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Navigating the New DC: Federal Briefing Series

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The policy environment in our nation’s capital has changed dramatically over the past six months. Where progressives and equity advocates were once ignored, we are now embraced.But as we have also seen, real change doesn’t happen on its own. Real change requires an informed, dedicated, passionate movement behind it, pushing and driving every day.

That is why we are reviving the Demand Equity Now Federal Briefing Series, which more than 1,200 of you signed up for in the spring.

We hope the new round, “Navigating the New DC,” will offer even more opportunities to share, learn, and blaze new paths for the equity movement in Washington.

(All calls Friday 1pm Eastern/10 am Pacific, unless otherwise noted)RSVP

September 11 – Health for All: How Health Reform Can Work for Every American
Featuring Jim Wallis of Sojourners, Richard Hamburg of Trust for America’s Health, and Angela Glover Blackwell of PolicyLink

September 25Make It Count: Assessing the Equity Impact of the Census

October 9Good Jobs, Green Jobs: Creating a Ladder to Workforce Success

October 23Search for Sunlight: Transparency and Accountability in the Economic Recovery

November 9Come Together: The Promise of the Harlem Children’s Zone (Time TBD)

November 20An Apple a Day: Bringing Healthy Food to All Communities

Watch for email blasts or visit for announcements about future speakers. Call-in instructions to follow closer to the date of each call.

For more information or for any questions about the series, please contact Amber Washington at

Written by Glenda Johnson

September 1st, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Today in Equity

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Daily equity news

Grass Roots Put New Orleans Back on Its Feet,” - The Wall Street Journal
With Federal Aid Finally Flowing to Hurricane-Ravaged City, a Flurry of Rebuilding Helps Shield It from U.S. Downturn

NEW ORLEANS — This once-ravaged city is finally mending from Hurricane Katrina after years of administrative delays and political disputes that choked the flow of millions of dollars in federal aid.

Money now flowing through the city is beginning to deliver the most visibly widespread improvements since Katrina struck four years ago today. Scores of public works projects are under way. The last police precinct using a FEMA trailer as temporary headquarters moved into real offices earlier this year. More than half the public schools in New Orleans have been turned into higher-performing charter schools. Returning residents have pushed the population to 76% of its prestorm total of about 455,000.

Yes, We Can Afford Health-Care Reform,” - Washington Post

“Moderate” opponents of health-care reform like to say that we cannot afford it, particularly in the midst of a recession that has widened the deficit with both reduced tax revenue and the fiscal stimulus package. This was the argument advanced by Sen. Joe Lieberman on TV a week ago and repeated by Michael Gerson in this newspaper: “Obama’s massive spending, intended to stabilize the economy, also drained the Treasury, making it more difficult to propose major new expenditures.”

 ”Report maps out solutions to child obesity,” -  USA TODAY

To make it easier for children to eat healthfully and move more, local governments in towns and cities across the country need to help create a better environment, a new report says.

Children and their families should have access to grocery stores that offer plenty of healthful food such as fruits and vegetables, and schools shouldn’t be surrounded by fast-food restaurants. Children should be able to ride their bikes or walk safely to school, and they should have safe places to play afterward, says the report out today from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and National Research Council.

Written by Keith Forest

September 1st, 2009 at 6:13 pm

The Cause Endures

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Ted Kennedy came from a family of vast wealth and nearly limitless political clout. But he spent his life fighting for those who had neither. 

He dove headlong into the tedious and often maddening work of crafting legislation to help America’s most vulnerable people — low-income people, people of color, workers, children, the mentally ill, the disabled, the elderly.

The man was not without his faults, but he dedicated himself to using his booming baritone as a voice for the voiceless, becoming one of the most prolific and dedicated legislators in the august history of the US Senate.

His soaring, commanding speeches in the well of the Senate and at the 1980 Democratic National Convention have become the stuff of legend. It was not, however, in his soaring poetry that we find Ted Kennedy’s greatest legacy — but rather in the prosaic public policy accomplishments that dramatically improved the day-to-day lives of millions of Americans just struggling to get by.

As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich wrote today, “Most Americans will never know how many things Ted Kennedy did to make their lives better, how many things he prevented that would have hurt them, and how tenaciously he fought on their behalf.”

Without the tireless efforts of Ted Kennedy, there would likely be no:

  • Civil Rights Bill of 1964, which he made an impassioned speech in favor of while still recovering from severe injuries sustained in a plane crash
  • Americans with Disabilities Act or an expansion of the Civil Rights Commission to cover discrimination on the basis of disability
  • Voting Rights Act Extension, which lowered the voting age to 18
  • State Childrens Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), which Kennedy fought to keep on the books

But it was health care reform — specifically the quest for universal coverage — that Teddy called “the cause of my life.” His passing in the heat of the current health care debate is a major loss for those fighting for his vision.

But Teddy always knew that the players on the field matter far less than the final score. He would want us all to use his death as a rallying cry — because it is from prosaic legislation that the poetry of our lives springs.

As Teddy told the DNC crowd on that hot August night in 1980, “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

Ted Kennedy has left us his legacy. His cause — equity, fairness and opportunity — will endure. We just must be strong enough to pick up his torch.

Written by Angela Glover Blackwell

August 26th, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Today in Equity

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Slums of Suburbia,” - Newsweek
Sorting through the rubble of California’s foreclosure tsunami.

John Cowgill is standing in the rain on quiet Victory Avenue in Manteca, Calif., a gridlike town of 65,000 people located just outside of Stockton. A realtor with PMZ, the biggest real-estate firm in the northern San Joaquin Valley, he is responsible for the vacant and vandalized house standing behind him; inside, grafitti covers the walls, the banister is torn off a staircase, and glass shards from a broken chandelier peak out from the carpeting. Blocks away, the road comes to an abrupt end as rows of neatly planted crops replace rows of houses.

“Look at this house and the one over there. What’s different?” Cowgill asks. At one house, the lawn is neatly trimmed and a small purple bicycle leans near the front door. At the other house, black iron bars are affixed to the door, a sight more commonly associated with the heart of the inner city than the outskirts of suburbia. Nearby, a rusty sports car sits in the driveway. “Manteca was a desirable place to live,” he explains. “But this Wild West financing meant anybody could end up here. That’s what this thing did. It scrambled communities.”

Unhealthy glut of options: Fast food dominates eating choices in vulnerable Brooklyn neighborhoods,” - The New York Daily News

In Brooklyn, you are where you eat.

Close to 60% of the borough is overweight or obese, according to recent state Health Department data.

Cutbacks pinch homeless programs,” - USA TODAY

The homeless are having more trouble getting help because of state budget cuts, and federal stimulus funding in September will fill only part of the gap, service providers for the homeless say.

“It’s a perfect storm” of falling revenue and rising need, says Joel John Roberts of PATH Partners, a group that advises communities on services for the homeless. “The holes in the safety net are getting bigger.”

Written by Keith Forest

August 25th, 2009 at 8:53 pm

Remind Us Who We’re Fighting For

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angela-color_000.jpgThis post originally appeared on The Washington Post’s “Health Care RX” weekly panel discussion, in response to the question: “Recent polls show declining support for President Obama’s handling of the health-care issue. What should he do to get the effort back on track?”

What are we even arguing about again?

Though the volume of the health-care debate has never been louder, it has never been more silent on what really matters to the real lives and real struggles of everyday Americans.

During the campaign, President Obama and his team were geniuses at keeping an even keel and steadily pushing on a single narrative — hope — that was both powerful and flexible. But during the health-care fight, they have been unfocused. Of course, it’s hard to have a consistent message when you’re bargaining with 535 potential legislative partners at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue (not to mention the dozens of TV and radio hosts who wield inordinate power in the modern media landscape).

Obama must take a step back and remind all Americans why we need to reform health care in the first place.

He needs to fill a town hall with people who have faced death or bankruptcy because of insufficient insurance or no insurance at all. Participants shouldn’t be hard to find — all of us have friends or neighbors or family members who have faced this harsh reality (or just go to Andrew Sullivan’s site where he has spent the past several weeks collecting dozens of heartbreaking “Views from Your Sickbed”)

Obama is a master of policy detail and — If he weren’t so politically savvy — would have made a terrific technocrat. But he must stress the big picture here.

We all know the health-care system is broken. We all know dealing with insurance companies is a maddening, often-frightening task. And we all know people will die needlessly unless we get some kind of reform now.

We need Obama to remind us of this fact. Every day. Every hour. The real pain of real Americans needs to become the center of this debate again, not the pitched voices of ill-informed mobs.

Written by Dan Lavoie

August 25th, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Help New Orleans, Support Rebuild-a-Thon

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The nation is nearing the four-year mark since hurricanes, floods, and levee breaches wreaked havoc on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

Since the devastation, PolicyLink has worked with others in the region to secure an equitable recovery. For example, we served as an advisor on housing policy to several governmental and philanthropic agencies and we helped create the Louisiana Housing Alliance, a coalition of over 100 local and statewide organizations collaborating to create affordable and equitable housing policy at the parish, state, and federal levels. As director of our Louisiana initiative, I see the fearless work that continues to happen in the face of adversity. And I’m extremely honored to be part of the battle for justice, fairness, and equity.

The Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation (LDRF) has been on the front lines of funding organizations involved in recovery work. We know their good work first hand, and that’s why we’re asking you to support their Rebuild-a-Thon.

Indeed, the fight continues. That’s why I’m reaching out to you.

If you can’t make it down to New Orleans to paint a house or pound a few nails (which is what I’ll be doing), you can help me raise money so that LDRF can continue fulfilling their mission — from helping small businesses reopen their doors to building the capacity of organizations to advocate for real policy change.

Please visit my fundraising page, donate what you can, and tell others about it.

I believe in an equitable recovery for Louisiana, and I know you do, too.  Thank you for walking this road with us.

In solidarity,


Written by Kalima Rose

August 24th, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Experts See “Uneven” Housing Recovery in Gulf Coast

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NEW ORLEANS — Nearly four years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, housing for the Gulf Coast’s most vulnerable residents remains scarce and continues to mar other significant progress made in the region so far, experts told a Congressional field hearing yesterday and today.

While community groups and local leaders have made enormous strides in rebuilding and reclaiming many neighborhoods throughout the Gulf Coast, federal and state aid programs — most notably the Road Home program — have failed to live up to their promise.

“The progress of housing recovery at the community level has been very uneven and has led to racial and social inequities,” Dominique Duval-Diop, senior associate in the PolicyLink office in New Orleans, said at Thursday’s hearing. “We may have missed the opportunity to create sustainable and resilient communities — communities that are able to initiate and invest in their own recovery and redevelopment.”

The Congressional field hearings are being conducted by Rep. Maxine Waters, chairwoman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity. The hearings will continue place today at Lawless Memorial Chapel, Dillard University, 2601 Gentilly Boulevard, New Orleans.

Other experts who testified included:

  • Davida Finger of Loyola Law Clinic
  • Allison Plyer of the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center
  • Laura Tuggle of Southeast Louisiana Legal Aid
  • James Perry of Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center
  • Cynthia Wiggins, a public housing resident
  • Angela Patterson of Unity of Greater New Orleans
  • Anita Sinha of the Advancement Project

The experts look at a wide range of issues, including:

  • The difficulty homeowners faced in navigating the Road Home program
  • Significant New Orleans rent increases since 2005
  • Ongoing difficulty for elderly, disabled, and low-income households who formerly lived in HUD-assisted homes that have still not been replaced
  • Fair housing violations that are prevalent post-Katrina.
  • The growth in the homeless population from 6000 to 12,000 since Katrina.

In 2007 and 2008, PolicyLink undertook major studies of the three major housing rebuilding programs: the Road Home homeowners program; the Multifamily Rental Program (funded through Low Income Housing Tax Credits and Disaster CDBG funds); and the Small Rental Repair Program.  Significant challenges remain in each of those programs.

In particular, the Road Home grant formula has had a more negative effect on those whose damage estimates were higher than their home value. Those whose damages were greater than their pre-storm home value - 47.3% of all applicants rebuilding in place - fell on average $69,000 short of the money they need to rebuild.

This was a particular problem in low-income, predominantly black neighborhoods in New Orleans. More than 60 percent of households in New Orleans East and the Lower 9th Ward have gaps over $40,000, compared to 49 percent citywide and 33 percent statewide. The average rebuilding cost gap for those communities were $65,000 and $68,000, respectively — a mammoth sum for low-income residents struggling to come home.

But insufficient government programs are far from residents’ only concerns, Duval-Diop says.

“Many recipients face insufficient rebuilding grants, contractor fraud, a high-cost environment, inability to access additional credit, and home-title succession challenges that delay or deny funding for the home repair.,” she said. “Our analysis found that the

majority of homeowners choosing to rebuild in place did not have sufficient resources to fully recover their homes.”

For more information on Gulf Coast rebuilding, please visit

Written by Dan Lavoie

August 21st, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Today in Equity

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Daily equity news

Stars Aligning on School Lunches,” - The New York Times

ANN COOPER has made a career out of hammering on the poor quality of public school food. The School Nutrition Association, with 55,000 members, represents the people who prepare it.

Imagine Ms. Cooper’s surprise when she was invited to the association’s upcoming conference to discuss the Lunch Box, a system she developed to help school districts wean themselves from packaged, heavily processed food and begin cooking mostly local food from scratch.

  ”Inmates grow, gather crops to feed the hungry,” - Times-Picayune (AP)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The nation’s food banks, struggling to meet demand in hard times, are turning to prison inmates for free labor to help feed the hungry.

Several states are sending inmates into already harvested fields to scavenge millions of pounds of leftover potatoes, berries and other crops that otherwise would go to waste. Others are using prisoners to plant and harvest vegetables.

The next healthcare battle: cutting Medicare Advantage,” - Los Angeles Times

President Obama, struggling to discredit bogus charges that his healthcare overhaul would create “death panels,” soon could face another emotionally charged obstacle — a plan to trim the federal subsidy for a program used by nearly a quarter of Medicare beneficiaries.

The program, known as Medicare Advantage, pays insurance companies a hefty premium to enroll senior citizens and provide their medical services through managed-care networks.

Written by Keith Forest

August 20th, 2009 at 7:48 pm

Healthy Food For All: Building Equitable and Sustainable Food Systems In Detroit and Oakland

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“Yes, there’s a difference in the stores in our area compared to the stores in (higher-income) Montclair or somewhere else. You know, the vegetables are great up there, everything is so beautiful. And you come down here, and I think we get ours last off the truck.”

That is how one Oakland resident describes the state of healthy food access in their community — one of more than 180 voices that helped create Healthy Food For All: Building Equitable and Sustainable Food Systems in Detroit and Oakland, a new report by PolicyLink, the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems at Michigan State University, and the Fair Food Network.

Healthy Food For All_largeThe report shows clearly that our food system – from farm to table to landfill – is broken, unhealthy, unsustainable, and unjust.

One of the worst symptoms of this broken system is the grocery gap in low-income communities of color: Twenty-six million urban residents live in low-income neighborhoods where there is no supermarket within walking distance.

The report not only highlights residents’ struggles, it also lifts up the successes we’ve seen driven by residents, advocates, and community groups. Promising strategies showcased in the report include:

* Developing or attracting new neighborhood grocery stores
* Expanding local food production through urban farms and community gardens
* Enabling the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at farmers’ markets
* Establishing food policy councils
* Linking low-income residents to jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities in food businesses

The movement for equitable access to healthy food is gaining strength every day. Read the report for more ideas on how to ensure better access for all communities.

Written by Glenda Johnson

August 19th, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Today in Equity

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Daily equity news

Tennessee Experiment’s High Cost Fuels Health-Care Debate,” - The Wall Street Journal

In 1994, Tennessee launched an ambitious public insurance program to cover its uninsured. The plan, TennCare, fulfilled that mission but nearly bankrupted the state in the process.

 ”Poll: 57% don’t see stimulus working,” - USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Six months after President Obama launched a $787 billion plan to right the nation’s economy, a majority of Americans think the avalanche of new federal aid has cost too much and done too little to end the recession.

 ”New Orleans Neighborhood Housing Services to run $20 million home repair effort,” - The Times-Picayune

The city is negotiating a deal with the nonprofit Neighborhood Housing Services to run a home-repair program that would make nearly $20 million available to owners of storm-damaged property, according to a recent city memo describing the proposal.

Written by Keith Forest

August 18th, 2009 at 8:15 pm