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Payday lending bill passes House, but fight may continue

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JACKSON — Supporters say the final version of a payday lending bill that passed the Mississippi House yesterday could reduce consumers’ out-of-pocket expenses for short-term loans, but the fight might not be over. Even though the measure passed on a 76-43 vote, opponents held it for the possibility of more House debate before it can move to the Senate. Foes say it does too little to stop payday lenders from trapping consumers in a cycle of debt. “You know that the poor are being taken advantage of in this state,” said Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez. Under current law, check-cashing companies can charge fees equal to 572 percent annual interest rate in Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the nation. Leaders of the Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal and Methodist churches have lobbied against payday lending practices. A person receiving a payday loan in Mississippi writes a check for the amount borrowed, plus a fee that currently can be up to $21.95 per $100 borrowed. Loans of up to $400 are allowed. The lender can cash the check if the borrower fails to repay the loan on time. Borrowers sometimes take out multiple loans to cover their costs. Most payday lenders now typically write 14-day loans. The bill that passed yesterday would give consumers up to 30 days to repay loans and cap fees at $20 for every $100 borrowed, up to $250. For loans of $251 to $500, the fee would be $21.95 per $100. Giving a consumer longer to repay a loan would result in a lower equivalent annual percentage rate, lawmakers said. House Banking Committee Chairman George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, said the new fees would equal between 243 percent and 521 percent annually. Flaggs said when he talks to people who receive payday loans, they have no problem with the service or with what they’re being charged. “Most folks that I talk to say that this is a necessary tool for them to get from one payday to another payday,” Flaggs said. Rep. John Mayo, D-Clarksdale, said the lenders are “no better than the plantation commissaries of 150 years ago.” “Being in debt is the new slavery,” Mayo said. After Mayo, who is white, compared debt to slavery multiple times, Democratic Rep. Omeria Scott, who’s chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus, objected. Mayo stopped using the words “slave” or “slavery” but stuck to his objections. “We are helping to keep people in debt by passing this bill,” he said. Mississippi has allowed payday lenders to operate in the state since 1998. Current state law expires in 2012, which means payday lenders would go out of business if legislators don’t renew it before next year. Other states have debated whether to revise their payday lending laws. North Carolina stopped the practice in 2006. The Mississippi House and Senate passed different versions of a payday lending bill earlier this session. The House vote Monday was on the final version produced by negotiations between three members from each chamber. Both chambers would have to agree on the same version before a bill could go to Gov. Haley Barbour. Barbour, a Republican, hasn’t said whether he’ll sign a bill.]]]]> ]]>

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MIBEST program at Hinds CC adds up to success for Vicksburg woman

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Mayra Gomez has always felt comfortable with the language of numbers.

“I’ve liked numbers my whole life,” Gomez said, agreeing that they have been something of a security blanket for her since coming to the United States from Mexico with her parents when she was already 20. “Numbers are just universal, plus I just have a square head like that!”

Gomez, now 41 and a working mother of three, attended high school in Mexico, but said an education there doesn’t translate well toward obtaining a good job in the U.S., particularly when a language barrier is factored in.

“For my husband and me, it was hard learning the language,” she said, adding the internet played a big role in her learning the basics of communication to help support her family along with her husband, who works in construction. “I learned English just based on reading, software I could learn by myself and experiences we would have, such as going to the doctor. I would just look up words I was going to say.”

Gomez still works a restaurant job by day but will soon be broadening her horizons beyond all expectations. This past spring, she earned a career certificate in Business Office Technology from Hinds Community College after having completed the MIBEST program. The program allows adult students to train for a job skill while earning their High School Equivalency certificate at the same time. Students are prepared to be job-ready in six months to a year, training in high-demand areas and earning national certifications.

“I found the program while online, and I called to find out more about how it helps people get a high school diploma,” she said.

This fall, Gomez is enrolled in classes at the Vicksburg-Warren Campus that will land her a technical certificate, then a full Associate of Applied Science degree. After Hinds, she wants to pursue a career in accounting, a goal she said gained steam while working a seasonal job as a tax preparer with a Vicksburg accounting firm. She also counts membership in the campus chapter of Phi Theta Kappa honor society as another plus in her social development.

“I still have to take English Composition next semester, but I’m excited,” she said. “I still need to learn more about the language.

All participants in MIBEST have access to support staff, or navigators, whose job it is to help students focus on their studies by advising them on a wide range of life issues – which often include everything from child care to transportation to ways to find rental assistance for those in such a situation.

“My navigators and instructors are my angels here,” she said. “Whenever I feel lost, they guide me and make me feel welcome.

“I consider them more than just instructors – they’re my friends. I was afraid to come back to school mainly due to language. I was wondering what would happen if I said something wrong or wrote something wrong. But they told me, ‘No, don’t be afraid. Just ask and we’ll see what we do to fix it.’”

Instructors and navigators in the program even go so far as to say Gomez is the best MIBEST student ever.

“Mayra entered into the Adult Basic Education program with definite goals set for herself,” said Vanessa Shiers, navigator in the program at the Vicksburg-Warren Campus. “Upon entering the program, she began working hard and showing a kind of determination that was a delight to see in a student.”

Ramona Latham, her instructor in Business Office Technology, found it refreshing Mayra was willing to help fellow students as she herself needed help with class assignments.

“Mayra is the type of student every instructor loves to have in their class,” Latham said.

“When she required assistance, she reached out so that she could get a better understanding of the subject matter. When her classmates required assistance, she was always willing to help. In her three semesters with me, she proved to be dedicated, diligent and filled with compassion.”

As inspiring as she might be for her instructors, her biggest driving force is her children.

“I want my kids to feel proud of me,” she said. “I want to show them it’s not about age to be successful. You can go out and get something that you really like and dream about it. One of my dreams for me is to finish school, get a good job and show they can do it if they decide to do it.

“Recently, I was working on my school work at home and my kids saw my grades. They were like, ‘Mama, you got a 98 or a 100.’ So, I can say if I can get good grades, you can do it, too.”

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American Lung Association invites Mississippi to join the Vape-Free School Initiative

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(Photo by Sarah Johnson, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=82597570)

Tuesday, the American Lung Association announced the new Vape-Free School Initiative, a comprehensive program to help school administrators and educators address the surge of youth vaping across Mississippi.

“In Mississippi, 21.4% of high school students used e-cigarettes in 2019. Vaping harms developing lungs and overall health and may place people at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. We must do more to protect our youth from a lifetime of addiction to deadly tobacco products,” said Rochelle Thompson, senior manager of health promotions for the Lung Association. “Through our Vape-Free Schools Initiative, the Lung Association is helping schools navigate this public health emergency with tools to protect and support both schools and students.”

The Mississippi Vape-Free Schools Initiative includes a comprehensive toolkit of resources, trainings and guidance for schools, including:

  1. INDEPTH: The Intervention for Nicotine Dependence: Education, Prevention, Tobacco and Health is a four-session program facilitated in either a one-on-one or group setting for students who violate school tobacco policies. Instead of focusing on punitive measures, INDEPTH teaches students about nicotine dependence, establishing healthy alternatives and how to kick the unhealthy addiction.
  2. Not On Tobacco (N-O-T): N-O-T is a tobacco cessation program designed with teenagers in mind. It takes a holistic approach with each session using different interactive learning strategies based on Social Cognitive Theory of behavior change. This encourages a voluntary change for youth ages 14 to 19.
  3. Vape-Free School Policy Assessment: Through this brief school policy assessment, educators can see how their school can improve their policies to provide students, employees and visitors with clear guidance.

The INDEPTH and NOT facilitator trainings are done virtually, and the programs for students can be held either in-person or virtually through an online meeting platform.

School administrators and educators interested in getting involved in the Vape-Free Schools Initiative can contact Rochelle Thompson at [email protected].

For more information about the Lung Association’s work to end youth vaping, visit TalkAboutVaping.org.

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Vicksburg recognizes Sgt. Bobby Jones for 20 years of service

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The Board of Mayor and Aldermen recognized police Sgt. Bobby Jones for 20 years of service. Left to right: North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield, Mayor George Flaggs Jr., Sgt. Bobby Jones, South Ward Alderman Alex Monsour. (photo courtesy Jones)

Monday morning at the Board of Mayor and Alderman meeting, the City of  Vicksburg recognized Sgt. Bobby Jones for his 20 years in law enforcement with the Vicksburg Police Department.

“Sergeant Jones is an outstanding officer and one who leads by example,” said Police Chief Milton Moore. “He is knowledgeable, dependable and reliable. His love for law enforcement is unwavering, and his commitment to his profession would make any chief proud.”

“First and foremost, I want to thank God, also the mayor and alderman, and the City of Vicksburg for 20 years of service,” Jones said.

Jones is currently a sergeant in the traffic division at the Vicksburg Police Department, and he happily thanked his family for supporting his career choice.

“I want to thank my wife and two kids for supporting and putting up with me all these years and for definitely having my back,” Jones said.

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