Most of Coastal Georgia skipped May primary election

Most of Coastal Georgia skipped May primary election

Voter turnout is highest when a future president is on a November ballot and is consistently lower for all other elections. 

The Current is an inclusive nonprofit, non-partisan news organization providing in-depth watchdog journalism for Savannah and Coastal Georgia’s communities.

The Maternal Mortality Rate Dipped For Black Women. The Reason Is Complicated.

Mother taking care of the baby

After a sharp rise in the number of women dying in childbirth, which was likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, new data shows that the mortality rate is returning to pre-coronavirus levels and the racial disparities in who’s most likely to die remain. 

The rate for 2022 was 22.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, a significant dip from the surge in 2021 that hit 32.9, according to the report, published Thursday by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. For Black women, the rate decreased the most among racial groups, lowering from 69.9 to 49.5. 

Still, the numbers are concerning experts who say, despite the decline, the U.S. maternal mortality rate is far worse than other high-income countries. 

“We’re leveling back out to where we were, which is still abysmal,” said Jennie Joseph, a British-trained midwife and founder of Commonsense Childbirth Inc. According to the report, 817 women died due to maternal health causes in 2022, compared with 1,205 in 2021, 861 in 2020, 754 in 2019 and 658 in 2018.

Without another year of data, it’s hard to draw any conclusions about whether 2022’s dip truly indicates a nationwide trend toward a steady decline in the number of deaths per year. It is possible, experts say, that some of the practices being put in place — like greater use of midwives and doulas and increased awareness about systemic racism — could be starting to scratch the surface of widespread impact. But, most experts speculate that the trends in the last few years are COVID-related, and that we’re now starting to see a return to the rates that persisted before the virus devastated communities across the country. 

Without another year of data to show the true, long-term trajectory of the maternal mortality rate, officials are hesitant to make assumptions and worry that this slight dip could convince folks that the crisis is less dire than it is. More years of data will offer more context and reveal additional patterns.

“I’m hoping 2021 is the worst we will see,” said Dr. Ndidiamaka Amutah-Onukagha, the founder and director of the MOTHER Lab at Tufts University, whose mission is to eliminate the racial disparities Black women face in childbirth. There’s a lot that will be affecting the statistics we see in the years to come, she said, from the 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision that reversed the constitutional right to an abortion to rural hospital closures and OB-GYN shortages. 

Black women remain at least three times as likely to die due to pregnancy related causes compared to white women.

Nationwide trends are hard to pin down, said Tiffany Green, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison focused on population health and obstetrics and gynecology. Conditions vary so much from state to state and the data tends to be relatively small. But what we know, she said, is that heart-related issues are the main cause of death related to pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. 

“There needs to be a big shift in how we talk about this,” said Green. A lot more focus should be on how we address preeclampsia and other disorders affecting the heart. Other top causes include mental health-related issues, like depression and substance use. By effectively addressing those underlying causes, we could see a significant reduction in deaths, she said.

For now, many experts are continuing to research and provide care for the families they work with without drawing too many conclusions about the most recently released data. 

“We don’t know until the next set of numbers come out,” said Joseph, the midwife. Still, “this death is preventable no matter which way we count them.”

The post The Maternal Mortality Rate Dipped For Black Women. The Reason Is Complicated. appeared first on Capital B News.

Southwest Georgia hospital could reopen with help from federal appropriations

A feasibility study underway will help decide the new model for the facility. Randolph County lost its only hospital in 2020 after decades of it being in operation.

The Current is an inclusive nonprofit, non-partisan news organization providing in-depth watchdog journalism for Savannah and Coastal Georgia’s communities.

Millions May Lose Internet Benefits if Lawmakers Don’t Act

A satellite dish sits in a yard near some homes in rural America.

For years, Leon Hudson struggled to get high quality home internet in the countryside of Selma, Alabama. 

If he wanted the service, he would “have to get a petition, go to the neighborhood, and get people to sign it for them to put their stuff there,” the 50-year-old recalled last fall about what internet service providers told him.

Hudson lives in a remote area with few neighbors. It wouldn’t be enough to satisfy a petition, let alone persuade internet providers to build infrastructure that’s costly and not economically feasible. Communities in rural areas shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to get a service that’s readily available in non-rural areas, residents have told Capital B.

The only two providers available to him were HughesNet and Viasat, and they only provide satellite dish service. He signed up for HughesNet, which cost $200. The service was slow, unreliable, and expensive, he said, so he cut it off. But, he needed the internet to get his business off the ground. 

Last fall, he applied for the federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program through Xfinity, his mobile phone provider. The program, administered by the Federal Communications Commission, provides a discount of up to $30 per month ($75 for tribal households) toward internet service and mobile services, and a one-time discount up to $100 toward a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet for eligible low-income households. 


Read More: Disconnected: Rural Black America and the Digital Divide 


He now pays only $30 per month for mobile hotspot and cellular service, but he received a notice in March that his benefit will soon be suspended. Without the discount, he can’t afford to pay the monthly expense. When asked last week how he will pay for the additional costs, Hudson told Capital B: “I have no choice but to figure it out.” 

The discount provided through the federal Affordable Connectivity Program can often mean the difference between having reliable internet service or not for many households. (Aallyah Wright/Capital B)

Hudson is one of the 23 million Americans who are at risk of losing internet access or forced to pay higher prices to keep subscriptions. The funds for the ACP program are drying up. With the program ending in May, it’s unclear whether Congress will reauthorize funding for the program.

Several organizations, including the NAACP, Color of Change, and African American Mayors Association, have urged Congress to pass the bipartisan Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act of 2024, which would provide $7 billion for the ACP program. The bill has been referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee. If it passes, it will move to the U.S. Senate for discussion.  

Brandon Forester, national organizer for internet rights at MediaJustice, fears the temporary lapse of the ACP could create additional hardships for individuals beyond being disconnected. In addition to the $7 billion, there needs to be more discussion about sustainability and addressing the root causes of the digital divide. Partly, how federal funds go directly to the internet providers who refused to make infrastructure investments in the first place.   

“I’m not saying we shouldn’t have the ACP, but it’s a Band-Aid — not a structural fix — that doesn’t go towards addressing the core issue,” Forester said. “In some ways, it inflames the core issue and inflates the issue of affordability.” 

“It’s so much more than the internet”

The program has been particularly helpful for low-income households in the rural South, where about 38% of Black households don’t have home internet — a higher percentage than white people in the same region and the national average. 

Almost half of the households that enrolled in the program are military families, and nearly half were over the age of 50, according to a White House fact sheet. At least one in four households were African Americans.

Although 5.4 million rural households were eligible for the program, only 37% had enrolled, the lowest percentage of all geographies, an analysis by the Daily Yonder shows. Despite this, the rural South, where folks are least connected, had the best participation rates. About 41% of eligible rural households in the South enrolled, whereas about half of eligible urban households signed up. 

Through The Black Churches 4 Digital Equity initiative, Pamela Price, deputy director of The Balm in Gilead in Virginia, made it a priority to enroll residents into the ACP program. She recalled their eagerness and genuine desire to learn and engage digitally. It wasn’t just about having the internet, but using it as a “launching pad” to connect with the larger world and improve their lives, she said. 

“They were extremely excited to see all that could be done with a fully functioning laptop and quality broadband. They then could be able to improve their well-being and economic statuses for their family,” she added. “We showed them just by having one digital skill — knowing that 92% of all jobs today require you to have at least one digital skill — increases your earning potential. It’s so much more than the internet.”

Despite the program’s success, outreach remained an issue. 

Whether the program dies or gets a new life, organizers caution that the suspension of the benefits will erode trust they’ve worked so hard to build with Black communities, who already don’t trust the government. 

“This was one that they volunteered for … and to now perhaps tell them, ‘Well you can keep it, but you’re going to have to pay what everybody else will be paying for it’ … it’s extremely disheartening,” Price said. “[We] consider how we will exhaust funds and find ways to pay for certain programs and activities for certain people in this country, as well as people outside of this country, but when it comes to something like the ACP, we can’t do it.” 

They also wonder whether people will reapply for the program — a process that is tedious and requires participants to share sensitive information. Individuals must complete verification, find a provider who accepts ACP, and apply the subsidy to the internet plan.

The process can take up to 45 minutes. In some instances, it can take longer to get approval if the applicant runs into issues with documentation, said Danielle Davis, director of technology policy at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

Capital B submitted a FOIA request to the FCC requesting the complaints regarding the Affordable Connectivity Program from January 2022 to November 2023. Of 7,000 complaints filed, Capital B reviewed a sample of 900. We found that customers had challenges verifying documentation, receiving the subsidy, or reapplying for the benefits. Some people mentioned their internet service provider tried to upcharge them for the service.

“Approval is not always immediate; about 45% of applicants are actually rejected,” Davis told Capital B. “Additionally, many applicants just abandon their application before submitting them.” 

Other options to consider 

Although affordability is one of the largest barriers to broadband access, there hasn’t been enough focus on it, said Alisa Valentin, broadband policy director for Public Knowledge. It wasn’t until the coronavirus pandemic hit that Congress instituted the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, a short-term emergency program to give up to $50 on internet service. That program ended in 2021 when the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law created the Affordable Connectivity Program. 

Prior to that, the only program that existed for low-income residents was the Lifeline program, which was created in 1985 through the Universal Service Fund to provide monthly discounts to either telephone or broadband internet, or bundled services. But the subsidy, a $9.25 discount for eligible subscribers and up to $34 for tribal members, isn’t helpful for families, advocates told Capital B. 

Advocates, organizers, and public interest groups aren’t giving up, as there are other legislative avenues to pursue if the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act of 2024 doesn’t pass, Valentin said. One option: reform the Universal Service Fund and fold the ACP into the Lifeline program. On the state level, lawmakers can find ways to continue to fund the program.

The government isn’t alone in solving the problem. More pressure needs to be put on internet service providers, too, said Jillian Morrison, Delta Legal Fellow with the Delta Directions Consortium, a network of individuals, academic institutions, groups and foundations to create solutions and positive change for communities in the Mississippi Delta region. She has hosted ACP signup events in Mississippi.

Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, $42.5 billion went to states through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program to build out infrastructure. The infrastructure is contingent on people affording the service.

“It’s not good enough to just have the actual infrastructure, people have to be able to adopt it. So affordability is key,” Valentin added. “We know that a new digital divide can occur in the future, especially when you’re talking about artificial intelligence. We do not want communities to be behind because they don’t have an affordable, reliable broadband connection. There’s a lot at risk.”

The post Millions May Lose Internet Benefits if Lawmakers Don’t Act appeared first on Capital B News.

High need, low accessibility: Oglethorpe County residents face barriers to mental health care, even as teens and schools are willing to have the conversation

Sonja Thompson Roach remembers the moment last year when a photographer took photos and interviewed her son and his friends for a Time magazine story on mental health and teens. 

 

The photo and interview shoot in her Northeast Georgia home required absolute quiet for the audio and the right time of day for the lighting. 

 

But one thing stood out the most.

 

Rural America Has an Eviction Crisis, Too

A photo of an empty road in rural Alabama.

Black rural Americans are still feeling the strain of the failed promises of the Reconstruction era and discrimination in lending, as redlining has pushed them away from homeownership into tenancy.

A new report illuminates the struggle: Southern Black counties have higher eviction filing rates than their white counterparts. In four states — Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina — rural counties have higher eviction filing rates that are near or above the national average. The rates are also higher than larger cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. 

In nearly every rural county, Black renters were overrepresented in eviction filings — even in majority-white counties. For example, in counties that are 20% Black, 50% of evictions are filed against Black households. In counties that are over 50% Black, around 75% of evictions are filed against Black households. 

About 17 million people in rural America rented homes in 2018, representing significant growth since 2000. During the same period, more than 220,000 evictions were filed against people in rural areas. White households made up 57% of evictions; however, the rates were four times higher for Black households, according to new research. The findings provide an analysis of the crisis in rural America using Princeton’s Eviction Lab national database. 

The crisis isn’t just about economics. It’s also about race. 

Poverty and racism in the housing and rental markets are major contributors to why the racial disparities persist, the report stated. Nearly 31% of rural Black residents live in poverty, compared to 20% of the urban Black population.

“While poverty leads to evictions, eviction has never been a strictly economic phenomenon,” the authors wrote. “The effect of race is so powerful that one can explain lower eviction rates in many rural communities in large part through the fact that so few Black Americans live there.”

The current day homeownership gap wasn’t a failure of the system, but an intentional result, said Christopher Tyson, president of the National Community Stabilization Trust, a nonprofit focused on creating affordable homeownership opportunities.

“The homeownership that is disproportionately experienced by white Americans was the result of intentional action by the government and was the result of specific policies that created the reality we have today,” Tyson said. 

Urgent call to address the crisis

Despite more affordable rent in rural areas, tenants are more likely to be cost burdened than rural homeowners, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs. Additionally, they pay more in utility and transportation costs.

With the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s affordable housing programs set to expire on March 22, experts project the crisis will worsen as development and gentrification pushes rural families out. Another issue is the lack of uniform data regarding evictions, which advocates say could benefit such programs to assist tenants. 

Organizers demand federal, state, and local governments address the structural inequities by creating new programs and policies to protect Black families. Tyson added that his organization supports legislation such as the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act, a bipartisan bill that would create a federal tax credit to build new construction or rehabilitate affordable housing in distressed areas, which include rural neighborhoods. They are also working with other coalitions and federal agencies like HUD to build on existing programs.

Dara Gaines, a rural researcher and strategy communication engagement consultant, added that part of the solution is to increase wages, as well as provide education on tenants rights, more housing, and universal child care.

“People can then focus on working … and have more flexibility so that they can have money to pay rent instead of having to choose between paying for medical bills or paying for the rent,” she said. “During the pandemic we saw the eviction rate drop substantially, and we see it’s creeping back up, and it’s because a lot of the assistance programs are over.”

Without intervention, the report’s authors warn of continued negative outcomes of eviction on families, including job loss, deeper financial hardship, early mortality, and deterioration of physical and mental health. It also leads to decreased voter turnout and displacement, which increases likelihood of food insecurity, lead poisoning, and academic performance issues for children. By addressing the crisis, rural communities could increase economic growth and reduce population loss.

“We can continue to create opportunities to bring parity, to bring equity to the marketplace and that means we have to bring Black homeowners and others who were systematically excluded from the opportunity into the experience of homeownership,” Tyson said.

The post Rural America Has an Eviction Crisis, Too appeared first on Capital B News.

Environmentalists mixed over new bill targeting mining near Okefenokee

A new bill would restrict some new mining near the Okefenokee for 3 years; some environmental groups say it protects the mining company more than the swamp.

The Current is an inclusive nonprofit, non-partisan news organization providing in-depth watchdog journalism for Savannah and Coastal Georgia’s communities.

Fishing rights bill heads to full House for vote

fishing river

Bill leaves out fishing access to streams navigable by small boats, canoes or kayaks.

The Current is an inclusive nonprofit, non-partisan news organization providing in-depth watchdog journalism for Savannah and Coastal Georgia’s communities.

Georgia plans ‘strategic surge’ to check Medicaid eligibility after 150k children lose coverage

child with doctor

In the letter, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra wrote that he was “deeply alarmed” by data showing that nearly 150,000 Georgia children had lost Medicaid coverage as of September.

The Current is an inclusive nonprofit, non-partisan news organization providing in-depth watchdog journalism for Savannah and Coastal Georgia’s communities.