Trump’s War On People Of Color Reaches Your Smartphone

Huffington Post
By Orson Aguilar

I’ve written a couple of times about how the policies coming from the Trump administration and the current Congress amount to a war on communities of color. That war has now reached your smartphone – and your computer and any other device you own that’s connected to the internet.

During the Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules designed to protect your right to access the information you want via the internet, without your internet service provider playing favorites. Without such protections, your ISP could, for example, charge you extra if you do your online shopping with a local small business and less if you shop with the megabusiness that’s part of the same corporate behemoth that owns your ISP. Or it could give its corporate cousin’s online shopping site faster download speeds, while making you sit and wait if you want to process a transaction with that local small business.

Without such protections, which go by the unglamorous name of “net neutrality,” your ISP could pick and choose what sources of information to let you access, and how rapidly and easily you can access them. So a news site that criticizes big tech and telecom companies might get slowed down or blocked, while another that parrots what big telecom wants you to hear gets first-rate service and stays easily accessible.

Who loses in this scenario? Anyone who’s not wealthy and powerful. First on the list will be communities of color and the small businesses rooted in those communities. By and large, people of color have considerably less wealth than white Americans, and the businesses they own are smaller. If net neutrality goes away, they’ll be hit first and hardest. So will activists in our communities, who depend on online organizing.

Trump’s FCC Chair, Ajit Pai, made clear some time ago that he was gunning for net neutrality and other consumer protections. Now he’s moving that effort into high gear, kicking it off with a big speech in Washington, D.C. April 26. In case you doubt who benefits, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson has called Trump administration telecommunications and broadband policies “amazing.”

Pai based his argument on an absurd premise. “It’s basic economics,” he said. “The more heavily you regulate something, the less of it you’re likely to get.”

Really? By that argument, we should never have passed civil rights laws, since more laws and regulations would just cause us to have less civil rights – right? Try that argument on anyone who lived in the Jim Crow south and tell me how they react.

Ah, some will say, but that’s a social issue and this is business. Okay, let’s look at the auto industry, and specifically at auto safety. For decades carmakers paid little attention to safety, and when a halfhearted attempt at adding safety features didn’t juice sales for Ford, the industry concluded, “safety doesn’t sell.”

Then, in 1966, the federal government began adopting mandatory car safety standards. Forced to add safety systems, carmakers figured they might as well promote them, and safety quickly became a selling point – so much so that innovation in things like sophisticated crash-avoidance technology now leaps far ahead of government standards, and car commercials regularly tout safety ratings as a reason to buy a particular model.

We regulated something important to protect consumers and we got more of it – lots more of it.

But this goes way beyond economics, especially for communities of color. As Free Press– with whom our staff at The Greenlining Institute often works on net neutrality issues – put it recently:

The open internet allows people of color to tell their own stories and organize for racial and social justice. When activists are able to turn out thousands of people in the streets at a moment’s notice, it’s because ISPs aren’t allowed to block their messages or websites…

The open internet allows people of color and other vulnerable communities to bypass traditional media gatekeepers. Without net neutrality, ISPs could block speech and prevent dissident voices from speaking freely online. Without net neutrality, people of color would lose a vital platform.

Everyone (except Big Telecom executives and shareholders, that is) will lose if Trump’s FCC succeeds in shutting down net neutrality, but communities of color will suffer the most. We can’t let that happen.

You can help by doing two things right now. First, file a comment with the FCC at https://www.fcc.gov/restoring-internet-freedom-comments. Second, call your representatives in Congress and tell them you want them to fight to protect net neutrality. If you aren’t sure who represents you, simply call the congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121. The operator there can direct you to both your Senate and House members.

Tell Congress and the administration you want to preserve a free and open internet.

Volkswagen’s Huge Diesel Settlement Falls Short

San Francisco Chronicle
By Joel Espino

Make no mistake: Volkswagen broke air laws. It actively cheated emissions tests and lied about “clean diesel” cars that were anything but clean. Now, VW can make up for that wrong by making sure its plan to address the damage it did helps those whose lungs were most affected.

The current version of VW’s $800 million California plan to boost zero-emission vehicle-charging stations, access and public education won’t do that — but it could, with some fairly simple changes.

Remember, many of the people breathing the air VW’s diesels fouled didn’t buy a VW and struggle to afford any vehicle. I’m talking about residents of low-income communities of color who live every day in neighborhoods crisscrossed with the highest concentrations of busy roads and highways. They literally breathe the toxic fumes of VW’s deceit, and the company must make a real commitment to helping clean their air.

Let’s posit that $800 million in zero-emissions vehicle-charging stations and programs can be game-changing — but not if the investment overwhelmingly is located “in the areas with the highest anticipated ZEV demand,” as VW’s plan suggests. That means places like Pacific Heights and Palo Alto, where affluent residents are already buying Teslas and other high-end electric cars — and already breathe cleaner air than those in low-income communities in Bakersfield, Long Beach, Barrio Logan, West Oakland or other communities hurt most by poverty and pollution.

We need VW’s dollars in California communities where the air is dirtiest and where they can boost efforts already under way that are making sure low-income communities of color don’t get left behind in the state’s clean-car revolution.

California leads the nation in getting working families into electric vehicles through incentives, financing, electric car-sharing and clean vanpools, thanks to laws such as the Charge Ahead California Initiative, signed in 2014. Not only that, California’s investor-owned utilities have committed to placing 1,625 electric vehicle-charging stations in disadvantaged communities — the single-largest deployment of its kind.

Right now, VW’s proposal fails to align with these efforts and with the Air Resources Board’s guidance that 35 percent of funds be invested in disadvantaged and low-income communities.

It nods in the direction of disadvantaged communities, but makes little in the way of solid commitments. That must change before the Air Resources Board, which is overseeing the plan, makes a decision.

There’s still time to turn things around. Electrify America, the entity VW created to carry out this part of its penance, has been open to dialogue but must act soon. It can submit a written statement to the Air Resources Board detailing how its plan can be implemented in a way that prioritizes the needs of low-income and disadvantaged communities and brings good jobs and training to those who need them most.

Then, Electrify America should work closely with advocates for environmental justice and equity as well as the residents of affected communities to flesh out community-driven investment plans that ensure real benefits to those whose lungs have borne the brunt of VW’s lawbreaking.

VW did real harm. It now has the power to greatly reduce that harm for those most affected. The path forward is clear, and VW must take it.

What Do We Have to Lose? Lots! Attack on Obamacare Continues the War on People of Color

The Huffington Post 
By Orson Aguilar

In February, I wrote that the thread that seems to connect nearly all of the policy ideas coming from the Trump administration and Congress seems to be an attack on communities of color. Since then, it’s only gotten worse.

No proposal better exemplifies the war on Americans of color than the attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare.” And that won’t change whether or not the current “Trumpcare” replacement proposal passes the House of Representatives later today.

Multiple surveys have documented the huge drop in Americans without health insurance since the ACA took effect, with most estimates putting the number who have gained insurance at about 20 million. A number that massive cuts across all races and ethnicities, but when you dig into the numbers, the story gets really interesting.

The uninsured rate peaked in the fourth quarter of 2013, just as the ACA was starting to kick in. At that time, according to Gallup, 11.9 percent of white Americans lacked health coverage. For African Americans the uninsured rate was nearly double that at 20.9 percent. And a staggering 38.7 percent of Latinos had no health insurance, more than triple the uninsured rate for non-Hispanic whites.

Gallup did not report health insurance figures for Asian Americans, but other data show an average uninsured rate for Asian Americans of 15 percent, with huge variations between nationalities, and native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders at about 18 percent uninsured.

This huge racial health insurance gap stems from a number of causes. In many cases, people of color are less likely to work for employers or in occupations that include employer-paid coverage. When it comes to paying for insurance yourself, America’s yawning racial wealth gap rears its ugly head. According to the last figures reported by the U.S. Census, for every dollar of wealth a white family has, the median Asian American family has 81 cents, the median Latino family has about seven cents, and the median African American family has less than six cents. For too many families, the money just isn’t there.

The ACA did a lot to close the gap in health insurance rates. For whites, the percentage lacking health coverage dropped by five percentage points, according to Gallup. For African Americans the uninsured rate dropped by 8.4 points, and for Latinos the drop was a staggering 11.3 points.

And while we don’t have Gallup figures for Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, we know they tended to be early adopters of Obamacare at higher rates than the U.S. average, and their uninsured rate dropped by more than half after the law went into effect.

We have every reason to expect these gains to vanish if the ACA is repealed and replaced with anything like the current proposal, which has been almost universally denounced by major medical and health organizations because it would take coverage away from so many.

Make no mistake: While Trumpcare would be bad for all Americans, it targets Americans of color for the most severe damage. And the struggle the president and the House GOP have faced trying to scrounge up enough votes to pass their plan doesn’t change that picture. After all, the reason Speaker Paul Ryan had to postpone Thursday’s scheduled vote was because the far-right “House Freedom Caucus” insisted on making the bill even crueler and meaner than it already was. While some Republican moderates have seemed genuinely alarmed at how many people would lose coverage, a larger faction seems intent on making sure that what insurance Americans could still get would be so riddled with loopholes as to be nearly useless when people actually get sick.

Even if the current version of Trumpcare goes down to the defeat it deserves, the attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act will continue (remember, the administration has already begun to sabotage the law administratively, regardless of legislation). And it’s just one part of an ongoing, multipronged attack on Americans of color.

Rep. Denham, if You Back Ryan’s Plan Your Constituents Will Suffer

The Modesto Bee
By Noe Paramo and Anthony Galace

Like hundreds of thousands of Valley residents, Mireya Cazares’s life has been changed by federal health-care reform. Born with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease that gradually causes sufferers to lose their eyesight, Mireya – who works and couldn’t qualify for Medi-Cal – struggled to pay for the cost of health coverage, often having to borrow from family members.

This constant struggle ended in 2014, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, also called “Obamacare.” Coverage through California’s ACA exchange, Covered California, not only saves Mireya over $300 per month, she’s protected from being dropped or having her rates skyrocket due to her pre-existing condition.

The law lifted a dark cloud that hovered over her life.

Her story is not unique. It will be repeated throughout our region if Congress repeals the ACA without a new plan to guarantee the same levels of coverage.

The current replacement plan, the American Health Care Act (or “Trumpcare”) is set for a vote in the House of Representatives on March 23. It doesn’t come close.

This bill offers no viable plan to ensure that the over 20 million Americans who have gained health coverage under the current law can keep their insurance. It would decimate the assistance low-income people now get to help pay for health coverage – so dramatically that the Congressional Budget Office estimates 14 million Americans will lose their health insurance if it passes this year and another 10 million within the next few years. Thousands of them will be our friends and neighbors in Modesto and all over the Valley.

As our representative in Washington, Rep. Jeff Denham must stand up for our people and make sure his district’s residents don’t lose their access to health care.

University of California researchers calculated the impact of Obamacare repeal and reported truly shocking numbers. In Stanislaus County – the bulk of Rep. Denham’s 10th Congressional District – the uninsured rate fell by over two thirds thanks to the ACA. That includes over 62,000 who now have insurance paid, in part, under the expansion of Medi-Cal. All would almost certainly lose their coverage under Trumpcare. Nearly 17,000 more would lose the federal help that makes private insurance affordable.

Repeal would cost Stanislaus County about 3,000 jobs, meaning our local economy would take a $283 million blow.

San Joaquin County, also partly included in the congressman’s district, would take an even worse hit, with over 73,000 residents losing access to Medi-Cal and over 22,000 losing subsidies making private insurance affordable. The county’s economy would lose over 4,000 jobs.

Does anyone believe our two counties can afford to lose 7,000 jobs?

Roughly 170,000 of the people Jeff Denham represents could lose their access to affordable health care if the ACA is repealed.

We must never forget that these statistics aren’t just numbers. They represent people like Mireya. Without access to health care, people literally die. Research suggests repealing the ACA could lead to as many as 43,000 preventable deaths each year across America.

We don’t claim the current law is perfect. In fact, we’d be happy to suggest ways to improve it. But despite its imperfections, the ACA has made life better, safer and healthier for tens of millions of Americans – including many of our neighbors.

That makes this issue far more important than political viewpoints or party loyalty. We need our congressman to stand up for our district and the people he represents. He must make sure that any changes to health insurance reform protect everyone’s access to lifesaving care. Right now, that means voting no on Trumpcare.

Ajit Pai’s Dismantling of Net Neutrality Amounts to War on Consumers

The Hill
By Paul Goodman

Imagine that you picked up the phone to order a pizza and were told that the phone company would only connect your call to a pizza place owned by the brother of the phone company’s CEO. You’d be justifiably outraged. Thankfully, we have a host of consumer protections that ensure your right to call whomever you want, have whatever conversation you want, and even order pizza from wherever you want.

However, if you decide to order that pizza online, broadband providers argue that these rules shouldn’t apply. Shockingly, new Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has taken their side.

The protections I’m talking about mainly go by the unglamorous name of “net neutrality” — a wonky term that simply refers to your right to access the information you want via the internet, without your service provider playing favorites. Broadband companies, working with Congress and the FCC, are pushing to eliminate the net neutrality rules that protect our ability to access the Internet content of our choice.

And this is only one of many ways that the FCC under Pai threatens American consumers.

Advocates and consumer groups fought very hard to obtain net neutrality protections, and in 2015, got the FCC to implement strong, reasonable net neutrality rules.  These rules have broad bipartisan support from over 80 percent of Republicans and Democrats (in fact, Republican support for net neutrality runs slightly ahead of Democrats).

That hasn’t stopped the industry’s pets in Congress and the FCC from trying to gut net neutrality. But rather than doing so in an open manner, with hearings and public input, they’re trying to sneak changes by in the hope we won’t notice.

For example, Congress refused to vote on the renomination of Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel (a Democrat), forcing her to drop off the commission and giving the FCC a Republican majority. Meanwhile, FCC Chairman Pai is slowly undoing net neutrality rules by exempting some providers from abiding by them. It also appears likely that, rather than debating net neutrality rules in public, Pai may simply direct FCC staff to not enforce them.

That’s not all. Pai’s FCC is also moving to cripple efforts to make broadband available and affordable for low-income Americans.

That has huge economic and practical implications. More and more companies only advertise jobs and accept applications online, and college and trade school applications have moved online as well. All sorts of news and information — business or job opportunities,  information about essential government services, and even life-saving emergency alerts — often reaches us first via the internet. At least it does if you have access to a broadband connection that you can afford.

But about a third of Americans lack a home broadband connection, and those Americans are disproportionately poor, rural, African American or Latino.

In rural and low-income communities, broadband infrastructure simply doesn’t exist.  The federal government’s Connect America Fund—similar to programs that brought electricity and telephone service to rural America in decades past – has started to address this. But Pai has indicated that he wants to put impossible new conditions on this program, likely strangling its effectiveness.

Meanwhile, too many simply can’t afford a broadband connection, a problem the Obama administration had started to address. Last April, the FCC expanded the Lifeline program—which for decades has made telephone service affordable to low-income Americans—to include broadband access as well, opening the door to the internet for millions of low-income people. Late last year, the FCC gave the go-ahead to nine broadband providers to start participating.

And then, last month, in a stunningly mean-spirited move, Pai—who opposed the Lifeline expansion in the first place—reversed course and blocked those companies from participating.

The FCC under Pai has effectively declared war on American consumers, with low and moderate income people being hurt the most. The president must think that’s fine, since he just renominated Pai for another five-year term.

It’s time for Congress to stop this war on ordinary Americans. The Senate can start by rejecting another term for Chairman Pai.

Trump Team Limits Internet Access for Those Who Need it Most

Miami Herald
By Paul Goodman

In today’s tech-powered economy, functioning without a reliable, high-speed internet connection, known as broadband, is almost impossible. But the Trump administration and the Republican Congress are waging attacks on nearly everything that keeps broadband affordable and protects those of us who communicate online.

The ability to access the internet has become essential in many areas of life. More and more companies only advertise jobs and accept applications online. College and trade school applications have moved online as well. Information on things ranging from business opportunities to essential government services to life-saving emergency alerts often reaches us via the internet first.
But roughly one third of Americans still don’t have access to a broadband connection at home, and in rural areas, it’s nearly half. Those with annual incomes above $75,000 are twice as likely to have broadband access as those earning below $30,000. Latinos and African Americans lag behind other ethnic groups.

In some places, broadband infrastructure simply doesn’t exist. In rural areas and in communities facing economic challenges, broadband companies may not see any profit in building out their networks.

The federal government has helped expand broadband networks via the Connect America Fund — similar to programs that brought electricity and telephone service to rural America. But new Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai has indicated that he wants to put impossible new conditions on this program in soem casesmaking the build-out requirements so high that companies would stop participating — leaving millions with no broadband access.

Cost poses another challenge. The Obama administration spurred real progress in making broadband affordable to the less fortunate. Last April, the FCC expanded the Lifeline program — which for years has made telephone service affordable to low-income Americans — to include broadband access as well.

This simple reform had the potential to bring broadband to millions who most need it for things like education, job searches and applications. Late last year, the FCC approved nine broadband providers to start participating.

And then, last month, in a stunning move, Pai — who opposed the Lifeline expansion — reversed course and blocked those companies from participating.

Pai has yet to make his long-term plans clear, but things look bleak for poor and working-class Americans missing out on the tech revolution. Pai and his congressional allies also want to gut rules on net neutrality that keep your internet provider from giving preferential treatment to the wealthy and big corporations while leaving ordinary Americans to fend for themselves. And they’re moving to shred privacy protections that let people control what personal data internet provider can collect and how they can re-use or sell this information.

These changes may not get headlines, but they have a huge impact on people’s lives.

Oakland’s Uber Problem

Tech-based companies have proliferated across the Bay Area, but Oakland is getting stuck with the dregs of the tech world: Uber.

Oakland community leaders and organizations have tried to persuade Uber to do right by our city as it prepares to move into the former Sears building downtown. Instead, Uber keeps kicking us in the teeth.

Unlike many tech companies, Uber has refused to release its diversity data, giving only a vague response to a recent appeal by Rev. Jesse Jackson. The company seems to barely make even a token effort at corporate social responsibility. And Uber recently agreed to pay a $20 million fine for misleading drivers about their potential earnings.

We’ve asked to meet with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, but so far he won’t find time for us, even though — until public pressure got to be too much — he seemed to have plenty of time to meet with Donald Trump even as Trump declared virtual war on America’s communities of color. He only pulled out of that meeting when it became clear it was hurting his business

New York taxi drivers showed solidarity with airport protesters who demanded an end to Trump’s ban on refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries by refusing to make airport pickups during the demonstration. When the drivers asked Uber to join, the company continued business as usual. By turning off surge pricing, the company left the impression that it was trying to break the strike, though it insists that wasn’t its intent, leading to a massive #DeleteUber campaign that quickly trended on Twitter.

While Kalanick did condemn Trump’s immigration order, he also defended working with the president, whose popularity in Oakland ranks somewhere between Walmart and bedbugs. Astonishingly, he dared to couch the company’s position as “Standing up for what’s right.” He told employees he was willing to “partner” with Trump — even as Trump attacked immigrants, prepared to take health care away from millions, and viciously condemned the Black Lives Matter movement and efforts to reform law enforcement.

Yes, Kalanick did eventually drop off of Trump’s business advisory council, but only after so many users had taken up the boycott call that Uber had to institute an automated process to keep up with the flood of users deleting their accounts.

More and more voices in Oakland and nearby are telling Uber to stay out of our community, and understandably so.

We have no doubt that if the residents of this diverse and progressive city got to vote on the matter, the vast majority would vote to tell Uber to stay away. In a town that desperately needs equitable development, Uber seems to have no interest in equity and no concern for anyone or anything but its own profits.

If Uber wants to win Oakland’s trust, Kalanick and his subordinates need to make big changes, and fast — not just small concessions under pressure. Thus far, we’ve seen no sign that they will.

Washington Declares War on Communities of Color

Huffington Post

By Orson Aguilar

Anytime a new presidential administration and Congress take office, we see a flurry of new policy initiatives. That’s normal. But what we’re seeing this year is distinctly not normal:

Nearly every one of the proposals coming from the Trump administration and Congress will disproportionately harm communities of color. It’s like we have a target painted on our backs.

Some of these are obvious: For example, whether or not some sort of border wall gets built, a crackdown on undocumented immigrants will mean more fear, stress and hardship for anyone who looks “foreign” – not just Latinos, but Asian Americans, people of Middle Eastern background and others. Mixed-status families, in which some have legal immigration papers and some do not, could see parents and children ripped apart.

But this goes far beyond immigration. Ajit Pai, the new chair of the Federal Communications Commission, has made it a priority to unwind “net neutrality” rules that guarantee open access to the internet. If that happens, things won’t change much for wealthy individuals and big corporations, who will still be able to pay for topflight internet service, but those who can’t afford to pay will be relegated to online slow lanes. When my organization’s telecommunications experts looked at the issue a few years ago, they concluded, “Without net neutrality, the result would likely be a sort of internet apartheid, with the least affluent individuals and companies relegated to the slowest lanes with the least access. This hardship will be felt most profoundly in communities of color and by low-income Americans.”

That’s as true today as it ever was.

Meanwhile, both the Trump administration and congressional leaders seem intent on dismantling the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a key element of post-crash financial reforms. CFPB is the only agency whose sole purpose is to keep customers of financial institutions like banks, credit card companies and payday lenders from being ripped off, and it’s already gotten nearly $12 billion in relief for consumers.

While CFPB helps all consumers, don’t forget that the worst, most predatory subprime lenders specifically targeted low-income communities of color, leading to staggering, disproportionate loss of wealth in these communities. If CFPB goes away or gets crippled, these communities will again be on the chopping block.

Attacks on environmental regulations and efforts to combat climate change will hurt communities of color first and worst. These communities have been regularly used as dumping grounds for polluting facilities, and consistently suffer the worst health effects from pollution. Here in California, low-income communities of color have seen real gains in jobs and economic security due to our climate efforts. And while my state will keep pushing forward, a national retreat on climate and anti-pollution efforts will send more black and brown kids to emergency rooms due to asthma and other respiratory problems, and leaving them to drink water tainted by lead and other poisons.

Both the new administration and the majority in Congress have pledged to dismantle the Affordable Care Act as quickly as possible. Indeed, even before Congress starts a formal repeal effort, the White House killed ads that had already been paid for encouraging people to sign up for coverage, before partially backtracking under public pressure.

Destroying the ACA will disproportionately harm Latinos and African Americans, who had the highest uninsured rates before Obamacare and have seen the biggest gains since the law took effect. Once again, many will be hurt but our communities will be the biggest losers.

I could go on almost endlessly. Early indications, including the record of Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos, suggest that the administration’s education policies will likely hurt our public schools and may be a disaster for students of color, LGBTQ kids and other young people from underserved or marginalized communities. And while the Obama administration made an admirable effort to curb racial disparities in law enforcement, the new regime has signaled an end to such efforts, branding legitimate and needed protests against excessive police violence as a “dangerous anti-police atmosphere.”

This isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, a partisan divide. For its first century, the GOP had a long and honorable record on civil rights, from dismantling slavery to providing crucial votes to pass civil rights legislation in the 1960s. And Democrats have been far from perfect over the years.

But in a nation projected to have a nonwhite majority by 2044, this is scary. Van Jones stirred up some controversy when he called the November election “a whitelash,” but it sure feels like Americans of color are under attack in a concerted way that’s unlike anything I’ve seen in my lifetime. But one thing I know for certain: We will resist.

Don’t Let Congress Kill Consumer Protection

Youngstown Vindicator
By Orson Aguilar

Hold onto your wallets, America. Members of Congress and our new president want to kill vital protections that help keep you from being ripped off.

After predatory lending and dishonest practices by banks and other financial firms tanked our economy in 2008, Congress passed major reform legislation — legislation President Donald Trump has vowed to dismantle. A key provision created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the federal agency whose only job is to protect Americans from being ripped off by banks, credit card companies, payday lenders and other financial businesses.

The CFPB has already secured $11.7 billion in relief for consumers from lawbreakers, the funds including major settlements with Citibank, Wells Fargo, Sprint, Ocwen Financial and Toyota Motor Credit.

In addition, the bureau has created a searchable public complaint system and database to help consumers get answers from companies and information to protect themselves. It’s taken on industries and issues other regulators long dodged, including racial discrimination and other unfair practices in auto lending. And it conducted a series of national roundtables to hear directly from consumers about their most pressing needs.

The CFPB has cracked down on numerous subprime and payday lenders who gave customers incomplete or false information, used illegal debt collection practices, or resold customers’ personal data without permission. These are the exact kinds of practices that helped cause the Great Recession. Before CFPB, literally no one in the federal government had the job of stopping such rip-offs.

Right now, CFPB is creating rules to curb the outrageous practice of mandatory arbitration, in which financial companies force customers who open an account or sign up for a credit card to sign away their right to sue if the company cheats them. These clauses, the CFPB found, affect about half of credit card customers. Big businesses prefer arbitration because consumers generally don’t do well in this process. And these agreements typically bar class-action suits, in which a group of wronged consumers band together to seek relief.

The financial lobby has never liked CFPB, and the lawmakers who do lobbyists’ bidding see this as their chance to kill it. Even if financial reform isn’t completely dismantled, they’ve floated other proposals to weaken these vital protections, ranging from firing the bureau’s outstanding director, Richard Cordray, to taking away CFPB’s independence and putting it under the thumb of members of Congress — who get very large campaign contributions from Wall Street.

If this happens, we’ll all get hurt and the U.S. economy will be in danger of another crisis. Please take a moment to ask your member of Congress to preserve the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as a strong, independent agency. You can reach your representative via the U.S. Capitol Switchboard, (202) 224-3121.

 

Consumer Financial Protection is Under Attack by Phony Claims

The Hill
By Danielle Beavers

Hold onto your wallets, America. Members of Congress wants to kill vital protections that help keep you from being ripped off. Some lawmakers have long had their knives out for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Now, with a seemingly sympathetic president about to be inaugurated, they’ve stepped up the attacks. Some critics—not previously known as leaders on diversity or civil rights—claim that the CFPB has become “a breeding ground” for discrimination that devalues employees of color and women.

As an advocate for diversity—and specifically as an advocate for communities of color—I have to call this out as the nonsense it is.

First, remember that predatory lending targeting communities of color played a huge role in creating the 2008 financial crisis. Congress created the CFPB—over the objections of banking industry lobbyists—precisely to keep such abuse from tanking the economy again.

And it’s working. The Greenlining Institute and other advocates for communities of color remain strong supporters of the CFPB because of its unwavering commitment to issues that most impact diverse communities.

Since its founding, the CFPB has secured more than $11 billion in relief for consumers from lawbreakers, including $1.8 billion in settlements with CitibankBank of AmericaJPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo for illegal credit card practices.

In addition, the bureau has created a searchable public complaint system and database to help consumers get answers from companies and usable information to protect themselves. It’s taken on industries and issues other regulators long dodged, like auto lending, to battle racial discrimination and disparate impact.

It has also conducted a series of national roundtables to hear directly from consumers and communities of color about their most pressing needs and how the CFPB can help.

Such a strong record is tough to attack, so those who want to kill or weaken the CFPB grasp at straws to paint the agency and its director, Richard Cordray, as racist and unfit to serve America’s diverse consumers, dredging up old incidents to make their case.

Like any institution, the CFPB has had diversity challenges. In 2014, incomplete employee performance evaluations and satisfaction surveys published by American Banker revealed racial disparities among staff. These findings gave real cause for concern, but critics fail to mention that the bureau stepped up, acknowledged its failings and took significant steps to rectify the problems.

The CFPB worked with the independent Office of Inspector General to investigate the workplace environment and conducted a series of employee townhalls to solicit feedback from its workers. CFPB also elevated its Office of Minority and Women Inclusion to report directly to Director Cordray.

Bureau leadership has met with Greenlining, the NAACP and the National Urban League to solicit feedback, adopted new policies to eliminate a dysfunctional employee performance management system, and issued Diversity and Inclusion Strategic plans to ensure that agency culture reflects America’s diverse consumers.

In a letter this month, a group of Democratic members led by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif) cited these successful efforts and praised the CFPB’s efforts, writing, “It’s clear to us that Director Cordray has made significant strides in upholding our nation’s consumer protection laws and managing the complicated issues of diversity and inclusion at his agency.”

Racial justice advocates know that no agency is ever “perfectly inclusive.” We also know that how agencies deal with diversity—especially when problems crop up or concerns get raised—is the most important measure of their commitment to people of color.

The CFPB had issues in this area and took strong steps to address them. As a result, when we analyzed racial diversity in eight financial agencies that have Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion, CFPB ranked third of eight. The bureau still has work to do, but it’s on the right track.

Complaints about diversity at the CFPB represent a smokescreen designed to distract from the real issue. The CFPB provides vital, long-overdue protection for consumers who used to be at the mercy of manipulation and deceit from financial businesses.

All consumers—especially communities of color who’ve often been most blatantly victimized—need the CFPB to remain strong and independent. Congress must reject attempts to destroy this vital agency.