Congresswoman Maxine Waters hosts community meeting on federal budget cuts

Hundreds of South LA residents gathered at Jesse Owens Park today to attend a community meeting on federal budget cuts hosted by Congresswoman Maxine Waters.

Many in attendance work with community organizations that are at risk of losing funding because of federal budget cuts. Signs demanded everything from more jobs to more money for early childhood education or senior care.

Sunny skies and upbeat music lightened the mood, but there was no mistaking the serious subject matter—people were concerned about what these cuts will mean for them.

When Waters took the stage, she addressed the fiscal frustration in her opening statements: “We’re sick and tired of the mess that’s going on…we are not going to take these cuts sitting down.”

She saw the large and vocal crowd as a clear counter to the accusation that her district is quiet and complacent. “Nobody is going to do more for us than we do for ourselves,” Waters said.

Later, addressing the near shut down of the federal government the night before, Waters initially had good news. “The government is not going to shut down now. I don’t know if we deserve any applause for that, but we didn’t want the government to shut down. People are depending on their paychecks and services.”

But she cautioned that the stability would not last long. “We’re going to have to vote on Wednesday for the deal that was cut on the permanent continuant resolution through the end of the year.”

Waters encouraged her constituents to seek out information through the news and the internet so they would know exactly what was on the chopping block in the latest round of proposed cuts.

In addition to State Assemblymen Isadore Hall and LA City Council members Bernard Parks and Jan Perry, local government leaders from the surrounding cities of Carson, Lawndale, and Gardena also spoke.

Waters introduced local religious leaders as well as the heads of dozens of community organizations. Many encouraged residents to continue to band together as a community. Several stressed the importance of writing to senators and the president. There was also mention of the recent protests in Wisconsin and Ohio and the suggestion that California could be next.

Latisha Edwards works for the Training and Research Foundation Head Start Program in Inglewood. When asked why she came to the meeting, she pointed to her bright purple sign that read, “Head Start is the foundation of education.”

“My sign says it all,” she said. “Without education there is no future, and without a future, there’s nothing.”

House Republicans introduced a bill this month to reduce Head Start funding by $2 billion—nearly a quarter of President Obama’s 2011 budget request.

“We need funds for our kids because without those funds and education, how do you have doctors, lawyers, senators, governors, presidents?” Edwards continued. “How can our country be a leading country?”

Read more on this topic:
Advocates, citizens, leaders celebrate first birthday of health care bill
South LA officials and community members push to save libraries

California makes parole easier for convicted felons

California’s budget crisis will make parole much easier for about 24,000 nonviolent convicted felons, The Associated Press reported. This number includes many people already on parole and those expected to be paroled over the next year.

Burglars, drug offenders and fraudsters will face relaxed restrictions under a new law that aims to reduce the number of parole violations that typically send ex-convicts back to prison.

Some ex-cons will qualify for less supervision. Although nonviolent offenders will still be required to register their addresses, a state parole officer will not check up on them. Local law enforcement, if anyone at all, will be left responsible for unannounced home visits and searches.

But some local law enforcement agencies worry less supervision will lead to a spike in crime.

“It is a pretty significant concern from the public safety standpoint,” Todd Rogers, a commander from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said. “There is a really good chance these guys will go out and caper again.”

The rules, which took effect Jan. 25, will hopefully close the state’s $20 billion budget gap. Nearly 11 percent of the state budget goes to prisons, Los Angeles Watts Times reported. If everything goes as planned, officials estimate the measures, coupled with an early release program that will free about 3,000 current inmates, will save the state about $500 million its first full year.

With the changes, the prison population will shrink, freeing up state parole officers to focus on violent criminals, whose 70 percent relapse rate is more than double that of nonviolent ex-cons.

“Our supervision will be higher on those more likely to re-offend,” said California Corrections spokesman Gordon Hinkle, because the state hopes dropping some restrictions will cut California’s inmate prison population, and therefore free up state parole officers.

But Caroline Aguirre, former state parole officer, said the absence of supervision will result in more crime.

“It is because they are not being supervised and they know they are not being supervised,” Aguirre said.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department expects about 7,700 felons to qualify for the easier restrictions. But Rogers said the department still needs to do what the state’s parole officers once did.

“We still want them to know they need to behave themselves,” Rogers said of the ex-cons.