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Economy

EPA Pushes for More Coal-Fired Power Under the Trump Administration

NNPA NEWSWIRE — During a recent press conference held at the Environmental Protection Agency, acting EPA Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, announced more rollback regulations on coal-fired power plants.

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Photo Credit: EPA

By Lauren Poteat NNPA Washington Correspondent

A new proposal carved out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), might be the jumpstart some companies looking for more energy independence may be looking for.

During a recent press conference held at the Environmental Protection Agency, acting EPA Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, announced more rollback regulations on coal-fired power plants.

The revised “New Source Performance Standards” (NSPS), a provision under the Clean Air Act, established in 2015, would loosen an Obama-era restriction on how much carbon dioxide new coal power plants would be able to emit and could potentially rescind the requirement for new coal plants to install carbon capture technologies—a method Wheeler believed, to be costly and disingenuous.

“Consistent with President Trump’s executive order promoting energy independence, EPA’s proposal would rescind excessive burdens on America’s energy providers and level the playing field so that new energy technologies could be a part of America’s future,” Wheeler stated. “By allowing the genius of the private sector to work, we can keep American energy reliable and abundant.”

If the new proposal, signed Dec. 6 passes, coal plant emissions could be relaxed from the previous limit of 1,400 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, to 1,900.

During the EPA conference, the National Black Chamber of Commerce President, Harry Alford, also in support of the agency’s new proposal, gave way to a recent study, conducted by the NBCC, surrounding the 2015 Clean Power Plan.

“The last administration’s war on coal was poised in increased spending cost, having negative impacts on low income groups and minorities, including individuals, families and minority-owned businesses,” Alford stated.

“In fact, the NBCC did a study on the impacts on the so called ‘Clean Power Act,’ Alford continued. “And found that the rule alone, would have increased Black poverty by 23 percent and spending poverty by 26 percent, resulting in cumulative job losses of seven million for Blacks and 12 million for Hispanics.”

Heavily believing in the benefits that these new energy practices could bring to minority-owned businesses, the NBCC president also went on to pen an open letter, further expressing his views on the use of coal energy.

“Every now and then we, Congress, gets it right. When I worked at Procter and Gamble, we practiced a management tool known as “Management by Objectives–MBO.” The Clean Air Act is an example of that,” Alford wrote.

“When things go wrong, we have a common “boogeyman” known as “Climate Change,” Alford continued. “In a way, it is like how the singer Stevie Wonder explained Superstition: ‘When you believe in things you don’t understand; You suffer!’ Superstition ain’t the way.”

However, despite all of these claims, many organizations such as the American Public Health Association, the NAACP and the Hip Hop Caucus, strongly disagreed.

“Wheeler’s pollution rule rollback is yet another example of the Trump Administration putting polluter profits ahead of the American people, especially low-income communities and communities of color,” Senior Vice President of Climate, Environmental Justice, and Community Revitalization for the Hip Hop Caucus, Mustafa Santiago Ali stated.

“Solar and wind are the fastest growing sources of energy and jobs in our country and provide cheaper, more affordable energy for our homes and businesses,” Ali continued. “And with 68 percent of African Americans and 40 percent of Latinos living within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, the carbon pollution combined with the other toxic chemicals these plants bring to our communities is absolutely unacceptable.”

Rev. Ambrose Carroll, founder of Green the Church (GTC), a coalition of Black churches devoted to expanding their environmental and economic footprints nationwide, also spoke out in opposition to the new EPA proposal.

“One of the main goals of GTC is to promote environmental and economic resilience, while empowering churches across the nation to develop practical solutions toward economic and environmental issues affecting the Black community,” Rev. Carroll, also Vice President of the California State Baptist Convention said.

“I don’t believe what the EPA or the NBCC has stated is valid, simply on the standpoint of what is ethical and righteous—My mother, who lives in Freeport, LA, where their contaminated tap water still catches on fire, currently suffers from cancer.”

“The views expressed by the EPA and the NBCC, I believe, are not in line with the ethics of the Black church, or the history or legacy of African Americans in this country,” Rev. Carroll continued. “While it is important to make money, there still has to be a balance between capital and ethics… If we continue to dig for dead things to energize our lives, then we will continue to die.”

The EPA is set to take comment on the proposed Standards of Performance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions from New, Modified, and Reconstructed Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units, for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register and hold a public hearing.

Details on the public hearing are set to be available shortly.

#NNPA BlackPress

Colorado Petroleum Council Focus on Enhancing Communities

NNPA NEWSWIRE — The natural gas and oil industry is projected to create 1.3 million new jobs between 2015 and 2025, with that number growing to 1.9 million by 2035. Of these new jobs, 707,000, or 38 percent of the total, are projected to be filled by African American and Hispanic workers through 2035.

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A big part of CPC’s efforts to enhance communities is focused on aggressively pursuing investments in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education given its crucial role in the sustainment of career opportunities for all Coloradans. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
A big part of CPC’s efforts to enhance communities is focused on aggressively pursuing investments in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education given its crucial role in the sustainment of career opportunities for all Coloradans. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

Four years ago, the American Petroleum Institute, the world’s largest energy industry trade association, opened a chapter in Colorado, owing to the growing opportunities from natural gas and oil in the state. Since its inception, the Colorado Petroleum Council has served as an advocate for – and partner to – communities across the state, placing great emphasis on innovation, public health and safety. This has allowed the industry the ability to invest in reducing its emissions to historic lows even as energy production has reached all-time highs.

“Most importantly, Colorado is our home,” said Lynn Granger, the new Executive Director of the Colorado Petroleum Council.  “When we arrived in Colorado, our mission wasn’t simply to grow jobs and economic opportunities for the people of our state, though we are encouraged with our progress on that front. We breathe the same air and drink the same water as our neighbors, and we are proud of the leading role that our industry has played – and will continue to play – in the development and implementation of emissions-reducing technologies that benefit all of Colorado’s vibrant communities, regardless of income level, color or creed.”

A big part of CPC’s efforts to enhance communities is focused on aggressively pursuing investments in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education given its crucial role in the sustainment of career opportunities for all Coloradans.

“We’re especially proud of our commitment to education,” continued Granger. “Our industry has taken a leading role in promoting STEM education across Colorado. The natural gas and oil industry continues to grow amidst the American energy renaissance, creating jobs that need to be filled with talented, skilled workers. We are focused on ensuring that Coloradans from every walk of life are given a true and just opportunity to benefit from these opportunities, and the foundation for future success begins in the classroom.”

The natural gas and oil industry is projected to create 1.3 million new jobs between 2015 and 2025, with that number growing to 1.9 million by 2035. Of these new jobs, 707,000, or 38 percent of the total, are projected to be filled by African American and Hispanic workers through 2035.

According to a 2018 report based on state and federal data, natural gas and oil operations support over 232,900 Colorado jobs, provide an annual statewide economic impact of more than $31.4 billion, and contribute more than $1.2 billion per year in public revenue to the state, including $180 million toward local universities and school districts.

“These jobs and dollars support communities across Colorado, funding everything from schools, to roads, to emergency responders,” noted Granger. “But they do so much more than that. This has allowed us to redouble our commitment to education at the local level and to serve as true partners in communities across the state. We are proud of the work we have done thus far, but know that there is more to be done for current and future generations of Coloradans.”

Colorado’s natural gas and oil industry, in partnership with dozens of government agencies, has implemented the most robust regulatory framework in the nation. Granger acknowledged that the industry’s growth, and the burgeoning opportunities it provides, can only be sustained with an all-hands effort toward keeping public health and safety paramount.

“None of what our industry does would be worthwhile if not for a round-the-clock effort to mitigate any environmental impacts that could have adverse effects on Colorado communities,” said Granger. “These efforts have been my top priority since assuming this role, and I want the people of our state to know that I will be fierce in promoting a balance between sustainability and the opportunities our industry brings to the table.”

Granger, in closing, recognized the existing disparities in Colorado’s economy, and expressed determination on behalf of her industry to be proactive in addressing the issue.

“People have moved to Colorado in droves from across the country, which has certainly presented challenges. We are committed to turning those challenges into opportunities. Colorado’s economy consistently ranks as best in the nation, but these economic opportunities feel out of reach for too many people in our state. The natural gas and oil industry is committed to being a partner in changing this dynamic. Everyone deserves a shot at the American dream, and the Colorado Petroleum Council and our member companies are unwavering, through investments in education, innovation, and directly into communities, to bringing these dreams to life.”

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Economy

Racial disparities make it harder to ‘die well’

MINNESOTA SPOKESMAN – RECORDER — African Americans experience an earlier onset and greater risk of what may be referred to as lifestyle-related diseases — cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes. More than 40 percent of African Americans over the age of 20 are diagnosed with high blood pressure, compared to 32 percent of all Americans.

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Grave (Photo by: rawpixel.com | pexels.com)
By Jason Ashe and Danielle L. Beatty Moody

The world got an idea recently from 92-year-old Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, who popularized mindfulness and meditation in the U.S. The monk returned to his home in Vietnam to pass his remaining years. Many admired his desire to live his remaining time in peace and dignity.

Researchers from the University of California-San Diego recently did a literature search to understand what Americans might consider to be a “good death” or “successful dying.” As can be expected, their findings varied. People’s views were determined by their religious, social and cultural norms and influences.

The researchers urged healthcare providers, caregivers and the lay community to have open dialogues about preferences for the dying process.

As scholars who study social health and human services psychology, we found something missing in these conversations — how race impacts life span. It’s important to recognize that not everyone has an equal chance at “dying well.”

Black population and ill health

Take the disease burden of the African American population.

African Americans experience an earlier onset and greater risk of what may be referred to as lifestyle-related diseases — cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes. More than 40 percent of African Americans over the age of 20 are diagnosed with high blood pressure, compared to 32 percent of all Americans.

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the likelihood of experiencing a first stroke is nearly twice as high for African Americans compared with Whites. African Americans are more than two times more likely to experience a stroke before the age of 55. At age 45, the mortality rate from stroke is three times higher for Blacks compared to Whites.

This disease burden consequently leads to their higher mortality rates and overall shorter life expectancy for Blacks compared to Whites.

And while the life expectancy gap differs by only a few years, 75.3 for Blacks and 78.9 for Whites as of 2016, research suggests that African Americans suffer more sickness. This is due in part to the increased prevalence of high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes in this population.

Genetics, biological factors and lifestyle behaviors, such as diet and smoking, help explain a portion of these differences. However, researchers are still learning how race-related social experiences and physical environments affect health, illness and mortality.

Access to health care

One factor is that African Americans have historically underutilized preventive medicine and healthcare services. They also delay seeking routine, necessary health care — or may not follow medical advice.

One study found that during an average month, 35 percent fewer Blacks visited a physician’s office, and 27 percent fewer visited an outpatient clinic compared with Whites. “The only time I go to the doctor is when something is really hurting. But otherwise, I don’t even know my doctor’s name,” said a young African American male during a research study in Chicago.

There are reasons for this mistrust. Researchers who study medical mistrust argue that high-profile cases of medical experiments are still playing a role in how African Americans view healthcare systems and providers.

In the past, physicians have intentionally done harm against people of color. A well-known case is the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis” in African American men, which lasted from 1932 to 1972.

In this clinical study, 399 African American men who had already contracted syphilis were told that they were receiving free health care from the government. In fact, doctors, knowing their critical condition, were awaiting their deaths to subsequently conduct autopsies and study the disease’s progression.

Even though penicillin had been proven to treat syphilis by 1947, these men were denied the treatment.

Why discrimination matters for health

Other studies suggest that regardless of their knowledge of past medical abuse, many African Americans have low levels of trust in medical establishments.

“Doctors, like all other people, are subject to prejudice and discrimination,” writes Damon Tweedy, author of Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine. “While bias can be a problem in any profession, in medicine, the stakes are much higher.”

Unfortunately, these fears are underscored by empirical evidence that African Americans are less likely to receive pain medication management, higher quality care, or survive surgical procedures.

In addition, a growing body of literature has established that experiences of discrimination are extremely harmful to physical and mental health, particularly among African Americans. This research adds to the body of evidence that experiences of discrimination harm people’s health and may contribute to the increased rates of premature decline and death among Blacks.

What does it take to SOTdie well?

As African American scholars, we argue the “art of dying well” may be a distant and romantic notion for the African American community. African Americans are also exposed to earlier and more frequent deaths of close loved ones, immediate family members and friends.

Their increased “vulnerability to untimely deaths,” writes Duke University scholar Karla Holloway, shows African Americans’ lack of access to equitable and fair paths in life.

Before defining “a good death,” American society must first begin to fundamentally address how to promote quality living and longevity across all racial groups.

Story republished with permission from The Conversation.

Jason Ashe is a doctoral student in human services psychology at the University of Maryland. Danielle L. Beatty Moody is an assistant professor of behavioral medicine at the University of Maryland.

This article originally appeared in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

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Community

MLK Freedom Center Receives State Funding

OAKLAND POST — The California statewide Youth And Family Civic En­gagement Initiative, a joint program of the Dolores Huerta Foundation in Bakersfield and the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center in Oakland, has received a three-year al­location in the California State budget, approved by both houses of the California Leg­islature and Governor Gavin Newsom.

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Participants in the statewide Youth and Civic Engagement Initiative learn how to organize community and encourage voter engagement. Photo courtesy of MLK Freedom Center.
By The Oakland Post

The California statewide Youth And Family Civic En­gagement Initiative, a joint program of the Dolores Huerta Foundation in Bakersfield and the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center in Oakland, has received a three-year al­location in the California State budget, approved by both houses of the California Leg­islature and Governor Gavin Newsom.

The Initiative and its pro­grams are designed to in­crease civic engagement, par­ticipation and civics education among youth, their families and communities in 12 Califor­nia counties–Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Kern, Los An­geles, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Joaquin, Santa Clara, Tulare and Yolo. The organizations will receive $2 million per year over three years.

The Youth and Family Civic Engagement Initiative increases understanding of govern­ment and civic institutions and increases civic participation among low-income, disenfran­chised youth and their families in targeted regions throughout the state for the purpose of re­ducing racial and socio-eco­nomic disparities.

“We are grateful that the leg­islature and the Governor have made it possible to expand the Dolores Huerta Founda­tion and Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center’s Youth and Family Civic Engagement Initiative to reach more under­served youth throughout Cali­fornia, with a focus on youth engagement, youth empower­ment and leadership develop­ment using the philosophies of active non-violent movement building,” said Dolores Huerta. “The leadership training that the youth receive will be mag­nified tenfold as the youth take the lessons learned to address and resolve the many issues that they are confronted with in their respective communities”. Said Dr. Roy D.

Wilson, executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Center, “Thousands of young people throughout the state are searching for path­ways that will lead them into meaningful public service.

They know they have some­thing to learn, and they know they have much to contribute. The Initiative provides the skills and knowledge by which young people can navigate themselves onto the road of civic engagement where they can play an important role in developing programs of social uplift, and a stronger democ­racy.”

This article originally appeared in the Oakland Post
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CFPB turns its back on fair lending enforcement and reporting

NNPA NEWSWIRE — More than 50 years ago, this nation enacted legal guarantees that fair housing would be available to all Americans. Despite this federal assurance, however, a disturbing and ongoing stream of reports and lawsuits remind us that we are still on an aspirational journey. Aggressive enforcement of fair housing and other anti-discriminatory laws are supposed to bring punishments for violators, and restitution for those harmed.

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This June a coalition of 158 state and national advocates filed written comments against another recent deregulatory move planned by the CFPB. This effort would exempt hundreds of lenders from providing vital data that tracks the market and consumer access to credit.
This June a coalition of 158 state and national advocates filed written comments against another recent deregulatory move planned by the CFPB. This effort would exempt hundreds of lenders from providing vital data that tracks the market and consumer access to credit.

By Charlene Crowell, Deputy Communications Director with the Center for Responsible Lending and NNPA Newswire Contributor

More than 50 years ago, this nation enacted legal guarantees that fair housing would be available to all Americans. Despite this federal assurance, however, a disturbing and ongoing stream of reports and lawsuits remind us that we are still on an aspirational journey. Aggressive enforcement of fair housing and other anti-discriminatory laws are supposed to bring punishments for violators, and restitution for those harmed.

But as with so many justice issues –either financial or criminal, what really happens in life seems a world away from the African American experience.

Since its inception, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) mandate was to protect consumers from discriminatory lending as well as to ensure fair access to credit. In addition to violations of the Fair Housing Act, CFPB also has the authority to refer potential violations of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) to the Justice Department.

Despite these and other enforcement options, CFPB’s most recent fair lending report to Congress acknowledged a full year without any fair lending enforcement actions.

Charlene Crowell is the deputy communications director with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org

This June a coalition of 158 state and national advocates filed written comments against another recent deregulatory move planned by the CFPB. This effort would exempt hundreds of lenders from providing vital data that tracks the market and consumer access to credit.

“The Bureau must refer to the Justice Department (DOJ) a matter when it has reason to believe that a creditor has engaged in a pattern or practice of lending discrimination in violation of ECOA,” acknowledged the report. “In 2018, the Bureau did not refer any ECOA violations to the Justice Department…In 2018, the Bureau opened and continued a number of fair-lending-related investigations, however, it did not bring fair lending-related enforcement actions”, the June 2019 report continued.

While CFPB turned away from fair lending, several 2018 lawsuits were filed mostly by private and nonprofit advocates. Their collective actions realized large settlements, fair lending reports and continued documentation of illegal breaches.

For example, nearly a year ago, New York’s Suffolk County Federal Credit Union signed a $1 billion settlement rather than go to trial on discriminatory charges. The settlement resolved a case filed two years earlier, in 2016 that alleged Black and Latino consumers were denied mortgage approvals at a higher rate than that of the credit union’s white customers.

Later that same year, in a regulatory examination of Citigroup, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) found that consumers of color were not receiving the same mortgage rate discounts reserved for its large-deposit customers. That case was referred to the Justice Department.

Another 2018 discriminatory case involved lawsuits with several major banks on behalf of consumers in two Maryland counties, Montgomery and Price George. The case alleged that as early as the mid- 2000s, consumers of color were steered into higher-cost, non-prime mortgages – a violation of the Fair Housing Act.

Some might contend that this sample summary might not be fair to CFPB and its mission.

To such questioning minds, I would add that this June a coalition of 158 state and national advocates filed written comments against another recent deregulatory move planned by the CFPB. This effort would exempt hundreds of lenders from providing vital data that tracks the market and consumer access to credit.

Every year, the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) report makes public details of the past year’s mortgage market. It is the only national report that includes the race and ethnicity of mortgage applicants, types of loan approvals as well as denials. Most importantly, the actual behavior of lenders – both banks and nonbanks record the total number of loans involved.

By exempting so many lenders, the highly anticipated report would lose valuable clarity and irrefutable data.

Among the organizations signing these comments were: NAACP, The Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights, the National Fair Housing Alliance, and the Center for Responsible Lending.

“A large loss of HMDA reporting will create a distorted view of lending trends in these underserved areas and will make it more difficult for stakeholders to determine if revitalization efforts are succeeding,” wrote the housing advocates. “The overall impact of raising the threshold will be to frustrate HMDA’s purposes of determining whether credit needs are being met and whether public investment has succeeded in rejuvenating the housing and lending markets in struggling neighborhoods.”

The coalition comments also include a litany of CFPB actions that have occurred since 2017, all with anti-consumer effects:

  • Failure to issue any violations of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act;
  • Declared its intent to ignore the Disparate Impact standard, a long-standing legal test that holds the effects of discrimination, not the intent are legal violations;
  • Publicly praised the repeal of anti-discrimination auto lending guidance;
  • Sided with payday lenders in their challenge of the Bureau’s payday rule promulgated under the previous director;
  • Stripped the Bureau’s fair lending office of its supervisory and enforcement powers; and
  • Relegated the development of regulation on fair lending for minority and women-owned businesses to a low-level concern.

In many ways, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has failed to live up to its name and reneged on its mission.

“This lack of enforcement demonstrates our journey towards fair lending still has miles to travel,” said Melissa Stegman, a CRL Senior Policy Counsel. “CFPB was created to protect consumers without exception.”

Charlene Crowell is the deputy communications director with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org.

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Defender News Network

With conflicting budget estimates, will Texas teachers get the pay raises they anticipated?

DEFENDER NEWS NETWORK — When state lawmakers passed their landmark $11.6 billion school finance law in late May, school employees were eager to see how mandatory raises would affect their paychecks. A month later, they’re scratching their heads, struggling to decipher complicated changes and conflicting financial estimates that might not net teachers as much money as they expected.

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Photo by: Nappy | Pexels.com

By Defender News Service

When state lawmakers passed their landmark $11.6 billion school finance law in late May, school employees were eager to see how mandatory raises would affect their paychecks.

A month later, they’re scratching their heads, struggling to decipher complicated changes and conflicting financial estimates that might not net teachers as much money as they expected.

Before lawmakers voted nearly unanimously to approve House Bill 3, which drastically overhauled Texas’ outdated school funding system, they received estimates from the state on how much additional money each of their school districts would likely receive over the next two years. But the estimates came with a warning: They could change significantly once the calculations were performed using local data.

Ahead of the upcoming school year, districts are now redoing those calculations themselves — and some are coming up short. That could pose a problem for teachers, nurses, counselors and librarians, since under HB 3, school districts are supposed to use a portion of the new money on those employees’ raises and benefits. (School boards must approve their budgets by either a June 30 or an Aug. 31 deadline.)

Georgetown ISD, for example, is projecting $5.9 million in new money in the upcoming school year, much less than the $10.3 million state estimate. And it will shell out about $9 million in recapture payments, which the state takes from wealthier districts to subsidize poorer ones — not the $3.5 million the state estimated in May.

Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, a large suburban district in the Houston area, should’ve expected $30 million more in the upcoming school year, according to the state estimates. But school board members approved a budget in late June that projected just $14 million more, according to Karen Smith, the district’s chief financial officer.

To remain competitive as employers, both districts are going beyond the state’s requirement to use 30% of the new money to increase salaries and benefits. Georgetown ISD is including $3,000 raises for teachers, counselors, librarians and nurses with more than five years of experience. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD approved a budget millions of dollars in the red that includes $25.4 million in raises for classroom teachers, librarians, counselors and nurses and $10.8 million in raises for all other employees.

Teacher pay raises quickly became a bipartisan rallying cry during the 2019 legislative session that finished up in May. But instead of the statewide $5,000 raise many teachers advocated for from the get-go, lawmakers approved a set of guidelines for salary bumps that would end up leaving the dollar amounts largely up to district leaders.

There is not yet an official statewide summary on what compensation packages look like across school districts, but eventually districts will be required to report that information to the Legislature. Meanwhile, the state has been providing guidance on how to interpret the new law through videos and PowerPoint presentations.

Without an across-the-board pay raise mandate from the state, teachers and other school employees have been looking left and right at neighboring school districts to judge how they’re going to fare. Some report having heard nothing from their school districts so far this summer, as they anxiously monitor the news from across the state.

Sunnyvale ISD Superintendent Doug Williams found that the state’s calculation for how much more his tiny school district would receive was pretty accurate: just under $600,000. But school districts in the vicinity, which include large, urban Dallas ISD, are getting millions more, meaning they’ll be required to offer bigger raises.

To stay competitive, Sunnyvale ISD’s school board approved larger pay raises than required by law, ranging from $1,800 for beginning teachers to $2,700 for the most experienced. “We have been blessed to be able to attract and retain great teachers,” Williams said. “We just want to make sure we are able to continue.”

In some school districts, local teachers’ unions and associations are butting heads with administrators as they advocate for higher raises and larger employer contributions to health insurance. After adopting a budget with 5% raises, Laredo ISD’s officials told frustrated teachers they are waiting for more guidance from the state before they consider raising salaries further.

In Houston ISD, the teachers union successfully threatened a no-confidence vote against the superintendent if trustees didn’t pass a budget with pay raises by later this month, arguing the delay would make them less competitive for hiring. After a contentious meeting, the board ultimately approved a deficit budget containing raises of 3.5% to 8%, depending on school employees’ experience levels. The budget also increased the minimum wage for school employees by $2 an hour.

For third grade writing teacher Huyenchau Vu, who watched the Legislature’s initial proposal for $5,000 raises dissolve, a 3.5% raise means a boost of less than $2,000 a year and less than $100 per paycheck. “It goes back into paying for everything, not necessarily into a savings account,” said Vu, who just finished teaching summer school at Houston ISD and will start her third year teaching in August.

She and her colleagues have been taking notes about the higher starting salaries and raises for Houston-area districts such as Aldine ISD and Alief ISD, but not necessarily because they’re trying to jump ship. While Vu would appreciate more money, she is also worried about the sustainability of the Legislature’s funding increase and is glad Houston ISD appears to be more “realistic” in its budgeting decisions than its neighbors.

“They’re paying their teachers a lot more knowing it’s just over the next two years that we’re receiving money from the state of Texas to put into these teacher salaries,” she said. “After that, no one’s sure what’s going to happen.”

This article originally appeared in the Defender News Network

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Waters to Facebook: Today’s Hearing is Only the First Step in Our Oversight and Legislative Process

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Facebook has proposed backing Libra tokens with government currencies and government guaranteed securities, and holding them in a so-called Libra Reserve, to be governed by Facebook and its partners. Ownership of government assets on such a massive scale without proper oversight threatens to concentrate government influence in the hands of a few elites. Ultimately, if Facebook’s plans come to fruition, the company and its partners will wield immense economic power that could destabilize currencies and governments.”

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Congresswoman Maxine Waters has emerged as one of the strongest legislators, community organizers, and champions for women, children, seniors, veterans, people of color, and the poor. She was elected in November 2018 to her fifteenth term in the U.S. House of Representatives where she proudly represents California’s diverse and dynamic 43rd Congressional District.

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chairwoman of the House Committee on Financial Services, delivered the following opening statement at a full Committee hearing entitled, “Examining Facebook’s Proposed Cryptocurrency and Its Impact on Consumers, Investors, and the American Financial System.”

As Prepared for Delivery

Today we are here for a hearing on Facebook’s proposed digital currency, Libra, and digital wallet, Calibra, and their impacts on consumers, investors and the financial system. Our first witness is David Marcus, Calibra’s CEO. Following his testimony, a panel of experts will share their views on Facebook’s plans.

I have serious concerns with Facebook’s plans to create a digital currency and digital wallet and its efforts to enlist partners that expand its reach, like Mastercard, Paypal, Visa, Uber, Lyft, and Spotify. Facebook is apparently trying to create a new global financial system that is intended to rival the U.S. dollar. This venture is slated to be based in Switzerland, which has a history as a monetary haven for criminals and shady corporations. Facebook’s plans raise serious privacy, trading, national security, and monetary policy concerns, not only for Facebook’s over 2 billion users, who will have immediate access to these products, but also for consumers, investors and the global economy.

In addition, Facebook has proposed backing Libra tokens with government currencies and government guaranteed securities, and holding them in a so-called Libra Reserve, to be governed by Facebook and its partners. Ownership of government assets on such a massive scale without proper oversight threatens to concentrate government influence in the hands of a few elites. Ultimately, if Facebook’s plans come to fruition, the company and its partners will wield immense economic power that could destabilize currencies and governments.

Facebook’s proposed entry into financial services is all the more troubling because it has already harmed vast numbers of people on a scale similar to Wells Fargo, and demonstrated a pattern of failing to keep consumer data private on a scale similar to Equifax. Facebook remains under a 2011 consent order from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for deceiving consumers and failing to keep consumer data private. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which Facebook provided 50 million users’ private data to a political consulting firm, the company will reportedly pay a record $5 billion fine to the FTC for data privacy failures. In addition, Facebook has allegedly: insecurely stored user passwords dating back to 2012; paid unsuspecting teenagers to download spyware; experienced a hack of nearly 50 million accounts; and experienced a software bug that granted third party access to 6.8 million users’ photos. It has also been sued by HUD and civil rights groups for violations of the Fair Housing Act in what amounts to modern day redlining. Facebook also allowed malicious Russian state actors to purchase and target ads in a campaign to influence the 2016 election.

I am also concerned about the lack of diversity in Facebook’s upper ranks, and fear that if these plans go forward, women and minorities and women- and minority-owned businesses may be excluded from participating fully.

In light of these and other concerns, my colleagues and I wrote to Facebook earlier this month to call on it to cease implementation of its plans until regulators and Congress can examine the issues associated with a large technology company developing a digital currency and take action. The Independent Community Bankers of America and others support this commonsense step.

Facebook’s plans also raise larger concerns about Big Tech’s expansion into financial services, as it appears to inappropriately mix commerce and banking activities. So, today we will discuss a draft bill, the Keep Big Tech Out of Finance Act, which would prevent large platform utilities like Facebook from becoming financial institutions and block them from creating their own currencies.

Today’s hearing is only the first step in our oversight and legislative process. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.

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