Weekly Washington Outlook — March 30, 2015

By Vinoth Chandar (Flickr: Capitol Hill - Washington, DC) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Vinoth Chandar (Flickr: Capitol Hill – Washington, DC) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

What to Watch This Week:

Congress:

House:
The House is in recess, returning the week of April 13th.

Senate:
The Senate is in recess, returning the week of April 13th.

White House:

On Monday, the President and First Lady, joined by the Vice President, will celebrate the life and legacy of Senator Edward M. Kennedy and the importance of the U.S. Senate in the lives of all Americans at the dedication of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston, Massachusetts. The President will also attend a DNC event in Massachusetts.

The balance of the week, the President will attend unspecified meetings at the White House.

Also this Week:

Nominations – When the Senate returns, the chamber may resume consideration of a stalled anti-trafficking bill that has become mired in abortion politics.  Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said repeatedly that the Senate must complete work on this legislation before he will move to confirm Loretta Lynch to be Attorney General.

Health – The Senate is expected to vote in mid-April on legislation that would permanently alter Medicare’s sustainable growth rate.  This legislation also extends the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for two years.  It passed overwhelmingly in the House at the end of last week.

Education – There is considerable speculation House Leadership will try again to pass H.R. 5, an ESEA reauthorization bill, after the recess.  The legislation had to be pulled from the floor in February and there is still unclear whether the measure has enough Republican support.  In the Senate, HELP Committee Chairman Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Murray (D-WA) are continuing to negotiate a bipartisan ESEA reauthorization bill.  A mark-up has been scheduled for the week of April 13th and it is possible details may soon be announced.

This Week in Immigration Reform — Week Ending March 27

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Week Ending March 27

This week in immigration reform: Congress adopts a budget resolution slashing funding for low-income Americans; appeals court sets hearing date regarding Texas lawsuit; NCLR continues blog series on deferred action recipients; and NCLR profiles an Affiliate providing legal services to the immigrant community.

NCLR kept the community informed on immigration with staff quoted in Univision, The Guardian, and the Associated Press.

Congress adopts annual budget resolution cutting trillions from programs benefiting low-income Americans: This week both the House and the Senate debated and voted on similar nonbinding budget resolutions to provide a spending blueprint for the appropriations process later this year. These budget resolutions are reflections of the Majority’s priorities and are largely symbolic. The House passed their version 219-208 and the Senate held a vote at 3 a.m. this morning, passing their version 52-46. Both resolutions would balance the budget over ten years by cutting trillions of dollars from programs that serve Americans with limited means, equaling about 69 percent of total cuts to non-defense spending. Additionally, both budget resolutions repeal the Affordable Care Act and let vital expansions of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) expire in 2017. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes this would push more than 16 million people, including 8 million children, deeper into poverty.

NCLR’s President and CEO Janet Murguía wrote a piece in the Huffington Post highlighting the importance of the EITC and CTC for working families and their children and how changing eligibility for these programs or scaling back their scope would cause harm. She notes, “These tax credits have helped lift millions of families out of poverty and have had a measurable impact on the poverty rate in this country. So why, then, are some Republican members of Congress pushing for proposals to scale back the EITC and significantly reduce the number of families eligible for the CTC? One answer is that they think these cuts will only affect immigrants, since they are proposing to exclude recipients of immigration relief, such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), from receiving the credits… The greatest beneficiaries of these tax credits are children — American children. More than 90 percent of the children who would be affected by these proposals are native-born U.S. citizens.”

Update on Texas lawsuit against administrative relief: This week a federal appeals court announced they will hold oral arguments on April 17 on whether or not to stay a Texas judge’s order blocking implementation of President Obama’s executive action on immigration, particularly the expansion of DACA and the initiation of DAPA. Read more in Politico. For resources on preparing for administrative relief that you can use now visit www.adminrelief.org.  Also, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) released a brochure outlining eligibility for administrative relief and what people can do to prepare.

NCLR features DACA recipient Karina Velasco: This week’s installment of our ‘Living the American DREAM’ blog series highlights the story of 25-year-old DACA recipient Karina Velasco. Karina attended National Latino Advocacy Days and had the opportunity to share her story with elected officials. Since Karina received DACA, she has obtained a driver’s license, finished community college, transferred to a four-year university, and obtained a job. “Without DACA it would have been harder to accomplish this success. I can finally contribute to my country’s economy and lift some of my parents’ economic burdens,” said Karina. She has also helped other DREAMers navigate the DACA process, assisting her peers in achieving the American Dream.

NCLR monthly Affiliate Spotlight shines on local organization: This month’s Affiliate Spotlight profile features Washington, D.C.-based Ayuda, a provider of legal services for low-income immigrants. NCLR spoke with Ayuda’s Program Initiatives Coordinator, Sarah Block, about Ayuda’s work and how it benefits the Latino community. Block noted the holistic approach her organization takes to addressing the legal needs of the immigrant community. Their services range from combatting notario fraud to applying for work permits to handling asylum cases. Ayuda also provides Spanish-language interpreters, helping bridge the language divide between lawyers and their clients.

Better Consumer Protections on the Horizon for Prepaid Cards

By Nancy Wilberg Ricks, Senior Policy and Communication Strategist, NCLR

Prepaid cards sit somewhere between cash and credit cards. They enable online purchases, bill pay, and offer some protections—features that cash alone can’t promise. They also don’t have much of the liability of a credit card. These cards are growing in popularity and, if done right, could serve a role for those who do not have access to the mainstream financial market, which include bank accounts and credit cards. Most users, however, are unaware that prepaid cards are largely unregulated and do not have the same consumer protections as some other options.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB or Bureau) identified the need for greater transparency, monitored fees, and assistance for those who were victimized in the prepaid card market. In response, the Bureau began a regulatory process to make cards better for honest card companies and consumers.

To ensure Latino families were heard in these decision-making stages, NCLR submitted recommendations to the CFPB responding to their newly proposed rules on prepaid cards. Many Latinos and vulnerable families rely on these cards to fill a need, and we hope that improvements made in Washington will result in a product that works better for them.

As several studies indicate, Latino families use prepaid cards for savings, to control spending, and as a means to gain access to online markets. When it comes to improving such a financial product, one should understand why the consumer selects that product, not just how the industry expects a card should be used. Fees, foreign-language access, and overdraft “protection” are three trouble spots that Latino families encounter when using prepaid cards, and we hope will be improved with the new rules.

Fees

A card user can unknowingly be subjected to a number of fees, including fees to add funds, to pay bills, or to activate the card. NCLR has recommended that the CFPB require fees to be reasonable and transparent, and that fee disclosures be published in any foreign languages that the card issuer used in connection with the acquisition and marketing of a card.

Services for the Limited English Proficient

Prepaid card issuers might advertise a card in a foreign language but offer no customer service in that language. NCLR recommended that the CFPB require customer services to be offered from a live representative who is fluent in the spoken foreign language. That representative should also possess expertise in the field of prepaid products and features.

Overdraft

Cards that permit overdrawn transactions are dangerous to low-income consumers and often communities of color who, research shows, have been found to have a higher rate of recurrent overdrafts. NCLR urged the CFPB to ban overdraft outright. If the Bureau does not ban it, we recommended that at the very least, they mandate clear and deliberate opt-in processes (in language) so the consumer knows exactly the moment when they can begin incurring such charges.

Through these recommendations and the overall improvements that the CFPB has brought to financial markets, we are hopeful that families will begin to see more consumer-friendly offerings. No family, especially the most vulnerable, can afford to incur arbitrary fees, especially ones that don’t result in better service. In their current state, prepaid cards can charge abusive fees with little protection for families. We are encouraged by the recent proposed regulations, however, and look forward to seeing improvements to the prepaid card market.

Financial Aid and the Cost of College

For many Latino students and families, the cost of college is a major concern and perceived barrier. Most students are unaware of the types and sources of financial aid available and how to apply for them. This blog aims to provide information to help students understand financial aid and how it can help them achieve their dream of attending college.

See the infographic and glossary of terms below to help you navigate the world of financial aid.

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Financial Aid Glossary

Award Letter: Your award letter outlines the financial aid package being offered to you. You usually receive your award letter after you have completed the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and have received your Student Aid Report (SAR).

Cost of Attending College: The cost of attending (COA) is the total cost of going to college, including tuition, room and board, books, transportation, fees, and personal expenses. Most two-year and four-year colleges will calculate your COA to show your total cost for the school year (for instance, for the fall semester plus the spring semester).

Demonstrated Need: This is the difference between the cost of attending a college and your Expected  Family Contribution (EFC).

FAFSA: This is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, a federal form required from all students who wish to apply for need-based financial aid, including grants, loans, and work-study awards.

Expected Family Contribution (EFC): The EFC is the amount of money students and their families are expected to contribute toward their education, as determined through a “need analysis” of information provided on a FAFSA.

Financial Aid Office: The office at the college or university campus that decides how much money a student will receive in grants and loans.

Room & Board: The cost of a room in a dormitory and a dining hall meal plan at a college or university.

Federal Pell Grant: This grant is a form of financial aid provided by the Federal government to students whose FAFSA indicates a high level of financial need. Unlike a loan, Federal Pell Grants do not have to be repaid.

Federal Perkins Loans: These loans are similar to Stafford loans in that no interest accrues while enrolled in college. At a five percent interest rate, the repayment grace period is longer than that of a Stafford subsidized loan. The need-based standards are more stringent for the Perkins loan and funds are awarded based on the FAFSA Student Aid Report.

Federal Work-Study Programs: The FWS Program provides funds for part-time employment to help students in need to finance the costs of postsecondary education. Most colleges offer work-study programs. The amount of financial aid provided to a student will vary, as will the size of the federal work-study award. It’s important to note that a student enrolled in a federal work-study program is unable to earn more than the size of the work-study award.

Grants: Grants, like loans and most scholarships, are based on financial need. A grant may be provided by federal or state governments, an institution, a foundation, or some other nonprofit funding source and does not have to be repaid.

Institutional Grant: This is a need-based grant provided by a college or university and offered to students whose families cannot pay the full cost of college. Institutional grants do not have to be repaid.

GraduationInstitutional Loan: Any student loan administered by the college or university using the institution’s funds as the source of funding. Perkins Loans may also be considered institutional loans.

Loans: A loan is a type of financial aid that is available to students and to the parents of students.
An education loan must be repaid. In many cases, however, payments do not begin until the student finishes school.

Merit-Based Grant: A form of gift aid (aid that does not require repayment) based upon your grade point average, academic excellence, and extracurricular involvement, with some attention to your financial need.

Need-Based Grant: This grant is offered, as a part of the financial aid package, when a student and his or her family are unable to pay the full cost of attending an institution. The grant does not need to be repaid.

Out-of–State (Non–Resident) Student: Student whose permanent residence is in a different state than that of the state-funded college or university which he or she attends or hopes to attend. Out‐of-state students generally pay higher tuition at state colleges and universities than do in-state students.

PLUS Loan: The Federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) allows parents, regardless of income, to borrow up to the total cost of education minus the amount of any other financial aid awarded by the institution or the government.

Scholarships: Financial aid that is awarded by schools, businesses, institutions, associations, and private industry that does not have to be repaid. Scholarships can be awarded based on need, academic merit, academic concentration, interests, or a host of other criteria.

Stafford Loan: A federal education loan that is funded and/or guaranteed and insured by the federal government. There are two types: subsidized and unsubsidized.

Subsidized Loan: A need-based loan on which the federal government pays accrued interest while the student borrower is in school, during the grace period, and during periods of deferment.

Unsubsidized Loan: A non-need-based loan for which the student is responsible for paying accrued interest.

Student Aid Report (SAR): This form will list the information you gave on the FAFSA and will give you a dollar amount for your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which colleges use to determine your financial aid eligibility.

William D. Ford Direct Loan Program: A loan program administered by the U.S. Department of Education to provide loans that help students pay for their post-secondary education.

Affiliate Spotlight: Ayuda, Providing Legal Services to Low-Income Immigrants

By David Castillo, New Media Manager, NCLR

ayudalogo (2)The latest installment of our ongoing Affiliate Spotlight series features Ayuda, based in Washington, DC. For more than 40 years, Ayuda (which is Spanish for “assistance”) has been a leader in providing legal services to low-income immigrants in the Washington metropolitan area. We spoke recently with Ayuda’s Program Initiatives Coordinator, Sarah Block, about Ayuda’s work and how it benefits the Latino community.

NCLR: For those who may not be familiar with it, especially those outside the DC area, tell us who and what Ayuda is.

Ayuda: We provide holistic services that are culturally sensitive and competent to the low-income immigrant community. These include immigration legal services, which range anywhere from work permits to asylum cases. We also provide legal and social services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual trafficking, as well as individual and group therapy.

Our holistic approach is essential and unique among service providers that serve the immigrant community. This approach is important because, for example, a domestic violence survivor could get a civil protection order, but they may not have a place to live or money for food. That’s not really serving their needs.

Another offering of our immigration legal services is Project END (Eradicating Notario Deceit/Eliminando Notarios Deshonestos), which tackles notario fraud. Project END helps to rectify cases so people can get their money back from shady individuals who act as attorneys in order to take advantage of the immigrant community. Working with the attorneys general offices, we help prosecute those notarios engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.

We also have a language access department that includes two banks of interpreters. One is our legal interpreter bank, which places interpreters with legal service providers so attorneys can interact with their clients. We also have the first-ever emergency victim’s services interpreter line, which lets social service providers and doctors access an interpreter 24/7, 365 days a year. We have interpreters in 43 different languages for those banks.

Ayuda staff assisting clients

Ayuda staff assisting clients

NCLR: Ayuda is actively engaged in helping immigrants eligible for DACA/DAPA navigate the process. What does this work look like?

Ayuda is developing a multidimensional, organization-wide strategy for implementing DACA and DAPA. From helping the community apply for DACA, we know that holding application clinics is an effective way to respond to the high demand for services. Ayuda plans to hold several clinics at various times and locations.

Ayuda staff and volunteers will conduct the clinic. We plan to train committed volunteers to review documents needed for the applications while Ayuda’s attorneys will focus their time on individual consulting and screenings for more permanent forms of relief.

NCLR: What does it mean to be an Affiliate?

Ayuda: It brings us closer to the community of organizations across the country that serve a similar population as we do. It’s helpful to have some of the resources NCLR sends out. We’re all facing similar challenges and opportunities and it’s useful to have a network of support and ideas from an organization that is thinking about that on a national level.

Ayuda's Board Vice Chair, Mickey Martinez, accepting the Southeast Affiliate of the Year Award at the 2014 NCLR Annual Conference

Ayuda’s Board Vice Chair, Mickey Martinez, accepting the Southeast Affiliate of the Year Award at the 2014 NCLR Annual Conference

NCLR: Since Ayuda works so closely with the community, what kind of volunteer opportunities are available?

Ayuda: Because of confidentiality issues, there are a lot of limitations on how much volunteers can interact with clients, which is often what volunteers want to do. That said, there are other opportunities to volunteer and help, especially with our annual events. One that’s coming up is the 42nd Anniversary Celebration Gala on May 20. It will be held at the Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center in Washington and will include a panel discussion on the immigrant experience. Other guests include former transportation Secretary Norman Minetta, Walter Tejeda, NCLR, an Arlington, Va., County Board member, and an Ayuda client who will be speaking about her own experience. We’ll also recognize Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D–IL) for his tireless work on immigration reform.

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NCLR: Where would you like to see Ayuda in next 5–10 years?

Ayuda: We’re growing in terms of staff and clients. Our challenge includes the limitations of our physical space. Being able to expand our infrastructure is important to increasing the number of clients we’re able to serve. We’d also like to be able to help everyone who needs it. Sometimes it’s hard for clients to get a consultation because spots are limited. Being able to meet more of the demand would be ideal. Finally we also hope to increase education opportunities for clients, including ESL classes, financial literacy and various other topics to make our services even more holistic.

Visit the Ayuda site for more information about this great Affiliate. You can also find them on Facebook and Instagram.

NCLR Welcomes Proposed CFPB Regulations that Would End Debt Traps

Photo: Dan Iggers

Photo: Dan Iggers

Consumers trapped in a cycle of debt got welcome news today as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced new protections for payday loans, vehicle title loans, deposit advance products, and certain high-cost installment loans. The CFPB held a public hearing in Richmond, Va., to announce proposed rules that would end payday lending debt traps by requiring lenders to take steps to make sure consumers can repay these loans. The proposals under consideration would also restrict lenders from attempting to collect payment from consumers’ bank accounts.

NCLR supports strong protections for consumers when using financial products and services. In the case of the payday marketplace, this is not a small segment of consumers: research shows that 12 million Americans take out a payday loan each year. Of these consumers, four out of five are not able to pay it back within the original loan term, suggesting that the loan may not be affordable for the majority of consumers who use them.

While there is a definite need for small-dollar credit and loans, especially for low-income consumers and those who may be outside the financial mainstream, consumers should not end up in financial ruin as a result of taking out a loan. Unfortunately, research has shown that payday loan borrowers have been found to be indebted for more than half of the year as a result of taking out a payday loan.

NCLR supports a strong payday rule that will:

  • End the debt trap. An affordable loan should not need to roll over multiple times to pay off the original loan.
  • Have a strong ability-to-repay provision. Underwriting should take the borrower’s monthly expenses and obligations into consideration.
  • Establish a maximum length a borrower can be in debt, such as 90 days in a 12-month period.

CFPB_LogoThe CFPB’s proposal recognizes that a crucial principle—ability to repay—must apply to a sufficiently broad range of small-dollar loans, not just to a narrowly defined set of payday or car- title loans. At the same time, however, parts of the CFPB’s proposal provide exceptions that could still result in harm to consumers. These “debt trap protection options” would permit payday lenders to continue making both short- and longer-term loans without determining the borrower’s ability to repay. Such exceptions would fail to end the debt trap business model that many in the industry use to make a profit.

This proposal is a huge step forward in the right direction—providing much-needed protections for products that have gone unregulated for far too long—and NCLR looks forward to working with the CFPB to improve this proposal so that all consumers who use small-dollar loans are protected from predatory practices.

Cutting Vital Tax Credits for Working Families Will Put Our Nation’s Children at Risk

By Janet Murguía, President and CEO, NCLR

ACAdiabetesblog_pic1_resizedBy any measure, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), created by President Gerald Ford, has been a resounding bipartisan success. President Ronald Reagan, who substantially expanded the credit during his administration, called it “the best antipoverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure ever to come out of Congress.” The equally successful and bipartisan Child Tax Credit (CTC) was enacted during the Clinton administration and increased under President George W. Bush.

As a nonpartisan organization, NCLR has worked with all of these administrations, as well as with Congress, on both the EITC and the CTC. These tax credits have helped lift millions of families out of poverty and have had a measurable impact on the poverty rate in this country. So why, then, are some Republican members of Congress pushing for proposals to scale back the EITC and significantly reduce the number of families eligible for the CTC?

One answer is that they think these cuts will only affect immigrants, since they are proposing to exclude recipients of immigration relief, such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), from receiving the credits. Some lawmakers might even believe that this is “good politics.” But they are very wrong, both on the substance and on the politics. The greatest beneficiaries of these tax credits are children—American children. More than 90 percent of the children who would be affected by these proposals are native-born U.S. citizens.

Cutting credits to these kids is fiscally unsound. Eliminating them would cost the average family about $1,800, yet studies show that an increase of just $1,000 in family income raises a child’s math score by 2 percent and reading score by 3.5 percent. Common sense dictates that removing this source of income would have an equally dramatic negative impact.

Putting these children’s educational achievement and their family’s financial stability at risk doesn’t just shortchange the kids—it shortchanges the future of everyone in this country. One in every four children is Latino. The average age of U.S.-born Hispanics is 18. These kids are our future workers and the future contributors to Social Security, Medicare, and the rest of the country’s safety net. We should be investing in these young children, not punishing them.

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This is what makes these proposals also morally bankrupt, an ironic twist given the professed pro-family, pro-faith, and pro-traditional values of the Republican Party. No matter how one feels about immigration policy, it is simply wrong to punish children for their parents’ deeds, as the Bible notes in Deuteronomy (24:16) and again in Ezekiel (18:20). DACA participants—the so-called DREAMers—were brought to this country as children. Those eligible for DAPA are, by definition, parents of U.S.-citizen or legal resident children. Has our political culture become so ugly that we would go out of our way to impose harsh measures on children raised in this country for simply being born into the “wrong” type of family, as some proponents of these cruel proposals assert?

I hope not. But if it has, the lessons will be memorable. A major strength of the Republican Party has been consistent fidelity to key maxims: low taxes, hard work, family values, and reverence for Judeo-Christian traditions. If its leaders allow devastating tax increases aimed squarely at Hispanic American children simply to score political points, they do so in knowing violation of their core values.

We will remember that the party’s principles were betrayed by the hypocrisy of some of its members. The Latino community will remember that the interests of more than four million of its children were sacrificed so a few politicians could pander to extremists. We hope candidates remember this episode in 2016, when they experience a record turnout of Hispanic voters.

How to Prevent Diabetes: A Twitter Chat

March 24 was Diabetes Alert Day this year. To mark the ocassion, NCLR joined the American Medical Association, the YMCA, the National Council on Aging, and the National Association of City and County Health Officials for a twitter chat on what people can do to fight against diabetes.

Living the American Dream: Karina Velasco

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By Janet Hernandez, Senior Civic Engagement Project Manager, NCLR

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Karina outside the U.S. Capitol during the recent National Latino Advocacy Days.

The most recent snow storm to hit the Washington, DC, area could not stop Karina Velasco, a 25-year-old DACA recipient, from meeting with her congressional representatives and advocating for administrative relief. Since congressional offices were closed during National Latino Advocacy Days, Karina rescheduled her meetings to ensure Congress heard her story.

Her persistence comes from years of advocating for an opportunity to experience the American dream. Throughout her life Karina witnessed her parents’ struggle, perseverance, and hard work. Her mother cleaned restaurants and houses while also being a full-time mother. Her father held two jobs in construction and housekeeping to make ends meet. Their encouragement and daily sacrifices helped Karina make the choice to focus on her education.

“My mother always told me that education was the path to success, so I decided to become a social worker to advocate for those in need,” said Karina.

In 2012 she celebrated the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) announcement, and gathered the paperwork needed to apply. She also helped fill out hundreds of applications for other DREAMers who were eligible to apply for DACA. Since Karina received DACA, she has obtained a driver’s license, finished community college, transferred to a four-year university, and obtained a job. Having the job allows her to enter the workforce, pay taxes, and help others.

“Without DACA it would have been harder to accomplish this success. I can finally contribute to my country’s economy and lift some of my parents’ economic burdens,” said Karina.

This week, Karina met with her elected officials to highlight how well DACA works by demonstrating that she is an example of the program’s success.

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Karina (left), Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Rosa, program manager for NCLR Affiliate Latin American Youth Center

Like Karina, there are millions of other young Americans who need Congress to stand up for administrative relief rather than deny them the opportunity to contribute to the country and pursue the American dream.

Know Your Risk for Type-2 Diabetes

Currently, diabetes affects nearly 29 million people. Another 86 million have prediabetes and are at risk of developing diabetes, but only about 9 million are aware of it. You may not be at risk, but what about the people you love?

On this Diabetes Alert Day, we want you to take the steps needed to fight back against diabetes in our communities. Take the Diabetes Risk Test today!