Debt-Trap Debbie Swimming With the Loan Sharks

Debt-Trap Debbie needs to stop shilling for predatory payday lenders who siphon $8 billion in fees and interest each year from those who can least afford it.

That was the message delivered this week to Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s doorstep at the Democratic National Committee, which she chairs, by a hundred grassroots leaders from National People’s Action, Alliance for a Just Society, USAction, and allies.

Decrying the “Sharknado” of debt brought on by the loan shark industry, the leaders arrived with more than 13,000 signatures calling on Wasserman Schultz to stop accepting money from the payday lending industry and stop sponsoring legislation that prioritizes predatory lenders over everyday families.

debt speakerThe grassroots leaders found the doors to Wasserman Schultz’ office building closed to them – so they turned up the heat with chants reminding Wasserman Schultz that they were determined to beat back the shark attack.

While leaders waved signs reading “Sharknado 4, starring Debbie Wasserman Schultz, produced and directed by the payday loan industry,” speakers from throughout the country testified to the devastation they and their communities have suffered.

“Once you’re swept up into the tornado of debt one loan turns into another in a cycle that just doesn’t let up,” said Candice Byrd, a member of Illinois People’s Action who spoke at the event. “It has been a nightmare for my family and me. We need our elected officials to stand with us against these predators, not in their pockets.”

Wasserman Schultz is cozy with the predatory payday lenders, having taken $68,000 in campaign contributions from the industry over the last 10 years.

Aide from Deebies officeNow she’s co-sponsoring legislation that would gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s efforts to crack down on these debt predators – and she’s lobbying her colleagues in Congress to sign on as well.

The Los Angeles Times’ David Lazarus calls her bill (H.R. 4018) “a shameless effort by the payday-loan industry, acting through congressional proxies, to avoid federal rules that would require more responsible behavior. The only choice it offers consumers is the ability to keep taking out high-interest loans even if it’s clear they can’t make payments.”

That’s why the leaders chanted even louder as barricades were brought out, then prayed for families devastated by predatory payday lenders – and for Wasserman Schultz, who does the bidding for an industry that charges up to 390 percent in interest rates.

The voices of so many persistent leaders were too powerful to ignore. After at first resisting a meeting, a representative for Wasserman Schultz emerged from behind the doors to accept the petition and a letter to Wasserman Schultz.

The leaders who descended on the Wasserman’s Schultz’s office will continue the fight.

They are determined not only to stop legislation bought by the predatory debt industry but to also win strong rules from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Joining with Stop the Debt Trap Campaign, they will push for a small-dollar credit system that meets the needs of families and communities, and helps build an economy that’s equitable for all.

Today in Medicaid: Big Win in Louisiana

Today, Louisiana’s new governor, John Bel Edwards, made the most of his first full day in office.

Through an executive order, Gov. Edwards expanded Medicaid to about 300,000 uninsured Louisianans, many of whom will be eligible for health coverage for the first time. This move makes Louisiana the 31st state to extend the benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to its lowest-income residents.

Edwards’ action marks a big win for community leaders in Louisiana – and the culmination of a long fight for health care justice.

The battle began in 2012, when the Supreme Court ruled that states could opt out of the Medicaid expansion. Emboldened by this decision, former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal dug in his heels and refused federal funding rather than make health care available to his constituents.

This intransigence resulted in Louisianans going without a potential 7,600 mammograms and 28,000 cholesterol screenings each year, according to one estimate. The state was also losing out on an average $1.5 billion in federal funds annually.

There were also grave racial justice implications to Jindal’s refusal to expand Medicaid, with African Americans accounting for more than half of those shut out of health coverage as a result. (Almost two-thirds are people of color.)

A diverse coalition of organizations fought back. A Community Voice and Southern United Neighborhoods – partners of the Alliance for a Just Society – joined this fight, knocking on hundreds of doors, holding community meetings, and rallying in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and elsewhere. As the issue played out in the legislature, they showed up again and again, undeterred by setbacks.

In 2015, with Jindal’s term coming to an end – and his popularity plummeting – A Community Voice and their allies made a final push to place Medicaid front-and-center as the race for governor was taking shape. Meanwhile, they kept the heat on the legislature.

These efforts bore fruit in the spring, when lawmakers passed a resolution allowing the incoming governor to pick up the Medicaid expansion without further legislative action.

From there, it was a matter of keeping attention focused on Medicaid as the candidates vied for governor. When Bel Edwards won in November, he assured Louisianans that Medicaid would be one of his top priorities.

His executive order makes that promise a reality. Louisianans eligible for Medicaid expansion should begin receiving their coverage by July.

Community leaders have a lot to celebrate.

“Years of base-building, actions, and skirmishes have led to the day when the people have won health care for another 300,000 Louisianans,” said Lanny Roy, ACV president.

“A Community Voice is proud to have been a part of it, and we’re proud of our new governor John Bel Edwards. Now to the task of effecting it and making our people healthier.”

Meanwhile, millions of other low-income people, disproportionately people of color, remain without coverage in the 19 states that have yet to expand Medicaid. Today, Louisiana points the way.

Health Reform and New Tools for Fighting Hospital Debt

Retiree Lee Johnson went in for knee surgery at a hospital in Seattle, and came out with a bill for $30,000, even after his insurance paid its share of the costs. No one at the hospital told him about the availability of charity care. So, to pay off his debt he took on a new one by refinancing his home. He believed it to be the only option in addressing the medical bill.

Soon, he found himself fighting to save his house and avoided foreclosure only after a costly legal battle.

Around the country, hospitals are hitting low-income patients with astronomical debt, demanding deposits before offering needed care, garnishing wages, sending collections agencies after patients, putting liens on property, and taking patients to court. A recent investigation by ProPublica found that “[i]n Missouri alone, hospitals and debt collection firms working for them filed more than 15,000 suits in 2013.”

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is designed in part to prevent this kind of abuse – and it gives community groups new tools for doing just that.

Getting people insured isn’t the only thing the 2010 law does. Although expanding coverage is certainly the ACA’s main goal, it aims to change our health care system more broadly, recognizing that health insurance, standing alone, won’t guarantee affordable care for everyone. (Lee Johnson knows this from his own unfortunate experience.) For that reason, the ACA also calls on non-profit hospitals – key health care institutions – to better meet the needs of their communities and play an active role in promoting community health.

Under new rules, non-profit hospitals must adopt written financial assistance policies and publicize those policies – and provide interpretation and translation. The new rules also introduce limits on how much hospitals can charge patients for certain services and when they can use “extraordinary” collection tactics.

That’s not all. Now non-profit hospitals also must develop community health needs assessments and implementation plans addressing those needs. With these plans, they can go beyond health care and tackle the causes of health problems, such as barriers to healthy diets.

But community organizations shouldn’t wait for hospitals to act on these rules – which leave a lot of blanks to be filled in. If we want to see the ACA implemented well, we need to let hospitals know how we expect them to meet their new obligations.

CHIP’s Two-Year Reprieve

This week, Congress passed legislation funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program for an additional two years. The bill passed with strong majorities and bipartisan support.

There’s the good news in that legislative development: the bill included none of the attacks on CHIP – including provisions specifically targeting immigrant children – that had surfaced in previous proposals. CHIP will remain strong as one of the country’s most important health coverage programs, thanks to a vigorous defense from community groups across the country.

But Congress has still put CHIP on a two-year deadline. With this kind of short-term funding, kids and their families – including kids with ongoing courses of treatment – can’t feel secure about their health care. Two years isn’t enough – no one’s health care follows that kind of legislative calendar, and kids’ health care shouldn’t be expected to.

Surprise: Aetna Funneled Millions to Chamber of Commerce

It looks like insurance giant Aetna made more than $4M in political donations to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last year (and another $3M to conservative advocacy group American Action Network).

This news emerged in an accidental — and later amended — disclosure. Aetna says it handed over the dollars for educational purposes and not for lobbying — and also says there’s no need to require any additional disclosure of corporate political spending.

Our premium dollars at work?

Is this what “secret ballot” means?

In the United States, the secret ballot is a long-standing tradition. But that refers to our choices as voters remaining secret – not to the idea that we don’t know who we’re voting for.

But now we’re living in the world of Citizens United, in which outside groups can pool rich people’s millions with corporations’ millions to influence elections, all without disclosing whose interests they’re promoting. Continue reading “Is this what “secret ballot” means?”

We Don’t Have to be United States, Inc.

Photo by ToGa Wanderings


A couple of days ago, the New York Times reported that the super PACs backing President Obama had fallen far behind on fundraising, and it’s not clear they’re going to catch up with their Republican counterparts.

According to the Times, “Mr. Obama’s backers on Wall Street are leery of their money being used for attacks on Mr. Romney’s background in private equity, already the topic of millions of dollars’ worth of slash-and-burn advertising this year from a super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich.” Continue reading “We Don’t Have to be United States, Inc.”