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To Fight Racism, Protect Voting Rights

The cold-blooded murder of nine people at a Charleston church made it impossible to deny the persistence of racism across the nation. So do the symbols of support for slavery and segregation that remain emblazoned on public property throughout the South, and scattered among some Northern states as well.

What will it take to bring real racial justice to our country? For starters, protecting the right to vote.

A century after the end of the Civil War, Southern segregation thrived because of lynch laws, poll taxes, and other institutional restrictions on African Americans. One of the great achievements that finally broke the back of Jim Crow was the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which enshrined the right to vote in federal statute for the first time.

The Voting Rights Act mandated federal review of any new voting rules in 15 states, most of them in the South, with histories of discrimination at the polls. Two years ago, the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision on Shelby County v. Holder effectively gutted the enforcement tools of the federal voting law.

The right to vote is still the law of the land — in principle — but the Supreme Court ruling turned the protection of those rights over to state and local authorities.

Since the ruling, states such as Arizona and Kansas have passed restrictive voter ID laws. And North Carolina ended early voting and same-day registration.

They’re far from alone, and this voter suppression isn’t limited to the states that joined the Confederacy. But I can’t help wondering how jurisdictions that still wrap themselves in the rebel flag can be counted on to safeguard fair voting rights.

To protect against discrimination, Congress must pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act. The bill would repair the damage the Supreme Court inflicted two years ago on voter protections.

The Senate version, introduced by Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy, would provide federal observers where necessary. It would also require federal permission for states to change their voting laws, and it mandates bilingual voting materials where appropriate.

You’d think that following a tragedy like the one that struck the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a bill protecting voting rights would sail through Congress. Sadly, you’d be wrong.

What are the stonewalling legislators so worried about? The answer is clear: The black vote threatens them.

Black voters accounted for 12 percent of the national electorate in the 2014 elections, up from 11 percent in 2010 but below the significant 13 percent in 2012. That year — when President Barack Obama was running for reelection — black turnout eclipsed white turnout by about 2 points.

In some Southern states, such as North Carolina, African-American voters make up over 20 percent of the electorate. Black voter turnout in that state has increased dramatically in the last 15 years.

With the 2016 election right around the corner, maybe that’s something Southern Republicans are worried about. After all, they’ve already denied residents of most Southern states access to Medicaid expansion and a living wage. Now they’re threatening their voting rights too.

By all means, take down those Confederate flags. Move the monuments to museums. But more importantly, begin addressing the deeper issues those symbols represent — both in the South and throughout the country. Legislators must raise a flag guaranteeing the right to vote for everyone.

LeeAnn Hall’s Statement on King v. Burwell (with Fred Azcarate and George Goehl)

Today is a major victory: the Supreme Court rejected King v. Burwell, an attack against the Affordable Care Act that attempted to deny quality health care to millions of people in the United States.

Together with Fred Azcarate, executive director of US Action and George Goehl, executive director of National People’s Action, I would like to share this statement with you:

“Today. The Supreme Court rejected an attack on the Affordable Care Act, our country’s health care law. Now, more than 6.4 million people, many with health insurance for the first time, can rest assured that their health coverage won’t be stripped away.

Our work isn’t done. Many people – disproportionately people of color – are still shut out of health care because of cost, the language they speak, or state lawmakers’ refusal to expand Medicaid. It’s time to stop fighting over whether people have a right to health care – and time to make quality health care a reality for everyone.

We call on obstructionists in Congress to end their assault on health care once and for all. Stop trying to repeal, defund, and undermine the Affordable Care Act.”

The Alliance for a Just SocietyUSAction and National People’s Action led grassroots organizations nationwide to fight for health care for everyone in our country. The ACA was a major victory, overwhelmingly popular, and it’s here to stay.

Want to do more?

Click the Health Care for America Now petition to tell obstructionists “Hands Off ACA!”

The law is working – now it’s time to make sure everyone has access to quality health care.

Report: Racial Health Disparities Magnified in California Under ACA

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Contact:
Kathy Mulady, communications director
kathy@allianceforajustsociety.org
(206) 992-8787

Breaking Barriers to Health Care Access in California

“Obamacare didn’t cause the widespread racial disparities we found,
but neither did it solve them.”

More Californians than ever before have health insurance, but coverage isn’t care, and the Affordable Care Act has magnified the deep racial, ethnic and cultural disparities in accessing quality health care in California.

Latino and African Americans especially remain heavily uninsured and struggle to receive health care.

Language and cultural barriers, lack of Internet or an email address, a lack of experience in using health insurance, a shortage of doctors and clinics in poor and rural communities, and high costs are preventing many from receiving health care and medications.

A new report “Breaking Barriers: Improving health insurance enrollment and access to health care in California,” reveals a deep divide between social class, income, culture and ethnicity emerging under the state’s Covered Care.

“It’s unconscionable that so many have been left out of something as basic as the chance to enjoy good health,” said Gary Delgado, author of Breaking Barriers. “Lack of Internet access or speaking another language is not a reason to be locked out of a health system that purports to be open to all.

“Obamacare did not cause the widespread racial disparities we found, but neither did it solve them. Now we have to take them on directly,” said Delgado.

“Breaking Barriers” s a year long study that includes a survey of nearly 1,200 low-income people in 10 states in Spanish, Cantonese, and English. They were contacted at food banks, health clinics, and homeless centers.

Alfredo DeAvila did surveys and interviews for the Breaking Barriers California report.

“If the ACA is going to be successful, we need to help people transition not only into the health insurance system, but also into the health care system,” he said. “We must invest in public education about how to get ongoing preventive care.”

The Korean America community, especially seniors are struggling because of costs, said DJ Yoon, executive director of NAKASEC (National Korean American Service and Education Consortium.)

“California can be a leader in assuring quality health care for all people. We have let people of color again slip through the cracks in our system, we can do better – and here is a roadmap for how we get there,” said Delgado.

Key recommendations in the report include:

  • Improve language access. Make provider directories available in multiple languages and list addresses, phone numbers, languages spoken, hospital affiliations, and specialties.
  • Simplify the insurance-shopping experience. Make cost information transparent and communicate clearly about deductibles, co-pays, and preventive services that are included.
  • Covered California should enforce and impose penalties on insurers who do not reduce racial health care disparities within required timeframes.
  • Assure that primary care providers are within 30 minutes driving or public transit time. Enrollees who must travel further should be offered free transportation.
  • Expand school-based health centers, especially in medically underserved communities.
  • Address underlying causes of poor health, especially in poor communities, (mold, infestations, domestic violence) Expand medical-legal partnerships as an avenue toward addressing poor health in low-income communities.
  • Reinforce the ACA-mandated “well-woman preventive” care and provide education about the value of preventive care for all. Ensure that all plans include reproductive health care services.
  • Require that new enrollees are offered a free physical exam, appropriate screening tests and other preventive care within 60 days of enrollment.

Here is the link to the full Breaking Barriers in California report: http://allianceforajustsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/BBReport_CALIF.pdf

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The National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC) brings a progressive voice to civil rights and immigrant rights issues and promotes full participation of Korean Americans in building a movement for social change.

The Alliance for a Just Society is a national policy, research and organizing network focused on racial and economic justice. The Alliance has produced pivotal reports for 20 years on state and national health issues including Medicaid, prescription drugs, and insurance industry practices.

 

Progressive Leaders Unveil Shared Populist Agenda

MEDIA ADVISORY CONTACTS:   Populism2015 logo

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Jacob Swenson-Lengyel (jacob@npa-us.org), 312-316-3973

PROGRESSIVE LEADERS UNVEIL SHARED POPULIST AGENDA

Populism2015 Conference Will Bring 1,000 People From Across the Country Together in Washington, D.C. this Weekend

Washington, D.C. – Progressive leaders today unveiled a new shared populist agenda on a media conference call in advance of the Populism2015 conference. This agenda is galvanizing the progressive populist community and defining the debate going into the 2016 elections.

“There is a bottom-up progressive populist sentiment building in this country,” said George Goehl, Executive Director of National People’s Action, “It’s no secret that we are looking for political leadership, but we are also not waiting for that leadership. Populism2015 and the agenda we are organizing is one sign of that. The ideas in our agenda create a clear line in the sand for all candidates. At the end of the day the question is simple: do you stand with everyday people or do you stand with big-monied corporate interests?”

“This platform has been shaped by the key issues that determine the direction of our communities and our national economy,” said Roger Hickey of the Campaign for America’s Future. “We are taking the questions raised by our platform to the national political debate and to communities across the country.”

“In 18 months, we will go to the polls and choose a new president. Those candidates and all the others on the ballot in 2016 will have choices to make,” said Fred Azcarate, Executive Director of US Action, “Will they stand with working families and advance bold ideas that create an economy and a democracy that works for us all? Or will they side with the rich and Wall Street?”

“When you organize, you can win. Our power is in our numbers,” said LeeAnn Hall, Executive Director of the Alliance for a Just Society. “Our organizations have worked together on many issues to put the powerful on notice and to demand accountability from corporations ­– and from Congress.  We will use that strength to wrest our nation back from the corporate class, from the bankers and billionaires who put profits ahead of people.”

“Collectively we bring together a team of 600 organizers who will fight to move these ideas into the national conversation,” said Goehl. “They will be working in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and beyond to make sure candidates of both parties have to articulate where they stand on these issues.”

Populism2015 is sponsored by National People’s Action, Campaign for America’s Future, USAction, and Alliance for a Just Society, four organizations that collectively employ more than 600 professional organizers, with on the ground operations in 32 states, and a network of more than two million activists. For more information visit https://populism2015.org/

What:         POPULISM2015: BUILDING A MOVEMENT FOR PEOPLE AND THE PLANET

Who:        National People’s Action, Campaign for America’s Future, USAction, Alliance for a Just Society

When:     Saturday, April 18 – Monday, April 20, 2015 Registration 3 p.m. April 18 | First session: 6 p.m.

Where:     Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington D.C.

Highlights:
Plenary: Sun. April 19, 1:30 pm with Rep. Keith Ellison and Vien Truong of the Greenlining Institute
Rally: “Don’t Trade Away Our Future,” Mon. April 20, 12pm at 600 17th Street NW, Office of the US Trade Representative, Opposing Fast Track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership featuring Senator Bernie Sanders, CWA President Larry Cohen, National Radio Commentator Jim Hightower

Website:     populism2015.org

Social Media:  #Populism2015, #PeoplePlanet1st

Leaders Available for Interviews Before Conference

  • Robert Borosage, Campaign for America’s Future

  • George Goehl, National People’s Action

  • LeeAnn Hall, Alliance for A Just Society

  • Fred Azcarate, USAction

    To arrange interviews with the conference leaders and grassroots activists contact Isaiah J. Poole (ipoole@ourfuture.org), 202-641-1414 or Jacob Swenson-Lengyel (jacob@npa-us.org), 312-316-3973.

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Household Debt Is a National Crisis

Years after Toni Potter’s husband passed away from pancreatic cancer, debt collectors in her state of Washington were still relentlessly hounding her about his hospital bills.

Andrea Anderson, a young student in Oregon, has been saddled with $150,000 in college loans as she pursues her dream of becoming a social worker. She knows she’ll be paying the loans back for decades, threatening her other dreams of buying a home or starting a family.

Linda Mock of Idaho was trapped by a payday loan that quickly grew from the original $300 to more than $900 in interest alone. Trying to break free of the debt, she took out a title loan on her car and ended up losing her only transportation.

Family debt is no personal failing — it’s a national crisis. Even as unemployment declines, the debt crisis is holding back a full economic recovery and pushing more people into poverty.

That’s why President Barack Obama announced recently that he’s instructed the Department of Education and other federal agencies to do more to help borrowers afford their monthly loan payments.

That’s a step in the right direction. 

But I’d urge him to go further and rein in the lenders, banks, and collection agencies that are profiting from Americans’ debt. It’s time to stop blaming borrowers and instead hold the financial interests that created the crisis accountable.

When hospitals give big price breaks to insurance companies but refuse to work with a widow struggling to make ends meet, something’s not right.

When a federal student loan provider charges young students nearly twice the interest it charges homeowners, something’s not right.

When payday lenders can get away with charging 300-percent interest on a short-term loan to a poor family just trying to fix their car so they can get to work, something’s not right.

The explosion of predatory lenders hurts families and siphons money out of local economies. There are more than two payday-lending storefronts for every Starbucks coffee shop in the United States.

Meanwhile, more than 70 percent of the students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree leave school deep in debt. The average student loan debt totals almost $30,000 today, up from $19,000 a decade ago.

For many Americans, there’s no way out.

Student loans can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. Some states will take your your driver’s licenses and professional certifications if you fall behind in your student loan repayment.

And if you can’t afford your legal fees, you could go to jail — just for being poor.

It’s time to break the shame around debt and start putting the responsibility for solutions where it belongs: on those profiting off struggling families. That means placing fair caps on interest rates, ending predatory practices that push people further into debt, and creating a path out of debt for people who are struggling.

Recently, folks from different communities across the country came together for a national online conference, “Up from Debt,” hosted by my organization, the Alliance for a Just Society. People from Seattle to New York shared powerful and moving stories — not to gain sympathy, but to erase the stigma that further burdens families trapped in debt.

The Obama administration should investigate all forms of predatory lending, including student loans, payday loans, medical loans, mortgages, and credit cards. On the White House website, you can sign a petition asking the president to create a pathway out of debt so families can reclaim their futures.

Our children, our neighbors, our parents, the sick, and the struggling aren’t cash cows for bankers and lenders to milk. It’s time to demand solutions that help families move up from debt.

LeeAnn Hall is the executive director of the Alliance for a Just Society, a national policy and organizing network that works on racial, health and economic justice issues.

 

Working Families Need Good Jobs – Not Just Any Job

Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its January jobs report, showing that 257,000 jobs were added last month. Increasing jobs is great news, but only if those jobs allow workers and their families to make ends meet.

The numbers have been praised, especially the average hourly wages that “soared 12 cents” to $24.75. While wages did increase in January, that “soaring” was compared to a decrease in wages in December, and was only 7 cents higher than wages reported in November. Additionally, 20 states increased their minimum wage in January, which would on its own increase average hourly wages.

In the latest installment of the Job Gap Economic Prosperity Series, “Low Wage Nation,” we show that most of the country’s job growth is in low wage jobs paying less than $15 per hour. Occupations like retail sales and food service top the list of jobs with the most new openings, yet these occupations have some of the lowest wages in the country.

Such jobs do not pay enough for a single adult to make ends meet, let alone a parent with children. Additionally, women and people of color are also overrepresented in these low-wage occupations, leaving them less likely to earn enough to provide for themselves and their families.

Nearly half of all new job openings are low wage, and nationally there are seven job seekers for every job opening that pays at least $15 per hour. That means that six of those seven job seekers must either take a lower-paying job, or go without work, as there aren’t enough jobs of any wage level for all of the nation’s job seekers.

“There are still too many people out of work, and too few living wage jobs to go around. We need to invest in good paying jobs and celebrate once our workers are able to make ends meet,” said LeeAnn Hall, executive director of the Alliance.

Increasing the minimum wage does help increase workers’ wages across the board – we saw some of that in January’s job growth, and we can see more if more cities and states increase their minimum wage.

However, we also need to increase the number of jobs available that actually pay a living wage by investing in good paying jobs, like those in the health care industry. Once our workers are able to make ends meet, it will truly be cause for celebration.

Minimum Wage Shouldn’t Force Workers to Live in Poverty

On New Year’s Day, 20 states raised their minimum wages. That leaves a lot of states that aren’t increasing the minimum wage — along with the federal government.

Even some of those employees who are getting increases don’t have much to celebrate. Workers in Florida might barely notice their 12-cents-an-hour raise. And the extra 15 cents an hour in Montana, Arizona, and Missouri will be wiped out with inflation and climbing costs before the first paycheck is deposited.

U.S. legislators have refused since 2009 to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour — not even close to enough for full-time workers to make ends meet.

To put it bluntly, minimum wage is a poverty wage. Yet only 29 states have minimum wage rates higher than the federal rate — and some just barely.

In last year’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

Although Congress turned a deaf ear, activists took up the challenge. “Fight for $15” movements across the country won among the most powerful progressive victories of 2014.

Cheers to cities like Seattle and San Francisco with minimum wage plans that will increase rates to $15 an hour in the next few years. Huge congratulations to voters in Oakland, California, as well in Arkansas, South Dakota, Nebraska, and others who voted for significant minimum wage increases.

But the truth is, while it’s a great start, none of these increases goes far enough, or lifts workers out of poverty fast enough. What’s needed is a living wage that allows full-time workers to cover their basic needs and have a little savings left over in case of an emergency.

The Job Gap Economic Prosperity series — a collection of research reports by theAlliance for a Just Society — shows that a living wage comes to over $15 an hour for a single adult in most states studied. A parent supporting a child needs to earn closer to $22 or $23 an hour.

Women and people of color are least likely to earn a living wage, with half or more working full-time and not making enough to make ends meet.

Poverty-level pay is taken for granted at restaurant chains like McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts, and major retailers like Wal-Mart, that would rather invest in government lobbyists to keep wages low than in their employees.

“If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it,” Obama implored Congress in his latest State of the Union address. “If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.”

The sub-minimum wage for tipped workers has been stuck at $2.13 an hour for 24 long years. Imagine going to work every day, hoping beyond hope that the tips will make up for the tiny hourly wage. No worker should be a second-class employee.

Refusing to pay employees a wage they can live on isn’t a business plan. Paying employees enough so they can shop or dine at your business or neighboring businesses and grow the local economy — now that’s smart.

A full-time job should lead to financial stability, not poverty. We must continue to push Congress to raise the federal minimum wage and abolish the separate tipped minimum wage.

In the meantime, keep up the “Fight for $15.” We know that we can motivate our mayors, city councils, and state legislators by speaking out, sharing our stories, and presenting the facts. Most importantly, we have to vote.

Let’s make 2015 the year for $15 — and really have something to celebrate next New Year.

LeeAnn Hall is the executive director of Alliance for a Just Society, a national research, policy, and organizing network striving for economic and social equity. AllianceforaJustSociety.org
Distributed via OtherWords.org

Only 52 percent of Full-Time Workers of Color Earn Enough to Make Ends Meet

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Nov. 18, 2014
Contact: Kathy Mulady, communications director
kathy@allianceforajustsociety.org

Only 52 percent of Full-Time Workers of Color Earn Enough to Make Ends Meet

Just 57 percent of women and 42 percent of Latino workers earn enough working full time to cover their basic needs

SEATTLE — During this season of abundance, many full-time workers across America don’t earn enough for a single person to survive, much less to support a family. The staggeringly low percentage of women and people of color who earn a living wage is especially troubling.

“Equity in the Balance,” a report by the Alliance for a Just Society released today, details just how few women, people of color, and non-citizens in the U.S., working full-time, make a living wage — that is, earn enough income to cover basic expenses.

Only 61 percent of all full-time workers earn a wage that allows a single adult to make ends meet. Only 57 percent of women, and just 52 percent of people of color make a living wage. Just 42 percent of Latino workers earn enough to make ends meet. Among non-citizen workers, only 38 percent earn more than $15 per hour.

“A system that unjustly and persistently leaves people of color over-represented in low-wage work is economic racism,” said LeeAnn Hall, executive director of the Alliance for a Just Society. “Policies that keep women over-represented among low-wage workers is gender discrimination.

“It’s time to increase the national minimum from a $7.25 poverty wage to $15 an hour to ensure that full-time work pays enough to do more than barely survive, and so our families and economy can thrive.”

“Equity in the Balance” is a groundbreaking report, said Dorian Warren, associate professor of political science at Columbia University.

“No one in the country is talking about economic racism – and here, in this report, are the numbers that clearly illustrate its existence and its impact,” Warren said. “When people talk about poverty, race has disappeared from the conversation. The economy and race have become uncoupled in our country.”

Policies and practices in the U.S. have perpetuated low wages in jobs and industries where women and people of color primarily work. 

“ ‘Equity in the Balance’ provides a stark national picture of what we’ve been seeing over the past decade in the restaurant industry, one of the largest private-sector employers in the nation. Women and people of color bear the brunt of the country’s growing income inequality gap,” said Saru Jayaraman, director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

“Increasingly, the only jobs available to all people are low-wage jobs,” Jayaraman said. “The difference for women and people of color is that they are never able to move out of these jobs and into positions that will allow them to support their families.”

Women of color struggle even more, and are forced to make difficult choices to provide for their children.

“For the first time in history in the U.S., women make up half of the paid labor force.  Many of them are moms who are either the sole breadwinner or the primary breadwinner for their families,” said Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of MomsRising.

“Women’s incomes are essential to family economic security – and that economic security is critical to our nation’s overall economic health. That’s our modern reality,” said Rowe-Finkbeiner.

“Equity in the Balance” is the second report in the 2014 Job Gap Economic Prosperity Series. Alliance for a Just Society has produced Job Gap studies on jobs and wages since 1999.

Data from the Alliance’s Job Gap Study figure prominently in debates on minimum wage, paid sick days, payday lending, Medicaid and other family economic issues.

Here is a summary of the recommendations in the report:

 

  • Increase the federal minimum wage. Wages should provide enough for workers to more than make ends meet. A $15 national minimum wage would approach  a living wage covers basic expenses and sets aside some savings for emergencies.
  • Eliminate the federal tipped minimum wage that has been stagnant at $2.13 per hour for over 20 years. That is not a formula for economic prosperity.
  • Invest in state and federal safety net programs, such as childcare assistance. Until there are enough living wage jobs to go around for all household types, families will continue to face tough choices.
  • Guarantee paid leave that includes maternity leave and parental leave to care for sick children. Many workers risk losing their jobs or income, if they are too sick to come to work or if they need to care for a sick child.
  • Unionize occupations and industries that pay the lowest wages, including fast food, home care and farm work to help women and people of color earn increased wages and benefits.
  • Prohibit pay secrecy and encourage transparency. When employers either formally or informally discourage or even forbid employees from sharing wage information, it leaves employees unaware that they are being underpaid.
  • Expand and Strengthen Social Security: Because women and people of color earn less, they are less able to save for retirement and forced to depend solely on Social Security.
 Alliance for a Just Society is a national policy, research and organizing network with 14 state affiliates, that focuses on health, racial and economic justice.
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LeeAnn Hall: Our Work Together is More Important Than Ever

Dear Friends,

I join all of you in a sense of disappointment and outrage as I consider the changed composition of Congress after yesterday’s elections. That outrage has ignited in me a renewed determination, stronger than ever, that we must continue our fight in communities, in cities and in states where we are making a difference.

The new congressional majority has pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which is bringing health coverage to millions of people. They have ignored demands to raise the minimum wage, to protect voting rights, and to pass fair immigration reform.

We must keep our eyes on justice, and continue our action in the places where it matters, where it will build and grow, fired by the fierce love in our hearts. Your work might seem like a small step on any given day, but each step is necessary in the long march toward change.

Every door-knock, every phone call, every personal contact is helping build an important and engaged supporter base for the future.

You all worked hard and you are all making a difference – that was the message we heard loud and clear in the many progressive victories we saw across the country yesterday. Our efforts are at the heart of these victories, and they are many. Here are just a few:

Minimum wage increases passed in Arkansas, South Dakota, Alabama, and Nebraska. Illinois and several localities in Wisconsin passed non-binding minimum wage increases. San Francisco voters matched Seattle’s $15 minimum wage success.
Earned sick time won in Oakland, California, Trenton and Montclair, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.
Same-day voter registration was preserved in Montana.
Restrictions to abortion rights were defeated in two out of the three state ballot measures.
Gun control in Washington passed, closing the gun show loophole and defeating the NRA alternative proposition.
Bail reform moved forward as New Jersey passed a measure that helps low income people with non-violent crimes get out of jail.
• California reduced penalties for non-violent offenses.
Marijuana legalization passed in Alaska, Washington D.C. and Oregon
Voters in Oregon saw a near progressive sweep, passing an amendment protecting against sex discrimination, defeating the Top Two Primary, and electing pro-small business, pro-working families, and pro-women leaders to the Oregon Senate and House.

Now, our work together takes on even more significance and more urgency.

Together, we will be vigilant of those who threaten to take away the progress we have built.

Together, we will continue to raise the radical ideas that become tomorrow’s common sense.

Together we will push forward, creating a just society for all.

Yours,

LeeAnn Hall
Executive Director
Alliance for a Just Society

LAH Orange 2019735258

Changing the Way We Help Underwater Homeowners | foreclosure

This opinion piece by LeeAnn Hall originally appeared in the Seattle Times.

By LeeAnn Hall and Will Pittz

While the recession officially ended in 2009, there are still over 9 million households across the country with homes worth less than the value of their mortgage. There are still neighborhoods in Seattle where more than 20 percent of homes are underwater.

How many more Seattle families need to lose their homes in the foreclosure crisis that continues year after year? There are solutions, but they need champions, and leadership – both locally and nationally.

Advocates are pushing the Seattle City Council to pursue a local principal reduction program to reset the value of mortgages based on their current market value. That local action can help thousands of homeowners in Seattle, but it must include strong buy-in from the City Council and include mechanisms to encourage big banks to participate. Proposals are outlined in a recent report by Reset Seattle and the Alliance for a Just Society.

Thankfully, members of the City Council are making progress. The council commissioned a short study on the feasibility of principal reduction in Seattle, and council members have publically expressed their intent to pursue a program similar to one in Oregon. This action comes too late for homeowners who have already lost their homes, but it can still help many families throughout the city with underwater mortgages.

While Seattle is making slow progress, other families throughout the country also need champions. Leadership was expected from Mel Watt, the recently appointed director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).

For more than 20 years, Mel Watt served the people of North Carolina as a member of Congress. During that time, he earned a reputation of being on the side of working families in his district, including those who were struggling to make ends meet. Watt advocated for struggling homeowners, co-sponsored mortgage reform, and promoted affordable housing.

However, as director of FHFA, Watt has done an about-face. While he once urged the president to enact principal reduction, he has done nothing to take steps within his power to make that assistance a reality. Such steps would not even require congressional approval.

It’s too late for millions of homeowners across the country, it’s not too late for leaders at the local and national level to step up and take action for those homeowners still struggling.

The foreclosure problem hasn’t gone away; the need for assistance remains critical in Seattle and nationally, especially in urban neighborhoods and among people of color. In many cases, these mortgages were the result of predatory lending practices in the years leading up to the market’s collapse.

By not acting, Watt is making matters worse. Local leaders on the Seattle City Council are considering a great step to help homeowners in Seattle and especially communities of color, as in the International District and Delridge, that still have high rates of underwater mortgages. However, both local and national action must happen soon before more families lose their homes.

It’s time for Seattle to move quickly toward a local principal reduction program, and it is well past time for FHFA Director Watt to remember the work that landed him in the nation’s capital and take action to help homeowners.

LeeAnn Hall is executive director of the Seattle-based Alliance for a Just Society. Will Pittz is executive director of Washington Community Action Network