part of Democrats’ plan to reduce the influence of big political donors. “After Democrats failed to pass their federal takeover of our elections … Biden is continuing their dishonest attacks on commonsense election integrity efforts,” said a statement from Republican National Committee spokesperson Danielle Álvarez. “Meanwhile, Republicans are engaged in state-led efforts to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat, and polling shows Americans overwhelmingly support these laws.”
By Rebekah Barber, first published in Facing South, the on-line magazine of the Institute for Southern Studies
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Southern states have been among those that have done the least to protect their residents from contracting the deadly virus. They were some of the last to impose mask mandates and among the first to reopen after temporary shutdowns. And many sectors in the region, like poultry processing, never shut down at all. That makes it particularly striking that essential workers in Southern states disproportionately fall in the Medicaid coverage gap. Not provided health insurance through their jobs and unable to afford it in the private market, these workers risk their lives to keep the economy running — and disproportionately die in the process. Eight of the 12 states that have refused to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act are located in the South: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, and South Carolina. All have Republican-controlled legislatures. A recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) looked at data from 2019, the year before the pandemic hit, and calculated that over 550,000 people working in essential or frontline industries fall in the Medicaid coverage gap. The states with the greatest number of essential workers in the coverage gap are Texas (209,000) and Florida (98,000) — GOP-led states that have had notoriously ineffective public health responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. In total, over 2 million people living in Southern states fall into the gap. “A large body of research demonstrates that Medicaid expansion increases health insurance coverage, improves access to care, provides financial security, and improves health outcomes,” the report states. CBPP also documented glaring racial disparities, finding that people of color make up 60% of those in the Medicaid coverage gap even though they account for only 41% of the non-elderly adult population in non-expansion states. In Texas, 74% of those in the coverage gap are people of color, while Black people account for a majority of people in the coverage gap in Mississippi and 40% in Georgia and South Carolina. At the same time, people of color face a higher risk of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and death. In Alabama, 48% of the 11,300 people who have died to date from the coronavirus, did not have health insurance (that is over 5,400 people). The report notes that about three in ten adults in the coverage gap have children at home. And a third are women of childbearing age, meaning that if they get pregnant, they can apply for existing Medicaid coverage. However, the coverage would not begin until they are determined to be eligible, meaning they could miss out on critical prenatal care during the first months of pregnancy. CBPP points to an Oregon study that found Medicaid expansion was associated with an increase in early and adequate prenatal care. In addition, CBPP calculates that about 15% of people in the Medicaid coverage gap have disabilities. That includes 7% with serious cognitive difficulties, and more than 6% who have difficulty with basic physical activities such as walking, climbing stairs, carrying, or reaching. In the years leading up to the pandemic, states that expanded Medicaid cut their uninsured rates by half. That made them better prepared for both the ensuing public health crisis and consequent economic downturn, which resulted in an estimated 2 million to 3 million people nationwide losing employer-based coverage between March and September. Efforts are now underway in the Democratic-controlled Congress to find a way to bring Medicaid to more essential workers — and Americans in general — despite Republican resistance at the state level. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a Texas Democrat, recently proposed the “Cover Outstanding Vulnerable Expansion-Eligible Residents (COVER) Now Act.” The bill, which already has over 40 cosponsors, would authorize the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to work directly with counties, cities, and other local governments to expand Medicaid coverage in states that have refused to do so. It’s based on previous successful demonstration projects in several counties in California, Illinois, and Ohio, and it’s won the endorsement of groups including the American Diabetes Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the Texas Academy of Family Physicians. “The COVER Now Act empowers local leaders to assure that the obstructionists at the top can no longer harm the most at-risk living at the bottom,” Doggett said in a statement. Counties and municipalities would be able to get Medicaid coverage for their citizens on the same basis as initially offered to states – the first three years free and the next four years, the local contribution would rise to 10% of costs. No explanation is given of where the local funding would come from, to pay for the matching contributions over time. And over in the Senate, Raphael Warnock of Georgia this week announced that he is drafting a proposal that would bypass his state’s Republican leadership while calling on the White House to include a “federal fix” in the next jobs package. Warnock told reporters that he’s hoping to introduce legislation soon. The Georgia Recorder has reported that Gov. Brian Kemp (R) is pushing a plan to expand Medicaid to about 50,000 additional Georgians, but the Biden administration has put the brakes on it over concerns that it requires participants to rack up 80 hours of work, school, or other qualifying activity every month to gain and keep their coverage. In a letter sent last month to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Warnock and U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia suggested that one possible solution could be a federal Medicaid look-alike program run through the CMS. “We have a duty to our constituents and a duty to those suffering from a lack of access to health care to provide for them when they are in need,” Warnock and Ossoff said in the letter. “We can no longer wait for states to find a sense of morality and must step in to close the coverage gap and finally ensure that all low- and middle-income Americans have access to quality, affordable health care.” The details of the Warnock-Ossoff proposal for a “Medicaid look-alike”, available through the ACA marketplace, have not been spelled out. The critical details of coverages and costs remain to be worked out and also face the question of who bears the 10% matching costs. In Alabama, 300,000 or more working poor people are caught in this Medicaid coverage gap. These people who need healthcare the most and who have been shown to be most vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic, could be provided with healthcare if Governor Ivey were simply willing to sign the agreements with CMS/HHS to expand Medicaid. Resources are available in the American Recovery Act to incentivize and pay Alabama’s initial three years of costs to expand. After three years, health experts project that the state could realize new tax revenues, from the thousands of new jobs created, to pay for the continuing 10% matching cost of providing this desperately needed coverage to those who most need it. The SaveOurselves Movement for Justice and Democracy has waged a seven-year unrelenting campaign, including some acts of civil disobedience, to try to persuade the Governor of Alabama to Expand Medicaid. Leaders of SOS say they will not stop their campaign until the goal is reached. Some additions, relevant to Alabama, were made to this article by John Zippert, Co-Publisher and Editor of the Greene County Democrat.
Grand Ethopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Nile River in Africa
By: Doyinsola Oladipo
July 6 (Reuters) – The United Nations called on Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt on Tuesday to recommit to talks on the operation of a giant hydropower dam, urging them to avoid any unilateral action, a day after Ethiopia began filling the dam’s reservoir. The U.N. Security Council will likely discuss the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) this week after Arab states requested the 15-member body address the issue. Ethiopia says the dam on its Blue Nile is crucial to its economic development and to provide power. But Egypt views it as a grave threat to its Nile water supplies, on which it is almost entirely dependent. Sudan, another downstream country, has expressed concern about the dam’s safety and the impact on its own dams and water stations. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres backs the role of the African Union in mediating between the countries, Guterres’ spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York. Report ad “What is also important, that there be no unilateral action that would undermine any search for solutions. So, it’s important that people recommit themselves to engage in good faith in a genuine process,” Dujarric said on Tuesday. Egypt’s irrigation minister said on Monday he had received official notice from Ethiopia that it had begun filling the reservoir behind the dam for a second year. Egypt said it rejected the measure as a threat to regional stability. The U.S. State Department on Tuesday said Ethiopia’s filling of the GERD had the potential to raise tensions, as it also urged all parties to refrain from unilateral actions on the dam. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States called for all parties to commit themselves to a negotiated solution acceptable to all sides. Report ad Solutions needed to be guided by example, said Dujarric. “Solutions… have been found for others who share waterways, who share rivers, and that is based on the principle of equitable and reasonable utilization and the obligation not to cause significant harm,” he said.
By Stacy M. Brown NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has joined two of her House of Representatives colleagues in filing bipartisan legislation to improve the federal government’s vehicle safety testing practices, specifically those involving the use of crash test dummies. The Furthering Advanced and Inclusive Research for Crash Tests Act would order a comprehensive Government Accountability Office (GAO) study of current federal vehicle safety tests and how those tests impact the safety of all drivers and passengers. Co-authored by Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-FL), the measure requires a GAO evaluation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) failure to use crash test dummies that represent the driving public, especially women, while assessing vehicle safety through its 5-star safety rating program. Congresswoman Norton provided statistics to show that current tests fail to use crash test dummies representing women, especially in the driver’s seat, even though research suggests that women have a higher likelihood of being killed or significantly injured in a car crash. “Alarmingly, 8,500 women were killed in car crashes in the U.S. in 2018, with 61 percent of the women being in the driver’s seat,” the Congresswoman noted. The total number of traffic crashes in the District of Columbia have steadily been on the rise since 2013 with the highest number of crashes occurring in 2016 at 26,525, after which the total number of crashes remained relatively steady, according to the most recent D.C. Traffic Safety Report. The bipartisan legislation would also require the GAO to compare NHTSA’s practices to other safety rating programs, such as in Europe, and evaluate options for strengthening the agency’s vehicle safety testing to reduce gender-based disparities in car crash outcomes. The bill requires NHTSA to submit an interim report to Congress explaining what new advanced crash test dummies it is currently studying for potential use in its 5-star safety rating program. In the Senate, companion legislation has already been filed by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), who serves as Chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, and Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE). The Peters-Fischer legislation has been included as part of the Senate Commerce Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill.“When a vehicle has met or exceeded national safety standards- consumers should have every confidence the product has truly earned a safety seal of approval of the U.S. government,” Congressman Bilirakis wrote in a statement. “I was startled to learn of allegations related to the gender inequality of auto safety tests. I think of my wife, my mother, my sister-in-law—and all the women in my life who have made what they believed to be informed purchases for their family automobiles.” Congressman Bilirakis continued: “I guarantee you none of them are aware of any gender disparity in the testing of the cars they purchase. The idea that physiological differences between men and women can impact crash safety is pretty intuitive. “It seems logical to me that the required safety tests should reflect current demographic information regarding gender driving patterns: meaning that the number of female drivers and the vehicles they want to drive should be used to determine how frequently female crash dummies are used in safety tests. This important legislation will modernize the tests being used and improve safety for all drivers.” The NHTSA is failing in its mission, and it tragically costs thousands of lives every year, Congresswoman Castor added.“Women are almost 75 percent more likely than men to die or receive a serious injury when they are involved in an automobile crash, and it’s time we modernize tests and save lives,” she continued. “Millions of American women get behind the wheel of a car every day, and we must swiftly act to correct the inequalities in current tests and improve standards, so that female drivers are as safe as their male counterparts. This bill is a good first step to ensuring women are safe in cars and holding NHTSA accountable.” Congresswoman Norton asserted that women had achieved equality on the road when it comes to driving.Still, when it comes to safety testing to keep them safe while driving, they are nowhere near achieving equality. “Crash test standards are so antiquated that we must update these standards now, especially as more people return to their daily commute in the next few months,” Congresswoman Norton declared.
(TriceEdneyWire.com) – In recent years, consumer finance protections withered through a series of harsh attacks that either outright rejected or significantly diminished financial guard rails in the marketplace. But a new consumer victory, urged by a groundswell of support from everyday people, academicians, and bicameral legislators signals an important step toward fair financial rules. On June 30, President Joe Biden’s signature ended an ill-advised rule that favored predatory loans instead of America’s consumers. Predatory loans, such as payday loans, disparately impact African-Americans and other people of color. “These are so called ‘rent-a-bank’ schemes”, said President Biden at the June 30 signing ceremony. “And they allow lenders to prey on veterans, seniors, and other unsuspecting borrowers tapping in the — trapping them into a cycle of debt. And the last administration let it happened, but we won’t.” Days earlier on June 24, a bipartisan vote of 218-208 in the U.S. House of Representatives sent a key financial rule change to the President’s desk. Just a few weeks earlier the Senate had passed the same bill with a bipartisan vote. Using authority from the Congressional Review Act, the votes sought to eliminate a recently passed regulation. In this case, the goal was to nix the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) “fake lender” rule issued late in the Trump Administration. As the nation’s seat of government, Capitol Hill is a place where an array of interests vies for both attention and influence. Lean-budgeted but principled public interest organizations can often find themselves disadvantaged by deep pocketed interests. That’s why it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate overcoming stacked odds to forge changes that result in real life benefits for everyday people and small businesses alike. Especially for Black America and other communities of color, solid steps toward ending billion-dollar financial exploitation are particularly deserving of attention. Historically, we have already borne the brunt of predatory greed. “Eliminating this harmful OCC rule will prevent more people from being exposed to high-interest loans that pull borrowers down deep into debt and despair,” said Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) Director of Federal Campaigns Graciela Aponte-Diaz.“Nixing the rule will curb the spread of predatory loans that target Black, Latinx, and low-income individuals – many of whom are struggling from the economic downturn. This action will allow states to protect their residents by enforcing their state interest rate laws.” As reported previously in this column, OCC’s “True Lender” rule gave a green light to predatory lenders. By effectively overriding a string of state laws in almost every state enacted to prevent abusive payday, car-title, and installment loans with explosive interest rates of more than 100 percent took effect in late December 2020. Payday and high-cost installment lenders paid fees to banks for use of their name and charter to dodge state interest rate laws by claiming the bank’s exemption from those laws for itself. Consumer advocates referred to the rule change as a ‘Fake Lender’ as the real lender is the predatory non-bank lender – not a bank. Reactions to the successful consumer challenge soon followed. One of the first public comments came as a joint statement from two key U.S. Senators. “Striking down the Trump ‘Rent-a-Bank’ rule will help prevent predatory lenders from ripping off consumers and charging loan-shark rates under deceptive terms”, noted Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and co-sponsor of the resolution. “The OCC, when it allowed banks to evade state interest rate caps, betrayed hard-working families and attacked states’ ability to protect their citizens from predatory loans,” added Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the committee’s chair. “Congress showed the people we serve that we’re on their side.” For California’s Congresswoman Maxine Waters, chair of the House Financial Services Committee, the resolution rids the nation of financial rubbish. “The Trump-era ‘True Lender’ rule is a back-door way for nonbanks to charge triple-digit interest rates on loans at the expense of consumers in states where voters turned out to pass interest rate cap laws,” said Waters. “No wonder some call this the ‘fake lender’ rule.” Just how much financial harm resulted from the ill-advised rule has been documented by the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), a member of a diverse coalition that advocated repeal. According to NCLC, predatory small business lenders are using the fake lender rule to defend a 268% annual percentage rate (APR) rate on loans totaling $67,000 to a Black restaurant owner in New York, where the criminal usury rate is 25%, and secured by property in New Jersey, where the legal limit is 30%. The lender pretended that the nominal participation of a bank based in Nevada justified its astronomical rate. Nevada has no interest limits on loans. In another example, OppLoans (also known as OppFi), an online lender offers 160 percent APR loans in 26 states that prohibit triple-digit rate loans. This lender has also cited the OCC’s fake lender rule to defend its loan to a disabled veteran in California, where the usury rate on the loan is 24 percent. OppLoans is also evading state rate cap laws supported by broad majorities of voters in Arizona, Montana, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Even in states where legislatures have enacted rate caps, the fake lender rule would have essentially negated those rate cap protections. For consumer advocates, along with their partners in the civil rights, faith, and veterans’ communities, revoking the fake lender rule is a step towards a national loan rate cap of no more than 36 percent. Years ago, bipartisan enactment of the Military Lending Act awarded double-digit rate cap protections for men and women in uniform. It’s time for all of America to have the same financial protection.
Charlene Crowell is a Senior Fellow with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached A tCharlene.email@example.com.
After a battle with UNC, Hannah-Jones will be tenured professor at Howard University’s Cathy Hughes School of Communications.
By Bruce C.T. Wright, NewsOne Howard University just added two more notches to its HBCU championship belt when it caught everyone off-guard Tuesday morning with its latest high-profile hires. Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist whose public dispute over tenure at the University of North Carolina may have prompted Howard to make her an offer, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, an award-winning writer in his own right, are joining the Cathy Hughes School of Communications as professors effective immediately, the school announced. Jones who is known for her work on the New York Times “1619 Project” illuminating the impact of the enslavement of Black people on American history, was selected for the position at the University of North Carolina, her alma mater, but not given tenure because of conservative opposition to her appointment. Hannah-Jones will serve as the newly created Knight Chair in Race and Journalism at Howard University — a tenured position — and Coates will be a faculty member in Howard’s College of Arts and Sciences. Together, they will work to establish the Center for Journalism and Democracy. Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick said the appointments of “two of today’s most respected and influential journalists” who are also experts on race and culture is a necessity for the future generation of journalists. “At such a critical time for race relations in our country, it is vital that we understand the role of journalism in steering our national conversation and social progress,” Frederick said in a statement. “Not only must our newsrooms reflect the communities where they are reporting, but we need to infuse the profession with diverse talent. We are thrilled that they will bring their insights and research to what is already a world-class, highly accomplished team of professors.” The positions are being funded by a donation of nearly $20 million from the Knight Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation and one anonymous donor. The announcement about Hannah-Jones was especially a surprise given her public battle after her offer to be the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism for the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media did not include tenure. After pressure from Black faculty and the community, the UNC board of trustees finally voted, 9 to 4 last week, to grant Hannah-Jones tenure. Hannah-Jones, who is a graduate of UNC’s journalism school, explained why she decided against accepting UNC’s amended offer. “Historically Black colleges and universities have long punched above their weight, producing a disproportionate number of Black professionals while working with disproportionately low resources,” Hannah-Jones said Tuesday in a statement e-mailed to NewsOne. “It is my great honor to help usher to this storied institution these significant resources that will help support the illustrious, hardworking, and innovative faculty at the Cathy Hughes School of Communications and the brilliant students it draws.” She added: “Many people, all with the best of intentions, have said that if I walk away from UNC, I will have let those who opposed me win. But I do not want to win someone else’s game.” Coates, for his part, is no slouch, either. The Howard graduate made a name for himself as a music and culture journalist before being recognized for his historic work at the Atlantic, including a seminal piece in 2014 making the case for reparations. The author of three books has also won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 2015 for “Between the World and Me,” which was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.