Archive | May 2012

A Sin and A Shame

Given their sacrifices for our nation, the number of veterans that are either homeless or at risk of homelessness is as my grandmother would say “a sin and a shame”. Here in the United Sates there approximately 1.5 million veterans that are at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing. According to the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) there are over 67,000 homeless veterans on any given night.[i] Over the course of a year, approximately twice that many experience homelessness.[ii] Only eight percent of the general population can claim veteran status, but nearly one-fifth of the homeless population are veterans.[iii]

Why are veterans homeless?

In addition to the complex set of factors influencing all homelessness – extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income and access to health care – a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, which are compounded by a lack of family and social support networks.[iv]

A top priority for homeless veterans is secure, safe, clean housing that offers a supportive environment free of drugs and alcohol. Although “most homeless people are single, unaffiliated men… most housing money in existing federal homelessness programs, in contrast, is devoted to helping homeless families or homeless women with dependent children,” as is stated in the study “Is Homelessness a Housing Problem?”[v] (Understanding Homelessness: New Policy and Research Perspectives, Fannie Mae Foundation, 1997).

What services do veterans need?

Like most homeless persons, veterans need a coordinated effort that provides secure housing, nutritional meals, basic physical health care, substance abuse care and aftercare, mental health counseling, personal development and empowerment. Additionally, veterans need job assessment, training and placement assistance. Service providers assert that all programs to assist homeless veterans must focus on helping them obtain and sustain employment.

What can you do to help homeless veterans?

  • Determine the need in your community. Visit with homeless veteran providers. Contact your mayor’s office for a list of providers, or search the National Coalition for the Homeless.
  • Engage Friends/Family: Involve others. If you are not already part of an organization, align yourself with a few other people who are interested in attacking this issue.
  • Help: Participate in local homeless coalitions. Chances are, there is one in your community. If not, this could be the time to bring people together around this critical need.
  • Donate: Make a donation to your local homeless veteran provider.
  • Advocate: Contact your elected officials. Discuss what is being done in your community for homeless veterans.

Pending Legislation in the 112th Congress

United States House of Representatives

H.R. 136To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow taxpayers to designate a portion of their income tax payment to provide assistance to homeless veterans, and for other purposes.
Sponsor:         
Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY)
Status:             Referred to the Committee on Ways and Means, in addition to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (Jan. 1, 2011)

  • Amends the Internal Revenue Code to allow individual taxpayers to designate on their tax returns $3 of income taxes ($6 in the case of joint returns) to provide assistance to homeless veterans.

H.R. 287 – Homes for Heroes Act of 2011
Sponsor:          Rep. Al Green (D-TX)
Status:             Referred to the Committee on Financial Services, in addition to the Committee on Ways and Means (Jan. 12, 2011)

  • Expands the supply of supportive housing for very low-income veteran families.
  • Authorizes an annual budget increase needed to provide 20,000 additional rental vouchers each fiscal year.
  • Extends VA-supported housing, which is currently limited to homeless veterans with chronic mental illness or chronic substance use disorders, to all homeless veterans.

H.R. 806End Veteran Homelessness Act of 2011
Sponsor:          Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA)
Status:             Referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (Feb. 18, 2011)

  • Increases GPD authorization to $200 million in FY 2011.
  • Changes GPD reimbursement from a “per diem” to an annual cost of providing services.
  • Requires each VA medical center providing case management services through the HUD-VASH program to hire a specialist to handle housing issues, including:
    • Outreach to landlords.
    • Mediation of veteran/landlord disputes.
    • Establishing and maintaining a list of available rental units.
  • Authorizes $100 million by FY 2014 for supportive services for very low-income veteran families in permanent housing.
  • Promotes awareness of VA programs to assist homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children.

H.R. 1133Helping Our Homeless Veterans Act of 2011
Sponsor: Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA)
Status: Referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Health (April 1, 2011), as well as the Committee on Financial Services, Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity (April 4, 2011)

  • Authorizes VA to enter into agreements with organizations to collaborate in the provision of case management services to veterans in the HUD-VASH program.

H.R. 4287 – To expand the definition of homeless veteran for purposes of benefits under the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Sponsor:          Rep. Janice Hahn (D-CA)
Action:             Referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (March 28, 2012)

  • Expands VA’s definition of “homeless veteran” – for the purpose of benefits eligibility – to include a veteran of veteran’s family fleeing domestic or dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or other dangerous or life-threatening conditions in the current housing situation, including where the health and safety of children are jeopardized, there is no other residence, and there is a lack of resources or support networks to obtain other permanent housing.

United States Senate

S. 411Helping Our Homeless Veterans Act of 2011
Sponsor:          Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Status:             Referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (Feb. 17, 2011)

  • Authorizes VA to enter into agreements with organizations to collaborate in the provision of case management services to veterans in the HUD-VASH program.

S. 1060 – Honoring All Veterans Act of 2011
Sponsor:          Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
Action:             Hearing held by Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (June 8, 2011)

  • Changes GPD reimbursement from a “per diem” to an annual cost of providing services.
  • Extends enhanced protections for service members relating to mortgages and mortgage foreclosure.

S. 1148Veterans Programs Improvement Act of 2011
Sponsor:          Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA)
Action:             Hearing held by Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (June 8, 2011)

Reauthorizes critical programs such as the following:

    • DOL-VETS Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP).
    • VA Homeless Providers Grant and Per Diem Program (GPD), as well as the related Special Needs grant program.
    • VA Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program.
  • Orders VA to study and restructure the GPD reimbursement rate.
  • Expands the VA Special Needs grant program to include male homeless veterans with minor dependents, as well as allowing dependents of all veterans in those programs to receive services directly.

S. 3049 – To expand the definition of homeless veteran for purposes of benefits under the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Sponsor:          Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK)
Action:             Referred to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (May 9, 2012)

  • Expands VA’s definition of “homeless veteran” – for the purpose of benefits eligibility – to include a veteran of veteran’s family fleeing domestic or dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or other dangerous or life-threatening conditions in the current housing situation, including where the health and safety of children are jeopardized, there is no other residence, and there is a lack of resources or support networks to obtain other permanent housing.

Source(s):        www.govtrack.us. http://www.congress.org. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. Understanding Homelessness: New Policy and Research Perspectives, Fannie Mae Foundation, 1997).

Photo Credit: Microsoft Clip Art


[i] National Coalition for the Homeless

[ii] National Coalition for the Homeless

[iii] National Coalition for the Homeless

[iv] National Coalition for the Homeless

[v] Understanding Homelessness: New Policy and Research Perspectives, Fannie Mae Foundation, 1997).

Memorial Day 2012

Today is Memorial Day—a time to honor and remember the lives of fallen U.S. soldiers. Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of the month of May which commemorates U.S. soldiers who died while in military service. Initially, Memorial Day was enacted to honor Union soldiers of the American Civil War. After World War I, the decision was made that the holiday would honor Americans who have died in all wars.

Memorial Day is also a time to honor the sacrifices made by living veterans as well. After returning home, many veterans are forced to live under deplorable conditions. A little known fact is the number of homeless veterans in the United States. Under George W. Bush Administration, the number of homeless veterans peaked around three hundred thousand (300,000) on any given night in 2002-03. During Bush’s tenure in the White House, this figure was reduced by approximately half via an increase in supportive programs for veterans.

President Barack Obama understood the importance of continuing the gains to end homelessness for veterans made under the Bush administration.  President Obama not only undertook the mission to help America’s homeless veterans but to transformed their lives. By Obama’s directive, and with the continued support of Congress for our nation’s veterans, our nation is now committed to ending veteran homelessness by 2015.

According to the most recent U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Administration count determined that on a single night in January 2009, about seventy-six thousand (76,000) veterans were homeless. This number is down from an estimated two hundred and fifty thousand (250,000) reported eight years earlier, according to the annual VA CHALENG (Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education and Networking Groups) reports.

 Who are our nation’s homeless veterans?

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states the nation’s homeless veterans are predominantly male, with roughly five percent being female. The majority of them are single; come from urban areas; and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or co-occurring disorders. Roughly fifty-six (56) percent of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic, despite only accounting for 12.8 percent and 15.4 percent of the U.S. population respectively. About one-third of the adult homeless population are veterans.

Data indicates that America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq (OEF/OIF), and the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Approximately half of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era. Two-thirds of homeless veterans served our country for at least three years, and one-third were stationed in a war zone.

Much needs to be done to truly honor the lives of our veterans. In my next post, I will write about pending federal legislation that is designed to do just that.

Sources: National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. Washington Post. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development. U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development. Community Homelessness Assessment, Local Education and Networking Groups.

Photo credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Tell Congress to Keep College Affordable for Students and Working Families

Stafford Loans are federal student loans made available to college and university students to supplement personal and family resources, scholarships, grants, and work-study. Nearly all students are eligible to receive Stafford loans regardless of credit. Stafford loans may be subsidized by the U.S. Government or unsubsidized depending on the student’s need. Stafford loan interest rates for 2012-2013 are currently unknown.

A 2007 law that reduced the interest rate on Stafford Loans from 6.8 percent to 3.4 percent is about to expire. Without legislative action, subsidized Stafford loans will return to the 6.8 percent interest rate on July 1, 2012.

Each year, more than ten (10) million students use subsidized Stafford loans to help pay for college. With rising tuition costs, attending college is very difficult for many students, and the increase in interest rates would cause a college education to be out of reach for many college age people. With that knowledge, Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders recently introduced legislation to stop student loan interest rates from doubling this summer.

Stafford Loan Information: Eligibility

You must be a U.S. citizen or national, a U.S. permanent resident, or eligible non-citizen accepted for enrollment or attending a school that participates in the Federal Family Education Loan Program. Additionally:

  • You must have submitted a FAFSA to be eligible for a Stafford loan
  • For subsidized Stafford, you must have financial need as determined by your school
  • You must be enrolled or plan to enroll at least half time

If Stafford loan rates doubled, countless students would be affected. “We tell our children to get an education, and we owe it to them to keep that door to higher education to the middle class open.” For up-to-date information on this issue, check out the Student Loan Network Blog.

Tell your elected officials in Washington, DC to take swift action to pass the bill to keep college affordable for students and working families.

Source(s): MPRNews On Campus, January 30, 2012. www.mndaily.com. http://www.staffordloan.com/stafford-loan-info/.

Photo credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Tell Congress to Send a Strong, Bipartisan VAWA to President Obama

Recently, the U.S. Senate passed its version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization bill by 68 to 31 which protects all victims of domestic violence. In the U.S. House of Representatives, the unacceptable Adams version of VAWA narrowly passed by a vote of 222-205.

This evening, the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women sent out an Action Alert urging Congress to rise above the political bickering, to move swiftly to conference, and send the President a strong, bipartisan Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization bill that protects ALL vulnerable victims.

ACTION:

National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women urges us to contact our elected officials in Washington about the importance of sending President Obama a strong, bipartisan Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization bill that protects ALL vulnerable victims. To make our work easier the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women prepared a model advocacy letter on this issu which appears below.

Draft Letter to Legislator:

“I/we urge you to encourage your party’s leaders to move swiftly to a conference or agreement on VAWA and send the President a strong, bipartisan Violence Against Women Act reauthorization bill that protects all vulnerable victims.”

“For nearly 20 years, Congress has recognized the severity of violence against women and our need for this landmark federal law’s comprehensive approach.  VAWA truly provides life-saving protections and services needed by victims and their families.  It is unacceptable that this law has become politicized while three women a day are still killed by an intimate partner.  Victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and dating violence need a VAWA law that does not roll back protections for immigrant women and their families; includes protections for all victims, including the LGBT community and Native women; and directs resources to this urgent task in the most effective way possible.”

“VAWA must also include the strongest protections for victims on campus and in public housing; protect the ability of criminal justice officials and community stakeholders to provide input to the state grant STOP planning process; and be free of overly burdensome and bureaucratic requirements for victim services providers struggling to be present for every victim every day.  I strongly urge Congress to quickly move past politics and send a VAWA reauthorization bill to the President that he can immediately sign.”

The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women urges us not to forget to tweet about VAWA using the hashtags #ReauthorizeVAWA, #RealVAWA and #VAWA.

Source: National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women Action Alert

Photo Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

…all eyes are turning back to Wisconsin…

The then newly elected Wisconsin governor, Scott Walker reportedly  used his first months in office to punish political opponents, pass tax breaks for the rich, and attack the middle class.These actions lead the citizens of Wisconsin to launch efforts to recall Governor Walker.

The recall of the controversial Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, is drawing near. As Rebuild the Dream reminded us, “all eyes are turning back to Wisconsin”.  In less than three  weeks, people vote whether to recall the infamous Governor Scott Walker. This political showdown should be of importance to all Americans. It will define what is politically acceptable throughout the country, and will set the tone for the 2012 presidential election in November.

This Saturday, thousands of people gathered in Milwaukee for a political rally. On stage at the event were inspiring speakers, musicians and artists. Van Jones, Congresswoman Gwen Moore, indie soul songstress Grace Weber, comedian Lee Camp, and more amazing, local artists, musicians, poets, and community leaders. Hip-hop artist Jasiri X debuted “You’re Fired,” a new song dedicated to Governor Walker.

The purpose of the event was to bring people together to recall Walker, refund Wisconsin, and rebuild the dream. Rebuild the Dream live streamed the entire event on Saturday afternoon. People not familiar with efforts to recall the controversial governor of Walker may ask, what has Wisconsin experienced under the “leadership” of Governor Walker?

Walker’s Impact on 99% of Wisconsinites

Since last year, Governor Walker cut a staggering $1.6 billion from K-12 schools, the biggest public education cuts in the country.  Walker has also gutted public higher education, healthcare for low-income and working families, and collective bargaining rights for teachers, firefighters and cops.

Governor Walker’s  Handouts to the 1%

Walker handed out $2.3 billion in tax cuts for corporations and the super-wealthy, while he increased taxes for working families and seniors by taking away earned-income and homestead tax credits. As a result, it has been reported that state’s economy is reeling. In the last year, Wisconsin lost approximately twenty three thousand nine hundred dollars (23,900) jobs making it fifty first (51st) in the nation in job losses.

On Walker  watch as Wisconsin’s governor, the worst of the 1% have had their way. And the 99% are fighting back in Wisconsin. Wisconsin has shown a riveting force of people power since early 2011. And now Walker could lose his job. This recent political rally held in Wisconsin shows Governor Walker in these final weeks leading up to the recall elections on June 5 that working families in Wisconsin and across the country are more united than ever and ready to stand against the extreme policies that are leading our country in the wrong direction.

In response to Governor Walker’s actions, Wisconsinites came together to nominate Tom Barrett as their Democratic candidate for governor in the recall election. It has been reported that Scott Walker has amassed a war chest of over twenty-five (25 )million dollars – on top of the backing from his special interest allies – meaning  Walker is ready and able to launch a barrage of false attack ads on Tom Barrett his democratic opponent. With that said, keep your eyes on Wisconsin. As previously stated, it will define what is politically acceptable throughout the country, and will set the tone for the 2012 presidential election in November.

Like the event held on Saturday, Rebuild the Dream is reportedly organizing a series of “Revival” events around the country. Rebuild Wisconsin is their biggest one yet. At each Revival, Rebuild the Dream partner with local groups to inspire, connect, and mobilize people around a key local or state issue. For further information on upcoming Rebuild the Dream efforts, please visit the Rebuild the Dream website.

Source(s): Rebuild the Dream

Photo Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

U.S. Congress Passes the Adams Anti-Victim VAWA Bill, H.R. 4970

Do our elected officials in Washington, DC, care about the health and well-being of all victims of domestic violence?  Answer: many of the U.S. House of Representatives members apparently do not care about all victims of domestic violence as demonstrated in the passage of HR 4970. Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted 222-205 to pass H.R. 4970, a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), introduced by Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Florida, 24th).  It is clear from the passage of H.R. 4970 that immigrant victims of domestic violence need our help to ensure that they are protected under the law. Today is a day for champions—a day to call on national leaders to commit to ensuring all victims of domestic violence are protected.

As the House debated H.R. 4970, Representative Conyers pointed out that 350 organizations, including law enforcement, prosecution, and victim services programs, wrote to Congress to say they opposed H.R. 4970, because it rolled back protections for victims.  Mr. Conyers then asked Representative Adams, the author of the bill, which organizations supported H.R. 4970.  When she was unable to identify any organization that supported her bill, Mr. Conyers again said that three hundred fifty (350) organizations opposed the bill. In response, Ms. Adams said, “Shame on them!” Do you agree we should be ashamed for standing up for victims?

Originally enacted in 1994, VAWA provides federal funding toward the prosecution of violent crimes against women and includes provisions for undocumented immigrant women. The vital protections for immigrant women in the Senate version of VAWA are removed from the Adams-Foxx-Cantor bill passed by the House. In fact, the Adams-Foxx-Cantor proposal (H.R. 4970) gives abusers more power, not less, over their victims.

H.R. 4970 (Adams-Foxx-Cantor bill) requires survivors of domestic violence and other crimes to be interviewed by local immigration offices not specifically trained in victim issues.

H.R. 4970 (Adams-Foxx-Cantor bill) requires women to report abuses within 60 days, placing further restrictions on women who have limited access to services, fear law enforcement, or may have language barriers to report the crimes committed against them.

Our voices need to be heard on how the House and Senate must work together to reconcile differences between S. 1925 and H.R. 4970. Our goal is to ensure that the final bill that gets sent to President Obama for enactment protects all victims and holds all perpetrators accountable—regardless of race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, immigrant status, or sexual orientation.

ACTION: Call/Write/Tweet your Representative and say “Thank You” or “Shame on You”: Let your Representative know that you are proud to stand with victims and and think this bill is incredibly dangerous.

Please call your US Senator now at 877-698-8228. If the line is busy, please redial and call again. Please let your elected officials in Washington know that you care about all victims of domestic violence.

We can only make a difference when we take action. “You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing there will be no result. ~ Gandhi

Don’t miss your chance to make an impact, dial 877-698-8228 now!

Source(s):  National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. http://www.congress.org.www.govtrack.us.

Photo Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Tell Congress: Protect Older Americans

May is Older Americans Month—and in recognition, many of my posts will seek to raise awareness about the challenges confronting a growing number of elderly persons including but not limited to hunger. Feeding America’s Hunger in America 2010 study unearthed some startling facts about senior hunger that everyone should know: “ In 2010, 7.9 percent of households with seniors (2.3 million households) were at risk; 30 percent of client households with seniors indicated that they have had to choose between food and medical care and 35 percent have had to choose between food and paying for heat/utilities; In 2009, nearly 9 million people over the age of 50 and nearly 4 million people over the age of 60 lived in at-risk households.”

Older Americans’ struggles with hunger are often invisible. It’s too easy for most of us to overlook how many seniors have serious trouble accessing the food and nutrition required to survive and thrive. Often, elderly persons are forced to make the unenviable decisions between food, medicine, or paying their utilities or rent. As a nation, we owe a great deal to the generations that helped build this country—we simply cannot allow one of our most vulnerable populations to suffer in silence any longer. Will you help to fight hunger for the most vulnerable members of our society?

Tell Congress: Protect Older Americans

As a nation, we owe a great deal to the generations that helped build our country—we simply cannot allow one of our most vulnerable populations to suffer in silence any longer. Will you help us to bring attention to the plight of the elderly?

The House Agriculture Committee is still taking comments to help them decide what programs and services should be preserved and what should be cut under the Farm Bill. Help protect SNAP, TEFAP, and CSFP today:

Visit the House Agriculture Committee Farm Bill Feedback Page.

Post a comment urging them to pass a strong Farm Bill that protects programs like SNAP, TEFAP, and CSFP, which help provide food for millions of America’s most vulnerable seniors.

Cuts to SNAP (food stamps)—like the ones currently under consideration in the Farm Bill—would further limit access to the food and nutrition programs that millions of older Americans rely on. Meanwhile, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which provides monthly boxes of food to low-income seniors, faces its own funding threats. These issues matter. What will seniors do if they no longer have access to these vital programs?

Throughout Older Americans Month, I will let you know how you can help raise awareness and fight senior hunger. Today, you can let your U.S. Representative know you want SNAP, TEFAP, and CSFP protected.

Help advocates for the children, youth, families, and the elderly build a movement to protect and strengthen programs that put food on the table for hungry Americans.

Source(s): Feeding America’s Hunger in America 2010

Photo Credit: Microsoft Clip Art