Stopping the Next Mortgage Meltdown

By Debra Gore-Mann
The Progressive

After the 2008 subprime mortgage meltdown tanked the U.S. and global economies, Congress wrote rules to stabilize the financial industry. But the mortgage market has changed radically since then, and the regulations that govern it haven’t kept up, creating a new house of cards that could easily collapse.

My organization, The Greenlining Institute, researched this issue for a new report, A Fair Financial System: Regulating Fintech and Nonbank Lenders, and what we found was disturbing.

Did you know that two-thirds of home mortgages in the United States are not underwritten by banks? They’re written by internet-based financial technology, or fintech, firms — whose share of the market has increased more than six-fold since 2009. Because fintech lenders don’t have physical branches or take deposits, they aren’t subject to most federal and state regulations that govern banks.

That opens the door to all sorts of risks and predatory practices, some of which particularly endanger communities of color and low-income borrowers, putting the whole economy at risk.

These “nonbanks,” as they’re sometimes called, target communities that have been historically denied access to financial products and services from traditional banks, so they may have more customers that are people of color and low-to-moderate income.

And they aren’t subject to the federal Community Reinvestment Act, a vital anti-redlining law that requires banks to meet the credit needs of the communities they serve. In fact, there’s no overarching law governing fintech lenders at all, so regulators know much less about how fintechs operate than they know about banks.

We do know that fintechs tend to have relatively little cash on hand and lots of debt. How precarious are they should the housing market falter? We don’t know. And we need this data to avoid another housing crash like that of 2008.

Inadequate regulation means we have little information about the fintechs’ lending patterns, or whether they discriminate. The enormous data gaps mean we can’t know whether these borrowers are being treated fairly.

Meanwhile, traditional banks have been closing branches in Black and Latinx neighborhoods, effectively discarding their Community Reinvestment Act obligations and leaving the field wide open for the mostly unregulated fintechs to lend to historically marginalized communities.

A combination of weak regulation and predatory, discriminatory lending sent us spinning into the Great Recession 13 years ago. It’s time to update our financial regulations to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

On the federal level, that means modernizing and expanding the Community Reinvestment Act to include fintechs, and modernizing regulations across the board to make sure these new, fast-growing firms don’t unfairly target communities of color and pose a risk to the whole economy.

But even before Congress acts, states can and should move on their own. Several states already have their own Community Reinvestment Act or similar laws — the latest was adopted last year in Illinois — and those that don’t should enact such laws now. States can also require data transparency and accountability.

We deserve a financial system that works for all, regardless of race or income. And we need to know that financial institutions — whether or not they call themselves banks — operate in a safe, nondiscriminatory manner. We cannot risk another financial disaster that hits vulnerable communities hardest. It’s time for the rules to catch up with reality.

California leaders have no more excuses for their inaction on housing reforms

By Brian Hanlon and Adam Briones
The Sacramento Bee

From city government actions to President Biden’s infrastructure plan, the momentum to end exclusionary zoning and land use policies that contribute to both our housing crisis and neighborhood segregation is mounting. While local and federal government leaders are responding to growing distaste for embedded racist and exclusionary housing policies, our California legislature has yet to pass legislation with the scope needed to address these problems.

In the American Jobs Plan, Biden follows the example of city governments who have taken action to end unfair housing laws that make neighborhoods unaffordable and inaccessible for people of color and low- and middle-income families. The plan calls on Congress to incentivize local governments to “eliminate state and local exclusionary zoning laws, which drive up the cost of construction and keep families from moving to neighborhoods with more opportunities for them and their kids.”

Biden’s plan sets the national stage for housing policy reform that will make neighborhoods more equitable by encouraging local governments to end widespread local rules that prevent smaller, more affordable housing from being built, such as multi-family housing bans and excessive minimum lot size requirements for new housing.

These policies are the result of decades-long efforts to keep people of color from moving into traditionally white neighborhoods. When Congress passed the Fair Housing Act in 1968, in an attempt to keep neighborhoods white, cities nationwide enacted bans on multifamily housing, which were more likely to be occupied by people of color and immigrants. In most cases, these are the same single-family only zoning laws that are in effect today.

Multi-family housing bans ensure that only the most expensive form of housing, single-family homes, can be built in wealthy, often white neighborhoods. Most first-time home buyers, including low- and middle-income Californians and essential workers, cannot afford the $700,000 statewide average single-family home, let alone the million-dollar homes in job-rich, coastal metropolitan areas. Today, for every dollar of wealth held by white families, African American and Latino families have about 15 cents, which is mostly due to a dramatic gap in home ownership.

Cities like Sacramento and Berkeley have taken the lead in recent months passing resolutions to end certain exclusionary zoning laws in their jurisdictions. The impetus for these reforms is a movement led by grassroots YIMBY groups, fair housing advocates and racial equity organizations who want to make it legal to build smaller, naturally affordable multifamily housing in more high-opportunity neighborhoods near transit and jobs — making them accessible to more people of color and low- and middle-income families. The impact of this movement is cascading to other cities throughout the state, with OaklandSan JoseCulver City and San Francisco all reviewing similar proposals.

While activism and leadership on the local level is encouraging, the problem is statewide and systemic. Solving it will require action from our legislature.

It’s not that the California Legislature lacks vision. Both houses have considered proposals that would take steps to end local zoning practices that ban multifamily homes in the state. It’s whether these proposals were bold reforms like SB 50 in 2019, or permitting duplexes that fit within their existing neighborhood contexts like SB 1120 in 2020, our legislators were not able to push these bills through to the governor’s desk. They lost traction despite the avalanche of public support for just this type of common-sense housing reform.

Indisputably, more than 90% of Californians, according to the latest PPIC poll, agree that housing affordability is a problem. Sixty-two percent of Californians supported changing state laws to allow more multifamily homes in a 2019 PPIC poll, and support is only growing stronger. A recent poll found that 79% of Los Angeles residents think allowing fourplexes is a priority. Nonetheless, the loudest voices in the room — NIMBYs — have drowned out the majority and pushed deserved legislative support for recent bills and reform packages off the track.

These Sacramento-area roads could get bike upgrades

While actions by local cities and now President Biden have increased awareness about the need for zoning reform, our state legislature is best positioned to address the issue with the urgency and scale necessary. Statewide reforms are needed to address these systemic problems and make housing more affordable and inclusive for all Californians. The tide change is here and there is no longer an excuse for inaction at the state level.

Brian Hanlon is the CEO of California YIMBY and Adam Briones is the senior director of economic equity at the Greenlining Institute.

Shine some light in black box of algorithms used by government

By Ed Chau and Debra Gore-Mann
CalMatters

You can’t see algorithms, but they can impact huge parts of your life, from seemingly minor things like what video YouTube will queue up next to life-and-death issues such as whether or not you can get a COVID-19 vaccination. It’s time we all had a better idea how algorithms impact us, particularly when the government is using them.

An algorithm is simply a set of rules and instructions used by a computer program to perform a task or solve a problem. While algorithms themselves are coldly mathematical, they are created by humans who, like all of us, can have blind spots, biases or preconceptions. And that can lead to algorithms that make bad decisions or even perpetuate racial and gender bias.

These algorithms feed into an artificial intelligence framework where machine learning makes decisions and predictions from data about people – decisions previously made by people. According to PwC research, artificial intelligence could contribute $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030.

The Greenlining Institute recently released an analysis of the problem, titled Algorithmic Bias Explained: How Automated Decision-Making Becomes Automated Discrimination, which included some startling findings. The report reviews a number of incidents that have made it into the media in which algorithms perpetuated discrimination based on race, gender or income – and those reports represent just the tip of the iceberg, because most algorithms operate in the background, unseen and unknown by those whose lives they impact.

Some of the most disturbing reports have involved government programs, including an Arkansas Medicaid algorithm that wrongly cut off medical and nursing home benefits to hundreds of people. Another, used in Detroit, perpetuated old, discriminatory patterns of redlining by channeling community development funding away from the very neighborhoods that needed it most – literally a case of algorithmic redlining.

In February, the New York Times reported serious issues with an algorithm the federal government uses to manage COVID-19 vaccine allocations: “The Tiberius algorithm calculates state vaccine allotments based on data from the American Community Survey, a household poll from the United States Census Bureau that may undercount certain populations – like undocumented immigrants or tribal communities – at risk for the virus.”

Equally concerning, the New York Times quoted researchers and health officials who are frustrated at how little they know about how the Tiberius algorithm decides how many vaccine doses to send where, describing it as “a black box.”

When government makes decisions that affect our daily lives, our communities and potentially even our very survival, those decisions should not be made in a black box.

Algorithmic Redlining Is Real. Why Not Algorithmic Greenlining?

By Vinhcent Le
Governing

Imagine you live in a neighborhood that has long been under-resourced — “redlined” back in the days when such overt discrimination was both legal and encouraged by the federal government, and which has never fully recovered. And suppose your local government provides funding to support neighborhoods with everything from transit upgrades to rehabilitating dilapidated homes. You might expect your troubled neighborhood to be first in line for funding.

In more than two dozen U.S. cities, you could well be wrong. And it would be even more frustrating if you discovered that your neighborhood had been deprioritized not by a human official you could hold accountable but by an algorithm — an automated decision-making system that decided your community was a bad investment.

Yes, that has really happened.

Cities across the United States have begun using urban planning algorithms to classify neighborhoods by market strength and investment value, and then create tailored development plans for each — plans that determine which neighborhoods receive funding for services or infrastructure upgrades. But at least one widely used algorithm encourages users to prioritize investments and public subsidies in stronger, more prosperous markets before investing in weaker, distressed areas.

That is seen as a way to maximize return on investment for public dollars, but it can channel vitally needed funding away from the communities that need it most, typically those that had been subjected to both overt and covert discrimination. In Detroit, for example, city officials used a planning algorithm known as Market Value Analysis (MVA) to justify the reduction and disconnection of water and sewage utilities, plus withholding of federal, state and local redevelopment dollars, in the city’s “weak markets,” which happened to be its Blackest and poorest neighborhoods. In Indianapolis, MVA recommendations made small-business support, home repair and rehabilitation, homebuyer assistance, and foreclosure-prevention programs unavailable to the city’s most distressed neighborhoods.

This illustrates a fundamental pitfall of algorithms, as well as the risks that they can be misused or produce unintended consequences. While the MVA was created to help revitalize distressed neighborhoods, it uses variables like average home prices, vacancy rates, foreclosures and homeownership to determine neighborhood “value,” but those data points are neither ahistorical nor objective. Instead, they reflect a history of systemic bias. Redlining accounts for 30 percent of the gap in homeownership and 40 percent of the gap in home values for Black Americans between 1950 and 1980. Even today, maps of economically disadvantaged or under-resourced areas still bear a startling resemblance to the Federal Housing Administration’s redlining maps from the 1930s. Algorithms can perpetuate or amplify long-standing human biases.

One major source of algorithmic bias can be found in the “training data” used to teach such a system to recognize patterns in bits of information. For example, if a Black or Latino neighborhood is overpoliced, leading to skewed arrest rates, a predictive-policing algorithm could “learn” that Blacks and Latinos are more likely to be criminals, when in fact they’re just more likely to be arrested.

Often, the victims of algorithmic redlining don’t know what happened to them, because information on algorithms and their use is generally not publicly available. California’s Legislature is considering a step to begin to remedy this problem: If passed, AB 13 will bring transparency to the use of algorithms by state agencies and programs. For example, it would require a prospective contractor to submit an “automated decision system impact assessment” to evaluate the privacy and security risks to personal information as well as risks that could result in inaccurate, unfair, biased or discriminatory decisions impacting individuals.

That’s an essential start, but America can do better. We can go from algorithmic redlining to algorithmic greenlining — using the powerful tools of artificial intelligence to promote equity and help close the nation’s yawning racial wealth gap.

In the words of Cathy O’Neil, author of Weapons of Math Destruction, “Big Data processes codify the past. They do not invent the future. Doing that requires moral imagination, and that’s something only humans can provide. We have to explicitly embed better values into our algorithms, creating Big Data models that follow our ethical lead.”

California has modeled a first step with a tool known as CalEnviroScreen. A law that we at The Greenlining Institute helped pass, SB 535, prioritized funds from the state’s cap-and-trade program for communities with the greatest economic and environmental challenges, and directed the state to create a scientific tool to decide which communities to prioritize. CalEnviroScreen, developed with extensive community consultation, examines multiple indicators such as unemployment rates and exposure to pollution. Based on this data, the algorithm outputs a CalEnviroScreen score that quantifies the environmental and socioeconomic burdens within a community and determines its eligibility for targeted investments.

CalEnviroScreen is a simple example of what’s possible if we consciously put equity metrics into algorithms used to make complex decisions. Imagine how much further human creativity could take this idea if we try. Algorithmic greenlining can happen — if we have the will to do it.

Vinhcent Le is the technology equity legal counsel at the Greenlining Institute | vinhcentl@greenlining.org | @VinhcentLe


Governing‘s opinion columns reflect the views of their authors and not necessarily those of Governing‘s editors or management.

Commentary: Use of algorithms can perpetuate bias

By Vinhcent Le
ArcaMax

For most of us, the word “algorithm” is fairly new to our vocabulary. But badly designed decision-making algorithms have a growing impact on our lives and can do a great deal of damage.

Simply put, an algorithm is a set of instructions used by computer systems to perform a task or make a decision. On social media platforms, for example, algorithms decide what ads appear based on what content a user looks at, likes or shares.

As we discovered in a new Greenlining Institute report on algorithmic bias, these algorithms may be used to decide everything from whether someone gets a job interview or mortgage, to how heavily one’s neighborhood is policed.

“Poorly designed algorithms,” we wrote, “threaten to amplify systemic racism by reproducing patterns of discrimination and bias that are found in the data algorithms use to learn and make decisions.”

Algorithms can be put to good use, such as helping manage responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, but things can also go seriously wrong. Sometimes, algorithms replicate the conscious or unconscious biases of the humans who designed them, disadvantaging whole groups of people, often without them even knowing it’s happening.

Like humans, algorithms “learn” — in the latter case through what’s called training data, which teaches the algorithm to look for patterns in bits of information. That’s where things can start to go wrong.

Consider a bank whose historical lending data shows that it routinely gave higher interest rates to people in a ZIP code with a majority of Black residents. An algorithm trained on that biased data could learn to overcharge residents in that area.

In 2014, Amazon tried to develop a recruiting algorithm to rate the resumes of job candidates and predict who would do well. But, even though gender was not intended as a factor in the algorithm, it still favored men and penalized resumes that included the names of all-women’s colleges. This likely happened because Amazon had a poor record of hiring and promoting women, causing the training data used for the algorithm to repeat the pattern.

Happily, Amazon’s researchers caught the problem and, when they found they couldn’t fix it, scrapped the algorithm. But how many such situations have gone unnoticed and uncorrected? No one knows.

Worse, our laws have not caught up with this new, insidious form of discrimination. While both federal and state governments have anti-discrimination laws, they’re ineffective in this situation, since most were written before the internet was even invented. And proving algorithmic bias is difficult since the people being discriminated against may not know why or how the decision that harmed them was made.

Our anti-discrimination laws must be updated to properly regulate algorithmic bias and discrimination, with provisions to promote transparency. California’s legislature is leading the way by considering legislation that would bring more transparency and accountability to algorithms used in government programs.

Government at all levels should pay much more attention to this new, insidious form of discrimination.

___

(Vinhcent Le is technology equity legal counsel at The Greenlining Institute. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.) ©2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Algorithmic racial and gender bias is real. The California State Legislature must act

By Gissela Moya
The Sacramento Bee

These days, algorithms — sets of rules or instructions used by computer systems to solve a problem or perform a task — decide many things, from what videos YouTube will show us to whether we get a loan or college offer. But the algorithms used by companies to make important decisions in our lives can have racial or gender bias built into them. Happily, a partial solution has just been introduced in the California State Legislature.

Algorithmic bias, which mirrors the conscious or unconscious biases of the humans who design the algorithms, has led to unfair outcomes for people of color, women and disabled individuals. Consumers may blindly trust that algorithms are fair, but bias can be hard to see.

Algorithms can be hugely beneficial. In response to COVID-19 case outbreaks, the health care sector turned to algorithms to manage and predict case outbreaks. A COVID-19 risk prediction algorithm designed by Cleveland Clinic researchers shows an individual’s likelihood of testing positive for COVID-19, which can help tailor patient treatment. In this way, algorithms can help ensure health care resources are used effectively, especially during a pandemic.

In other cases the outcomes are worse. A study recently published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that a diagnostic algorithm for estimating kidney function which adjusts for race assigns Black people healthier scores, thereby underestimating the severity of their kidney disease. If the algorithm were corrected, one third of the 2,225 Black patients studied would be classified as having more severe chronic kidney disease and 64 would qualify for a kidney transplant that the algorithm would have denied them.

Algorithmic bias remains prevalent for multiple reasons, from the algorithms’ creators embedding their own bias to the lack of diversity in the field. In addition, biased algorithmic outcomes can stem from the data that the designers use to train algorithms to perform their functions. Data that may seem neutral, like zip codes or income levels, can serve as proxies for race and reflect the consequences of redlining, discrimination and racist policies which are still felt today.

For example, evidence indicates that residents of Black and Brown neighborhoods are more likely to be stopped, searched and arrested than whites. If that data gets fed into a “predictive policing” algorithm, it could well decide that Black and Latino people are more likely to be criminals, when in fact they’re just overpoliced.

So while we acknowledge the benefits algorithms can bring, we still have to be cautious and ensure people understand, in plain language, how they work and what they predict. Biased algorithms in health care, education and employment can wrongfully exclude some groups from resources or opportunities, as we’ve seen in the past. That makes it hard to build an equitable future in California.

Assembly Bill 13, the Automated Decision Systems Accountability Act of 2021 by Assemblymember Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park), seeks to prevent algorithm-driven systems from resulting in discrimination.

The law would ensure that California businesses that use automated decision systems — the technical term for algorithms — proactively put processes in place to test for biases and also submit an impact assessment report to the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation. In addition, the DFPI would establish an Automated Decision Systems Advisory Task Force composed of individuals from the public and private sectors.

AB 13 will start to shed some light on a field that’s way too murky. We need smart laws to increase transparency, ensure companies build fair algorithms and build strong accountability systems for these automated decision-makers that affect us all.

Gissela Moya is the Manny Garcia technology equity fellow at The Greenlining Institute, www.greenlining.org.

Commentary: Biden rebuild must include race

By Adam Briones
ArcaMax

When President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20, he will have a unique opportunity to rebuild our battered economy and create the long-lasting change that eluded his predecessors: closing the wealth gap that has left Black and brown Americans, and women of all races, behind.

While what the Biden-Harris administration can accomplish legislatively will largely be decided by the Senate runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5, the new administration should begin thinking about how the economy can be brought back after the pandemic in ways that help right historical wrongs.

Biden has already made one excellent decision by nominating former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen as treasury secretary. Yellen, throughout her career, has been committed to making the economy work for all Americans. In 2014, she said in a speech that “inequality has risen to the point that it seems to me worthwhile for the U.S. to seriously consider taking the risk of making our economy more rewarding for more of the people.” More recently, she specifically called for closing the U.S. wealth gap.

Following Biden’s mandate to “Build Back Better,” Yellen should target the wealth gaps for people of color and women. She and her senior staff can start by improving the next iteration of the Paycheck Protection Program. Only about 12% of Black and Latinx businesses who applied earlier this year for aid through a $650 billion program created to support small businesses say they received the relief they requested.

It has also been encouraging to see President-elect Biden propose sweeping yet pragmatic measures to stabilize and grow our economy, with a particular focus on communities of color.

Biden has already committed to extending unemployment insurance as well as a new package of support for small businesses. This is important for communities of color, particularly women of color, since unemployment rates and business failures are significantly higher for those already marginalized in our current economy.

The Biden-Harris administration can also help close the racial wealth gap by using the tools the vast majority of white Americans have used to build wealth: home ownership and small business. Today, for every dollar of wealth held by a white family, Latinx families have only about four cents and Black families just two cents.

President-elect Biden has released plans to increase down-payment assistance for first-time homebuyers, incentivize production of 1.5 million new affordable housing units, leverage more than $150 billion for small businesses structurally excluded for generations and ease the burden of student debt. He should pursue these goals aggressively.

Biden has also committed to strengthening the Federal Reserve’s focus on racial inequality. For too long, monetary policy either neglected the needs of communities of color or, as during the run-up to the 2008 mortgage meltdown, actually harmed Black and brown communities.

The Federal Reserve can ensure that the Community Reinvestment Act explicitly addresses racial inequality.

It is also time for the Fed’s dual mandate to evolve. Today, the Fed is tasked to promote full employment as well as contain inflation. This should be updated to include eliminating the racial and gender wealth gaps.

Our president-elect seems to genuinely see racism and racial inequality as the moral and economic threat it is. As we rebuild our economy and national sense of trust, he must continue to face that threat head-on.

(Adam Briones is economic equity director of The Greenlining Institute. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.) ©2020 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

New Justice Amy Coney Barrett poses a real threat to our rights

By Debra Gore-Mann
San Francisco Chronicle

Whatever one thinks of the partisan aspects of Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation, she represents a serious threat to civil rights protections, and indeed to the very health of every American.

Recently, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., claimed a monumental win for Republicans by stating in a speech on the Senate floor, “A lot of what we’ve done over the last four years will be undone sooner or later by the next election, but Democrats won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.” The Senate then voted 52-48 to confirm Barrett barely eight days before the general election.

The anger and the distrust over Barrett’s confirmation continues to swell in an already divided America — divided because this was the wrong priority. The priority should have been COVID-19. The forewarned October surge has materialized as the pandemic continues to heat up at a rate that alarms most experts, with new cases setting records and hospitalizations surging.

There was no urgency to name and confirm a nominee. In the not-so-distant past, a Supreme Court vacancy was held open for 422 days when Justice Antonin Scalia died on Feb. 13, 2016 and Neil Gorsuch was sworn in on April 10, 2017. That’s nearly 14 months.

There are serious concerns that Barrett is being pushed through because supporters know that she will advance their agenda, despite the wishes of the American people. The 45th president has been involved in over 4,000 legal battles in some capacity throughout his professional history as real estate mogul, entertainer, entrepreneur and now as a politician. We should not expect anything to change now. At least 126 multistate lawsuits (suits brought by one state and then joined by others) have been filed against the federal government since Trump took office in January 2017. And litigation about voting rights and voter suppression looms.

But amid all the partisan and procedural arguments we need to remember this: Barrett constitutes a clear and present danger to communities of color.

As an “originalist” in the mode of Clarence Thomas, Barrett seems inclined to take us back to an 18th century view of the world — an era that did not look favorably on the rights of people of color or women. In general, her record and writings suggest a narrow, constricted view of the government’s role in protecting those with the least power in society — including people of color, women, workers, immigrants, LGBTQ folks, etc.

Specifically, Barrett’s record suggests she takes a narrow, limited view of civil rights protections. In a case involving racial segregation by employer AutoZone, she joined a narrow majority ruling that “intentionally assigning members of different races to different stores” did not violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. As a dissenting judge noted, “Under the panel’s reasoning, this separate-but-equal arrangement is permissible under Title VII so long as the ‘separate’ facilities really are ‘equal.’

”This in itself is troubling. It’s worse when you combine it with Barrett’s apparently greater willingness to overturn precedent than has been traditional for the court, writing, “I tend to agree with those who say that a justice’s duty is to the Constitution and that it is thus more legitimate for her to enforce her best understanding of the Constitution rather than a precedent she thinks clearly in conflict with it.”

Combining the two views laid out above, what civil rights precedents will be safe in Barrett’s hands? This may seem unthinkable, but it’s not beyond imagination to worry whether even the essential ruling against “separate but equal,” Brown vs. Board of Education, might be in danger. Even if a majority of justices find Brown untouchable, which they should, what about more recent rulings affirming the existence of affirmative action programs at colleges and universities, or the rights of same-sex couples to marry?

In one critical real-world example, Barrett has shown hostility to the Affordable Care Act and has strongly criticized a prior Supreme Court ruling upholding it. As important as the ACA is to all Americans during a pandemic, it produced particularly dramatic gains in health coverage for Black, Latino, Asian and Indigenous Americans. This is not academic: SCOTUS will hear such a case shortly after the election.

Barrett could be the vote that takes away health care from millions during a global pandemic which just surpassed over 225,000 deaths in the U.S.

Debra Gore-Mann is president and CEO of The Greenlining Institute.

 

Barrett will destroy the Affordable Care Act

By Kelsey Lyles
The Progressive

If Republican senators steamroll Amy Coney Barrett onto the Supreme Court, she could become the crucial fifth vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act, sometimes called Obamacare. That represents a serious threat to families of color.

This isn’t a theoretical discussion. The Supreme Court is slated to hear oral arguments on the Trump administration’s latest attempt to overturn the ACA on Nov. 10, exactly one week after the presidential election. Barrett could be a justice by then.

The Trump team’s latest effort to kill the health care law turns on its penalty for not having insurance, which the 2017 GOP tax bill cut to zero. We don’t know exactly how Barrett would rule, but she strongly criticized Chief Justice John Roberts’ ruling in a prior case upholding the ACA, which involved the same provision.

Barrett has also criticized the ACA’s requirement of coverage for contraception, calling it an “assault on religious liberty and the rights of conscience.”

Ruling against the ACA would end the health care of millions of Americans. And that burden would fall disproportionately on Americans of color, who had the highest uninsured rates prior to the law’s passage and made the biggest gains under its provisions.

The ACA, while not perfect, has reduced barriers to eligibility and enrollment for low- and moderate-income families. It prohibits insurance providers from charging a patient more due to their risk profile, bans providers from refusing to serve patients with preexisting conditions, and allows young adults to remain on their family’s insurance until age 26.

All of these provisions, the Trump administration argues, should be eliminated if the Supreme Court rules in its favor. Solicitor General Noel Francisco, in a brief filed with the court, said the ACA’s other provisions cannot be separated from the individual mandate and that “it necessarily follows that the rest of the ACA must also fall.”

In 2010, according to a report published earlier this year by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 13.1% of white Americans lacked health insurance, the lowest rate of any racial or ethnic group. Asian Americans were next lowest at 16.7%. The uninsured rate for Black Americans hovered just under 20%, while nearly one-third of Latinx and Indigenous people lacked insurance.

Those numbers dropped dramatically for all groups after the ACA took effect, and the racial gaps narrowed substantially. By 2016, the uninsured rate for Latinx had plunged more than 13 percentage points, while the rate for Black and Asian Americans dropped by nearly half.

Distressingly, those gains pretty much stopped after the Trump administration began chipping away at the ACA — for example, by cutting funding and outreach for enrollment. Tossing out the ACA completely would obliterate coverage for millions of Americans, in the middle of a pandemic.

COVID-19 has already left some eight million Americans with a preexisting condition – making it nearly impossible for them to get affordable health insurance without the ACA’s protections. During her confirmation hearing, Barrett tried to talk her way around the preexisting conditions issue in a way that did not inspire trust.

Barrett disingenuously claimed that the issue before the court was “not a challenge to pre-existing conditions coverage or to the lifetime maximum relief remote cap.” In fact, as Francisco made clear, it is exactly that.

But those COVID-19 infections are disproportionately hitting communities of color. In August, the CDC reported that the COVID-19 case rate for Black Americans was 2.6 times higher than for whites, while for Latinx and Indigenous Americans it was 2.8 times higher. That’s millions of people who are potentially about to have their health care safety net taken away.

For Americans of color, Amy Coney Barrett is not just another judicial nominee, but  a direct and potentially lethal threat. Let your senators know what you think by calling the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.

Opinion: Prop. 16 gives equal opportunity a much-needed do-over

By Debra Gore-Mann and Eva Paterson
East Bay Express

In November, California voters will be asked to vote on Proposition 16, which will allow state and local governments to use equal-opportunity policies to promote good jobs, good wages and quality schools for everyone. California has needed this for some time, but the Covid-19 crisis made it urgent, and the police killing of George Floyd this spring Minneapolis illuminated the necessity of dismantling systemic racism.

Read the rest at eastbayexpress.com.