**Here’s is a letter that I submitted to the CBC. Feedback is welcomed.**
FACT: As of November 2009, the unemployment rate for Blacks/African-Americans was 15.6%, while the rest of the nation was at 10.0%. (Source: United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics).
FACT: In 2007, 19.5% of Blacks/African-Americans in comparison to 10.4% of non-Hispanic whites were uninsured; 49% of Blacks/African-Americans used employer-sponsored health insurance; and finally, 23.8% of Blacks/African-Americans relied on public health insurance. (Source: United States Department of Health & Human Services, The Office of Minority Health).
FACT: The total number of black students enrolled in higher education in 2007 was 2,383,400. The number of Black men in undergraduate programs in 2007 was 870,000, while the number of Black men incarcerated in federal, state, or local prisons was 837,000. Percentage of all high school students who graduate on time who are black equaled12.1%; while the percentage of all students who drop out of high school in tenth grade who are black equaled 36.7%. Between the 1997-98 and 2007-08 years, college tuition rates rose a total of 30%. (Source: United States Department of Education, Digest of Education Statistics).
Given these dismal numbers, I understand your frustration with our President during this time of economic strife, as you feel he is not taking a special interest in the community which you were elected to represent. However, I feel that you are unfairly placing blame on his shoulders. Keep in mind that President Obama has only formally served in this capacity since January 20, 2009. Since taking his oath, he has accomplished considerable feats. Nine days after taking office, he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which overruled the Supreme Court’s decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and so eased the requirements for filing employment discrimination lawsuits. Five days later, he signed the reauthorization of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to cover an additional 4 million children currently uninsured. He nominated current Justice Sotomayor in May of 2009 to replace the retiring Justice Souter and she became the first Latina and third woman to serve as a Justice. He also signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act this past October.
I highlight these key acts, a few among many, because the legislation focuses on two key minority groups: women and those most likely to suffer from hate crimes. The importance – the majority of your constituents can be identified as belonging to those groups, so celebrate those acts.
Finally, and this is arguably the most important point that I can make. The most significant piece of legislation that our President signed, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, became a law in February of this year. As you are aware, this was a $787 billion economic stimulus package aimed at helping the economy recover from the deepening worldwide recession.
I’ve drawn your attention to these few things because I want to remind you that now is not the time to be unreasonable in negotiating with our President, as well as the rest of Congress. Change your scope from exclusively focusing on what you feel to be the shortcomings of our President. Help your constituents by pressuring states to remember their stressed communities. History has shown us that even at a President’s urging and support of legislation with an emphasis on minority communities, especially that of the African-American community, the call for equality and humane treatment can fall on deaf ears of the state. Your tactics in playing “hardball” with our President will only further hurt the communities that elected you to representation.
As a constituent who considers herself fairly informed about issues, I would like to offer my suggestions on how you can help our community by highlighting a few key issues:
With the African-American unemployment rate being almost double that of the national unemployment rate, special attention should be paid to economic policies. With regards to these policies: encourage and lobby states to focus on improving urban communities (i.e., paving roads, painting buildings, maintaining street lights, etc). Remind them that their Black constituents are vital to a thriving economy and convince them that businesses with a large minority employee base should be recruited to serve as contractors in these endeavors. This will in turn create some of the jobs that your constituents need.
With regards to health policies, stand firm and support a public option! One of the fastest ways to accrue debt is to accumulate medical expenses and not be able to pay for them. In the expansion of health care debate, it is critical that you support the BEST option for your constituents, even if this means that a special focus is not placed on them. Remember that 19.5% of the African-American population is without coverage and that another 23% of your constituents rely heavily on government sponsored programs. Additionally, 15.7% of our youth lack necessary health coverage, a statistic relayed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and their KIDS Count Initiative.
With regards to educational policies, push for increasing Pell Grant amounts that are sent to schools and discourage states from freezing or reducing the amount of money set aside for higher education. Instead, persuade states to continue to implement programs that will keep students in school at all levels (from Elementary to College) and remind them of the words of former President Kennedy, “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.” With the cost of higher education continuing to rise and available financial aid remaining the same, students who do not have the personal economic means to pay for education may face the decision of continuing their education or relinquishing this opportunity with the hopes of “something better”. Remember these students. Remember that they are your constituents.
In closing, I would like to applaud your collective efforts and the things that you have been able to accomplish. Now is NOT the time to present a fractured picture of our Black congressional leaders to our nation. It’s best that you show your support for our President and his goals, and admonish him ONLY when necessary (preferably in private). Finally, encourage states to take a special and vested interest into their struggling communities and remember that the fate of the Black community is inherently tied to the well-being of our neighbors. This is a fact that you must understand and keep in mind as your continue to fulfill your duties in the D.C.
Once again, thank you for your service and commitment. I hope that these words are met with serious consideration.
Courtney J. Hardwick
A Concerned Citizen
© December 14, 2009.