Article 43

 

Monday, October 31, 2005

FEMA Renews AT&T Contract

I wonder how many of these jobs AT&T will outsource.  Or maybe if I think positive, they’ll hire me back.

FEMA selects AT&T unit for operations center work

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has awarded a four-year, $8.9 million contract to AT&T Corp. to manage a network operations center.

AT&T Government Solutions, the subsidiary of AT&T Corp. that will perform the work, has been involved in the design, installation and operation of the National Network Operations Center for the past 16 years. The center allows FEMA to remotely monitor its communications networks and the applications that run on them.

The center is part of FEMAs Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center located in northern Virginia.

Terms of the deal call for AT&T to provide a range of duties, including program management, local area and wide area network configuration and video conferencing set up. The company also will arrange satellite communications, set up call centers, install PBX systems and provide help desk services.

As part of the agreement, AT&T employees are often deployed to disaster areas. Thirty-four AT&T staffers were deployed to several disaster field offices and call centers in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.

SOURCE

FEMA renews AT&T contract

AT&T Government Solutions has received the nod to continue operating the Federal Emergency Management AgencyҒs National Network Operations Center. FEMA awarded AT&T a four-year, $8.9 million contract after conducting a competition.

AT&T has been involved in the design, installation, operation and management of the center for 16 years, according to the company. FEMA uses the center to remotely monitor and maintain its communications network, the applications that run on it and the information technology equipment and infrastructure associated with it. The center is part of FEMA’s Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center in Northern Virginia.

Under the contract, AT&T will continue to provide networking, program management, configuration of local-area networks and wide-area networks, videoconferencing setup, and other duties.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 10/31/05 •
Section General Reading
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Retiree Health Benefits Act of 2005

To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to encourage the funding of collectively bargained retiree health benefits.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the `Retiree Health Benefits Act of 2005’.

SEC. 2. FUNDING OF RETIREE HEALTH BENEFITS.

(a) Collectively Bargained Transfer Treated as a Qualified Transfer-

(1) IN GENERAL- Section 420(b) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (defining qualified transfer) is amended by redesignating paragraph (5) as paragraph (6) and by inserting after paragraph (4) the following new paragraph:

(5) A collectively bargained transfer (as defined in subsection (e)(5)) shall be treated as a qualified transfer.’.

(2) CONFORMING AMENDMENTS-

(A) Subparagraph (B) of section 420(b)(2) of such Code is amended by inserting “or a collectively bargained transfer” after paragraph (4).

(B) Paragraph (3) of section 420(b) of such Code is amended to read as follows:

(3) LIMITATION ON AMOUNT TRANSFERRED-

(A) IN GENERAL- The amount of excess pension assets which may be transferred in a qualified transfer (other than a collectively bargained transfer) shall not exceed the amount which is reasonably estimated to be the amount the employer maintaining the plan will pay (whether directly or through reimbursement) out of such account during the taxable year of the transfer for qualified current retiree health liabilities.

(B) EXCEPTION FOR COLLECTIVELY BARGAINED TRANSFERS- The amount of excess pension assets which may be transferred in a collectively bargained transfer shall not exceed the amount which is reasonably estimated, in accordance with the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement and generally accepted accounting principles, to be the amount the employer maintaining the plan will pay (whether directly or through reimbursement) out of such account during the collectively bargained cost maintenance period for collectively bargained retiree health liabilities.’.

(C) Section 420(b)(6) of such Code, as redesignated by paragraph (1), is amended by inserting `(other than a collectively bargained transfer)’ after `No transfer’.

(b) Requirements of Plans Making Collectively Bargained Transfers-

(1) IN GENERAL- Paragraph (1) of section 420(c) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (relating to requirements of plan transferring assets) is amended to read as follows:

(1) USE OF TRANSFERRED ASSETS-

(A) IN GENERAL- Except in the case of a collectively bargained transfer, any assets transferred to a health benefits account in a qualified transfer (and any income allocable thereto) shall be used only to pay qualified current retiree health liabilities (other than liabilities of key employees not taken into account under subsection (e)(1)(D)) for the taxable year of the transfer (whether directly or through reimbursement).

(B) COLLECTIVELY BARGAINED TRANSFER- Any assets transferred to a health benefits account in a collectively bargained transfer (and any income allocable thereto) shall be used only to pay collectively bargained retiree health liabilities (other than liabilities of key employees not taken into account under subsection (e)(6)(D)) for the taxable year of the transfer or for any subsequent taxable year during the collectively bargained cost maintenance period (whether directly or through reimbursement).

(C) AMOUNTS NOT USED TO PAY FOR HEALTH BENEFITS-

(i) IN GENERAL- Any assets transferred to a health benefits account in a qualified transfer (and any income allocable thereto) which are not used as provided in subparagraph (A) (in the case of a qualified transfer other than a collectively bargained transfer) or cannot be used as provided in subparagraph (B) (in the case of a collectively bargained transfer) shall be transferred out of the account to the transferor plan.

(ii) TAX TREATMENT OF AMOUNTS- Any amount transferred out of an account under clause (i)--

(I) shall not be includible in the gross income of the employer, but

(II) shall be treated as an employer reversion for purposes of section 4980 (without regard to subsection (d) thereof).

(D) ORDERING RULE- For purposes of this section, any amount paid out of a health benefits account shall be treated as paid first out of the assets and income described in subparagraph (A) (in the case of a qualified transfer other than a collectively bargained transfer) or subparagraph (B) (in the case of a collectively bargained transfer).’.

(2) CONFORMING AMENDMENTS-

(A) Subparagraph (A) of section 420(c)(3) of such Code is amended to read as follows:

(A) IN GENERAL- The requirements of this paragraph are met if--

(i) except as provided in clause (ii), each group health plan or arrangement under which applicable health benefits are provided provides that the applicable employer cost for each taxable year during the cost maintenance period shall not be less than the higher of the applicable employer costs for each of the 2 taxable years immediately preceding the taxable year of the qualified transfer, and

(ii) in the case of a collectively bargained transfer, each collectively bargained group health plan under which collectively bargained health benefits are provided provides that the collectively bargained employer cost for each taxable year during the collectively bargained cost maintenance period shall not be less than the amount specified by the collective bargaining agreement.’.

(B) Section 420(c)(3) of such Code is amended by redesignating subparagraphs (C), (D), and (E) as subparagraphs (D), (E), and (F), respectively, and by inserting after subparagraph (B) the following new subparagraph:

(C) COLLECTIVELY BARGAINED EMPLOYER COST- For purposes of this paragraph, the term `collectively bargained employer cost’ means the average cost per covered individual of providing collectively bargained retiree health benefits as determined in accordance with the applicable collective bargaining agreement. Such agreement may provide for an appropriate reduction in the collectively bargained employer cost to take into account any portion of the collectively bargained retiree health benefits that is provided or financed by a government program or other source.’.

(C) Subparagraph (E) of section 420(c)(3) of such Code (as redesignated by subparagraph (B)) is amended to read as follows:

(E) MAINTENANCE PERIOD- For purposes of this paragraph--

(i) COST MAINTENANCE PERIOD- The term `cost maintenance period’ means the period of 5 taxable years beginning with the taxable year in which the qualified transfer occurs. If a taxable year is in 2 or more overlapping cost maintenance periods, this paragraph shall be applied by taking into account the highest applicable employer cost required to be provided under subparagraph (A)(i) for such taxable year.

(ii) COLLECTIVELY BARGAINED COST MAINTENANCE PERIOD- The term `collectively bargained cost maintenance period’ means, with respect to each covered retiree and his covered spouse and dependents, the shorter of--

(I) the remaining lifetime of such covered retiree and his covered spouse and dependents, or

(II) the period of coverage provided by the collectively bargained health plan (determined as of the date of the collectively bargained transfer) with respect to such covered retiree and his covered spouse and dependents.’.

(c) Limitations on Employer- Subsection (d) of section 420 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended to read as follows:

(d) Limitations on Employer- For purposes of this title--

(1) DEDUCTION LIMITATIONS- No deduction shall be allowed--

(A) for the transfer of any amount to a health benefits account in a qualified transfer (or any retransfer to the plan under subsection (c)(1)(C)),

(B) for qualified current retiree health liabilities or collectively bargained retiree health liabilities paid out of the assets (and income) described in subsection (c)(1), or

(C) except in the case of a collectively bargained transfer, for any amounts to which subparagraph (B) does not apply and which are paid for qualified current retiree health liabilities for the taxable year to the extent such amounts are not greater than the excess (if any) of--

(i) the amount determined under subparagraph (A) (and income allocable thereto), over

(ii) the amount determined under subparagraph (B).

(2) OTHER LIMITATIONS-

(A) NO CONTRIBUTIONS ALLOWED- Except as provided in subparagraph (B), an employer may not contribute after December 31, 1990, any amount to a health benefits account or welfare benefit fund (as defined in section 419(e)(1)) with respect to qualified current retiree health liabilities for which transferred assets are required to be used under subsection (c)(1)(A).

(B) EXCEPTION- An employer may contribute an amount to a health benefits account or welfare benefit fund (as defined in section 419(e)(1)) with respect to collectively bargained retiree health liabilities for which transferred assets are required to be used under subsection (c)(1)(B), and the deductibility of any such contribution shall be governed by the limits applicable to the deductibility of contributions to a welfare benefit fund under a collective bargaining agreement (as determined under section 419A(f)(5)(A)) without regard to whether such contributions are made to a health benefits account or welfare benefit fund and without regard to the provisions of section 404 or the other provisions of this section.’.

(d) Definitions- Section 420(e) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (relating to definition and special rules) is amended by adding at the end the following new paragraphs:

(5) COLLECTIVELY BARGAINED TRANSFER- The term `collectively bargained transfer’ means a transfer--

(A) of excess pension assets to a health benefits account which is part of such plan in a taxable year beginning after December 31, 2004,

(B) which does not contravene any other provision of law,

(C) with respect to which are met in connection with the plan--

(i) the use requirements of subsection (c)(1),

(ii) the vesting requirements of subsection (c)(2), and

(iii) the minimum cost requirements of subsection (c)(3),

(D) which is made in accordance with a collective bargaining agreement, and

(E) which, before the transfer, the employer designates, in a written notice delivered to each employee organization that is a party to the collective bargaining agreement, as a collectively bargained transfer in accordance with this section.

(6) COLLECTIVELY BARGAINED RETIREE HEALTH LIABILITIES-

(A) IN GENERAL- The term `collectively bargained retiree health liabilities’ means the present value, as of the beginning of a taxable year and determined in accordance with the applicable collective bargaining agreement, of all collectively bargained health benefits (including administrative expenses) for such taxable year and all subsequent taxable years during the collectively bargained cost maintenance period.

(B) REDUCTION FOR AMOUNTS PREVIOUSLY SET ASIDE- The amount determined under subparagraph (A) shall be reduced by the value (as of the close of the plan year preceding the year of the collectively bargained transfer) of the assets in all health benefits accounts or welfare benefit funds (as defined in section 419(e)(1)) set aside to pay for the collectively bargained retiree health liabilities.

(C) KEY EMPLOYEES EXCLUDED- If an employee is a key employee (within the meaning of section 416(I)(1)) with respect to any plan year ending in a taxable year, such employee shall not be taken into account in computing collectively bargained retiree health liabilities for such taxable year or in calculating collectively bargained employer cost under subsection (c)(3)(C).

(7) COLLECTIVELY BARGAINED HEALTH BENEFITS- The term `collectively bargained health benefits’ means health benefits or coverage which are provided to--

(A) retired employees who, immediately before the collectively bargained transfer, are entitled to receive such benefits upon retirement and who are entitled to pension benefits under the plan, and their spouses and dependents, and

(B) if specified by the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement governing the collectively bargained transfer, active employees who, following their retirement, are entitled to receive such benefits and who are entitled to pension benefits under the plan, and their spouses and dependents.

(8) COLLECTIVELY BARGAINED HEALTH PLAN- The term `collectively bargained health plan’ means a group health plan or arrangement for retired employees and their spouses and dependents that is maintained pursuant to 1 or more collective bargaining agreements.’.

(e) Conforming Amendments-

(1) The last sentence of section 401(h) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended by inserting `(other than contributions with respect to collectively bargained retiree health liabilities within the meaning of section 420(e)(6))’ after `medical benefits’.

(2) Section 101(e)(3) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (29 U.S.C. 1021(e)(3)) is amended by striking “Pension Funding Equity Act of 2004” and inserting “Retiree Health Benefits Act of 2005.”

(3) Section 403(c)(1) of such Act (29 U.S.C. 1103(c)(1)) is amended by striking “Pension Funding Equity Act of 2004” and inserting “Retiree Health Benefits Act of 2005.”

(4) Paragraph (13) of section 408(b) of such Act (29 U.S.C. 1108(b)) is amended--

(A) by striking “before January 1, 2014” and inserting “in accordance with section 420 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (as in effect on the date of the enactment of the Retiree Health Benefits Act of 2005)”, and

(B) by striking “Pension Funding Equity Act of 2004” and inserting “Retiree Health Benefits Act of 2005.”

(f) Effective Date - The amendments made by this section shall apply to years beginning after December 31, 2004.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 10/31/05 •
Section Pension Ripoff
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Saturday, October 29, 2005

An American Solidarity Movement

A call for a coalition of the left on the lines of Poland’s famed Solidarity Movement is making the rounds in blogtopia. This seems to be in reaction to a number of folks who are increasingly unsatisfied by the lack of a real opposition party in America. This dissatisfaction has been brewing for a long time in lefty circles, but seems to be more at the forefront as what passes for Democratic leadership has proven woefully inadequate in a number of crucial battleground issues. Recent columns and blog posts such as those by DAVE LINDORFF, RANA AT SHAKESPEARE’S SISTER, FREIHEIT UND WISSEN, METEOR BLADES, MADMAN IN THE MARKETPLACE, FESTER, SHAMANIC AT SIMIAN’S BRAIN, YOURS TRULY (on a number of occasions recently and in the past), and somewhat unexpectedly even OLLIE WILLIS, have voiced dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs with the Dems. If you’re committed to a progressive or populist approach to government and public service, if you’re an ethnic minority (especially Black or Hispanic), or are a woman concerned with her reproductive rights (which are increasingly under attack), the Democrats have been more than happy to take you for granted. There’s a serious problem when the party not only takes its base for granted, but openly entertains selling various members of its base up the river (as the Dems have done increasingly on the issue of privacy rights - and by extension reproductive rights). There is no serious opposition to the GOP, currently. As I said, that’s a problem if you want to see any sort of meaningful social change based on core values such as the right to privacy, equality for all, justice for all, protecting the environment, fiscal responsibility, and so on. A POSSIBLE SOLUTION as Cernig of NewsHog notes:

But if no leftwing party at present is strong enough, then what? Remember the old Polish “Solidarity” movement? A coalition of the progressive left that effected real change against an entrenched system. that should be the model. Sure, there would be fueds and differences over concepts - but the small groupings on the real Left are far more used to using a system of consensus and laisse-faire historically in any case. They are used to a system where prominent leaders are delegates as well as representatives. Any union body, any Green party local branch, is used to the give-and-take an American Solidarity would require. It could be done.

How would it work? Back to Cernig:

So where to start? Well, what the Greens and the Unions and the Laborites should do is get together for talks about establishing exactly that kind of grassroots up structure for a coalition movement on the Left - a true American Solidarity. I will even suggest a slogan; “we won’t be Left unheard”. There are even some bigger names who are currently in the Democratic camp who could be enticed, perhaps, into becoming the faces of the American Solidarity movement. I am thinking of people like bernie Sanders, John Conyers and even Chuck Pennaccio of PA. They should be approached with offers of support and funding. The Democratic Party should be approached as a possible ally, with a level of co-operation in caucus negotiated and a deal to not run against each other where demographics say it would be counter-productive.

And Lefty bloggers should be doing their bit too - we could even be pathfinders in the grassroots movement. Bloggers on the non-latte-sipping Left are pretty good at getting along even where we differ on details. We can form one or more of the think-tanks that are so needed by this new movement. We can also act as fundraisers and talent-spotters, targeting independent (i.e. non Dem or Republican) candidates for everything from local dog-catcher on up. Remember, that massive constituency is out there and I know from experience they would love to have someone to vote for.

Cernig has further fleshed the concept out recently in a post called, appropriately enough DINOSAUR DEMOCRATS. In other words, this is a clarion call for a genuine 21st century American populist movement. The clock is ticking.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 10/29/05 •
Section American Solidarity
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Friday, October 28, 2005

NLRB Denies Newspaper Carriers Right to Organize

Given all the obstacles workers face when forming unions these days, the last thing they should have to worry about is whether they are, in fact, workers under the law.  Yet for the third time since 2004, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled that a category of workers should not be considered employees.  This time around, newspaper delivery carriers didnt make the cut.  But the NLRB decision didn’t simply end a semantic debate for thousands of men and women who deliver newspapers around the country, it denied them legal protection to form a union to improve their working conditions.

While the nostalgic image of enterprising young paper boys earning money after school still persists, nowadays most newspaper carriers are adults who deliver papers as a primary source of income.  Yet making ends meet with this job can be tough.  Concerned with their meager earnings and a lack of health benefits, the newspaper carriers who haul and deliver the St. Joseph News-Press of St. Joseph, MO, sought to form a union. In October 1999, the carriers contacted the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) to help them obtain union representation.  Soon after the effort began, the St. Joseph News-Press fired two pro-union carriers and cut back the work of two others, leading the IBT to file unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB.

In its defense, St. Joseph News-Press argued that the carriers were not employees, but independent contractors.  The distinction mattered greatly: if the NLRB ruled the carriers were employees, their right to form a union would be protected by federal labor law.  If the carriers were deemed to be independent contractors, theyd have no legal protection to form a union, let alone protection against discrimination for their support of a union.

In September 2001, an NLRB administrative law judge determined that the carriers were in fact employees who “do not operate independent businesses and they devote virtually all of their time, labor, and equipment to providing the essential functions of the [companys] newspaper business.” The judge ruled the company illegally discriminated against them based on their union activities, and ordered the company to reinstate the workers with backpay.  Yet, instead of abiding by the judges ruling, the company appealed the ruling to the Board.

Four years later, the Board majority reversed the judge’s order.  On August 27, 2005, they ruled that the carriers were independent contractors because, among other factors, they maintain their own vehicles, can solicit new customers, and are subject to only limited discipline by the company The dissenting member argued that the carriers were employees because of their strong economic dependence on the newspaper company that dictated nearly all the significant terms of their work.  She noted St. Joseph News-Press sets the amount of profit made on each newspaper sale, ultimately controls the delivery route and number of customers, and has the power to terminate the contract at any time with no notice.

In its ruling, the NLRB didnt deliver justice to the newspaper carriers who were fired and discriminated against for simply trying to improve their job conditions. Moreover, this case presented the Board with an opportunity to address the harsh economic realities of today’s increasingly contingent workforceone that lacks job security and decent benefits.  But as they have in almost every decision with broad consequences, the current Board majority came down on the side of the employer and eschewed their responsibility to protect these workers, and ultimately, thousands of newspaper carriers across the country.

SOURCE

NLRB = BIG BROTHER ON AND OFF THE JOB

Posted by Elvis on 10/28/05 •
Section News
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House Passes Bill Discouraging Voter Outreach

In legislation providing much-needed funds to affordable-housing advocates, lawmakers inserted a clause prohibiting recipients from even remote involvement in any electoral activity.

by Michelle Chen
The New Standard
October 27, 2005

The link between moving into an apartment and stepping into a voting booth might not be immediately clear, but it is a cornerstone in the work of many nonprofit housing groups - and a perceived source of political trouble for some conservative members of Congress. The entanglement between housing and politics is now thickening in a controversial proposal to restrict affordable housing funds for nonprofit groups that promote political participation.

The FEDERAL HOUSING FINANCE REFORM ACT OF 2005, which passed the House of Representatives yesterday by a vote of 331-90, contains a provision that establishes a national fund for developing affordable housing, by skimming 5 percent off the profits of the government-sponsored home-finance companies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

The funding would be a boon to the nonprofit housing sector worth up to an estimated $1 billion within two years - but it comes with strings attached: nonprofit organizations would not be able to tap into the fund if they have recently engaged in activities that encourage people to vote.

A product of negotiations between a faction of conservative legislators and the House Financial Services Committee leadership, the clause is supposedly intended to prevent grantees from misusing federal funds, but housing advocates have denounced the so-called “gag rule” as dangerously broad.

“They arent targeting abuse of anything,” said Rick Cohen, executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, which advocates on behalf of charitable organizations. “What they’re targeting is the activism of organizations that dont think the same way that they do.”

Taking Aim at Charity

Under the weight of a nationwide affordable housing crisis, nonprofit groups say the proposed rules paradoxically open doors to equitable housing by restricting access to democracy.

“To build affordable housing and have to sacrifice nonprofit free speech and advocacy rights,” said Cohen, “is a bargain that, really, nobody should accept.”

The legislation essentially bars nonprofits receiving the government money from spending their own private funds, raised from non-federal sources, on any election-related activity. For instance, grantees could not help people register to vote or host a polling site at a housing facility.

The legislation also restricts grantees from associating with groups engaged in such activities—a caveat critics fear could break up mutually supportive nonprofit networks through guilt by association. According to a legislative analysis by the government watchdog group OMB Watch, “affiliation” could be defined as funding support that constitutes over 20 percent of a group’s yearly budget, overlapping board members, or even a shared computer server.

Linda Banks predicted the rebuilding effort could be hijacked by “private developers that have no clue - and no compassion for the very-low- and low-income person.”

The proposed restrictions apply to nonprofits for the duration of the grant and are retroactive for a year prior to the funding request. But they would not impact for-profit companies, which already enjoy relatively few limitations on political activities under existing federal statutes. In contrast to their profit-driven counterparts, charitable groups and other nonprofits, are heavily restricted in using their resources to influence government policy, though they can advocate around specific issues.

A broad coalition of nonprofits has argued that the housing fund rules impinge on groups free expression and association.

Linda Banks, executive director of the housing provider Southwestern Louisiana Homeless Coalition, fears that the restrictions would conflict with her organization’s community advocacy work, which involves informing congressional representatives about local housing needs. Moreover, if her organization attended a community gathering where other nonprofits were helping to register voters, she wondered, “does that mean that well have to pay back any funds that we were issued because our agency was a participant?”

However, Banks mainly opposed the restriction not out of financial concerns, but on principle. “I’m just afraid that what they’re attempting to do with this restriction is to not allow people to practice their constitutional rights,” she said.

Nonprofit advocates say the restrictions would cut off a major funding stream for housing groups working to rebuild the physical and civic infrastructure of the devastated Gulf Coast, where the proposed fund would initially be targeted.

Banks said that in the Louisiana communities served by her group, hurricane victims are still stranded in shelters, waiting for homes to be rehabilitated. “Someone needs to be able to build those units,” she said. “If we’re not allowed to do so, then we wont have the housing inventory to address their needs.”

Or, she predicted, the rebuilding effort could be hijacked by “private developers that have no clue—and no compassion for the very-low- and low-income person.”

The housing fund is part of a broader bill that tightens regulations on government-sponsored enterprises, private finance companies established by Congress to facilitate home ownership. After the Financial Services Committee approved the bill in May, a coalition of conservative legislators known as the Republican Study Committee pressured Financial Services Chair Michael Oxley (R-Ohio) to insert the additional housing fund restrictions.

In a letter dated May 25 to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), obtained by The NewStandard, members of the Republican Study Committee warned, “[T]he money from this fund could be used to finance third-party advocacy groups that have agendas, that are antagonistic to the free-market principles we value.”

An unsigned memorandum recently circulated among House members contended that the bill “would require the government sponsored enterprises to pump billions into left-wing organizations.”

Michael Kane, director of the subsidized-housing advocacy group National Association of HUD Tenants, views the restrictions as part of a conservative agenda to disenfranchise underserved communities.

“Theyre trying to criminalize democracy,” he said, “while allowing unrestrained, government-subsidized activities by for-profit companies for their own private gain.”

More than Bricks and Mortar

Advocates of affordable housing say the connection between political participation and housing work is fundamental to community development.

As community-based institutions, nonprofit housing organizations often serve as a bridge between the advocacy of civil rights groups and low-income and minority constituencies. Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington Bureau, said that housing groups lay the groundwork for political organizing, by helping “to build the involvement of people so they can protect their communities using the political process.”

In voter mobilization drives, Shelton added, housing groups are “strategically positioned” to bring local citizens to the polls.

In the 2004 election season, nonprofit organizations played a major role in promoting voter participation. According to survey data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which has led the opposition to the funding restrictions, housing groups registered an estimated 84,000 new voters.

The proposed restrictions could clash not only with the principles of various groups but with existing state and federal laws as well. According to the OMB Watch analysis, electoral reform laws like the HELP AMERICA VOTE ACT facilitate partnerships between nonprofits and government agencies to boost voter participation.

Minnesota state law actually mandates that nonprofits receiving state support “shall provide voter registration services for employees and the public.”

Chip Halbach, executive director of the advocacy coalition Minnesota Housing Partnership, noted that “state grant dollars go into pretty much every affordable housing unit that gets developed in this state,” which would automatically exclude Minnesota nonprofits from the national fund.

For many nonprofit groups involved with affordable-housing work, their voting-related activities never assumed a partisan taint before the ensuing legislative battle.

In the affordable-housing communities managed by the faith-based charity Volunteers of America, voter registration is provided to residents alongside counseling programs and computer training, as part of an array of services.

A national housing fund could be critical in the group’s efforts to rebuild damaged units in the Gulf Coast region, many of which house disabled and elderly adults. “We would hate to be precluded,” said President Charles Gould, “if theres something we’re doing on a daily basis to help people who need help in exercising their rights.”

For the Child Welfare League of America, an association of social service providers that also helps develop supportive housing, voter education is as political as a high school civics class. Ruth White, director of the Leagues housing program, said the restrictions would undermine programs that teach independent living skills to teenagers transitioning out of foster care. Since the goal is to instill a sense of community responsibility, she said, “we can’t, in good conscience, not tell these young people what it means to be of voting age.”

Nonprofit advocates say that the bill mistakenly equates encouraging democracy with manipulating votes. Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, pointed out that, like other citizens, “low-income people do not vote as a monolith. They just don’t vote enough.”

Dismissing the suspicions of conservative officials, she said, “Youre left to conclude that people don’t want low-income people to vote.”

SOURCE

Related blogs:
Why Does Congress Not Want The Poor To Vote?
Give Us Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses… But Don’t Expect Us To Let Them Vote

READ MORE...
Posted by Elvis on 10/28/05 •
Section News
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