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PRRAC Update March 17, 2011

Welcome to the PRRAC Update! Every other Thursday, PRRAC sends out a brief digest of news, recent publications, and other points of interest related to our work in housing, education, and health. We welcome feedback and encourage you to forward to others. To join the PRRAC email list, click here.

Race, poverty, and human rights treaties

Tomorrow, March 18, marks the return of the U.S. State Department to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, to respond to a lengthy list of issues raised by the Council in its recent "Universal Periodic Review" (UPR), assessing U.S. compliance with the various human rights treaties it has signed and/or ratified. The Obama Administration deserves credit for joining the U.N. Human Rights Council and submitting the U.S. to international human rights review (something the previous administration had refused to do). In its official response to the recommendations of the Council, the State Department deflected many of the Council's substantive demands, but also made important commitments - including pledges to reduce homelessness, expand affordable housing, and ensure equal educational opportunity for low income families.

In preparation for the upcoming presentation in Geneva, the State Department and other federal officials recently held a series of meetings with civil society representatives to review the issues rasied by the Human Rights Council. PRRAC staff made presentations at two of these briefings, the first at HUD, and the second at the White House Conference Center. We focused in particular on U.S. compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, in particular the lack of progress made in responding to the 2008 conclusions and recommendations of the U.N. CERD Committee on U.S. housing and education policy (read PRRAC's statement).

PRRAC also recently joined a letter from civil and human rights groups asking the U.N. CERD Committee to urge the U.S. government to adopt a national plan of action for CERD implementation, with full and meaningful consultation with civil society and affected communities and in collaboration with local and state governments. The plan of action is one of several key 2008 recommendations of the CERD Committee that have not yet been adopted, and the U.S. is scheduled to return to the CERD Committee in 2012 for a further review. PRRAC plans to join with other NGOs later this year in providing the U.N. with an assessment of U.S. progress in improving fair housing, educational equity, and minority health disparities.

Innovation and the Federal Housing Budget

Anyone who thinks that the words "innovation" and "HUD" don't belong in the same sentence should take notice: In the past two years, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has been crafting innovative solutions to bureaucratic problems that have plagued the agency for decades. But proposed budget cuts in Congress threaten to roll back the clock. Read more...

In other news

Merger in Memphis? On March 8, Memphis voted overwhelmingly in favor of merging the city's school system with neighboring suburban Shelby County. The merger would create a new system of more than 140,000 students and the new district would have significantly more African American and low-income students than currently attend Shelby County schools. The vote comes on the heels of a contentious fight between the two districts over Shelby County's move to declare "special district" status. Such status would have altered the current tax base sharing system the two districts currently have in place. By surrendering its charter, the Memphis district preserved its ability to receive funds from the county. The Shelby County Board of Education filed a federal lawsuit in February to challenge the Memphis action. Read more here.

Racial segregation trends - is the glass half full or half empty? Read Marge Turner's commentary on new segregation data in the 2010 census - in the Urban Institute's new Metrotrends blog.

Responding to the humanitarian crisis in Japan (From the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:) We are deeply saddened by the devastation of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and our hearts go out to the victims of this terrible disaster. The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) has formed a partnership with Direct Relief International to collect funds to help the victims. 100% of donations will go to relief and recovery efforts. Click here for the Direct Relief International website and select the link provided to donate to the Japan Relief and Recovery Fund.

Philip Tegeler

Saba Bireda

Poverty & Race Research Action Council

Washington, DC

(to review past PRRAC updates, click here)
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