March 27, 2014

By Freddie Allen

NNPA Washington Correspondent


As the housing market recovers a new report by the Urban Institute shows that Black borrowers “have been disproportionately shut out of the market.”

According to the report titled, “Where Have All the Loans Gone? The Impact of Credit Availability on Mortgage Volume,” the share of Black borrowers was 6 percent in 2001 but fell to 4.8 percent in 2012. By contrast, the share of White borrowers increased more than 3 percent from 2001 to 2012 and now account for 71.2 percent of mortgage loans.

From 2001 to 2012, the number of loans that went to Black borrowers decreased by 55 percent while the number of loans to Whites dropped 41 percent, with most of the losses occurring after 2005.

Nearly 5 million first lien mortgages for home purchases were filed in 2001, the Urban Institute report said. The number of first lien mortgages for home purchases has declined more than 44 percent over the same period.

According to a report by Zillow, a home and real estate marketplace and the National Urban League, “Blacks experience the highest loan application denial rates. 1 in 4 blacks will be denied their conventional loan application, as opposed to 1 in 10 whites.”

Blacks apply for only 6 percent of mortgage purchases, despite accounting for more than 12 percent of the United States population. On the other hand, Whites sought loans at a rate approximate to their composition of the population. Whites – account for 63 percent of the population – filed nearly 65 percent of the mortgage loan applications, according to the Zillow/NUL report.

Blacks qualify for 2 percent of conventional home loans compared to Whites who account for more than 73 percent of conventional home loans.

Even though a majority of people poll said that their loan application process was positive, many felt that their race was a factor in that experience.

“Specifically, 37 percent of Hispanics, 33 percent of blacks, 25 percent of Asians and 14 percent of whites said they thought race was a contributing factor in their experience,” stated the Zillow/NUL report.

In some instances, that has been documented. In recent years, a large banks, including Bank of America and Wells Fargo, have paid millions of dollars in penalties to settle federal lawsuits for discriminating against minority borrowers.

Blacks and Hispanics are much more likely to qualify for Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans which often have lower down payment requirements, and reflects the diversity of the U.S. population, the Zillow/NUL report said.

“Among the set of FHA applications for a home loan, 6.8 percent are from white applicants, 10.1 from black, 16.5 from Hispanic and 3.2 percent from Asian,” state the Zillow/NUL report.

The housing market crisis resulted in roughly 7 million homes being lost to foreclosure, a process that makes it much harder for people to qualify for a new mortgage. The Urban Institute also reported that the homeownership rate fell 4 percent from 69 percent in 2005 to 65 percent in 2012, which means 5 million former homeowners are renting now.

Sales volume has also decreased from a 6.25 million homes in 2001 to just more than 5 million units in 2012, a 20 percent decrease.

The decrease in homeownership also limits the opportunity for many Black families to build wealth.

The Institute on Assets and Social Policy (IASP), a research and advocacy group that supports economic equality, found that length of homeownership was one of the primary factors that contributed to the wealth gap between Blacks and Whites. The Black homeownership rate is nearly 30 percent lower than the homeownership rate for Whites.

The IASP also reported that some White families had access to family inheritances to help pay for home purchases that helped them build home equity much faster than Blacks.

And that comes at a price.

“Ultimately, it hinders the economy through fewer new home sales, and less spending on the myriad of items that go along with home purchases,” said the Urban Institute report. “There is an urgent need to expand the credit box to improve opportunities for households to build wealth and strengthen the economic recovery.”

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March 13, 2014

By Kenneth D. Miller

Assistant Managing Editor


Robert K. Ross, M.D., is president and chief executive officer for The California Endowment, a health foundation established in 1996 to address the health needs of Californians. During his tenure at CE, the foundation has focused on the health needs of underserved Californians by championing the cause of health coverage for all children, strengthening the capacity of community health centers, improving health services for farm worker and ex‐offender populations. Re­cently, the Los Angeles Sentinel caught up with Dr. Ross, who talked about why he loves his role at CE, the Affordable Care Act, as it relates to underserved communities and what healthcare improvements he hopes to see in communities of color.

About Dr. Robert Ross from the California Endowment:

My roots are in New York City. I grew up in the South Bronx.

I am a pediatrician by trade. I practiced in New Jersey and then Philadelphia for a number of years before turning to a career in public health and community health. I came to this leadership position in late 2000. This is my 14th year at the foundation.

LAWT: Wow, talk about a transition – the Bronx to here. Who was it who had their antennas out and came to you and said, ‘[we want you] at the California Endowment?’

RR: It’s hard to say. I’m not sure how they found me.

The California Endowment went through a series of two or three CEOs, none of whom were deemed appropriate to be the permanent CEO. It was right around that time I got recruited to join the board.

Someone said, ‘Bob, you should resign from the board so you could apply for the position.’ And, the first time I was asked I couldn’t do it. I just had too much going on in San Diego.

Another year went by and they were still on the search. The board vice chair at the time said, ‘you bring a lot of experience and skill that we’re looking for. Why don’t you resign from the board so you can interview and apply.’ So, that happened in the middle of 2000.

And so, that’s how they found me. This job’s been a gift, a privilege. It’s the best job in the world.

LAWT: ‘It’s the best job in the world.’ Why do you say that?

RR: It’s really a blessing to work for a corporation that shares your core values. That’s a gift. Most people don’t have that luxury.

With this board, they’ve been clear that underserved, marginalized communities are a priority for us.

LAWT: Does the foundation do anything beyond the fourteen communities that they give grants to?

RR: We focus on fourteen underserved communities across the state. We’re working with leaders of those fourteen communities to assure healthy futures for young people in those neighborhoods.

We know there’s good and bad with that. The good is that you can stay with the community and see what impact your investments have over time. The downside is that you constrain the ability of the communities outside of those fourteen to get at your resources.

And so, it’s not an easy decision but we felt that there are two ways to look at philanthropic dollars. One way is charity. The other one’s change. And, it was my view in the early years of the foundation, we were funding too much charity and not enough change.

Charity is a lot easier to fund. It’s easier to give 5 million dollars to a children’s hospital to get your name on the wing. (For example) the California Endowment Emer­gency Room … the ribbon cutting is nice, the photo op is nice. Funding is not as glorious.

LAWT: How do you go about determining who gets what (among those underserved communities)? We live in a community with a lot of other ethnicities but the core African American community usually feels slighted, like we’re always left out.

RR: Fact number one is that we’re a $3 billion foundation in assets. We’re California’s largest health foundation and maybe California’s fourth largest foundation. And, we’re about number sixteen or seventeen in the country.

So, we’re a big foundation. That said, it is fiscally impossible for us to address the needs of every underserved community in the state of California. The money just doesn’t go that far.

To put it another way, we do about $150 million a year in grants in charitable activity. That’s about one half of one percent of the state Medicaid budget. $3 billion sounds like a lot of money and it is and $150 million a year sounds like a lot of money and it is but by definition someone is going to be left out.

[Fact] number two, everybody thinks their community gets the short end of the stick. From the Latinos, we hear that African Americans get far more than their fair share of resources and they don’t get enough. From the gay and lesbian community [we hear], ‘we get shorted…’ Women’s groups complain that we have more of a focus on young men of color.

We try not to get paralyzed by those discussions. We look at our mission.

We look at our strategic plan and what we have prioritized. We are trying to get some things done with these dollars. So, the best way to approach a foundation, California Endowment or not, make sure you understand what that foundation is about.

That said, African American communities are at the short end of the stick on a lot of these health inequities, so they should get more. We have just begun to routinely collect data on who we’re funding on an ethnicity basis. [Underserved communities] have been looking up for so long from where they are, that it appears that no one considers them a priority. We understand that.

LAWT: What is your role in Covered California?

RR: As it relates to communities of color in general and particularly African American communities, we think we’re at a pretty magical moment. We have the right kind of leadership in the right kind of places [like] the school district and the state legislature. We [also] have Obamacare.

Obamacare is a once in a fifty year opportunity. We haven’t seen anything this big since Medicaid in 1964. We felt the three year window that we’re in right now (2013-2016) the beginning of Obamacare, is extremely critical to underserved communities, not only to get them enrolled but to also make sure the delivery system is reforming in a way that’s more accessible to their needs.

And, Obamacare does that in a number of ways, like looking at mental health and providing more dollars for prevention services. One issue for me is that we see African American and Latino enrollment lagging. [One reason is] we’re not message communities, we’re messenger communities.

In our communities the messenger has just as much weight [sometimes] even more weight than the message. These are communities where what the minister says, what the beauty salon owner says, what the barbershop owner says holds more weight than the millions that could be thrown at an ad campaign.

(Dr. Ross thinks the solution is just getting the right message out with the right messenger).

There are two ways to get coverage if you don’t have coverage through Obamacare. One way is through the health exchange. That’s where you can get subsidies for your coverage. The other thing Obama­care did was expand Medicaid.

There is a cutoff enrollment date for Covered California (the health exchange), which is March 31. There is no cutoff date for Medicaid. The exchange enrollment will start again in October.

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March 06, 2014

By Kenneth D. Miller

Assistant Managing Editor


The Black Law Students Association (BLSA) presented prominent attorney, Robert H. McNeill Jr. with its second annual Outstanding Alumni Award on Feb. 27 at Southwestern Law School on the 35th anniversary of his California State Bar exam.

“When I first got the call, I immediately said yes (to accepting the award), but it was my wife (Debra) who suggested that I do it on February 27th.  That was really important to me,” McNiell explained to the bevy of students and lawyers gathered at prestigious Southwestern Law School in downtown Los Angeles.

Accompanied by his wife, Debra and two daughters, Erica and Stacey, McNeill was also saluted by his esteemed colleagues and partners with the highly successful Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt Law Firm at the event hosted by BLSA.

McNeill became the second recipient of the award, after former Johnnie Cochran associate, Shawn Chapman Holley was honored in 2013 by BLSA.

McNeill obtained his Juris Doctorate Degree from South­western University Law School in December 1978, and subsequently passed the State Bar on the first try.

“Southwestern has meant so much to me and my family that I can’t begin to express it. It has enabled me to meet many people and help me become the person that I am today,” McNeill said.

He also lauded BLSA Co-President, Davetta Selma and BLSA for their role in aiding and supporting Black law students.

The Black Law Students Association helps African Ameri­can students in the areas of providing clothing for interviews and also volunteer legal support for various organizations. The South­western Law School chapter of the BLSA is a member of the national BLSA chapter.

“This is really important to me because I realize the role Black Law School Association has in helping Black law students graduate and get jobs and overcome the years of discrimination in the legal field.”

McNeill explained to the audience his humble beginnings from North Carolina, where he was born by a river in the shadow of a billboard hoisting the images of the notorious members of the Klu Klux Klan.

“They were wearing sheets and the sign read, ‘This is Klan Country,’” he recalled.

“I saw them march and I walked pass white schools to the get to segregated school on the other side of town and sometimes with no lunch and no shoes. But to get to California and go to law school at Southwestern and get good jobs, the City Attorney, the District Attorney, be in private practice with the greatest lawyers ever. I believe that’s what they call over coming,” McNeill added.

McNeill followed in the footsteps of the late Mayor, Tom Bradley, who is among the most outstanding Black alumni to graduate from Southwestern Law School during its 100-year existence.

He served as a Deputy City Attorney for the City of Los Angeles and as Deputy District Attorney for the County of Los Angeles, was appointed to the Los Angeles County Commission on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs in 1993 by then County Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke, and served more than three 4-year terms until his resignation in 2008.

In addition he has also served as a Deputy County Assessor from 1963 to 1977. He served as a member of the Los Angeles County Capital Case Fee Committee from 1993 to 1998 by appointment of the Supervising Judge of the Los Angeles Municipal Court. McNeill was appointed to the Board of Directors of the California Science Center in Exposition Park by California Governor Gray Davis in 2001 for a four-year term.

Among his many achievements has been obtaining not guilty verdicts in murder cases as a criminal defense attorney, defending a pediatric dentist against more than 40 felony and 25 misdemeanor counts of child endangerment in a jury trial against the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office and also fighting for the rights of women.

His first case was when he was discriminated against. McNeill was told by whites that he could not live in their community because he was Black, but he vigorously fought and won and has been winning, mentoring and serving as a beacon of hope for Black law students ever since.

However, McNeill cites a moment when he first listened to and then marched with the great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while a student in the South as one of his greatest achievements.

“It was in 1962 when I got the chance to listen to a speech in person at my school and then march with him from that school five miles over into the city to desegregate a lunch counter. I didn’t realize the significance at the time, but I was happy about it. I didn’t realize that I was marching with a person who would become one of the greatest persons who ever lived.”

For those organizations such as the Brotherhood Crusade and others that he has fought for pro bono, and the many former students who he gave their first job when no one else would, Mr. Robert H. McNeill Jr. may be considered the greatest person who ever lived.

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March 06, 2014

By Alan Fram

Associated Press


WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama sent Congress a $3.9 trillion budget Tuesday that would funnel money into road building, education and other economy-bolstering programs, handing Demo­crats a playbook for their election-year themes of creating jobs and narrowing the income gap between rich and poor.

The blueprint for fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1, is laden with populist proposals designed to fortify those goals. It includes new spending for pre-school education and job training, expanded tax credits for 13.5 million low-income workers without children and more than $1 trillion in higher taxes over the next decade, mostly for the wealthiest Americans.

“As a country, we’ve got to make a decision if we’re going to protect tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans or if we’re going to make smart investments necessary to create jobs and grow our economy and expand opportunity for every American,” Obama told students at an elementary school in the nation’s capital.

With an eye in part on job creation, money would be spent to upgrade highways and railroads, Veterans Affairs hospitals and national parks. Additional funds would be aimed at clean energy research, creating 45 public-private manufacturing institutes for spurring innovation and training workers whose companies have closed or moved.

To help pay for those initiatives and others and trim federal deficits as well, Obama relies in part on higher revenue.

He would raise $651 billion by limiting tax deductions for the nation’s highest earners and with a “Buffett tax” — named for billionaire Warren Buffett — slapping minimum levies on the highest-earning people. Taxes would also be raised on large estates, financial institutions, tobacco products, airline passengers and managers of private investment funds.

Congress has ignored those revenue proposals and many of Obama’s spending ideas before. With the entire House and one-third of the Senate facing re-election in November, campaign-year pressures and gridlock between the Demo­cratic-led Senate and Republican dominated House all but ensure that few of the president’s initiatives will go far.

“The president has offered perhaps his most irresponsible budget yet,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has participated in two failed rounds of deficit-reduction talks with Obama since 2011. “American families looking for jobs and opportunity will find only more government in this plan.”

“The president’s budget is yet another disappointment because it reinforces the status quo,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “It would demand that families pay more so Washington can spend more.”

The Republican recipe for accelerating economic growth includes cutting taxes or overhauling the entire tax code, and they criticize higher spending as wasteful.

Obama’s budget claims to obey overall agency spending limits that were enacted in December after a bipartisan compromise was reached between Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the heads of the House and Senate budget committees.

Yet Obama was proposing an additional package of $55 billion in spending priorities, half for defense and half for domestic programs.

Without that extra money, Pentagon spending be $496 billion, the same as this year. The Pentagon plans to shrink the Army from 490,000 active-duty soldiers to as few as 440,000 over the coming five years — the smallest since just before World War II.

The extra funds would allow steps like buying additional aircraft and enhancing training.

On the domestic side, Obama would use the additional money for grants to states for preschools, new research financed by the National Institutes of Health and modernization of aviation safety systems.

That extra spending would be paid for by cutting federal crop insurance, raising airline passenger fees and capping retirement account tax benefits for wealthy savers — all of which would face an uphill climb in Congress.

The White House released fewer budget documents than normal on Tuesday, making it hard to determine exact costs and details of some of those additional spending proposals and others, such as the 2015 price tag for Obama's health care overhaul.

However, Obama’s plan to expand the earned income tax credit to childless, low-income workers would cost $116 billion over 10 years. It would increase the current $500 maximum those recipients can receive to $1,000.

The budget projects a 2015 deficit of $564 billion and a shortfall this year of $649 billion. If those come true, it would mark three straight years of annual red ink under $1 trillion, following four previous years when deficits exceeded that mark every time.

The president’s spending plan also takes credit for reducing accumulated deficits over coming decade by $2.2 trillion. But nearly one-third of that comes from claimed savings from the end of the U.S. war in Iraq and the gradual withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan.

Critics argue that those savings are fictional because with the ending of U.S. involvement in those conflicts, no one had been expecting that money to be spent on combat.

Other savings the president claims include $158 billion from his proposal to revamp immigration laws, which has stalled in Congress. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has made a similar estimate, with federal revenue accruing as more immigrants work and pay taxes.

The budget also retains Obama’s 2012 proposal to reshape corporate income taxes, including lowering the top rate from 28 percent to 25 percent. It says the overhaul would raise a one-time $150 billion with steps like smaller loopholes for U.S. companies doing business overseas — about half of which Obama would use to finance transportation improvements.

That resembles a proposal by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., in a rare instance of overlap on revenues by the two parties. But prospects for a tax overhaul remain dim in an election year.

Much of the rest of Obama’s deficit reduction would come from other proposals with little chance of surviving in Congress, including higher taxes and Medicare costs for the rich and cuts in government payments to pharmaceutical companies and other Medicare providers. With declining budget deficits, it has become easier for lawmakers to avoid seriously considering the politically painful tax increases and spending cuts needed to significantly reduce the shortfalls.

Thus, the president’s budget does not renew last year’s offer — hated by many fellow Democrats — to save money by slowing increases of Social Security benefits. The White House says that plan was advanced only to entice congressional Republicans into deficit-reduction talks and was excluded this year after GOP leaders refused to reciprocate by offering tax increases.

Obama’s budget starts what should be a relatively peaceful year on Washington’s fiscal front lines. That is because land mines embedded in the budgetary landscape have been defused this time around after cliffhanger, partisan showdowns in recent years.

Instead of the annual fight over spending limits — which last year helped produce a 16-day partial government shutdown — Murray and Ryan's bipartisan compromise set an overall agency spending cap for the next two years. That has eliminated the need for lawmakers to do anything but provide the details in later spending bills, easing the threat of another federal closure.

Also missing this year is a need to extend the government’s debt limit, which in the past has sparked battles that threatened economy-jarring federal defaults. Congress has given the Treasury Department authority to borrow money into next March, eliminating a must-pass legislative vehicle that either side might use to make demands.

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March 06, 2014

LAWT News Service

Officials from the California Wellness Foundation (TCWF) said they are pleased to announce the appointment of their first African American Woman President & CEO Judy Belk.

“Belk is a seasoned leader with more than 25 years of senior management experience in the philanthropic, government, nonprofit and corporate sectors,” they said.

“She currently serves as the vice president of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) and has played a pivotal role in building it into one of the nation’s largest independent nonprofit advisory firms.”

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