Voter protection, poverty and the economy and immigration reform top the Congressional Black Caucus' policy agenda for the new legislative session. They are issues, CBC Chairwoman Marcia Fudge says, that resonate with all Americans, but African-Americans and neglected communities in particular.
With the 2012 election season over, many voters aren't as focused on their rights. They should be, Fudge said in an interview with BET.com. State legislatures around the country, she warned, are continuing to consider and introduce new laws that would inhibit some voters' ability to cast ballots. Some states have been exploring the idea of changing the Electoral College process.
"So this is an ongoing battle. It's not something that stopped on Nov. 6, 2012," the Ohio lawmaker said. "We want to continue to educate the electorate on the fact that a lot of the things that we talked about in 2012 are still going forward in 2013."
Unemployment also is an issue that disproportionately affects African-American communities. The rate tends to go up and down with each monthly jobs report, but remains stubbornly high. One of the CBC's top priorities is to get the American Jobs Act that President Obama introduced last year.
"We want to make sure that the jobs bill is passed. We were very supportive of it and had a great deal of input in it," Fudge said.
She also wants to ensure that the people who are in most need receive training for existing positions and jobs of the future. With funding for programs like Medicaid and Medicare, she added, lawmakers must do all they can to make sure people are fully employed.
That includes advocating for policies that provide parity in access to economic opportunity, particularly in African-American communities; championing policies that create and sustain jobs; and protecting cuts to social and economic programs.
Increasingly, CBC members are representing districts that are more diverse. As a result, immigration reform also is a priority, in part because it is currently a national priority. Fudge says that not engaging in the discussion would be a disservice to the people the CBC serves.
"It's not just a Latino or Mexican problem; it's a problem with people from Haiti or the Dominican Republic," she said. "Historically, people of color and the Diaspora have been at the bottom of the barrel, even as it relates to immigration. If we don't engage in the discussion, then what is it that we're saying to people? That we don't care?"
Fudge acknowledged that jobs, at least for the short-term, is taking a backseat to immigration reform. But as the caucus aims to provide a voice for undocumented immigrants of African descent, it also will work to ensure that policies that are aimed at improving conditions within low-income and vulnerable communities are not averted by comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
The CBC has to have a seat at every table, Fudge added, because issues that hurt Americans' economic and social well-being, hurt African-Americans even more.
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(Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)