Monthly Archives: February 2013

Toxin-Free Cosmetics Expand Market-Share

By Molly M. Ginty

WeNews correspondent


Toxic chemicals have been removed from some makeup, but the ugly truth is that these ingredients persist after a decade of controversy. The good news is that consumer resources are coming to the rescue.

woman putting on lipstick

 Credit: _Frankenstein_ on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

(WOMENSENEWS)–PixieDust. Triple Pearl. Infinity Cream.

If these words sound magical, to women’s health advocates, they are: the names of cosmetics that are specially brewed to be free of harmful chemicals.

“Natural” products like these new 2013 ones (a nail polish by Zoya, a face powder by Jane Iredale and a moisturizer by Josie Maran) have surged in popularity in recent years.

The U.S. market for natural skin care, hair care and makeup products spiked 61 percent from 2005 to 2010 and now generate $8 billion in annual sales. This market is projected to reach $11 billion by 2016, with 1-in-8 women using natural products, reports Packaged Facts, a market research firm in Rockville, Md.

In the past decade, toxin-free cosmetics have been introduced by major companies (such as L’Oreal, Revlon and Chanel) as well as mid-sized ones (such as Dashing Diva and Dr. Hauschka). Small businesses that specialize in natural products (such as Badger, Suki and Good for You Girls) have burgeoned, then flourished.

Still, scientists and grassroots activists say cosmetics companies and federal regulators are failing to do all they should to keep makeup free of problem ingredients such as the neurotoxin toluene (used to help nail polish adhere smoothly) and a class of carcinogens called parabens (used as preservatives in face powders and moisturizers alike).

“The existing system for regulating our industry is overdue for a makeover,” says Lezlee Westine, president of the Personal Care Products Council, a trade group in Washington, D.C.

The Safe Cosmetics Act, which would mandate full ingredient disclosure and phase out the use of carcinogens, failed to pass in Congress in 2011. Lawmakers such as Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., and Reps. Janice Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Edward Markey, D-Mass., hope to reintroduce it later this year.

For now, though, health advocates urge consumer vigilance.


12 Products Daily


Cancer survivor Kristi Marsh is lobbying to remove carcinogens from cosmetics to protect the future health of her daughter, Kaytee.
Cancer survivor Kristi Marsh is lobbying to remove carcinogens from cosmetics to protect the future health of her daughter, Kaytee.


The average woman slathers on 12 personal care products per day, reports the Environmental Working Group, in Washington, D.C.

“The more brands you use, the more you are going to be exposed to toxic chemicals,” warns Robin Dodson, a research scientist at the Silent Spring Institute in Newton, Mass.

The Environmental Working Group offers consumers access to its “Skin Deep” database, an online list of all the ingredients found in 80,0000 personal-care products (even in cases where these ingredients are not found on products’ usually long and convoluted labels).

Women of color can turn to the nonprofit West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT, in New York City) to check the safety of ethnic beauty products through WE ACT’s website and email bulletins.

Beauty-salon employees can turn to the National Healthy Nail and Beauty Salon Alliance (run by Women’s Voices for the Earth, in Missoula, Mont.) for help with workplace advocacy.

A December 2012 report from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics gives consumers tips for where to buy makeup. Ranking popular retailers, it gives top marks to Whole Foods (which screens out 400 suspect chemicals), followed by CVS, Walgreens, Target, Wal-Mart, Kroger, Costco and then Macy’s (blasted in the report for failing to offer natural products in some of its stores).

Community initiatives by grassroots activists are also helping to educate women. “While undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer six years ago, I did Internet searches to find out how I could keep myself healthy, and was shocked to discover that the makeup I was using actually contained carcinogens,” says Kristi Marsh, 42, of North Easton, Mass.

Now cancer free, Marsh has purged her makeup collection of toxic products and devotes her spare time to giving presentations for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics in her area.

“As a final resort, there’s the do-it-yourself option,” says Cindy Luppi of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which offers online recipes for all-natural makeup. Near the top of its list is a lip tint made with three simple ingredients: cooking oil, beeswax and beet juice.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a Washington-based initiative launched in 2002, has fueled the natural products trend by persuading 2,000 manufacturers to sign a pledge to create safer makeup.

Science Galvanizes Trend

Scientific proof that some cosmetics ingredients cause harm has also galvanized go-green products.

Recent research (such as a 2007 report by the Breast Cancer Fund, in San Francisco) indicates American girls are developing breast buds 18 months earlier than they did 30 years ago. Such studies link early puberty to phthalates, chemicals that mimic the effects of the female hormone estrogen and are commonly used to help makeup adhere to the skin.

Studies have tied breast cancer, which has doubled in incidence in the past 50 years, to ethylene oxide (an ingredient in fragrances), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (found in eye makeup) and hydroquinone (found in skin lighteners).

Nearly 40 percent of adults are now reading the labels on personal care products, reports Packaged Facts. And nearly 60 percent of people rank safety as their No. 1 concern when buying such products, notes a 2011 survey by Deloitte, in New York City.

Oversight, however, lags behind. Only 20 percent of the 12,500 chemicals used in personal care products have been thoroughly evaluated by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel, based in Washington, D.C.

The Food and Drug Administration, in Silver Spring, Md., does not have the authority to test cosmetics for safety before they are marketed. That means harmful ingredients, which can be less expensive than safer alternatives, continue to prevail.

Case in point: formaldehyde, a neurotoxin not found on the label of the hair straightener Brazilian Blowout, was recently discovered to lurk in high levels in this product. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration urged salons to stop using Brazilian Blowout in 2011, and the product’s Hollywood, Calif., maker lost a $4.5 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit in 2012.

Despite all that, the FDA has been unable to yank Brazilian Blowout from drugstore shelves or prevent it from triggering nosebleeds, eye irritation, respiratory trouble and other problems linked to formaldehyde exposure.

‘Greenwashing’ Products

Health advocates say that even when companies agree to follow FDA recommendations and make their products toxin free, they sometimes engage in “greenwashing,” or falsifying environmental or health claims to boost product sales.

In 2006, for instance, Opi, Essie and other nail polish makers agreed to rid their products of a “toxic trio” of chemicals: formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate and toluene. But in 2012, a study by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control found that 70 percent of nail polishes that claimed to be “three-free” actually contained these chemicals.

“Companies play it both ways,” says Nneka Leiba, an analyst for the Environmental Working Group. “They’ll make one category of products that are safe, and others that are not.”

One example is the Paris-based cosmetics giant Estee Lauder, which offers nontoxic products through its Origins line, but has yet to go all-natural in its other makeup brands, including Bobbi Brown, Clinique, MAC, Prescriptives and Smashbox.

Even when companies do initiate change, it can be slow in coming. Johnson and Johnson, the New Brunswick, N.J-based maker of the cosmetics line Neutrogena, agreed in 2012 to remove formaldehyde from its products. “This will take three years, a wait that seems unnecessary because scientists already know how to make formaldehyde-free products,” says Stacy Malkan, author of 2007 book “Not Just a Pretty Face: the Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry.”

Makeup industry watchdogs say pricing and labeling practices offer little guidance about what might be inside the packaging.

When FDA researchers tested 400 lipsticks for lead in 2011, they found samples made by the high-end brand Lancome contained significantly more of the neurotoxin than those made by the drugstore brand Wet n Wild (which sells for a 10th of the price of Lancome).

Because fragrance formulations are protected as trade secrets, chemicals used to produce signature scents do not have to be listed on labels.

“Labels might list the names of chemicals such as DMDM hydantoin,” says the Environmental Working Group’s Leiba. “But they won’t mention that this preservative breaks down over time to become the carcinogen formaldehyde.”

Molly M. Ginty ( is an award-winning reporter who covers the environment and health for Women’s eNews.


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Posted by on February 28, 2013 in African American Health



The Real Forces That Keep Low-Income Kids Out of College

The Real Forces That Keep Low-Income Kids Out of College
O. Perry Walker High School

One spring afternoon, O. Perry Walker High School Principal Mary Laurie made her way to the school’s courtyard, where a lone student sat at a picnic table with a large stack of papers in front of him and a frustrated look on his face. Laurie recognized the student as a shy senior with one of the highest GPAs in his class.

The documents, it turned out, were all from Tuskegee University. Tuskegee had accepted the 18-year-old, offering him a full scholarship. But they required a $500 deposit within the next few days if he wanted to secure his spot. The student had no idea what to do.

“If that’s where you want to go, let me know,” Laurie said. “I’ll try to get the five hundred dollars.”

The student said nothing.

“You want to go to college, baby?” Laurie asked gently.

The young man nodded and wandered off, a confused look on his face.

If one of Walker’s top students was struggling to navigate the college-admissions and financial-aid maze, Laurie worried about how less-motivated students were faring. Earlier that winter, she had decided Walker needed to do a better job helping its students sift through the process. Now she saw how far the school still had to go.

Walker employed two college counselors, but they had their hands full helping caseloads of hundreds. Laurie wanted someone to create a comprehensive data system so the school knew, at any given moment, how many of its students had taken the ACT, been accepted into colleges, and qualified for the state’s main college scholarship program, known as TOPS.

Data had not always been Walker’s strongest suit. More intangibly, Laurie hoped to do a better job ensuring “everyone was speaking the same language” when it came to college admissions and financial aid.

She hired Andrea Smith Bailey, the wife of assistant principal Mark Bailey, to help with these new tasks. Andrea, who was finishing a master’s degree in counseling psychology, began working at Walker part-time. But her job could have kept a team of full-time employees busy.

Creating a data system was the easy part, even though new information about college acceptances, ACT scores, and grade point averages poured in daily. Translating the “language of college” proved far more difficult. The labyrinthine rules and processes surrounding scholarships, loans, and financial aid did not account for the messy realities of poor families’ lives.

One senior, for instance, qualified for a state scholarship that provided full tuition at a two-year technical or community college. The student couldn’t access the money, however, because he lived on his own and had no parent or guardian to sign for him. Bailey tried to register him as “homeless” so he could sign his own forms.

She discovered it took mountains of paperwork even to qualify as homeless–particularly since one of the boy’s grandmothers had falsely claimed him as a dependent on recent tax forms. “We have a lot of kids who just don’t fit in the federal government parameters of what’s a family, what’s a parent,” Bailey said.

The scholarship parameters also weren’t designed with a thorough understanding of what low-income students are up against. TOPS promises qualifying students a free ride if they earn a 2.5 grade point average and score at least a 20 on the ACT. But the scholarship fails to cover numerous expenses, and this keeps many low-income students from even starting college.

One Walker student planned to attend Louisiana State University through a state scholarship. But the grant did not cover the $150 he needed to get on a wait list for a dorm room, or the housing deposit. Bailey delved into the student’s financials, trying to figure out when his next paycheck from Taco Bell would clear so he would not miss the deposit deadline and find himself homeless in Baton Rouge.

The communication barriers extend in all directions: The federal and state government bureaucrats little fathom the complexities of low-income students’ home lives. But the students, most of them first-generation college aspirants, often do not understand what a “loan” or “interest rate” means–much less how to make sure they maximize their TOPS and Pell Grant payouts if they qualify for both. (For reasons that were nebulous to Bailey, some students receive full payments from both while others do not.)

Bailey had worked as a family case manager for Habitat for Humanity between several education-related jobs, a position that frequently required her to delve into clients’ finances. Several times, she encountered applicants with outstanding student debt who never realized they had even signed for a loan. She grew convinced Walker needed to include “college-going skills” as part of its curriculum. And senior year was too late to start those conversations.

Even Walker’s best students struggled to find their way through the financial aid maze. The student bound for Louisiana State University, for instance, had previously considered Morehouse College, an all-male, historically black institution in Atlanta. He asked Bailey if he could borrow her phone one morning “to make a couple of calls about college scholarships.”

Bailey agreed, and a few minutes later she heard him asking someone at a college in New York for a scholarship to Morehouse. Bailey put the pieces together after some investigating, realizing the student had read something about a college in New York that was giving out scholarships. He had assumed that meant they were awarding grants to any college.

“He was just trying to do whatever he could,” she said.

Walker had already forged a strong relationship with one beleaguered local university, Southern University at New Orleans. Several of the school’s graduates enrolled there each year. Unlike others who dismissed SUNO as subpar–a destination only for those who could not get in anywhere else–Laurie saw the historically black university as a viable option for many of her students. In her eyes, the school’s proximity to students’ families, homes, and support networks was an asset for many. “This is a small town,” she said. “People don’t always leave.”

•       •       •       •       •

Arriving upstairs one morning, Walker’s upperclassmen encountered a gigantic banner from SUNO. Peppy university cheerleaders wearing short skirts in the school’s gold-and-blue colors greeted the Walker students with smiling faces at the recruiting fair.

It was Walker’s first SUNO Day, part of the growing partnership between the two schools. Table after table offered students information about the university’s admissions and financial aid, degree programs and extracurricular activities, along with free giveaways including Skittles packets and coin purses. Staff from both Walker and SUNO wore T-shirts honoring the two schools’ mascots. The leaders of both institutions–SUNO chancellor Victor Ukpolo and Mary Laurie–circulated in the background, lending the event an official air. Laurie paced behind the tables where Walker students gathered information, shouting each time they approached a dean or official, “Ask those critical questions! Ask those critical questions!”

SUNO is a part of the Southern University System, the only historically black university system in the country. The school opened in 1959 during the last gasp of school segregation–a final victory for advocates of Jim Crow. Construction began two years after the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education declared that separate was not equal.

Civil rights groups bitterly opposed SUNO at the outset, since its opening seemed to perpetuate a segregation they had long decried and the high court now pronounced illegal. The school opened in its first year with 158 freshmen and 15 professors in Pontchartrain Park, a neighborhood of subdivisions created for middle-class blacks after World War II.

Laurie graduated from the University of New Orleans, but she took some of her education-methods classes at SUNO. She says it would have taken her even longer than a decade to finish college had it not been for SUNO’s night classes, one of the many ways the four-year university tries to accommodate the schedules of working students. (Laurie raised three babies and worked nearly full-time while attending college.)

In Laurie’s five years at Walker, she forged a friendly relationship with the college, sending dozens of graduates there each year. Laurie saw parallels between the two organizations: Both were committed to open access and serving students whom other schools would not take. Both were led by African-Americans and known for the familiar, folksy warmth with which they treated students. Both struggled at times to “keep their numbers up” in an era of strict school accountability.

SUNO struggled more than Walker, though, a shortcoming that nearly led to the university’s demise. In 2009, the school posted a six-year graduation rate of 8 percent, the second lowest of any urban public college in the United States. SUNO’s critics dismissed the university in the same terms they used to describe the pre-Katrina New Orleans public schools: failing, inefficient, outdated, dysfunctional. But unlike the public schools, they added, SUNO failed to graduate most of its students and left many of them in crippling debt from student loans.

In January 2011, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal commissioned a study to explore the implications of a merger between UNO and SUNO, the only four-year public universities in the city. Most observers took the governor’s action as a sign he supported shuttering SUNO. The pushback, however, was swift and strong.

At a March 2011 rally, the Reverend Jesse Jackson mobilized the crowd by comparing the fight to keep SUNO open with the civil rights marches of the 1960s. “You weren’t born when the March on Washington happened,” he told the students and other SUNO supporters who crammed into the school’s gymnasium, “and you missed out on the march to Montgomery. But God always gives us other chances to sacrifice.”

Some of SUNO’s defenders worried its closure could shut hundreds of New Orleans high school students out of the chance at a college education. By 2011, SUNO was one of a dwindling number of public universities that tried to accept virtually any student, regardless of academic background. The debate over its future raised broader questions: Should universities be open to all, or serve only those with demonstrated academic abilities?

In Louisiana, meanwhile, the Board of Regents was phasing in tougher admissions standards across its four-year university system. Universities can no longer accept students who require a single remedial course. To avoid remedials, students usually need to earn at least an 18 on the ACT in English and a 19 in math.

New Orleans guidance counselors worry the tougher admission standards will disproportionately affect low-income minority students who, on average, score lower on the ACT. In 2011, the average composite ACT score for a New Orleans public school student was 18 on a 36-point scale. That means about half of the students who took the ACT–a select group in and of itself at some schools–did not qualify for admission to any four-year in-state university under the new standards. Walker posted an average score of 17.8 in 2011, and most of its graduates needed at least one remedial class.

Laurie supported SUNO, although she remained frustrated by the segregation that defined both New Orleans and American society more generally. When Laurie thought about race relations in 21st-century America, it reminded her of “parallel play”–the term used to describe toddlers playing side by side yet utterly disengaged from each other. It depressed her to think that the nation still resembled a bunch of self-absorbed two- and three-year-olds so wrapped up in their own lives that they remained oblivious to the range and diversity of experiences surrounding them. America had mastered the illusion of togetherness.

•       •       •       •       •

After encountering the straight-A student who had won admission to Tuskegee, Laurie summoned his guidance counselor.

The woman explained that three different universities had offered him full scholarships because of his high grades. While the offers made him the envy of his classmates, the teen had no idea what to do. As deadlines loomed, he sifted aimlessly through paperwork. The guidance counselor had reached out to his mother, but the woman brushed her off.

Laurie asked if there might be a substance abuse issue.

“No,” the counselor said. “I guess she didn’t want me to pressure her.” Laurie pondered this for a few seconds.

“Maybe if you’ve never been to college…” her voice trailed off.

“She might not know. I just don’t want him to miss these deadlines and end up with nothing.”

“Originally he wanted to go to college out West,” said the counselor. “But Mom said she didn’t want him going anyplace she couldn’t drive.” They limited their search to Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana as a result.

Laurie thought a little more.

“I’m sure his mother wants him to go to college,” she said. “She just doesn’t know how it works. But at the same time, we dropped the ball. We shouldn’t be at this point.”

That night, Laurie called the student’s mother. The woman said she had left the decision up to her son.

“I got the feeling Mom had probably been in a situation where she had been talked down to,” Laurie said later. “Sometimes it can be intimidating to talk to someone who is telling you something and knows more about it. We are not doing a good enough job of helping them understand how college works. If one of our top students with all these scholarship offers doesn’t have a sense of how to make a best choice, what about all the rest?”

Teaching students and parents the intricacies of deposits, scholarships, interest rates, and loans can help only so much. It might, for instance, have prevented the eager student from calling up a college in New York and asking for a scholarship to Morehouse. But information and knowledge aren’t enough if families and students feel so disempowered they shut down whenever the subject of college comes up or they face a crucial decision.

That problem has deeper roots and more complicated solutions. It requires changing long-ingrained habits of mind and feelings of inferiority. As Laurie knows all too well, you cannot teach someone the language of college if he lacks the confidence to start the conversation.

This post originally appeared on The Atlantic. It is adapted from the book Hope Against Hope.


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Top 10 Reasons Why People of Color Should Care About Sequestration

by Sophia Kerby
Nancy Pelosi, Nikita McFarlandSOURCE: AP/Mel EvansThen-Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds the hand of Nikita McFarland, a student at Isles YouthBuild Institute, Friday, February 29, 2008, in Trenton, New Jersey.Thanks to congressional Republicans putting the economy in jeopardy during the debt ceiling debacle in the summer of 2011 and again in 2012, a package of automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration is set to go into effect on March 1, 2013. Senate Democrats have proposed a balanced approach to resolve this crisis, urging congressional Republicans to avoid the damaging sequester cuts by accepting apackage of more tax revenue coupled with targeted spending cuts. But once again Republicans are threatening the economy by risking massive and harmful spending cuts that will hurt the middle class, damage the economy, kill hundreds of thousands of jobs, and harm the most economically vulnerable among us.

Sequestration will impact all Americans but will have a particularly harmful effect on communities of color, who were hit first and worst by the Great Recession and have yet to significantly feel the effects of the recovery. Our nation’s demographics are changing, and communities of color are the fastest-growing group of Americans. It is important that we invest now in these communities, as we prepare for our nation’s economic future and upcoming workforce needs.

Our driving focus should be on averting crises that slow our economy and instead, promoting policies that help all Americans.

Below are the top 10 reasons why communities of color should pay attention to sequestration and the impact it will have in these communities:

1. Deep cuts to long-term unemployment benefits will disproportionately affect people of color. Extended federal unemployment benefits remain vulnerable under sequestration, and the long-term unemployed—those out of work and searching for a new job for at least six months—could lose almost 10 percent of their weekly jobless benefits if the sequester cuts go into effect next week. These cuts will have a greater impact on people of color, as 10.5 percent of Latinos and a staggering 13.8 percent of blacks are unemployed, compared to only 7 percent of whites. What’s more, in 2011, 40 percent of unemployed Asians, 38 percent of unemployed blacks, and 28 percent of unemployed Latinos were unemployed for more than 52 weeks.

2. Workforce development programs that are vital to communities of color such as YouthBuild and Job Corps face significant cuts. YouthBuild, a program connecting low-income youth to education and training, could be cut by about 8 percent under sequestration. Coupled with previous federal appropriation cuts in fiscal year 2011 by 37 percent, the program could see about one-third of its federal funding cut between fiscal year 2010 and fiscal year 2013. In 2010, 54 percent of YouthBuild participants were African American and 20 percent were Latino. Job Corps, an education and training program geared toward young adults, faces about $83 million in cuts in FY 2013 under sequestration. In 2011, 72 percent of Job Corps participants were people of color.

3. Cuts to critical job-creating programs such as the Build America Bonds program are also on the chopping block. Build America Bonds, which were created in the 2009 stimulus bill, provides incentives for infrastructure investments through the tax code. Since its inception, the program has helped states and cities fund thousands of job-creating infrastructure projects at lower costs than traditional tax-exempt municipal bonds. Build America Bonds could see budget cuts of up to 7.6 percent, however, if sequestration goes through. Build America Bonds benefit all Americans, as more than $106 billion of Build America Bonds have been issued by state and local governments in 49 states and the District of Columbia since the program started. Infrastructure investments stimulate employment in sectors that employ disproportionately high rates of workers of color, such as construction and public transit.

4. Federal budget cuts under sequestration would quickly mean cuts to federal, state, and local public-sector jobs, which disproportionately employ women and African Americans. In 2011 employed African Americans comprised 20 percent of the federal, state, and local public-sector workforce, and women were nearly 50 percent more likely than men to work in the public sector. According to the Congressional Budget Office, scheduled cuts in federal spending were the primary driving force behind slow economic growth projected for this year, meaning thousands of lost jobs and cuts to federal contractors. 

5. Early child care funding could be cut by more than $900 million, impacting the thousands of children of color who benefit from these programs. Such cuts will mean 70,000 children will be kicked out of Head Start, a federal program that promotes the school readiness of children from low-income families from birth through age 5. Sixty percent of program participants are children of color.

6. Programs that directly help the most vulnerable families and children—such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC—are threatened by sequestration. WIC serves as a supplemental food and nutrition program for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women and for children under age 5. The program could be cut by $543 million—a devastating loss to the more than 450,000 people of color who benefit from its services.

7. Federal education funding cuts will disproportionately hurt students of color. If the sequester goes into effect, nearly $3 billion would be cut in education alone, including cuts to financial aid for college students and to programs for our most vulnerable youth—English language learners and those attending high-poverty, struggling schools—impacting 9.3 million students. Such cuts will affect key programs that receive federally funded grants such as Education for Homeless Children and Youth and federal work study. The lack of access to financial aid for people of color will further exacerbate the student debt rates in these communities. In the 2007-08 academic year, 81 percent of African Americans and 67 percent of Latinos with a bachelor’s degree graduated with student debt, compared to 64 percent of their white peers. Cutting access to these vital financial aid programs will curtail the higher education aspirations of tens of thousands of students of color.

8. Cuts to critical medical research put patients at risk. The National Institutes of Health would lose $1.5 billion in medical research funding, meaning fewer research projects would be aimed at finding treatments and cures for diseases such as cancer and diabetes—both of which are among the leading causes of death for African Americans.

9. Since 2010 funding for housing has been cut by $2.5 billion, meaning any additional cuts would significantly hurt low-income families and communities. Many housing programs such as Section 8 Housing Assistance provide vouchers to low-income families for affordable housing in the private market. In 2011 Section 8 aided more than 2 million low-income families across the country. Data from 2008 indicate that 44 percent and 23 percent of public housing recipients are African American and Latino, respectively. 

10. As the nation continues to endure a cold winter, programs such as the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, which helps bring down the cost of heating for low-income households, are crucial. The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helped about 23 million low-income people pay their winter heat bills, is in jeopardy of being cut in FY 2013. Low-income communities, which tend to disproportionately comprise of people of color, depend on such programs to make ends meet during these tough economic times.

In order to avoid significant damage to the U.S. economy—and particularly to communities of color across the country—congressional Republicans should agree to a balanced package to replace the sequester and its damaging cuts.

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Posted by on February 28, 2013 in African American News


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African prison officials attend human rights training

The specially-designed course is encouraging leaders to make a difference in the prisons they manage

Senior prison officials and training managers from 12 African Commonwealth countries are participating in a specially-designed course on human rights in prisoner care, custody and management.

The week-long training is taking place in Maputo, Mozambique, from 18 to 22 February and marks the second regional collaboration between the Commonwealth Secretariat and Penal Reform International, a non-governmental organisation working on penal and criminal justice reform worldwide. The first training took place in the Solomon Islands in July 2012 and involved more than 20 officers from the Pacific region.

Karen McKenzie, Acting Head of Human Rights at the Commonwealth Secretariat, said the course was developed as a “direct response to interest generated from senior officials responsible for the management of prisons and the training of prison staff”.

“African countries have made significant progress in reforming penal systems by addressing overcrowding and implementing reintegration programmes. However, much more remains to be done. The key challenges in Africa remain overcrowding, HIV/AIDS and the custodial management of vulnerable categories of prisoners such as women and children,” said Ms McKenzie.

The course includes best practices in prison reform on the continent and encourages prison leaders to make a difference in the sphere of leadership in the prisons they manage, she said.

Nikhil Roy, Programme Development Director at Penal Reform International and a course facilitator explained: “The key message to participants is to not wait for the system to change or for new laws to be introduced but rather to see what change they can bring within their area of responsibility in prison management, in order to improve conditions and promote human rights.”

Gunneeta Aubuleek, Assistant Commissioner of Prisons for Mauritius, said: “This workshop has helped us to learn from best practice and learn new practices like the paralegals scheme. Issues such as overcrowding affect everyone in the region.

“Because one of our trainers is a former Governor of Prisons from the United Kingdom, John Podmore, it allows us to ‘speak the same language’. I will be taking on a new role as Head of the research and planning unit and Head of the inspectorate team, so the sessions on oversight and audit were particularly beneficial to me. I look forward to sharing what I have learnt with my colleagues in Mauritius.”

Topics being covered also include the well-being of prison personnel; the rights of prisoners and what needs to be done to address difficult issues such as balancing security requirements alongside provision of measures for rehabilitation; provision of adequate health care for prisoners; and ensuring proper mechanisms for independent inspections of detention conditions.

Levi Mboushou, Senior Superintendent of Prisons and Lecturer at the National School of Penitentiary Administration, Cameroon said:

“The Human Rights Unit of the Commonwealth Secretariat has made quite a laudable intervention by organising this workshop. It is going to contribute immensely to revamping and re-orienting our training approach in general as well as enriching the content of our Human Rights courses. We are going home with a bagful of recommendations to make to our government on better and modern approaches to prison management and training of prison personnel.”

The Universal Periodic Review of almost all Africa member states targeted by this second training include recommendations on improving standards of detention facilities, introducing human rights education for prisons officials and/or ensuring compliance with international human rights standards when dealing with detainees.

More than 30 senior officials from prisons training institutions and prisons management from Botswana, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Swaziland and Uganda are attending the workshop.

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Posted by on February 28, 2013 in African News


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Federal cutbacks could worsen D.C.’s affordable housing crunch

Ceola Lewis, who has been unable to work for five years, has been on a waiting list for the District’s Housing Choice Voucher Program for 37 years. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

The White House today released state-by-state breakdowns of the looming federal budget cuts, and the effects of so-called “sequestration” on the District are as dismal as in the rest of the nation, if not more so: About $1.5 million in education cuts; less aid for low-income college students; $25,000 less for child immunizations; $174,000 less for job-search assistance; and near $200,000 in cuts to senior meals programs.

But the Obama administration’s breakdown skims over one consequence of the federal cuts that could have an outsize impact in D.C., where a lack of affordable housing supply has reached near-crisis levels. Public housing is dependent on federal funding more than any other part of local government, with the possible exception of health care, and the D.C. Housing Authority warns that sequestration could have real-world consequences very quickly.

First things first: No family that currently lives in one of 8,000 public housing units or receives one of 10,500 federal vouchers will lose their home, DCHA executive director Adrianne Todman said last week.

But if the cuts take effect on March 1 and are not resolved quickly thereafter, Todman said, the authority’s ability to help families waiting for assistance could be significantly curtailed. Ninety-seven percent of DCHA’s nearly $300 million budget comes from the feds, and an expected 5 percent cut will mean vacated housing units may not immediately turn over and new vouchers might not be issued as they become available.

Nationally, the picture is perhaps even more dismal. A letter to congressional leaders signed by the leaders of three public housing organizations says the cuts will “severely disrupt” local authorities’ ability to serve families now receiving assistance, “further lengthening waiting lists and negatively impacting communities.”

On the public housing side, Todman said, “daily maintenance activities” would slow down. Matters of basic health and safety would be attended to, but other matters — like preparing vacated units for new tenants and some major capital projects — would cease. Should the cuts remain in place for several months, employees may have to be furloughed. On the voucher side, Todman said, DCHA may be forced to cut payouts to landlords, which could cause some of them to stop accepting vouchers. If a family gives up their voucher, she said, the authority might not recirculate it, in order to maintain landlord payments to the greatest extent possible.

“We would first try to reduce as much harm as we can,” Todman said. “But if this starts getting into May … we’re going to hit the wall, and we’d have to make some changes.”

The cutbacks could hardly come at a worse time: While there is widespread acknowledgment of an affordable housing crisis in the city, government investment in housing programs has dwindled in the past five years. While plenty of housing stock for high-income earners has already been produced or is in the pipeline, units for moderate- and low-income residents are becoming more scarce. Families continue to crowd the city’s homeless shelter at the former D.C. General Hospital, and Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s promised $100 million affordable housing investment won’t translate into new units for months, if not years. Reducing the assistance available though DCHA to the city’s lowest-income residents stands to make an already difficult problem even worse.

Todman is not particularly hopeful that Congress will fully restore housing budgets — “the industry that I am in has never been very popular when it comes to funding on the congressional level,” she said — but she said the consequences could be dire if DCHA’s funding, “already at the bone,” is cut any further.

“Sequestration isn’t just a fancy word,” she said. “It’s about people, too.”

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Posted by on February 28, 2013 in African American News


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5 Ways Sequestration Harms Women

by Lindsay Rosenthal
Low-income health careSOURCE: AP/Damian DovarganesDetection lead mammographer Toborcia Bedgood performs an advanced-imaging screening that promotes early detection of breast cancer for low-income patient Alicia Maldonado at The Elizabeth Center for Cancer Detection in Los Angeles, May 6, 2010.

If sequestration is allowed to take effect as scheduled on March 1, $1.2 trillion will be automatically removed from the federal budget in across-the-board spending cuts that would potentially reverse our economic recovery. These cuts—which take money out of critical investments in education, public health services and research, disaster preparedness, and national security—would have devastating consequences in communities around the country and would harm all Americans in a number of ways.

Sequestration also institutes several cuts to key public investments that would disproportionately harm women. Low-income women and women of color will be hit hardest by the sequestration.

These are the top five ways in which the sequestration harms women.

Sequestration cuts $424 million from Head Start and Early Head Start

More and more women and single mothers are heading their households, and they are struggling to balance work and motherhood in the absence of a universal child care system. Head Start and Early Head Start provide education, health, and nutrition services to low-income women and their families, and they are critical child care providers for women who could not otherwise afford care for their children. These programs aim to ensure that limited parental income does not get in the way of a child’s early education or inhibit women from being able to work. As soon as sequestration takes effect, however, 70,000 children will be cut from Head Start and Early Head Start programs due to the eliminated funding for the program.

Sequestration cuts $86 million from key women’s health programs

Between two and three women die each day from complications of giving birth. Black women in the United States die in childbirth at three to four times the rate of other racial and ethnic groups. The infant morality rate in the United States is twice as high as that of other wealthy nations, and rates are highest for low-income women of color, who often lack access to quality health care.

Sequestration cuts $4 million from the Safe Motherhood Initiative, which helps prevent pregnancy-related deaths;$8 million from the Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program, which provides cancer screenings to low-income women; $24 million from Title X family planning and reproductive health services; and $50 million from the Title V Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant. The cuts to the Maternal and Child Health Services Block grant alone would mean 5 million fewer low-income families would be provided with prenatal health care and other services that help eliminate disparities in infant mortality and maternal health.

Sequestration cuts $29 million from services for victims of domestic violence

More than 6 million women are victims of domestic violence every year in the United States. On average, more than three American women are murdered by their intimate partners every day. The health-related costs of intimate partner violence exceed $5 billion a year.

Sequestration cuts $20 million from the Violence Against Women Act, which funds crucial sexual-assault and domestic-violence prevention and intervention services, and nearly $9 million from the Family Violence Prevention Services Act, which is the primary funding stream for shelters that provide housing to women and children who have fled a violent home. Cutting the Family Violence Prevention Services Act alone would mean that 112,190 fewer victims of domestic violence could receive services. The Department of Justice estimates that the cuts to the Violence Against Women Act would prevent 35,927 victims from gaining access to shelter, legal assistance, and services for their children. Cuts would also mean that domestic violence training would be eliminated for34,248 police officers, prosecutors, judges, and victim advocates. Cutting these critical prevention and intervention services will only increase both the human and economic costs of intimate partner violence.

Nearly 600,000 beneficiaries would be cut from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children

About 16.7 million children in the United States live in food-insecure households, which means they are unable to consistently access the nutritious food necessary to live a healthy life. Sequestration would cut $600 millionfrom the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC, which helps provide basic food security to poor mothers and their children at a time when the poverty rate for women is at historic highs. WIC provides low-income women and their children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk with supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education.

Many public-sector jobs would be lost, which disproportionately harms women

Nearly two-thirds of mothers are either the breadwinner for their families or share that responsibility with a partner. Women’s wages are therefore critical to both their own and their families’ economic security. According to many estimates, thousands of public-sector jobs would be lost if sequestration occurs, and since women are50 percent more likely than men to be employed in public-sector jobs—such as those in education—their jobs will be needlessly jeopardized by sequestration.

These cuts would only be the beginning. As the effects of the cuts ripple through the economy, more and more public-sector jobs will be lost, leaving more women unemployed. With such deep cuts to the federal budget, states will be forced to scale back on additional services. This would likely include limiting Medicaid benefits—a critical source of health care for low-income women.

While all Americans would be harmed by these senseless cuts that would throw the country into a manufactured fiscal crisis, no one would be hurt more than low-income women and women of color—and their families. Congress must stop protecting the bank accounts of the wealthiest Americans on the backs of the most vulnerable families in our country. It should act now to prevent sequestration from taking effect on March 1.

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Posted by on February 28, 2013 in African American News


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How a Family of Four Manages to Live Well on Just $14,000 Per Year

Business InsiderBy Mandi Woodruff | Business Insider –

  • Photo: <a href="" target="_blank">Courtesy of Danielle Wagasky</a>

In the years since the recession, the median household income in the U.S. has dropped to just over $50,000, while fixed costs like health care, higher education, and housing have only soared. Now imagine trying to support a family of four on a fraction of that income.

It’s a reality that stay-at-home wife and mother of two Danielle Wagasky has lived for the last four years. And, perhaps a little surprisingly, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Wagasky, 28, lives with her her husband, Jason, 31, and their two young children in a three-bedroom family home in Las Vegas, Nevada. While Jason, a member of the U.S. Army, completes his undergraduate studies, the family’s only source of income is the $14,000 annual cost of living allowance he receives under the G.I. Bill. Despite all odds, the family has barely any credit card debt, no car payment, and no mortgage to speak of.

Wagasky has been sharing her journey to living meaningfully and frugally on her blog, Blissful and Domestic, since 2009.

She was kind enough to chat with BI and tell us how she makes it work.

Wagasky finds inspiration everywhere from the library to tips from readers on her blog.

Amazon”My husband told me he’d heard about this book, [America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money],” she said. “We talked about it over the phone and I read it and thought how it could apply to us.”

The couple had a single savings goal in mind –– scraping together $30,000 for a downpayment on their home in their native Henderson, Nevada.

The mindless spending was out, and Wagasky came up with a budget she could make work. “I changed the way I was grocery shopping and started working my way up, ” she said.

She stopped eating out and learned how to cook.

Wagasky barely knew her way around a kitchen when she started her money makeover.

Now she’s an avid cookbook collector (she checks them out from libraries or asks for them as gifts to save), and it’s one of the simplest ways she’s managed to cutback on spending.

With a $7 bread-maker she scored at a local thrift shop, she never spends on store bought slices. She’s not shy about professing her love for wholesale stores like Costco, which is her go-to source for baking ingredients.

Everything in the home is either hand-sewn and or made from scratch.

seth w./Flickr”Everything must be budgeted,” Wagasky wrote in a June entry on her blog. “From family outings, to toiletries to clothes purchases. It must be budgeted.”

And she takes Do-It-Yourself to the extreme. Everything from laundry soap and clothing to the kitchen her husband installed in their new home was either crafted by hand or thrifted.

She swears by this home-made laundry detergent recipe.

The family swapped cable for Netflix and Hulu.

When it come to cutting costs, cable was as easy luxury to part ways with.

With two children aged 6 and 8 to entertain, Wagasky invests $14.99 in a Netflix plan and recently added Hulu to the mix.

The family also uses a simple antennae to pick up basic cable channels.

She goes to the grocery store once per month, pays cash, and never goes over budget.

REUTERS/Mario AnzuoniWith a single source of fixed income, there’s no room for impulse purchases in the Wagasky household.

They budget $400 for groceries each month and that’s it.

“Once that $400 is gone, it is gone,” she writes. “There are no extra shopping trips made because there is no more money.”

They are a cash-only household but keep a credit card for emergencies.

Wagasky said they have no credit debt, but they do charge emergency expenses on plastic when absolutely necessary.

“We recently had some medical bills we had to pay, and we were able to take our savings and pay those down as fast as we could,” she said.

They fill up their tanks once per month and combine errands as much as possible.

REUTERS/Pichi ChuangWith gas prices creeping higher each all the time, the Wagaskys watch their mileage like hawks.

That means combining errands together and doing all they can to make one tank of gas last a month.

“We know we don’t get to drive and visit family often, so when we do we cherish it,” she wrote in a blog entry.

“We don’t go just for an hour, we stay and visit and even run errands that may be close to where we have family. We try to remember that when the gas is gone…it is gone.”

They paid for both of their cars in cash and have no car payments.

After Wagasky’s husband left active duty and started school, the couple knew they would only have $14,000 per year to live on.

So they paid off the $8,000 he owed on his truck while he was earning more and they could afford the expense.

They also bought a van, which they saved $10,000 for initially and were able to pay the remaining $12,000 owed within a year.

Having zero car payments is a nice relief.

She skips all kiddie snacks in favor of healthier, cheaper DIY options.

AP Photo/Brennan LinsleyLike anyone with simple math skills, Wagasky was quick to realize how much cash she was wasting on prepackaged snacks for her children.

She cut them out completely and whips up homemade granola bars and trail mix instead.

If she can freeze food, she will.

If you’re on a tight food budget, your freezer will become your best friend.

Wagasky chops vegetables and fruits and freezes them for a month. She actually does the same for dairy products like cheese, butter and yogurt.

“I am able to freeze about 8 gallons of milk each month,” she writes. “They sit at the bottom of my freezer and we thaw them out when we need them.” Baked goods get the same chilly treatment.

She uses a food co-op to save on fresh produce.

REUTERS/Mario AnzuoniWagasky was dubious about joining a food co-op, but after three months, she realized she would never beat the savings or quality she found.

Food co-ops pool membership fees together in order to fund a monthly harvest that’s distributed at designated pick-up points.

A couple of times per month, Wagasky gets a basketful of in-season produce for $15 –– way better bargain than she’d ever find in stores.

They took advantage of Nevada’s declining housing market to score a cheap foreclosure.

By the time Wagasky’s husband came home from Iraq, they had managed to scrape together the $30,000 they needed for a downpayment on a home.

“But we decided the best option would be not to have a mortgage payment at all,” she said. “We found a fixer-upper that didn’t have a kitchen … and we paid cash.”

Price tag: $28,000. With the leftover cash, they were able to finish the kitchen and install wood flooring throughout the house.

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Posted by on February 27, 2013 in African American News



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