Commentary: Health Care Merger a Poison Pill for Patients

ArcaMax
By Anthony Galace

Big corporations often tout their mergers as promoting efficiency and helping consumers, but too often the public ends up with fewer choices and higher prices. That seems likely to happen again with the latest health care megamerger.

CVS Health and Aetna Inc. recently finalized a $70 million merger, combining one of the nation’s largest pharmacy chains with one of its largest insurers. The companies promise a new and innovative form of health care, with cheaper medication and shorter wait times.

But even though the deal has won approval from the U.S. Justice Department and 28 state regulators, physicians, patients, economists, and advocates aren’t buying it. The American Medical Association, American Antitrust Institute and leading economists across the country warn that this merger will do nothing to curb rising prescription drug costs, stagnating health coverage rates or deteriorating quality of care. In fact, they say it may worsen health care disparities between disadvantaged communities and more affluent populations.

CVS’s newfound power could significantly reduce competition by driving independent pharmacies out of business and forcing other large pharmacy chains to consolidate – driving up prices and increasing premiums and out-of-pocket costs for seniors and low-income patients. Furthermore, this merger will likely force patients with health coverage through Aetna to purchase their medication from a CVS pharmacy, taking away their right to choose.

Earlier this year, testifying before the California Department of Insurance, CVS claimed that its acquisition of Aetna would result in “efficiencies” (read: savings/profits) worth $750 million per year, allegedly by streamlining administrative expenses and negotiating better prices with pharmaceutical companies.

But when asked at the hearing I attended whether these savings would be passed along to patients, CVS was mum. The company’s rep also could not say how it planned to make medication more accessible to low-income and underserved communities, especially those located far from a hospital or clinic. We also asked whether they would expand their contracting with minority-owned businesses, diversify their governing board and senior executives, and add stores in low-income neighborhoods. Their response: Ask us after our merger.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice under the Obama administration blocked two high profile health insurance mega-mergers – between Aetna (yes, the same one) and Humana, and Anthem and Cigna. Both would have obliterated competition in insurance, giving patients and providers across the country little choice but to accept their prices and payments. These mergers would have likely priced many low-income Americans out of health coverage.

In retaliation for blocking their merger, Aetna pulled out of the Affordable Care Act exchanges entirely, abandoning thousands of patients.

Now they expect us to believe they’ll do better. Color us skeptical.

All this comes on the heels of another recently approved merger between another large pharmacy chain and health insurer – Express Scripts and Cigna. Given the growing trend of consolidation among health care companies, expect these companies to continue to sell the same old story that has never come true: Give us more power, and we’ll be better, we promise. Advocates and regulators shouldn’t buy such promises.

 

My Pacoima Community and Speaking Out Against Environmental Racism

Small Business Exchange Online
By Denise Garcia

I come from a community — Pacoima, California —  and a family where love, humor, and culture ensure my people’s survival. Mine is a family of home-cooked enchiladas, loud and long-lasting dance fiestas, and unconditional love. We turn to our values to sustain our lives, even as low-income migrants and first-generation folks. Though all odds are against low-income people of color, we resist and survive in the face of environmental racism and other obstacles. Surviving is the only way we know how to live since the power of place has shaped our lived outcomes, for good and for worse.

My beautiful Pacoima roots my passion and diligence in the work I do as an advocate fighting environmental racism. Growing up, Pacoima had long hot summers filled with water balloon fights and Sunday mornings con mi familia en la casa de mi abuelito, Rosalio, comiendo menudo y pan dulce. My brothers, friends, and I played ball in the park religiously and ate elotes, raspados, y paletas from local vendors. Pacoima, covered with vibrant murals under the many highways, intrigued my imagination and sparked my creativity. Pacoima holds a collection of my earliest and most enjoyable memories of my childhood, family, and culture.

Although most of my memories of my hometown are positive, Pacoima was not as beautiful as my mind painted it to be. While in college, I learned about environmental racism & injustice and realized the abundance of pollutants concentrated in my hometown. The traffic pollution, industrial sites, and landfillserode my community with harmful and dangerous toxins, which negatively impact all forms of life. While in college, I learned Pacoima was redlined because there were too many black and brown folks and was identified as undesirable, resulting in a segregated ghetto. Similarly to other low-income, redlined, and marginalized communities of color, Pacoima lacks investment in public schools, public parks, and job opportunities. Climate change will exacerbate these inequities, leaving the rich richer and the poor poorer in all capacities.

Rather than just surviving, communities like Pacoima, need to thrive. To overcome systematic hardships like the environmental racism I grew up with, community members must use their voices to amplify the change we need in order to flourish. And I cannot expect a positive change for my community unless I am also willing to change, grow, and transform. White supremacy and capitalism systematically impact people of color, and yet, we are still here! This type of resiliency and strength gives me the courage to embark on new journeys, which led me to pursue this year-long Fellowship with The Greenlining Institute.

Pacoima, CaliforniaDuring my Fellowship, I hope to gain the confidence and strength to use my voice in a way that creates positive change that my community and so many other similar communities need. I recognize I have missed many opportunities because I chose to stay silent. Now I want to courageously articulate my thoughts and represent communities like mine to ensure they are prioritized and considered in political decisions.

Communities like Pacoima and hundreds of others impacted by environmental racism need more activators who speak out against injustice, advocate for change and empower the community through education. My voice holds an infinite amount of power, but I often put myself on mute when I get afraid or feel intimidated. This fear of speaking out derives from the guilt and pressure of being a 1st-generation college graduate. I feel immense pressure to be successful and perceived as intelligent to prove to my family that their sacrifices and hard work were worth it. This exacerbates my silence because I’m afraid of making mistakes or saying the wrong things. This year, I will embrace my mistakes, learn from them and continue to grow. I hope to see myself transform into a confident and outspoken womxn and bring this power of voice back to my community.

“You are seen, heard, and valued here” are the words imprinted into my memory from the first day of orientation at The Greenlining Institute. I can trust this organization when staff say they value my personal narrative, experience, and potential. With this growing trust, I am ready to see my #ChangeFromWithin and to see how my #PacoimaBeautiful can also transform.

Denise Garcia is Greenlining’s Environmental Equity Fellow. Follow her on Twitter.

Over the next year we’re continuing our #ChangeFromWithin blog series with posts from our newest cohort of Fellows. They will explore their own personal transformation, #ChangeFromWithin, and what that means for leadership development. You can read Patrick Brown’s introduction to the series here. Here at Greenlining’s Leadership Academy, we’ve been on a journey. We invite you to join us.

Congress Should Pursue Shared Prosperity

Santa Maria Times
By Ky-Nam Miller

The Democrats have taken back the House of Representatives in what feels like a clear rejection of the false promises and bigotry of the Trump administration. But now, they must go beyond anti-Trump rhetoric and push bold ideas to advance opportunity and prosperity for the vast majority of Americans being left behind by the policies of Washington, D.C., and Wall Street.

In our $19 trillion economy, a well-connected few have done spectacularly well, while more and more working Americans struggle to make ends meet. Democrats must chart a real path to prosperity that can replace failed, trickle-down economics – one that invests in and uplifts Americans on the margins and breaks down barriers to opportunities.

House leaders should announce a bold agenda for their first 100 days. They can start by aggressively pushing for two bills introduced in the Senate earlier this year that have gone nowhere under Republican leadership: the “LIFT the Middle Class Act” from Sen. Kamala Harris, Democrat of California, and the “American Housing and Economic Mobility Act” from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts. Both would help ordinary Americans who got little or nothing from the GOP’s massive tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.

Harris’ bill would provide a refundable tax credit of up to $6,000 for low-income and middle-class Americans, bringing some balance into a tax system that has become grotesquely skewed toward the wealthy. Warren’s deficit-neutral measure would address our growing housing crisis by building or rehabilitating 3.2 million housing units; assisting first-time homebuyers living in low-income, formerly redlined neighborhoods; and investing $2 billion in long-overdue support for buyers whose home equity was obliterated in the 2008 crash.

Warren’s bill also takes initial steps toward strengthening the Community Reinvestment Act, a little-known but important law that dates from the late 1970s. The law, written to fight redlining – the practice whereby the federal government joined with banks and other institutions to deny mortgage loans to people of color – needs an update to deal with changes in the financial industry. Redlining, though technically illegal, never completely went away.

These proposals represent a good start, but Congress could and should go even farther. We need a Community Reinvestment Act for the 21st century that harnesses the tech economy to invest in opportunity in every American community.

By giving a fair shake to all and opening doorways to opportunity for those who have the least, we can build prosperity for all of us – not just the 400 billionaires who now own more wealth than the bottom 64 percent of Americans.

It’s true that none of these proposals will become law quickly, so long as the GOP controls the Senate and the White House. But no important change comes quickly. We can start building a better, fairer America, and Democrats now have a chance to lead the way.

The Dems Have Taken Back the House, Now Here’s What They Should Do

400 billionaires now own more wealth than the bottom 64% of Americans. Let’s do something about that.
The Progressive
by Kỳ-Nam Kwon Miller

The Democrats have taken back the House of Representatives in what feels like a clear rejection of the false promises and bigotry of the Trump administration. But now, they must go beyond anti-Trump rhetoric and push bold ideas to advance opportunity and prosperity for the vast majority of Americans being left behind by the policies of Washington, D.C., and Wall Street.

In our $19 trillion economy, a well-connected few have done spectacularly well, while more and more working Americans struggle to make ends meet. Democrats must chart a real path to prosperity that can replace failed, trickle-down economics – one that invests in and uplifts Americans on the margins and breaks down barriers to opportunities.

House leaders should announce a bold agenda for their first 100 days. They can start by aggressively pushing for two bills introduced in the Senate earlier this year that have gone nowhere under Republican leadership: the “LIFT the Middle Class Act” from Sen. Kamala Harris, Democrat of California, and the “American Housing and Economic Mobility Act” from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts. Both would help ordinary Americans who got little or nothing from the GOP’s massive tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.

Harris’ bill would provide a refundable tax credit of up to $6,000 for low-income and middle-class Americans, bringing some balance into a tax system that has become grotesquely skewed toward the wealthy. Warren’s deficit-neutral measure would address our growing housing crisis by building or rehabilitating 3.2 million housing units; assisting first-time homebuyers living in low-income, formerly redlined neighborhoods; and investing $2 billion in long-overdue support for buyers whose home equity was obliterated in the 2008 crash.

Warren’s bill also takes initial steps toward strengthening the Community Reinvestment Act, a little-known but important law that dates from the late 1970s. The law, written to fight redlining – the practice whereby the federal government joined with banks and other institutions to deny mortgage loans to people of color – needs an update to deal with changes in the financial industry. Redlining, though technically illegal, never completely went away.

These proposals represent a good start, but Congress could and should go even farther. We need a Community Reinvestment Act for the 21st century that harnesses the tech economy to invest in opportunity in every American community.

By giving a fair shake to all and opening doorways to opportunity for those who have the least, we can build prosperity for all of us – not just the 400 billionaires who now own more wealth than the bottom 64 percent of Americans.

It’s true that none of these proposals will become law quickly, so long as the GOP controls the Senate and the White House. But no important change comes quickly. We can start building a better, fairer America, and Democrats now have a chance to lead the way.

This column was written for the Progressive Media Project, affiliated with The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.

Narrative Justice: A Daughter of Black Immigrants Reflects

Small Business Exchange Online
By Asia Alman

I am of a history of cross-border movements that no right-wing political administration can contain. My folks are the kind of loud, and Black, and women dreamers who everyday disrupt U.S. binaries of “Black” and “immigrant” by being both at the same time: Black immigrants. Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, my mother taught me to never forget her island of Trinidad and Tobago. Because of my family’s love for home, I carry my heritage into all that I do.

As a Health Equity Fellow in the Greenlining Leadership Academy, I am encouraged every day to seek #ChangefromWithin by bringing the fullness of my identity into my work. My experience as the daughter of Caribbean Black immigrants is essential to my developing racial equity framework. At Greenlining, we believe that our narratives are our strongest asset. We know that we have all we need to survive and that when race is no longer a barrier for communities of color, we will thrive.

I first learned of the Leadership Academy last year, while conducting oral history interviews with Senegalese women seeking asylum in Brazil. At the time I was completing a Thomas J. Watson Foundation Fellowship. As a Watson Fellow, I received a $30,000 grant to invest in my passion for uplifting the experiences of Black women and other women of color in spaces where our voices are often marginalized.

Watson allowed me to expand my U.S. based research on the hardships that Black American and undocuBlack women and girls face to a global scale. During my Watson year, I conducted an international oral history project focused on the narratives of African and Caribbean immigrant women in China, Dominican Republic, Brazil, and London for whom pathways to citizenship are blocked. I also traveled to Jamaica and worked with organizations that supported recently deported Jamaicans who were returning from the U.S. and the U.K.

In each interview, Black immigrant women stated the conditions that limited their access to a healthy life. At the same time, these Black immigrants were plotting ways to overcome the obstacles they faced.

These women articulated their experience with ease.

They knew what they needed.

Leadership Development: #ChangeFromWithin

Yet anti-Black stigma, high costs, and citizenship status requirements barred them from accessing quality healthcare. Many of the same barriers stop Black people and other communities of color in the U.S. from accessing healthcare.

I am charged by the weight of Black immigrant women’s narratives to make access to a healthy life available to all. I believe in the strength of women of color whose collective actions can shatter glass ceilings and push us to believe in the impossible. Think of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Alexandria is a Latina woman from the Bronx who, in her first campaign, recently defeated a congressman who held his position for 12 years.

I trust the narratives of black immigrants and of women of color to lead me as I identify the obstacles that stop girls and women of color from achieving their goals. I am dedicated to girls like us. I am dedicated to creating pathways for us to achieve what we define as success.

Asia Alman is Greenlining’s Health Equity Fellow. Follow her on Twitter.

Over the next year we’re continuing our #ChangeFromWithin blog series with posts from our newest cohort of Fellows. They will explore their own personal transformation, #ChangeFromWithin, and what that means for leadership development. You can read Patrick Brown’s introduction to the series here. Here at Greenlining’s Leadership Academy, we’ve been on a journey. We invite you to join us.

New Administration Should Focus on Consumer Protection

Capitol Weekly
By Sharon Velasquez

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, California today ranks as the 5th largest economy in the world, surpassing the United Kingdom. To flourish, great economies like California’s need consumer protections and oversight of financial markets. California has one single state agency charged with both, the Department of Business Oversight

Given the Trump administration’s rollback of consumer protections and enforcement at the federal level and California’s influence in shaping national policy, the DBO is essential in protecting California’s consumers.

Despite its crucial role, DBO remains one of the least known agencies in the entire country. With over 360,000 lenders and 40 million consumers under its purview, California would only benefit if the DBO had more support and resources to fund its work.

To our future governor, consumer advocates respectfully request that you prioritize consumer protections and the DBO to ensure financial prosperity for all Californians.

So, what exactly is the DBO, who does it regulate and why is it important?

What is known today as the Department of Business Oversight (DBO) came to life in 2013 when Gov. Jerry Brown merged the state Department of Corporations and the Department of Financial Institutions. He combined these 100-year-old departments to increase efficiency and cost effectiveness; to honor their original missions both became divisions within the DBO.

The DBO is led by Commissioner Jan Owen, appointed by the governor and approved by the state Senate.

All consumers, but especially consumers of color, need a vigilant consumer watchdog in order to fully and fairly participate in California’s prosperous economy.

For instance, studies show that people of color still face redlining in the mortgage market, racism in small business lending, credit card redlining, and other barriers to credit. At a time when the Trump administration has scaled back federal fair lending enforcement and investigations into predatory practices. California needs to stand strong in advancing a sound and inclusive economy.

The DBO staff of 641 has oversight of over 360,000 lenders and 40 million consumers, with a budget of about $90 million per year.  In its consumer protection capacity, the DBO oversees, and regulates institutions including banks, credit unions, savings associations, trust companies, securities brokers and dealers, and commercial and consumer lenders such as mortgage lenders, payday, and online lenders  — commonly referred to as financial technology, or FinTech, lenders.

The DBO’s oversight of FinTech is particularly important because the federal government has failed to issue responsible regulations that ensure transparency and address algorithmic redlining, among other harmful business practices. Algorithmic redlining can be defined as the systemic denial of products and services by machines replicating the biases of their human creators. Instead, the federal government has given FinTech companies the option of an OCC charter that circumvents state-level consumer protections.

This doesn’t mean that all online lenders are bad. For instance, several publicly endorsed and even informed the Small Business Borrowers’ Bill of Rights and were leaders in passing SB 1235, the nation’s first small business truth-in-lending law, through the California legislature.

More industry leadership is needed, DBO regulation and oversight remain necessary to shed light on lending practices across the industry. To quote Justice Louis Brandeis, “Sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant; electric light the most efficient policeman.”

In terms of consumer protection, the DBO ranks second in importance only to California’s attorney general.  In similar fashion to the federal consumer watchdog, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (now being gutted by the Trump administration), the DBO provides financial education and alerts to consumers, as well as a complaint database where consumers can report harmful financial practices so these can be investigated. As a mini-CFPB, the DBO also pursues enforcement actions against abusive lenders.

How can our next governor support the DBO? By taking the lead on increasing the DBO’s budget, increasing enforcement resources, supporting the hiring of more analysts and investigators, investing in DBO staff, providing the technology for the DBO to evaluate FinTech algorithms, bolstering the DBO’s regulatory power, and amending the California Financial Code to clarify the DBO’s mission as a consumer protector.

The Trump Administration has made its disinterest in consumer protection clear. CFPB Acting Director Mick Mulvaney has openly expressed that he will move the CFPB less aggressively in enforcement matters and will leave matters to the state regulators and attorneys general. Now more than ever, working families look towards their state leadership to step in and protect consumers when the federal government can’t or won’t.

OCC Should Improve CRA, Not Gut It

American Banker
By Orson Aguilar and Kat Taylor

With little outreach to redlined communities still left behind by Wall Street, the Trump administration recently proposed changes to the Community Reinvestment Act, a law that was intended to fix the problems caused by redlining. But these changes could further marginalize our most underserved communities.

Redlining is not ancient history. Recent investigations by Reveal show that it never completely went away, and these historically underserved areas continue to fall behind in racial and economic-equity indicators. We know a lot about why this is happening: Financial institutions continue closing branches at a rapid rate, home lending to low-income borrowers and people of color lags behind their share of the population, small businesses in these communities struggle to access affordable capital and few resources are being put toward affordable housing development.

Like many laws, CRA could be improved. But it has been an important antidote to redlining and played a critical role in increasing access to fair credit for all. And now we as advocates and bankers serving the public interest have the opportunity to make it better, with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s advance notice of proposed rulemaking.

There are three areas that raise particular concern regarding the needs of communities of color and low-income communities. We believe we can work together with the OCC to create solutions.

First, the OCC suggests combining the existing three-pronged CRA exam that grades banks on their lending, investments and services into a single metric: a ratio of a bank’s community investments divided by the bank’s assets. This single calculation would lump all of a bank’s CRA-eligible activity together. This one-size-fits-all approach may be simpler but could de-incentivize banks from making meaningful investments in particularly underserved communities and from responding to the specific, local needs of assessment areas.

In the real world, one-size-fits-all often fits no one.

The OCC also raises questions about expanding the definition of CRA-qualifying activity to include services that banks provide but that don’t address the lending needs of historically redlined communities. Giving banks CRA credit for services they already provide — such as financial education, technical assistance to small businesses or apprenticeship programs — decreases resources they should be allocating toward traditional CRA activities. Banks should increase the dollar amount of community investments in things like broadband expansion, affordable housing, accessible mortgage products for low- to moderate-income borrowers and small-business loans — and the law should encourage this, not undercut it.

A third piece of the notice seeks to redefine assessment areas. This is a direct response to pressure from banks who want CRA credit for investments they make outside of their assessment areas, relieving them of the commitment to serve their community. While the changing banking industry and emergence of fintech highlight the need to expand CRA oversight beyond physical branches — which are critical to meet the credit needs of low- and moderate-income communities and communities of color — we still need to keep the focus on low-income individuals. This issue is complex because we also know that banks make good loans outside of CRA assessment areas (which is why it is important to look at the actual loan itself, what it is doing and who it is for — not only where the loan is made). The goal here should be to give banks credit for good community development loans outside of their assessment areas, but not to incentivize them to make this a priority.

CRA must be improved. It could and should be adjusted to provide increased transparency and quantitative measures, but not at the expense of greater bank accountability. This is particularly salient for underserved communities in non-metropolitan areas, such as neighborhoods in California’s Central Valley, where branch closures and low levels of lending to people of color and low-income communities have made households susceptible to predatory lenders. In some areas, nonbanks have actually become the leading lenders.

As it stands, CRA has a major shortcoming: Redlining is based on race, yet this critical anti-redlining law has no racial lens. You simply cannot adequately remedy decades of race-based disinvestment without using race-based criteria. The law could also focus more specifically on lending to low- and moderate-income borrowers, not just geographical territories. And ratings should take into account activities that harm low- and moderate-income borrowers and communities of color.

The notice from the OCC represents a crucial opportunity. Both community advocates and banks can and should weigh in to help build a stronger, more effective CRA and resist changes that would dilute it. An updated regulatory framework must account for structural inequalities the law was meant to address, something that does not require a trade-off with modernizing the regulatory regime. And we need not just carrots but a real stick in the form of penalties when banks and other financial institutions neglect their responsibilities or engage in discriminatory or criminal activity.

While much in the OCC’s initial draft raises concerns, there is an opportunity to take a good but incomplete law and make it better. Improvements to the CRA can only emerge from a process based on genuine engagement with the communities most impacted by our unbalanced economy, and the OCC’s effort falls short.

This Bill Could Make Predatory Lending Worse. Gov. Brown Must Veto It

Sacramento Bee
By Orson Aguilar

Legislators had a chance to protect Californians from predatory lenders, but instead sent a special-interest bill to the governor that threatens to expand the damage.

Gov. Jerry Brown should veto Assembly Bill 237 promptly.

AB 237 expands the use of unlicensed and unregulated brokers, called “finders,” who are allowed to operate under the Small Dollar Pilot Program, which is aimed at helping people repair or build credit with loans for small amounts.

The bill expands the program from loans of $2,500 up to $7,500 and allows for using finders for these larger loans. It has been pushed by just one company, INSIKT, whose business model relies on finders.

But finders have not worked out as originally hoped. Legislators originally thought finders would be credit unions or community banks that refer borrowers to the pilot loan program if they do not qualify for a lower cost loan.

In fact, most finders are check cashing stores, grocery stores and even payday lenders. We worry that through these finders, payday lenders can sell borrowers loans that carry triple-digit interest rates. These sorts of loans do not help people build credit. Instead they trap people in a cycle of debt.

The sponsor of this bill could offer lower-cost loans today just by using licensed brokers instead of unlicensed finders, but has chosen not to.

Instead of AB 237, California should catch up with 28 other states and set an interest rate cap for loans above $2,500.

More than 100 civil rights and faith-based organizations across the state rallied behind AB 2500, a bill to limit interest rates at 36 percent for loans from $2,500 to $5,000. The payday lending industry spent more than $1.5 million lobbying against this bill,and it failed to get through the Assembly, essentially kicking this issue down the road for the second time in two years. The predatory lenders won.

For years, Californians most hurt by predatory lending have asked the Legislature to rein in high-cost, abusive loans. And every year the same thing happens: Legislators side with predatory lenders.

If AB 237 becomes law, it will only benefit Wall Street hedge funds making loans under a pilot program that has insufficient protections against abuse. The governor should veto this bad bill, and next year legislators should get to work on real reforms.

If Democrats Run From ‘Identity Politics,’ They’ll Lose

The Miami Herald
By Orson Aguilar

We keep seeing political pundits condemning Democrats and progressives for embracing “identity politics.” This, they argue, alienates working class whites and the (largely mythical) “centrist swing voter.” They’re wrong.

Consider the screed written last November by the Washington Post’s Ed Rogers, blasting the “Democrats’ need to wallow in identity politics.” Or a piece from July by Bret Stephens of the New York Times, in which he speculated that President Donald Trump might be reelected in 2020 by mocking the Democrats’ allegedly excessive focus on things like “gender-neutral pronouns and bathrooms.”

Commentators like these urge Democrats to not talk about the specific concerns of African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, women, immigrants or LGBTQ people, and focus instead of the issues that matter to working class whites — things like jobs and financial security.

But the U.S. working class actually has a higher percentage of people of color than our population overall. And black and Latino household income and wealth still lag well behind whites — gaps that didn’t arise by chance.

You can’t address “good jobs and higher wages” for millions of economically struggling Americans if you ignore ongoing redlining and discrimination — including a criminal justice system that disproportionately saddles Americans of color with criminal records that crush job prospects, often for life. It’s fundamentally misleading to call such basic problem-solving “identity politics.”

The real “identity politics” comes from the right, tracing back to Richard Nixon’s 1968 southern strategy, which welcomed prominent segregationists like Strom Thurmond. More recently, Fox News has peddled feverish nonsense about the tiny New Black Panther Party, “illegal immigrants” and more.

Trump has turned racial dog whistles into fire alarms. From spreading hysteria about MS-13 to making dishonest claims that football players who kneel during the national anthem “don’t respect the flag,” the president has aggressively pushed the most divisive form of identity politics: white identity politics.

Many black, brown and young voters turned out for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 but stayed home in 2016. As Steve Phillips has noted, the Democrats’ “see no racism, say no racism” strategy is likely to keep those voters at home, as in the election that brought Trump to power.

As the Pew Research Center reported, black turnout tanked in 2016, dropping seven percentage points from 2012. And while Latino turnout dipped only marginally, Hillary Clinton’s share of Latino votes dropped five points compared to Obama in 2012 — even though her opponent literally called Mexican immigrants “rapists.”

If Democrats want to win, they can’t tiptoe around race. As the record Florida primary turnout for Andrew Gillum showed, millions of new and occasional voters stand ready to support candidates who call out the discrimination at the heart of Trump’s policies and show they’ll fight it.

Sen. Harris’ Bill Offers Relief for Struggling Renters

San Francisco Chronicle
By Orson Aguilar

California and much of the country face a housing affordability crisis that’s having a particularly devastating effect on renters. Finally, we have a chance at real relief, thanks to legislation introduced by Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

In California, we’re most familiar with the affordability crisis in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, but it affects many other areas of the state as well. Recently, the National Low Income Housing Coalition reported that on average a Californian needs to make $32.68 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment. The state’s minimum wage is $11 an hour

But it’s not just a California issue. In more than one-third of states, you need to make more than $20 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment. More than just a San Francisco problem, this is also a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., problem and a Denver problem and a Minneapolis problem.

And the housing crisis doesn’t just hurt families. In too many areas, businesses and nonprofits — including the one where I work — find it increasingly hard to recruit talented staff because the cost of housing has become prohibitive.

Excessive rent burdens all families, but it falls most heavily on Americans of color. The percentage of families who rent has gone up for all ethnic groups since the 2008 housing crash, but is highest for blacks and Latinos. Those groups were explicitly targeted by predatory lenders in the lead-up to the Great Recession, leading to enormous transfers of wealth out of black and Latino households and turning millions of people from homeowners into renters. America’s long history of redlining (where financial institutions refuse to lend in certain neighborhoods and to certain racial groups, and which continues today in new forms) has skewed homeownership toward whites.

Homeownership remains stubbornly out of reach for many. How can a family ever save for a down payment if half the household income goes to pay the rent each month? Skyrocketing rents effectively shut the door to ever owning your own home.

We need more housing that’s affordable for working families, and we are seeing more local responses designed to lower construction costs and invest in housing as basic economic infrastructure. That push must move forward aggressively. But even in the best-case scenario, those efforts will take years to make a dent in our affordability crisis. Renters urgently need relief now.

Sen. Harris, joined by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein along with Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, has introduced federal legislation that can provide fast, desperately needed relief for tenants being crushed by sky-high rents. The Rent Relief Act would create a refundable tax credit that would be available to individuals making less than $100,000 per year who live in rental housing and spend more than 30 percent of their gross income for the taxable year on their rent (including utilities).

Supported by elected officials up and down California as well as a wide variety of organizations working on behalf of low- and moderate-income families, the Rent Relief Act would give quick help to those who need it most.

It also represents simple fairness.

Last year, Congress and the president gave huge tax relief to America’s wealthiest corporations. And the federal tax system has long subsidized homeownership through the home mortgage interest deduction — 80 percent of which goes to households making $100,000 or more a year. It’s time the “little guy” got a similar break, and the Rent Relief Act takes a big step in that direction.

If you live in California, please tell Sens. Harris and Feinstein you support this important legislation. If you (or your friends or relatives) live in a state whose senators haven’t yet signed on in support, please urge them to do so right away. It’s simple: Just call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Providing real rent relief to working families isn’t hard; it just takes political will.

Orson Aguilar is president of the Greenlining Institute.