June 25, 2011

Survey Says: Capitol Hill’s Staff Is Lily White

Posted in Congress tagged at 2:45 PM by minoritybrief

The 2011 edition of the National Journal survey of “Hill people”—that is, high-level staffers to members of Congress—revealed something we probably already knew: Capitol Hill is really white and really male. Now, the question among some is how that indisputable fact may impact policies for women and people of color.

According to the survey, which occurs every three years, fully 93 percent of top staffers on the Hill are white. Nearly 70 percent are male. While Democrats have a slightly more equitable gender ratio—62 percent male, 38 percent female—their staff is still 91 percent white.

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July 28, 2010

HISTORIC REFORM: Congress Lowers Penalties for Crack Cocaine

Posted in Congress, Disparity tagged , , at 1:17 PM by minoritybrief

After decades of debate, research and recommendations, the United States Congress has approved legislation to increase fairness in sentences for crack cocaine offenses. The House of Representatives today passed, under a suspension of the rules, a bill passed by the Senate in March which would reduce the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. The bill now awaits the President’s signature.

The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 would raise the minimum quantity of crack cocaine that triggers a 5-year mandatory minimum from 5 grams to 28 grams, and from 50 grams to 280 grams to trigger a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence. The amount of powder cocaine required to trigger the 5 and 10-year mandatory minimums remains the same, at 500 grams and 5 kilograms respectively. The legislation also eliminates the mandatory minimum for simple possession of crack cocaine. The quantity disparity between crack and powder cocaine would move from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1.

The Sentencing Project has long advocated for the complete elimination of the sentencing disparity that has doled out excessive and harsh penalties, and created unwarranted racial disparity in federal prisons. Currently, 80% of crack cocaine defendants are African American, and possession of as little as 5 grams of crack cocaine subject defendants to a mandatory five-year prison term. For decades the controversial cocaine sentencing law has exemplified the disparate treatment felt in communities of color and the harshness of mandatory minimum sentences.

According to estimates from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the approved changes to the current penalties for crack cocaine offenses could impact nearly 3,000 defendants a year by reducing their average sentence 27 months. The Commission projects that 10 years after enactment the changes could produce a prison population reduction of about 3,800.

For people currently serving time for low-level crack cocaine offenses, the bill’s passage will not impact their fate. The Sentencing Project urges Congress, the U.S. Sentencing Commission and the President to apply the sentencing adjustments mandated in the Fair Sentencing Act retroactively.

March 30, 2010

States with Greater Racial and Ethnic Diversity and Higher Unemployment Rates Received Less Recovery Funds in 2009

Posted in Congress, Race tagged , , at 1:57 PM by minoritybrief

An analysis by Advancement Project of state ARRA fund allocations in 
2009 and their diversity levels reveals a statistically significant inverse 
relationship between the per capita level of ARRA funds and diversity.  In 
other words, states with greater racial and ethnic diversity received less 
ARRA funds in 2009. 

December 20, 2009

Black Caucus Wins Changes to Overhaul of Financial Sector Regulations

Posted in African Americans, Congress, Congressional Black Caucus tagged , , at 5:28 PM by minoritybrief

By Phil Mattingly, CQ Staff

After weeks of negotiations, the Congressional Black Caucus is expected to back a broad financial regulatory overhaul when it reaches the House floor this week, thanks to the inclusion of $4 billion to address the foreclosure crisis.
Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank included language in his manager’s amendment that would channel money from the $700 billion financial bailout program to address the mortgage crisis, which has affected the entire country but has had a particularly strong impact on black communities over the past two years.
“That bill is a bill that now includes some of our most important issues, and we’re very pleased about that,” said Maxine Waters, a California Democrat who has led the caucus’ protest and negotiations over the Obama administration’s handling of the economy.
Waters and Melvin Watt, D-N.C., indicated that negotiations with the administration were ongoing, and the 42-member caucus wants more of its concerns addressed in any jobs bill put together by House leadership. Waters and Watt chair subcommittees on Frank’s panel.
“We are looking at a whole array of issues . . . that we will be meeting with the administration and leadership about,” Waters said.
The caucus’ concerns have been apparent since Nov. 19, when Waters led the 10 caucus members on the Financial Services Committee in a boycott of a panel vote on the portion of the regulation package dealing with large financial institutions whose failure would pose broad risks to the financial system.
The boycott stemmed from a battle with the Obama administration over its handling of several issues important to the African-American community, not the least of which is an unemployment rate that has reached 15.6 percent, according to the Labor Department, compared with 9.3 percent for white Americans.
“The bill is a bill that we liked, but it just happened to be a moment . . . where we decided to make sure we got everybody’s attention and have the kinds of negotiations that would help open up opportunities,” Waters said.
Frank, D-Mass., will attempt to attach the foreclosure language to the regulatory overhaul of the financial system, including a new title to the bill in a manager’s amendment that will be considered by the Rules Committee this week.
“We have a great frustration with the failure of the combined efforts of elements of the federal government to make a substantial impact on the foreclosure crisis,” Frank said Tuesday at a hearing on the government’s response to the problem.

Redirecting TARP Money

The language would require the Treasury secretary to take $3 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Program and direct it to the secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for use through the Emergency Homeowners’ Relief Act.
That law created a standby authority for the HUD secretary to create an emergency program to make loans, advances and emergency mortgage relief payments to homeowners in order to defray mortgage expenses.
Frank’s amendment also proposes redirecting an additional $1 billion from TARP funds to the Neighborhood Stabilization Program established in July 2008. The money would provide grants to states, local governments and nonprofit organizations for the purchase and redevelopment of abandoned and foreclosed homes, an idea championed by Waters.
“This never has been about this bill,” Watt said of the caucus protest. Addressing the economic problems in the black community “is a multifaceted problem that’s going to require a multifaceted solution, and this is one of them.”

Sentencing Disparty Proves Hard to Crack

Posted in African Americans, Congress, Congressional Black Caucus tagged , , at 5:17 PM by minoritybrief

By Keith Perine, CQ Staff

Earlier this year, it looked like Congress was going to make good on President Obama’s campaign promise to eliminate the wide disparity in federal criminal sentences for those selling crack and powder cocaine. But the effort has since bogged down because Senate Republicans won’t go along with completely eliminating the disparity.
Under a 1986 law that Congress hurriedly passed in response to a perceived epidemic of crack cocaine use, a drug-trafficking offense must involve 100 times as much powder cocaine as crack to trigger the same mandatory prison sentence. For example, distribution of five grams of crack warrants a five-year prison term, but distributors of powder cocaine don’t face that punishment unless they’re caught with at least 500 grams. At the time Congress passed the law, crack cocaine was considered more addictive and dangerous. Opponents of the sentencing structure have been trying for several years to change it.
The lower sentencing trigger for crack has had a disproportionate impact on African-Americans. According to a 2007 report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, 82 percent of crack cocaine federal offenders in 2006 were black.
But proponents of the change have not been able to round up enough votes to completely eliminate the disparity. Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin , an Illinois Democrat, has been wooing several Republicans on legislation that would do so. So far, though, Republicans engaged on the issue say they prefer reducing, but not eliminating, the disparity.
“Crack cocaine is a more dangerous drug,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a former federal prosecutor and the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
On Oct. 15, Durbin introduced a bill that would eliminate the disparity, but for now it doesn’t appear likely to pick up GOP support unless he modifies his measure to preserve some difference in sentencing for crack and powder, such as a 10:1 or 20:1 ratio. And like so many other bills in the 111th Congress, the legislation is going to need some Republican backing in order to succeed, at least in the Senate.
Jasmine Tyler, deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance Network, said that simply narrowing the disparity “would be akin to only desegregating a fraction of schools.”
The House Judiciary Committee in July approved a bill by Virginia Democrat Robert C. Scott that would eliminate the disparity, but it was on a party-line vote. The bill has 52 cosponsors — and only one of them, Ron Paul of Texas, is a Republican. Scott said that House Republicans “appear to be solidly for the status quo, or at least not supporting the bill.”
Last week, Scott was still working on lining up a simple majority for his measure in the House, for a possible floor vote next month.
Meanwhile, Justice Department officials are working on a study of federal sentencing policy, including cocaine sentences, that could lend momentum to the Democrats. But as of last week, the study wasn’t finished.