These are the Significant Costs of Predatory Loans

By Hunter Davis, a Summer 2015 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

Earlier this month, the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) held a briefing – and released a groundbreaking new report – on the cumulative costs of abusive lending, a broad term that includes a variety of loans such as student, payday, and car title loans. What distinguishes abusive loans from responsible ones is a lack of transparency concerning the risks associated with taking out a loan and a lack of consideration concerning the borrower’s ability to repay the loan. Combined with high interest rates and hidden fees, abusive loans often force the borrower to take out additional loans in order to make their existing payments, spurring on an endless cycle of debt.

Why would an individual choose to take such a risk? The fact is, many people don’t have a choice. Marceline White of Moving Maryland Forward Network moderated the briefing and pointed out that many individuals who are desperate for short-term cash and are unable to meet qualifications for a responsible loan have no other choice. After an individual exhausts their savings, assets, and other potential lenders, few options remain. And according to a recent survey from the Federal Reserve, two-thirds of Americans making under $40,000 per year would either have to sell something or borrow money in the event of an emergency expense of at least $400.

Also troubling is that in 2013, White households had 13 times the median wealth of Black households and 10 times the median wealth of Hispanic households – both which are higher than 2010 levels, according to Pew Research Center.

With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that low-income people of color are the most frequent victims of these types of loans. People of color are two to three times more likely to be the victim of a predatory loan, exacerbating the racial wealth gap. As CRL President Mike Calhoun stated, “the difference between a fair and affordable loan and a predatory loan often becomes the difference between achieving greater prosperity and falling into a cycle of unending debt.” As they struggle to pay back high fees and associated interest, borrowers are unable to save money, hindering upward mobility.

While detrimental to individual families and communities, predatory loans are very lucrative for the lender. Every year, borrowers pay at least $2.6 billion in the form of payday loans alone; the costs of all types of predatory lending practices are virtually incalculable, according to the CRL report.

One solution to this problem lies in the forging of robust alliances. For example, diverse faith groups have weighed in, and their stance could be a useful tool in reaching out to conservatives, who as Rep. Keith Ellison, D. Minn., pointed out, will be key to addressing these problems.

However, as several panelists indicated, outlawing abusive loans is insufficient, as it will leave hordes of desperate Americans without any means of accessing loans. Ellison plans to advance a bill to comprehensively solve this problem. The focus will be on helping people gain credit and improving their credit scores in order to make fair loans more widely accessible. While outlawing abusive loans is an important first step, acknowledging the implications of a deterrence-based approach and planning accordingly is crucial in formulating effective policy.

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Immigrant Heritage Month 2015: Celebrating the Importance of DACA and DAPA

By Julia Burzynski, a Summer 2015 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

During the month of June, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights partnered with the Immigrant Heritage Month Campaign to celebrate and commemorate the history and lives of the diverse immigrant groups and people who together comprise our unique American narrative. As we close out the month of June and Immigrant Heritage Month, it is essential to reflect on the importance of programs that have benefited the lives of millions of immigrants, such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

Issued by President Obama in 2012, DACA allowed for up to 1.2 million eligible undocumented immigrants to emerge from the shadows and participate openly in their communities. By granting eligible people a two-year work visa and social security number, DACA opens up a wide range of education and job opportunities that were previously out of reach, allowing for countless individuals to live, work, and thrive in this country without fear of persecution. As we celebrate DACA’s three-year anniversary, we reflect on the positive impact it has already had on thousands of undocumented individuals.

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In November 2014, President Obama issued executive actions that expanded DACA and established Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), which would protect millions of undocumented parents from the threat of deportation. DAPA and the expanded DACA program will have a huge, positive effect on the four million individuals who stand to benefit from them. As of now, 15 states, more than 180 members of Congress, and dozens of city officials have all publicly filed their support for DAPA at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. DACA and DAPA are important not just for our country’s immigrants, but for all Americans who support human rights, basic fairness, and common sense.

As the month of June comes to an end, our celebration of immigrant heritage is far from over. It is imperative that we continue to defend against attempts in the courts and in Congress to dismantle DAPA and DACA to ensure that millions of immigrants who already have or would benefit from these programs are able to build a better life for themselves and for their families.

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Supreme Court Decides that Love Can’t Wait

By Hunter Davis and Matthew Meyer, Summer 2015 Leadership Conference Education Fund Interns

In a historic 5-4 decision on June 26, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges. The ruling extended the right to marry to more than 3 million people across the 13 states that previously denied the right. With this ruling, the U.S. becomes the twenty-first country to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. Same-sex couples are now free to marry in all 50 states, and will be entitled the same legal rights and benefits as heterosexual couples.

The ruling came on a historic date. Twelve years ago to the day, the Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas, and just two years ago, the Court found the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional in U.S. v. Windsor. The Obergefell decision also falls two days before the anniversary of the historic Stonewall riots, which are widely considered to be the starting point of the modern LGBT rights movement.

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Activists wait in anticipation of the Obergefell decision.

But this decision is by no means the end of the fight for LGBT equality. In the absence of comprehensive federal antidiscrimination laws, or an adequate solution for our nation’s LGBT teen homelessness problem, it’s clear that the struggle for LGBT equality is not over. Members of Congress, along with a coalition of civil rights groups (including The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights), issued a statement just hours after the Court’s decision echoing the need for comprehensive federal nondiscrimination protections. By advancing these protections, Congress can begin to address “unfinished work” in the wake of Obergefell.

Although the Obergefell decision may not have solved every problem LGBT Americans face, it has certainly moved our nation closer to that great ideal inscribed on the Supreme Court’s facade: “equal justice under law.” As Justice Kennedy acknowledged in the last paragraph of the Opinion of the Court, LGBT citizens “ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

And as Obama put it in his Rose Garden speech on Friday, “today should also give us hope that on the many issues with which we grapple, often painfully, real change is possible. Shift in hearts and minds is possible.”

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Transportation Equity Caucus Brings Crucial Perspective to Congressional Hearings

Last month, Congress narrowly averted a disastrous default of the Highway Trust Fund when it passed a two-month extension of the program, postponing—for the 33rd time in six years—a discussion on how to sustain the fund. Failing to pass any long-term financing legislation, Congress has had to transfer about $65 billion from the general fund since 2008 to keep the Highway Trust Fund solvent.

With a July 31 deadline quickly approaching, both the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee held hearings this week on long-term transportation funding solutions. The Transportation Equity Caucus (TEC) submitted written testimony to both Congressional hearings, stressing the need for transportation legislation driven by social and economic equity.

In its testimony, TEC emphasized the consequences of Congress’s continuing pattern of short-term fixes for transportation funding. By failing to provide long-term, sustained investment in transportation infrastructure, Congress has kept workers out of jobs and undercut long-term planning. “Sustained transportation investment is crucial to developing equitable communities, expanding employment opportunities, and boosting our nation’s economic recovery,” TEC said.

When most people think about transportation, they often think of it in terms of convenience. What many don’t consider is that transportation is a critical link to opportunity. Transportation connects us to jobs, schools, housing, health care, and grocery stores—all of which are crucial for low-income people trying to access jobs and build better lives for themselves and their children. As part of a national, long-term study, researchers at Harvard found that commute times were a crucial predictor of upward social mobility: families living in areas with shorter average commute times had a better chance of moving up the economic ladder than those living in areas with longer average commute times.

And yet, many of our most vulnerable Americans—people of color, low-income communities, and people with disabilities—face significant barriers to accessing reliable transportation. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, low- and moderate-income households spend 42 percent of their total annual income on transportation, while middle-income households spend less than 22 percent. Additionally, more than 22 percent of African Americans and 14 percent of Latino households have no personal vehicle.

To ensure that any long-term funding bill supports a transportation system that works for everyone, regardless of income, race or zip code, TEC concluded its testimony with a list of recommendations for the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees:

1. Utilize new revenue to expand or improve mobility and access for underserved communities.

2. Ensure that any mechanisms used to finance our nation’s transportation system (whether that be repatriation, increasing the gas tax, user fees, or other potential financing mechanisms) do not disproportionately burden low-income people.

3. Establish criteria and align federal funding to national transportation outcomes such as improved mobility for people and goods, access, transit ridership, health and safety, as well as reduced household costs, carbon emissions, and vehicle miles traveled.

Click here to read TEC’s full testimony for the House Ways and Means hearing and the Senate Finance hearing.

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How John Lewis is Transforming the Way We Teach the Civil Rights Movement

By Julia Burzynski, a Summer 2015 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

Earlier this month, Rep. John Lewis, D. Ga., and Andrew Aydin held a signing in Washington, D.C. for March: Book Two, the second book in their trilogy of graphic novels about the civil rights movement. Specifically, the series recounts Lewis’s experiences and involvement in the movement, and the importance of remembering it beyond what Aydin called the ‘nine words’: Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, “I Have a Dream.”

The purpose of this series – a purpose that is bolstered by its medium – is to teach the victories and struggles of the movement to a broader audience, including children. Lewis expressed his desire to make his stories understood by younger generations so that they may be better prepared to take on the civil rights issues of today – and tomorrow.

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More information about the books can be found here (Book One) and here (Book Two).

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150 Years Ago Today, America Got a Second Independence Day

By Tejpaul Bainiwal, a Summer 2015 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

Abraham Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but it wasn’t until June 19, 1865 – 150 years ago today – that all slaves were finally free.

On that day, Major General Gordon Granger led Union soldiers into Galveston, Texas, at the end of the war to read General Order Number 3, which began:

The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.

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A common misconception is that the Emancipation Proclamation single-handedly ended slavery throughout the United States, but it had little immediate impact on Texas because there were very few Union troops there to enforce the new Executive Order. For many slaves, freedom didn’t come until two and a half years after President Lincoln’s speech – now celebrated as Juneteenth, the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery.

Many different reasons for the delay have been suggested. One such story is that the messenger bearing news of emancipation was murdered on his way to Texas. Other theories include that the news of emancipation was intentionally withheld by slave owners, and that federal troops were waiting for slave owners to secure one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce it. Any combination of these explanations, or none of them, could be true.

Today, most states recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday or state holiday observance through a bill, house resolution, senate resolution, or joint resolution. Washington, D.C., recognizes it through a special city council resolution. See the full list of observances here.

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NAACP Launches America’s Journey for Justice

By Rowan Conybeare, a Summer 2015 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

At the Lincoln Memorial yesterday in Washington, D.C., the NAACP launched America’s Journey for Justice, an 860-mile march that will begin on August 1 in Selma, Ala., and end in D.C. on September 12.

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The overall theme of the march, according to Cornell Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP, is “our lives, our votes, our jobs, our schools matter.” That theme – one that focuses on the value of our lives and the importance of critical civil rights issues like voting, good jobs, and education – is particularly relevant this summer as the civil rights community pushes for legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act (which celebrates its 50th anniversary several days into the march), reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (or ESEA, also in its 50th year), and raise the federal minimum wage and ensure equal pay – among other issues related to good jobs and economic security.

More details will be available soon through the NAACP. You can also follow along on Twitter with #JusticeSummer.

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