DCentric » Government http://dcentric.wamu.org Race, Class, The District. Wed, 16 May 2012 20:20:35 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.2.1 Copyright © WAMU Resentment And Race In Reducing Government http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/05/resentment-and-race-in-reducing-government/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/05/resentment-and-race-in-reducing-government/#comments Thu, 10 May 2012 19:19:37 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=16021 Continue reading ]]>

Zervas / Flickr

The U.S. Postal Service is planning a downsizing, which could disproportionately hurt African Americans,

The black middle class has been hit particularly hard by the recession; many of the economic gains earned over 50 years disappeared between 2007 and 2009.

The foreclosure crisis, lack of accumulated  wealth and the role of a college education in boosting job prospects have all contributed to the decline of the black middle class. Another big factor: cuts to government jobs. Much of the black middle class was built upon public sector jobs, which for decades allowed African Americans to circumvent discrimination in the private sector.

African Americans are over-represented in government jobs [PDF]. So even as the economy slowly adds jobs, government job losses continue to rack up, disproportionately affecting African Americans. Reducing government has been a hot political topic since 2010, particularly with the surge of the tea party movement, which has been accused of having racist undertones. But NPR points out that 70 percent of government job cuts happened in 12 states, all with Republican-controlled legislative bodies, and suggests that such job cuts have fostered resentment among African Americans. From NPR:

What Republicans call an attack on “big government,” many blacks see as an attack on their livelihoods, given their heavy reliance on the public sector for employment.

[Steven] Pitts, the Berkeley economist, calls it “nonracial policies with racialized outcomes.”

The country has 586,000 fewer government jobs now than it did in 2008.

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Can Wireless Tablets Bridge The Digital and Education Divide? http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/05/can-wireless-tablets-bridge-the-digital-and-education-divide/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/05/can-wireless-tablets-bridge-the-digital-and-education-divide/#comments Wed, 09 May 2012 19:38:25 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=15944 Continue reading ]]>

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

Teacher Bernadette DeSario works with students conducting historical research on wireless tablets.

Coolidge High School students sit in small groups as they prep for their Advanced Placement U.S. history exam. They’ll be expected to write essays on the materials they’ve learned.

“How or why did the anti-slavery movement become more radical during the period between 1815 and 1816?” teacher Bernadette DeSario asks the students during a class last week. ”We’re going to look at a couple of websites that will provide us with primary source documents.”

The students hunch over small, wireless tablets, swiping the screens as they read letters and other 19th century documents, looking for information to support their answers.

Coolidge doesn’t have many computers, principal Thelma Jarrett said. These students get to use tablets provided by Verizon Wireless, through a program running at four D.C. high schools. It’s intended to level the playing field for high school students in low-income schools, particularly as they get ready for college. The program includes tablets that students can use during class, and also a bus converted into a “learning lab,” stocked with tablets, printers and other devices. The bus, which visits the school once a week, is where students go to get help from Howard University tutors in writing college essays and applying to schools.

Coolidge is a Title 1 school, meaning a high percentage of its students come from low-income homes; 64 percent of the student body qualifies for free or reduced lunches. DeSario said many of her students don’t have access to technology, and that the using the tablets helps them develop good, online research skills.

“It’s putting them so far ahead,” she said. “When they get to college, they’re going to be expected to know how to use this technology.”

DeSario has seen increased class participation and better grades from some students after they starting using the tablets. “They’re so much more engaged,” she said.

Senior Lidya Abune said using the tablets has been useful, for both class work and in preparing for college.

“We can access research and we’re exposed to the technology,” she said. ”We didn’t have a lot of chances and opportunities to use the computers. And we have no Internet at home.”

That’s not uncommon in the District, which has a clear digital divide. Many people in low-income neighborhoods are not connected to high speed Internet.

Principal Jarrett said many students go to the library to use computers. She’d like to see the tablet program expand, which can pose an interesting alternative to standard computers. For one, they don’t require much space and they can be cheaper than desktops, she noted. The pilot program, which is at eight schools in D.C. and Maryland, is one that Verizon hopes to eventually expand.

Paying for college?

The Verizon Wireless program may provide some support in helping these students get into college. But there’s still the matter of how to pay for it. The cost of college has gone up dramatically — it’s tripled over the past three decades — and it’s increasingly becoming out-of-reach for the middle class, too.

Abune said she received help in fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and didn’t know a lot about the college application process. Her family “couldn’t afford it, but I really wanted to try and go to a good college.” She’ll be at Bucknell University in the fall on a full scholarship.

Others have applied to scholarships, but are prepared to take on student loan debt, such as senior Zenayda Berrios. She’ll be attending Bennett College, where tuition, room and board comes to about $24,000. The high cost isn’t deterring her from pursuing a degree in psychology, though.

Principal Jarrett said her approach is to not let the cost of college get in the way of students’ ambitions to attend.

“We encourage them to go for college, and then we’ll worry about paying for it,” she said.

She also noted that many students at the school qualify for federal Pell grants, given their income levels. But she acknowledged that many will have to turn to student loans, and “I know that is a last resort.”

Figuring out how to pay for post-secondary schooling will likely become a big issue in the District; a new D.C. measure requires all high school seniors to take a college entrance exam and apply to a college or trade school in order to graduate from high school.

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The Effect Of Youth Unemployment On Crime http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/the-effect-of-youth-unemployment-on-crime/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/the-effect-of-youth-unemployment-on-crime/#comments Mon, 30 Apr 2012 16:44:39 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=15784 Continue reading ]]>

puamelia / Flickr

Reducing unemployment among D.C.’s young people will help reduce crime, according to a new report by D.C. think tank Justice Policy Institute.

The group, whose mission is to lower the incarceration rate, found that neighborhoods with high crime rates also have high unemployment rates, particularly among young people. A previous report found a similar connection between boosting education levels and public safety.

D.C. has an unemployment disparity, in which joblessness is very low in wealthy neighborhoods, while low-income neighborhoods have Depression-era unemployment rates. The Justice Policy Institute report also showed how unemployment is chronically high in places with a lot of crime:

Courtesy of Justice Policy Institute

Youth workers, teachers and activists often point to jobs as a way to keep youth busy and out of trouble. The authors note that not having a job can lead “to feelings of worthlessness, futility and disenfranchisement.”

But preparing young people to get hired is another matter. Although there are quite a number of jobs in the District, more than half require a bachelor’s degree. From the report [PDF]:

For young people from economically depressed areas in D.C., developing survival skills such as avoiding violence, finding a meal, and staying out of trouble may have taken precedence over honing other marketable workforce skills more valuable to employers. As compared to their more advantaged peers who may have received more preparation from their family, school and overall community environment, youth from low-income areas of the District may need additional guidance to meet the expectations of the workplace.

The report includes some recommendations, including matching young people to programs in fields they’re interested in and getting employers to hire young people who have completed job programs, regardless of whether they have criminal records.

We’ve previously explored the impact of high unemployment and communities, finding that it contributes to a cycle of crime. Also, people with criminal records find it very difficult to get hired. About 10 percent of District residents have a criminal record.

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Lost In Translation: Report Says D.C. Struggles To Serve Non-English Speakers http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/lost-in-translation-report-says-d-c-struggles-to-serve-non-english-speakers/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/lost-in-translation-report-says-d-c-struggles-to-serve-non-english-speakers/#comments Fri, 27 Apr 2012 16:53:15 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=15737 Continue reading ]]>

Seth Anderson / Flickr

D.C.’s non-English speakers have the right to interpretation or translation services when accessing services through the city, whether it’s requesting a housing inspector or getting food stamps. But a report released Thursday shows that many non-English speakers in the District experience major difficulties getting services in their native languages.

The report [PDF] was released by the DC Language Access Coalition and American University’s Washington College of Law. (Disclosure: WAMU 88.5 is licensed to American University).

DCLAC surveyed 258 people and found that Chinese and Vietnamese speakers had the most difficulty interacting with D.C. entities. Overall, 58 percent of people had some language access problem, such as not being able to get an interpreter or translated documents.

According to D.C.’s Language Access Act of 2004, D.C. agencies have to offer oral interpretation for all languages, and translate important documents into languages spoken by at least three percent of people needing services.

The DCLAC report includes stories from Amharic speakers who had trouble getting food stamps for their children and Spanish speakers who couldn’t communicate with housing inspectors. Nearly 14 percent of D.C. residents are immigrants, most of whom hail from Latin America.

As it stands, people who don’t get proper translation services can file complaints. But David Steib, a Legal Aid Society attorney who works with low-income clients, said his non-English speaking clients are often hesitant to file complaints for fear of retaliation by the agency they’re complaining against.

Steib represents people in housing, public benefits and family law cases. He added that for his non-English speaking clients, “often we find the source of the confusion is that a D.C. government agency failed to communicate with the person in their language. And that has a ripple effect. It leads to lawsuits and conflicts.”

The DCLAC report includes recommendations, including making sure D.C. employees who interact with the public are all trained in the Language Access Act and know what to do if a non-English speaker seeks services. They also recommend that agencies collaborate in training and outreach events.

The D.C. Office of Human Rights is the city’s monitoring agency tasked with ensuring compliance with the Language Access Act. Director Gustavo Velasquez says his agency stands behind the DCLAC report, but adds that OHR conducts its own, yearly review which includes self-reports from the agencies and surveys from D.C. residents. Last year, OHR gave the D.C. government an overall ranking of “average” compliance.

“[DCLAC's report] is very interesting. It tells us the story of people who have the perceptions and real experiences in dealing with the government,” Velazquez said.

But Velasquez adds that his agency is either implementing or has already implemented most of DCLAC’s recommendations. ”The others we haven’t touched on deal with the legislature, the city council has to do it, or it requires funding,” he said. “And as you know, municipalities have seen their budgets decline dramatically.”

Those other recommendations include increased training and allowing people to sue the city for not complying with the act.

Velasquez says that D.C.’s language access act is one of the best such acts in the country, but “there’s a long ways to go” in applying it. “We’re not there yet.”

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D.C. To Consider Allowances For Longtime Welfare Recipients http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/d-c-to-consider-allowances-for-longtime-welfare-recipients/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/d-c-to-consider-allowances-for-longtime-welfare-recipients/#comments Thu, 26 Apr 2012 16:54:37 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=15717 Continue reading ]]> D.C., just like the federal government, has a five-year time limit for how long families can stay on welfare, now called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. But the city has faced difficulties in getting longtime recipients off of assistance. And now the city council will consider a bill that would let some people to stay on assistance beyond five years.

The bill doesn’t change the five-year time limit, but it does give longtime TANF recipients an extra year to prepare for the end of benefits. Also, anyone in a post-secondary education or a D.C. Department of Employment Services job training program would still be able to receive checks for two extra years. The bill includes exemptions for people who face hardships that prevent them from getting a job, based somewhat on Maryland’s TANF rules, according to a statement by Councilman Michael Brown (At-large).

The bill passed the human services committee Wednesday and will now go before the full council.

About 8 percent of D.C. residents are on TANF, and more than 230,000 D.C. residents receive either food stamps, Medicaid or welfare checks. Food stamp usage in D.C. went up between 2009 and 2010

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The Complexities Of Rent Control http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/the-complexities-of-rent-control/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/the-complexities-of-rent-control/#comments Fri, 20 Apr 2012 18:15:03 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=15542 Continue reading ]]>

Derek K. Miller / Flickr

Expensive rents can be a byproduct of gentrification and rising property values. So isn’t rent control one way to keep housing affordable?

Turns out that it’s not always that simple.

This week’s Washington City Paper Housing Complex column explores how one developer’s approach to purchasing and renovating old apartment buildings in D.C. has become a double-edged sword for renters. When landlords wants to sell their buildings, a D.C. law requires that they offer tenants the first right to buy. Urban Investment Partners buys old buildings, but they get the tenants to waive their right to purchase by striking deals that include keeping rents relatively stable for original tenants. Those old buildings need major renovations, and the company pays for them by substantially increasing rents for newcomers to the building. The result: rent-controlled, low rates for those who remain, but the number of affordable apartments in the building — and the city– declines.

But what other options exist? The pot of money intended to preserve affordable housing in the District is dwindling. For-profit developers want to make money, and it’s difficult to massively renovate a building without charging people more to live there.

These issues disproportionately affect people of color in the District. About twice as many African Americans, Asians and Latinos rent rather than own homes in D.C. Meanwhile, nearly the same number of whites own homes as rent them in D.C. About 55 percent of people who live in D.C. rent.

Increasing home ownership among the renting population has been cited as a way to keep low- and moderate-income people in gentrifying neighborhoods. Home owners have more leverage and could either remain or benefit from gentrification by selling their homes at higher values. Renters, on the other hand, could get a payoff from a developer to move out, but it’s certainly not enough to buy a new home. It may not even be enough to continue renting in the same neighborhood.

Still, owning a home isn’t a surefire way to protect oneself from poverty. For instance, the black middle class suffered greatly during the recession and housing bubble burst because they disproportionately had more of their wealth tied up in home equity.

Obviously, rent control does help existing tenants. But given the declining number of rent-controlled apartments, it can’t be a longterm solution to the city’s affordable housing problem.

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DCentric’s D.C. Budget Highlights: What’s Cut, What’s Not http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/03/dcentrics-d-c-budget-highlights-whats-cut-whats-not/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/03/dcentrics-d-c-budget-highlights-whats-cut-whats-not/#comments Tue, 27 Mar 2012 16:42:37 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=14946 Continue reading ]]>

scienceoftheinvisible.blogspot.com / Flickr

Mayor Vincent Gray unveiled his $9.4 billion proposed budget last week, which outlines millions of dollars in cuts to social services.

The city anticipates a $172 million shortfall next year, and Mayor Gray wants to fill the gap mostly through cuts — about $102 million worth of them — while raising the remaining $70 million. The D.C. Council will spend the next couple of months digesting, debating and changing the budget before finally voting on it.

Let’s take a look at a few highlights:

No new taxes
Last year’s budget battle included a debate over whether to create a new tax bracket for wealthier residents. The council eventually approved a new tax bracket for households making more than $350,000 a year. This time around, Mayor Gray isn’t suggesting further raising taxes on the wealthy to balance the budget. Instead, he’s looking to make money by extending the hours alcohol can be sold and expanding the traffic camera program.

The DC Healthcare Alliance provides insurance for the approximately 20,000 low-income D.C. residents not covered by Medicaid. Mayor Gray proposes cutting $23 million from the program, transforming it from offering comprehensive coverage to just primary, preventative care.

Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty Images

Mayor Vincent Gray.

The money to build and renovate affordable housing units comes from the Housing Production Trust Fund. It’s also where tenants turn to for low-cost loans to purchase their buildings when landlords put them up for sale. Tenant purchase is often cited as a way to prevent displacement of low-income renters in the face of gentrification. Mayor Gray proposes taking $19.9 million from the trust fund and using it for low-income rent subsidies instead, which is in really high demand.

Economic development and jobs
Mayor Gray proposes boosting economic development funding, including $58 million of infrastructure investments at St. Elizabeths in Ward 8, future home the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The redevelopment is expected to reinvigorate the economically depressed area by bringing in thousands of jobs.

The District has also had problems training residents for jobs; Mayor Gray proposes a $1.6 million pilot program intended to better connect residents with jobs.

The wish list
The budget does include a “revised revenue priority list,” essentially a wish list of items that will be funded if more money is brought in than projected. And most of those programs benefit the city’s neediest residents, including $7 million for homeless services, $14.7 million to pay for Temporary Aid for Needy Families (formerly known as welfare) job programs and restoring the cuts made to healthcare and housing.

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Ahead Of Budget Season, A Call To Protect Social Service Funding http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/03/ahead-of-budget-season-a-call-to-protect-social-service-funding/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/03/ahead-of-budget-season-a-call-to-protect-social-service-funding/#comments Tue, 13 Mar 2012 16:45:41 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=14662 Continue reading ]]>

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

D.C. Fair Budget Coalition's Janelle Treibitz pushes for protecting social service funding during a Monday rally.

Sandra Williams, 58, takes classes at a D.C. nonprofit in pursuance of a GED certificate. She eventually wants to become a social worker, but she’s unemployed for now and said she has can’t get a job because of her poor credit.

Anthony Hunter, 27, recently became homeless. The single father said that he needs a little help to get back on his feet. He currently lives off of $623 a month, he said.

Karima Weathers, 39, a single mother raising three children, recently lost her eyesight. She’s been in and out of shelters and has spent winter nights in her car.

They all turned out to a rally on the Wilson Building’s steps Monday morning, calling for Mayor Vincent Gray to spare funding cuts to social service programs and initiatives that help low-income D.C. residents. The rally was organized by the advocacy group D.C. Fair Budget Coalition. Mayor Gray is expected to release his proposed budget March 23.

Advocates say the situation is dire; one in three D.C. children lives in poverty and the waiting list for affordable housing is more than 37,000 people long.

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

"I'm not asking for you to take care of me for the rest of my life," Anthony Hunter said at Monday's rally.

The numbers seem simple: the city has $240 million left over from the fiscal 2011 budget, and projections show a $164 million shortfall in the coming year. But a D.C. law requires all leftover money to be put into the city’s savings. The impetus behind saving the money is improving D.C.’s financial footing and its bond rating, after years of surplus money being spent, leaving budget gaps.

Coalition leader Janelle Treibitz said Mayor Gray could change the law and propose to save half of the surplus, while spending the other half to cover the budget gap. That, she said, would help prevent cuts to programs.

“All this takes is the Mayor’s will,” Treibitz said.

Last year, Mayor Gray proposed $187 million in cuts, 60 percent of which were to social services. Some of the cuts were in response to a loss of federal funding.

“In a way, [this year] is kind of worse because we’re facing another year of cuts after a year of cuts,” Farah Fosse of the Latino Economic Development Corporation said.

Mayor Gray’s spokesman confirmed to the Washington Examiner that the coalition met with the Mayor last week. Councilmembers Michael Brown (At-large) and Tommy Wells (Ward 6) spoke before the rally, stating their support for protecting affordable housing and social service funding.


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Unemployment Down For Whites, Up for Blacks, Hispanics http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/03/unemployment-down-for-whites-up-for-blacks-hispanics/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/03/unemployment-down-for-whites-up-for-blacks-hispanics/#comments Fri, 09 Mar 2012 14:57:54 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=14603 Continue reading ]]>

Mario Tama / Getty Images

Job seekers wait in line to attend a job fair in New York City on Jan. 26.

The national unemployment rate remains unchanged at 8.3 percent, but unemployment dropped slightly for whites while it rose for African Americans and Hispanics, according to data released Friday morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Unemployment among whites dropped from 7.4 percent in January to 7.3 percent in February. For blacks, it rose from 13.6 to 14.1 percent. The Hispanic unemployment also slightly rose, from 10.5 to 10.7 percent. The bureau doesn’t have seasonally-adjusted unemployment data for Asians. Unemployment among immigrants rose from 9.7 to 10 percent while it dropped for U.S.-born citizens, from 8.2 to 7.8 percent.

Although overall unemployment didn’t change between January and February, the economy did see the addition of 227,000 new jobs. Unemployment didn’t drop largely because more people entered or returned to the labor market after giving up looking for work. The rate measures how many people in the labor market don’t have jobs.

Data on local unemployment rates, including D.C., will be released Tuesday. The latest unemployment figure for D.C. is 10.1 percent, higher than the national average.

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Do Social Service Agencies Prevent Economic Development? http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/02/do-social-service-agencies-prevent-economic-development/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/02/do-social-service-agencies-prevent-economic-development/#comments Wed, 29 Feb 2012 15:59:09 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=14294 Continue reading ]]>

Elly Blue / DCentric

Some vocal Ward 8 residents say they don’t want to see more social service agencies opening in their community. One of their main concerns: that such facilities, in particular group homes and shelters, hinder redevelopment in a community that needs it.

But do the presence of such services, in of themselves, prevent economic development from happening?

It’s complicated, says Lois Takahashi, a University of California, Los Angeles professor who focuses on community opposition to human service facilities. She hasn’t seen evidence that concentrating social services, such as shelters and clinics, hinders economic development in neighborhoods.

“It seems to be more the other direction. [Bringing in social service agencies] improves building stock, brings staff in that’s spending money in local communities,” Takahashi says.

Lack of economic development usually has more to do “with the politics of redevelopment and development,” Takahashi notes.

But concentrating social services in a community could play some role in preventing economic development, Takahashi says, depending on a number of factors. There are market forces and government regulations, such as zoning, that could make it easier and cheaper for shelters, rather than grocery stores, to open in certain communities. Location of services can play a role in preventing economic development, too. For instance, many opposed Calvary Women’s Services’ plans to open along Good Hope Road SE, not just because it was another social service agency, but because the transition housing for women would be in the heart of downtown Anacostia’s business district.

Another point of contention is the question of who is being served by the social agencies. If they’re primarily helping people who don’t live in the community, then there are issues of equity, that one community burdens the load for everyone — the “dumping ground” argument. But if the agencies are mostly helping people who live in the area, then it’s a matter of “recognizing our neighbors need help,” Takahashi said.

Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry told DCentric he doesn’t think his community has become a dumping ground for social service agencies.

“I welcome these agencies because they’re serving the people in the community, and the people in the community don’t have to go way across town to get these services,” Barry said. “What’s missing is for the city to require in the contract that these agencies hire D.C. residents, or Ward 8 residents.”

Unemployment is at nearly 25 percent in Ward 8, and the median household income is $31,188. Barry said the focus should be on decreasing the unemployment rate and increasing the incomes of existing Ward 8 residents “so that people can take care of themselves. But as long as you have that not happening, you need [the agencies].”

But opponents of bringing in more services argue that they prevent the economic development needed to bring those desperately needed jobs.

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