TOLEDO, OH – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) held a forum with African American ministers at First Church of God in Toledo today. The listening session focused on law enforcement issues, jobs, infant mortality, education, and other issues important to northwest Ohio.

“The people of Toledo care about their neighbors,” Brown said. “And our diverse citizens have the strength, insight, and commitment to address the needs of this community. Meeting with clergy and community leaders helps advance our mission of strengthening the economy, improving access to healthcare and education, and protecting civil rights.”

Brown has held more than 200 roundtables around the state since 2007 and meets with groups of clergy multiple times per year. Brown is working to ensure that all Ohioans – regardless of their zip code – have equal access to opportunities to live healthy, safe lives and pursue good-paying careers.

With Ohio ranking worst in the nation for African American infant mortality, Brown is working to prevent these tragedies. In December 2014, President Obama signed Brown’s legislation to help doctors and researchers better understand the causes of stillbirths, Sudden Unexpected Infant Deaths (SUID), and Sudden Unexplained Deaths in Childhood (SUDC). The Sudden Unexpected Death Data Enhancement and Awareness Act will enhance the current system used to report on infant and childhood deaths so that patterns become clear and we can better prevent these deaths.

Earlier this year, Brown introduced a proposal to give an alternative to millions of Americans turning to payday loans to make ends meet by providing short-term cash advances through their employers while bypassing high interest rates that keep consumers trapped in a cycle of debt. Brown’s bill would create an Early Refund Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) as an alternative to payday loans – which can carry hidden fees and annual interest rates as high as 500 percent. The Early Refund EITC is an alternative to costlier, predatory lending options. Brown’s plan would allow working Americans to draw upon already-earned EITC benefits before tax day. Instead of receiving traditional lump sum payments at tax time, workers who are eligible for EITC could opt to receive the Early Refund EITC – a zero-interest, zero-fee advance on the tax credit for which the worker has already qualified.

Brown also introduced legislation that would bridge the achievement gap and address the inequities that undermine learning. The Core Opportunity Resources for Equity and Excellence (CORE) Act aims to tackle existing disparities in public education by establishing accountability requirements that compel states and school districts to give all students equitable access to the core resources necessary to achieve college and career readiness by high school graduation.

In May, Brown joined U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) in calling for President Obama to expand job opportunities and reduce recidivism by taking executive action and requiring federal contractors and federal agencies to “ban the box” on job applications. “Ban the Box” refers to the section on job application forms that inquires whether the applicant has ever been convicted. For the more than 70 million Americans who have criminal convictions, this barrier to employment so early in the hiring process can serve as categorical disqualification, and limits their ability to provide for themselves and their families. Studies have shown that an inability to find employment is one of the leading causes of reoffending.