Congress Strives to Undermine the Consumer Protections It Once Forged

By Nancy Wilberg Ricks, Senior Policy and Communications Strategist

The financial crisis united members of Congress to fight for families who lost their homes and watched their retirement savings vanish. Capitol Hill took up the cause and crossed the aisle with a bipartisan law to stall this runaway train. Today, leaders are targeting the very protections they created under the presumption that families are clear of financial danger.

This week, the House of Representatives made one of several attempts to erode consumer protections when it passed the “Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection Advisory Boards Act” (H.R. 1195). While the bill itself was fairly innocuous, an amendment was added at the last minute to reduce funding for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Impairing the CFPB budget is harmful to consumers. It is the only agency wholly devoted to stopping predatory practices by bad market players. In response to the financial crisis, Congress deliberately designed the CFPB to be funded by nontaxpayer dollars, outside of appropriations and, therefore, political influence. The modest funds the CFPB receives and how it receives them are essential to its success when regulating billion-dollar financial institutions.

Since its creation in 2011, the CFPB has made vast improvements to the financial system for consumers. It has worked hard to ensure that Latino families are finally considered in financial policy decisions and that they have recourse when targeted by bad actors. In addition to putting crucial new rules in place to prevent abuses that were at the heart of the financial crisis, it takes on predatory practices that cost vulnerable consumers billions of dollars every year, such as payday lending. CFPB actions have also resulted in firms returning more than $5.3 billion to more than 15 million consumers harmed by bad players.

The consequences will be perilous for families if Congress continues to occupy its time with undoing consumer protections. It should instead build on the successes of the CFPB and take a more constructive tack to make sure families’ needs are met and their consumer rights are protected.

Students! Make This Summer the Summer of STEM

The summer is nearly here. For millions of students across the country, that means summer vacation. But students who want a competitive advantage might consider using some of that time to hone their skills, especially if they are interested in pursuing advanced study and careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

If you are interested in a STEM discipline, make sure you are doing at least some of these things:

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Summer STEM Opportunities
You can also start with some of these summer STEM opportunities that we’ve compiled for you. All of these programs offer excellent opportunities for kids interested in the STEM fields. Review the eligibility criteria and deadlines for each program, choose the one that’s best for you, and get in contact right away to begin the application process.

The Connectory
The Connectory is the go-to place for families to discover local STEM opportunities for the children in their lives. This website includes over 5,000 STEM programs for youth across the country.

American Association of University Women Tech Trek
Tech trek is a camp dedicated to coding and app development for middle school girls in 10 states.

GSK Science in the Summer
This free science education program helps elementary school children in the Greater Washington, DC area “grow into science.” Classes are held in public libraries and other community-based organizations and taught by certified teachers via hands-on lessons.

Girlstart STEM Summer Camps
Girlstart aims to increase interest in the STEM fields among young girls through innovative, nationally recognized programs such as the STEM Summer Camps.(Note: There is currently a waiting list for this program.)

STEMbridge
For students in the Austin area, STEMbridge offers a summer computer science program. The course is a rigorous one, but there are no prerequisites and you can be at any point in your high school career.

Code Academy
While Codecademy is not technically a summer program, they offer several free online courses for anyone wanting to further their own coding career. You can read about how our own Jonathan Marrero is using his Codecademy experience here at NCLR.

For more information on NCLR’s STEM education programs, or to bring a program to your community, contact NCLR’s STEM Manager, Juliana Ospina Cano, at jospina@nclr.org. Follow us on Twitter @NCLRSTEM and on Facebook for the latest news and information on our programs.

New Data Show More Latino Workers Being Killed on the Job Despite Decline in Fatal Injuries for Overall Workforce

cement-mason (1)_newThere are many unanswered questions surrounding a scaffolding collapse at a construction site in downtown Raleigh, N.C., last month that left three construction workers dead and another severely injured. But one thing we do know is that all of the workers were Hispanic. While it may take months to figure out how the collapse happened, the fact remains that this incident is part of an alarming trend—Latino workers are seeing a rise in fatal occupational injuries.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Latinos experienced the largest increase in fatal work injuries in 2013, a nine percent jump from 2012. Nearly 820 Latino workers died on the job in 2013 compared to 750 Latino workers in 2012. But while the fatality rate for Latino workers increased, there was a slight decrease for the overall workforce.

Part of the issue is that many Hispanic workers are overrepresented in high-fatality industries such as construction. In fact, Latinos account for nearly one-quarter of construction workers. BLS data show that construction deaths are on the rise. In 2013, there was a three percent increase in the number of construction workers killed on the job, reaching the highest number killed since 2009.

While conventional wisdom might suggest that there are obviously going to be more fatalities in a high-risk industry, it’s also important to once again note that fatality rates within the industry are increasing for Latino workers, despite a decline in injury rates for other construction workers.

So what’s going on?

It’s difficult to pinpoint just one issue that’s contributing to this alarming trend. Rather, there are a number of barriers to safe and healthy workplaces that could be exacerbating the problem, specifically for Hispanic workers. Latino immigrants make up the majority of Latino workers who have lost their lives on the job. Language barriers could be one problem, especially if there are communication issues in training and reporting unsafe working conditions. Immigration status and job insecurity could also contribute to a culture of fear that enables unsafe conditions to persist. As noted in a recent NCLR Monthly Latino Employment Report, Latinos are more likely to work in low-wage occupations where labor laws are frequently violated.

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Logistics also play a part. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lacks the funding and staff to inspect every workplace. According to the AFL-CIO’s 2014 Death on the Job Report, it would take federal OSHA an estimated 139 years to inspect each workplace once. Not to mention, we are dealing with industries that have multiple layers of contractors, which sometimes makes it difficult to determine who is responsible for worker training and safety.

However, improvements can be made. As employment picks up again, we cannot gloss over safety issues. For example, we have seen the number of fatalities rise during previous construction booms. We must take a critical eye to what happened then and learn from those mistakes. We can also target outreach and enforcement of labor laws to the most vulnerable workers and to industries that we know are high-risk. Old ways of doing this can be modernized to hold employers accountable in a more complex labor market.

April 28 is Workers’ Memorial Day. Let’s honor those who have lost lives to preventable injuries by committing to make every workplace safer so that every Latino worker gets to go home to his or her family.

Living the American DREAM: Joel Sati

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Sati discovered his passion for research after receiving DACA

By Gabriela Gomez, Communications Intern, NCLR

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Joel Sati, center

Last summer, Joel Sati landed the opportunity of a lifetime. The 22-year-old student originally from Nairobi, Kenya, had been accepted into a summer research program hosted by Stanford University and would spend the next eight weeks furthering his interests in political philosophy and immigration theory under the mentorship of some of the brightest scholars in his field.

The City College of New York (CCNY)-Stanford summer exchange program invites CCNY’s most talented students to spend a summer on the sunny Palo Alto campus conducting graduate-level research. Joel was one of ten students invited to participate in this highly selective experience. He was also one of two recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) who were selected.

“[It was] an awesome experience,” Joel said. “The ability to sit with preeminent individuals in the field and have their feedback gave me a tremendous opportunity to grow in the field and develop high-quality work.”

But if there is something more impressive than Joel’s academic resume, it’s his story. Rewind the clocks a few years and we’d be meeting a different Joel.

He’d be a high school student reeling from the discovery of his undocumented status just a few weeks shy of graduation. Facing a new set of financial roadblocks, he would no longer be a college-bound senior but rather one facing a life of uncertainty, his college and career aspirations shelved because of his immigration status.

After taking some time off from school, he tried again and enrolled at Montgomery College, but only for one class. “I wasn’t planning on graduating,” said Sati. “I wanted to see if school was the right fit and just wanted to take a philosophy class.”

That class proved worthwhile. By his second semester at Montgomery, Joel was enrolled full time and was a member of the Renaissance Scholars Program. Outside the classroom, he was actively involved in the push for the Maryland DREAM Act and advocating for comprehensive immigration reform with the organization United We Dream. His activism was spurred by the “undocu-friendly” community he had discovered at Montgomery College.

In June 2012, his activism was met with a huge triumph. From the steps of the White House Rose Garden, President Obama announced the creation of DACA, ushering in new hope and a new beginning for so many caught in a broken immigration system and denied an opportunity to thrive in this great nation.

For Joel, the impact of receiving DACA was life-changing. After graduating from Montgomery College as a Phi Theta Kappa honor student, he was accepted into the Skadden Arps Honors Program in Legal Studies at CCNY. Today, the philosophy major juggles a full course load and an internship at an immigration law firm in Harlem.

“[DACA] had a far-reaching effect,” said Joel. “Since moving to New York, I’ve been able to get really amazing research opportunities. Next fall, I’ll be applying to Ph.D. programs in philosophy and hope to one day teach at the college level.”

Though DACA has opened a number of doors for Joel, he is mindful of the work that still needs to be done to fix our broken immigration system and ensure that everyone has a success story to share. He’d like to remind lawmakers in Congress who are working to undo administrative relief the following:

“The immigration system, as it is, is poorly constructed and leads to horrible conditions for many families. I know of a lot of undocumented people—both kids and parents—who do a lot for the better of their communities [but] get such a raw end of that deal.”

CHIPping Away at the Number of Uninsured Kids

By Steven Lopez, Senior Health Policy Analyst, NCLR

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Last week, President Obama signed into law H.R.2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, bipartisan legislation that reauthorizes funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), among other things. Since its creation in 1997, CHIP has played a critical role in reducing the number of uninsured children nationwide. According to a Government Accountability Office report, since CHIP began, the percentage of uninsured children has decreased by half, from 13.9 percent in 1997 to 6.6 percent in the first three months of 2014.The same report notes that when compared to uninsured children, CHIP enrollees had better access to care, including preventive care, and had comparable access to care when compared to children with private insurance.

NCLR has been a longstanding advocate of quality, affordable, and accessible health coverage for all and we recognize that by investing in programs like CHIP, we are making a critical investment in the future of the country. CHIP has been a particularly important lifeline for Hispanic children, who are more likely to be covered by the program than by private insurance. A recent evaluation of CHIP highlighted that in the 10 states examined, more than half of the children enrolled were Hispanic. But given today’s climate, just because a program is working doesn’t mean it will avoid being the centerpiece of a political showdown. Luckily, Congress decided that protecting our children’s health and well-being is something that we can all agree upon. And while we would have liked to have seen CHIP extended for four years instead of two, maintaining funding for a program that has been an essential coverage pathway for so many children, particularly Latino children, is certainly a win.

HEALTH-child-getting-ear-checked_1However, the work is not done. Now that we know the program’s funding is secure, we need to ensure those who are eligible are enrolled. Latino children continue to be disproportionately uninsured. In fact, they are 1.5 times more likely to be uninsured compared to all children. However, programs such as CHIP present an opportunity to further reduce this disparity. According to a report NCLR released last fall with Georgetown University, 66.1 percent of uninsured Hispanic children in the United States—or 1.3 million Hispanic children—were eligible for Medicaid or CHIP but not enrolled in 2012. Outreach to eligible families, particularly Latinos, is critical to increasing awareness of CHIP, its benefits, and the fact that unlike the ACA open enrollment period, enrollment in programs like CHIP and Medicaid occurs throughout the year.

We applaud Congress for exemplifying how to solve problems by working together and President Obama for acting swiftly to sign the bill into law. Now let’s make sure that every child not only has the opportunity for coverage, but is enrolled. To learn more about coverage opportunities in your state, go to InsureKidsNow.gov or call 1-877-Kids-Now.