Race Relations in Waterloo

Chapter 4

Federal Government

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

John Halverson, regional manager for the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Kansas City, Missouri, told the Advisory Committee that his office enforces civil rights laws based on—

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Hill-Burton Act, which ensures that hospitals who received Hill-Burton construction funds in the 1940s, ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s do not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex, disability, or any other factor not related to the ability of the hospital to provide services.[1]

In an attempt to target its limited resources, OCR has identified five high-priority areas: (1) minority health disparities, (2) managed health care, (3) welfare reform, (4) integrated settings for health care, and (5) service to refugees. In describing these priorities, Mr. Halverson said:

Regarding [minority health disparities], there are recent studies that show that when you take into account everything from income to socioeconomic status, there are some differences in the quality and quantity of health care received by minorities.

The second area of critical importance is managed care. We’re moving to a new health care system, a system controlled by organizations such as HMOs, PPOs, and others which manage care. We are concerned that when these organizations become Medicaid providers, that they market their services in minority areas.

We are concerned that when clinics are located, they’re located so that people who need them can get to the clinics. A clinic across a freeway from an area where African Americans reside or where a lot of people with disabilities reside might as well be on the other side of the moon sometimes. We’re also concerned about participation of minority physicians as doctors who can provide care in these organizations.

And finally, we are concerned about persons who can’t speak English, or persons with limited English proficiency. We are also concerned that services be provided in a fair way to persons with sensory impairments. If an HMO provides a training class, do they provide an interpreter to someone who’s deaf?

The third area is welfare reform. Persons on welfare now have two years to get off welfare and a five-year lifetime cap. To get off welfare means to work. But are minorities being slotted into menial jobs while nonminorities receive better training and jobs in offices that may lead to future growth and promotions? We don’t know this. We need to look at it.

Are persons with disabilities being routinely shunned away from employment? We found cases where persons are not properly tested for learning disabilities. If an individual has a learning disability, time limits on tests have to be relaxed. Persons need to be taught in a different way reflecting their learning disability.

Are these persons receiving reasonable accommodations for services? For example, a recent study shows that 40 percent of the welfare recipients of TANF—and that’s Temporary Aid to Needy Families—in Kansas have learning disabilities. Yet only 20 percent can be accepted. So what happens to the other 20 percent? Are people getting appropriate training?

We are concerned about the persons with the severest of disabilities who have often been warehoused in nursing homes and other noncommunity-based settings.

Finally, the issue of refugees is critical. It has been established that over 10 percent of those in America now in the population use another language rather than English as their primary language. In the health care and social service arena, English only makes no sense. Someone entering an emergency room may have an infectious disease. The virus will not be smart enough to take time off until the sick person learns English, thus it is critical that services be provided in other languages where necessary.[2]

Although OCR has targeted its efforts to those areas noted above, it also responds to complaints from individuals. Mr. Halverson provided the following excerpt from an OCR publication detailing the agency’s complaint filing procedures:

If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your race, color, national origin, age, sex, handicap or religion by an entity receiving financial assistance from HHS, you or your representative may file a complaint with OCR. Complaints usually must be filed within 180 days from the date of the alleged discriminatory act. (OCR may extend the 180-day period if good cause is shown).

Include the following information in your written complaint, or request a Discrimination Complaint Form from OCR:

 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Althea Moses, an environmental justice program manager for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Pradip Dalai, an equal opportunity specialist for EPA’s Office of Civil Rights, described to the Advisory Committee their offices’ respective duties.[4] Mr. Dalai said a discrimination complaint against EPA-funded programs in Region 7 (four-state area that includes Iowa) can be initiated by calling (800) 223-0435 for filing instructions.[5] He described the civil rights complaint process as follows:

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits recipients of federal financial assistance from discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin in their programs or activities. Title VI itself prohibits intentional discrimination. Under EPA’s Title VI implementing regulations found at 40 C.F.R. Part 7, EPA-funded agencies are prohibited from taking acts, including issuing permits, that are intentionally discriminatory or have a discriminatory effect based on race, color, or national origin.

EPA’s Office of Civil Rights is responsible for the agency’s administration of Title VI. All Title VI administrative complaints are processed and investigated by OCR.

To file a complaint alleging a violation of Title VI or EPA’s Title VI regulations, you should submit a written, signed, and dated statement that provides an avenue for the Office of Civil Rights to contact you; describes an alleged discriminatory act that if proven true may violate EPA’s Title VI regulations; is filed within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory act; and identifies a recipient of EPA financial assistance that allegedly committed a discriminatory act.

You should mail your complaints to the address below, or you may send it via facsimile to (202) 260-4580. The address is the Office of Civil Rights, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Mail Code 1201, 401 M Street, SW, Washington, D.C. 20460.[6]

Althea Moses said the Environmental Justice Program is one of the catalysts for changing the way EPA does business, outreach, and public education. The program, she said, is—

educating the public with regards to the decision-making process and how to impact the decision-making process, ensuring fair treatment and meaningful involvement of low-income and minority citizens and also providing outreach and education materials regarding environmental and health-related issues which specifically address concerns within low-income and minority communities.

We also have a small grant program which provides direct assistance to environmental justice communities, and this means communities that are 25 percent or more low income or minority. And these grants allow communities to address their priority issues, not our priority issues.

EPA defines environmental justice as fair treatment of all races, income, and cultures with respect to the developmental, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Fair treatment implies that no persons or group of people should shoulder a disproportionate share of negative environmental impacts resulting from the execution of environmental programs. EPA is not the only federal agency with responsibility for ensuring environmental justice, but we are the lead agency with the responsibility.[7]

Ms. Moses noted that EPA had not received any discrimination complaints from the Waterloo area.[8] She added:

One of the hurdles that we are faced with within the Environmental Justice Program is the lack of knowledge regarding environmental and health-related issues. The fact is that so many of the health concerns within the low-income and minority communities are related to or agitated by environmental issues. And so what we’re doing with the Environmental Justice Program is a lot of outreach and education just getting information out to let people know that if you are an asthmatic, it may be due to environmental concerns, and it may not be just your heredity; and that if you are suffering from some sort of cancer or leukemia, that it may be a result of an environmental hazard rather than just God or something like that.

So at any rate, that’s a big hurdle that we have to overcome—the lack of knowledge. It seems that in other sections of the country, the more people become aware of environmental and health-related issues, the more complaints we see in other areas. What we anticipate is that we will be faced with perhaps future complaints as people become more knowledgeable regarding the environment and that relationship.[9]

Ms. Moses said that the Kansas City regional office of EPA would become more involved in participating in community forums and outreach activities to minorities. She added that public education is a major tool in guarding against environmental injustice.[10]

 U.S. Department of Education

Safiyyah Muhammed with the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), spoke of her agency’s mission to ensure equal access to education and to strive for educational excellence through vigorous enforcement of civil rights laws.[11]

Ms. Muhammed described OCR’s complaint system and some of the federal laws the agency is responsible for enforcing. She told the Committee:

Our agency is primarily responsible for resolving complaints of discrimination in the area of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. In addition to resolving complaints, OCR also provides technical assistance to recipients of federal financial assistance, and we also are charged with conducting periodic reviews to determine a school district’s or a recipient’s compliance with those federal laws.

Our agency processes complaints that are received within 180 days [of the incidents]. If for some reason a person files a complaint that’s beyond the 180-day timeframe, they can request a wavier. However, they have to have specific reasons for requesting the waiver, and then it’s up to the office director to determine or to decide whether or not the waiver is granted.

Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, some of the issues or areas that we look at in complaints are ability grouping, discipline policies and procedures, the assignment of students to classes, racial harassment, student housing on college campuses, and academic grading. Under Title IX of the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, we look at equal opportunity in interscholastic or intercollegiate athletics. We look at the treatment of students as it pertains to pregnancy and the admission to postsecondary institutions on the basis of sex. Under Section 504 and Title II, we look at various areas, accessibility of school facilities and programs, whether or not disabled students are able to access the school buildings or have an opportunity to participate in various extracurricular activities as well.[12]

Ms. Muhammed told the Advisory Committee that the Waterloo school district in 1999 received approximately $2,647,000 from Department of Education in federal financial assistance. As a result of receiving financial aid, the district must comply with all applicable laws and regulations.[13]

Ms. Muhammed noted that in 1997, OCR investigated incidents in the school district regarding racial harassment and student discipline.[14] She said:

The school administrators worked very cooperatively with our office to resolve the compliance review and to enter into an agreement that ultimately will result in some policies and procedures being changed, school administrators being trained to deal with cultural diversity, and looking at the referral of minority students for disciplinary sanctions. We found from that review that often minority students were overly discouraged for their percent of the student population.[15]

Ms. Muhammed concluded her comments by saying that OCR is still monitoring the district and that the monitoring would continue until the district has satisfied all of OCR’s concerns.[16]

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

Myrtle Wilson, representing HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO), said her office is charged with the responsibility of enforcing the Fair Housing Act.[17] She told the Advisory Committee:

Under the Fair Housing Act, it is illegal or unlawful to refuse to rent or sell housing; refuse to negotiate for housing; make housing unavailable when in fact the housing is available; show apartments or homes only in certain neighborhoods; set different terms, conditions, or privileges for the sale or rental of a dwelling; provide different housing services or facilities; advertise housing to preferred groups of people only; refuse to provide information regarding mortgage loans; to deny mortgage loans; or impose different terms and conditions on mortgage loans.[18]

In describing HUD’s fair housing complaint process, Ms. Wilson said:

Anyone who believes that they have been discriminated against has the right to file a complaint with FHEO. The complainant can call the office in Kansas City at (800) 699-9777, or they can call collect at (913) 551-6993.

Once we receive the complaint, the complainant will be notified about the complaint as well as the person that they’re complaining against. HUD will investigate the complaint and will try to immediately resolve the complaint. Once that happens, if we can resolve it, the case is closed where no one is admitting guilt.

If it’s not resolvable, then HUD will complete a full investigation. We try to do it within 100 days. If we can’t, we notify the parties that we can’t do that. If we find no cause, the parties are notified of our decision for no cause.

If we find cause, whereas in the previous part of the investigation HUD has been a neutral party, we become an advocate for the complainant, and we represent the complainant throughout the administrative process. Once we make a determination of cause, each party is given the opportunity to elect as to where they want to go, federal court or an administrative law judge, and we complete our process that way.[19]

Ms. Wilson said that in 1999 her office received 10 complaints from residents of Waterloo alleging housing discrimination.[20] She further stated:

I don’t know if that number is low because people are not aware of what their housing rights are or if there are no problems. However, we have reason to believe that there are problems, and that’s one of the reasons that we want to come to Waterloo and take a look at the city.

Also, the Waterloo Human Relations Department has submitted and been approved to become a contract agency with our office. One of the things that we do is we give the local human rights agencies money to provide education and outreach in the community to inform citizens of what their rights are. So we hope that that will have some impact on the state of housing in Waterloo.[21]

U.S. Department of Justice

Bill Whitcomb, a conciliation specialist with the U.S. Department of Justice, Community Relations Service (CRS), described his agency as a community peacemaker that voluntarily settles race relations issues using conciliation and mediation techniques in the problem-solving process.[22] Whenever CRS is requested to intervene in a community, the mediator uses appropriate community contacts to assess the situation before bringing the opposing sides to the negotiating table. CRS has received and responded to a complaint involving the Black Hawk County jail.[23] CRS has also provided technical assistance to the Waterloo Police Department in the past.

Mr. Whitcomb said that in recent years partnerships among local police department officials upward to the federal level have worked to address race relations and hate crime incidents such as the recent church burnings.[24] He also reinforced a concern of the Iowa Advisory Committee that many rank-and-file citizens do not know where to go if they want to file a complaint dealing with race relations or hate incidents.[25]

[1] John Halverson, statement before the Iowa Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, community forum, Waterloo, IA, Dec. 20–21, 1999, transcript, pp. 11–12 (hereafter cited as Transcript).

[2] Ibid., pp. 13–16.

[3] Ibid., pp. 20–21.

[4] Althea Moses, Transcript, p. 24.

[5] Pradip Dalai, Transcript, p. 24.

[6] Ibid., pp. 24–26.

[7] Althea Moses, Transcript, pp. 28–29.

[8] Ibid., p. 30.

[9] Ibid., pp. 30–31.

[10] Ibid., p. 32.

[11] Safiyyah Muhammed, Transcript, p. 34.

[12] Ibid., pp. 33–34.

[13] Ibid., p. 34.

[14] Ibid., p. 35.

[15] Ibid., p. 36.

[16] Ibid., pp. 38, 42.

[17] Myrtle Wilson, Transcript, p. 49.

[18] Ibid., p. 51.

[19] Ibid., pp. 56–57.

[20] Ibid., p. 58.

[21] Ibid.

[22] William Whitcomb, Transcript, pp. 62–63.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid., p. 72.

[25] Ibid., p. 73.