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2 from News honored nationally for series

Two reporters from The Buffalo News have received the 2007 Excellence in Urban Journalism Award for their four-day series last year titled "The High Cost of Being Poor."

Financial reporter Jonathan D. Epstein and Urban Affairs Editor Rod Watson were honored Friday by the Enterprise Community Partners at its national conference in Cleveland.

The annual award, created in 1998, recognizes "outstanding reporting on issues facing the nation's urban areas" and their residents, especially social and racial inequities that lead to inner-city poverty.

The award is presented jointly by Columbia, Md.-based Enterprise, a community-development organization dedicated to funding affordable housing for low-income people, and the Freedom Forum, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit organization that focuses on issues involving freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

A second award was given to the Miami Herald's Debbie Cenziper for her Pulitzer Prize-winning series "House of Lies," which examined the Miami-Dade Housing Agency's failed projects, pet programs and bad deals.

The News series in June 2006 examined the high-cost financial services that target the working poor by check-cashers, corner grocers, rent-to-own stores, tax preparers, mortgage lenders, inner-city used-car dealers and insurance agencies.

It showed how low-income consumers pay as much as three or four times more than others to cash their checks; buy food; purchase furniture, appliances, and electronics; borrow money in the short term; and buy houses or cars. And it revealed that state and federal laws do little to protect them, while regulators failed to enforce the laws that do exist.

As a result, the Assembly held public hearings in Buffalo and New York City, state leaders called for changes, legislation was introduced at both the state and federal levels, and the City of Buffalo changed policies.

This is the fourth award the series and its team have received, following honors from the New York Newspaper Publishers Association, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

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