by NNPA Editor-in-Chief Hazel Trice Edney
Washington (NNPA) – They didn’t get it by Christmas, but the nation’s Black state legislators are now looking for what they perceive as their fair share of an economic bailout for ‘the neighborhood’ while Congress is doling out billions to corporations.
“While we support the bailout of Wall Street, the bailout of the financial institutions and the automobile industry, we feel very strongly that Main Street and our streets need to be bailed out as well,” says Georgia State Rep. Calvin Smyre, president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators.
“So, with that in mind, we need to finish a package whereas a check can get into the hands of the consumer and then therefore the consumer can go to the corner grocery store, the drug store, the supermarket, the various department stores – and, where the rubber meets the road, is the consumer spending has to go up, so therefore that stimulates the economy in the neighborhood so to speak.”
The U.S. Congress has approved a $700 billion bailout for the financial industry and a $17.4 billion loan for troubled U.S. automakers. But how can the nation help the average citizen who is out of work or living from paycheck to paycheck, one missed rent from homelessness?
Smyre and state legislators have a remedy: “The only way to do that is to create a stimulus program whereas the American consumer is involved. Those other bailouts are rightfully so. But they don’t help create jobs. They help save jobs. So unemployment is a key factor.”
Facing a gamut of dire needs on the state level, Smyre and his 125 fellow representatives from 42 states met in Washington earlier this month for the caucus’ 32nd Annual Legislative Conference. They met with members of the Obama transition team with hopes of bringing home federal dollars to offset serious shortages that are often used to deal with social programs and other crucial needs that are now exacerbated by the failing economy.
Obama has set a goal to create at least 3 million jobs in the first two years of his administration, which starts Jan. 20. Meanwhile, states are suffering, Smyre says.
“There are 43 out of 50 states with some sort of budget shortfall. With Georgia alone, we’ve got a $2 billion shortfall. So, with that in mind, we just want to be partners with our federal government to be able to assist us in the downturn in our economy,” Smyre says.
Smyre was on his way to a policy meeting dealing with the Second Chance Act to help lower the prison recidivism rate. There would also be discussions on the high school dropout rates.
“In Georgia alone there were 60,000 dropouts in ‘07,” he said. Connecting the statistic to the economy, he added: “If we could cut back on our dropout rate, if those 60,000 kids had stayed in school over their lifetime, it would have been $16 billion to the Georgia economy over their lifetime. So there is a direct correlation to those kinds of issues. So, naturally, we as state legislators, we’re going to still be vigilant as it relates to gang violence, as it relates to the recidivism rate in our prison system and making sure that folks get a second chance.”
Still, he says, legislators are well aware that the blame for the economy can’t be laid at the feet of the new administration. But the socio-economic impact is worsening; therefore, there must be some pressure. For example, the states of Michigan, Rhode Island and California have the worst jobless rates in the nation, at 9.6 percent, 9.3 percent and 8.4 percent respectively.
The states with the worst annual murder rate in the nation are California, where Compton has 67.1 murders per 100,000 people; Indiana, where Gary has 58 per 100,000; and Alabama, where Birmingham has 44.3 per 100,000.
Social statistics across the board, including dropout rates, infant mortality rates and incarceration rates – all often associated with economic injustice – are skyrocketing in cities and states across the nation.
The caucus released a 47-page document outlining proposed resolutions to some of the problems faced by states, including requiring states to report impacts on racial minorities when changing criminal laws and laws pertaining to state procurement. The Ratified Resolutions also call on Congress to “take all action necessary to ensure that states are able to meet needs of our citizens during these difficult financial times; and … that NBCSL calls on Congress to provide an excess of capital to the states so they are not only able to fill their budget shortfalls, but able to provide additional stabilization to their economies.”
Dropout rates, infant mortality rates and incarceration rates – all often associated with economic injustice – are skyrocketing in cities and states across the nation.
Smyre says these are the resolutions that will be passed on to President Obama and to the members of the House and Senate. He doesn’t anticipate a fight but knows that none of the resolutions will be easy.
“Regardless of how you put it, it’s not going to be on automatic pilot. In just a little time, the budget is going to change. It’s going to require funding and that’s always going to require a very difficult proposition,” he says. “There’s a lot of anticipation with the legislators and this is just a start. Nobody has made a first down yet. Nor has anyone scored.
“But we as African-Americans, we don’t want to suffer from the illusion of inclusion. We want to be involved in the process. And from every indication that we’ve been given we are going to be involved.”
Hazel Trice Edney is editor-in-chief for NNPA, the Black Press of America.