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Student Debt: Study Up Before You Sign Up

It’s that time of year again. Students nationwide are heading back to college and signing fresh promissory notes for financial aid. I am one of them. Many of us will mourn the loss of the summer sun while we simultaneously anticipate carving pumpkins and the smell of fallen leaves.

As our quest for knowledge continues and in that vein, I dare to ask, how much student debt do you have and, more importantly, do you understand the parameters in which you agreed to such debt?

As a graduate student, I am skilled in the art of back to school preparation – including ensuring that my financial aid paperwork is signed and ready for disbursement. However, until recently, I didn’t actually know what I had gotten myself into, and what legislation is in place to protect – or harm me. Knowledge is power; the lack of it can be costly.

Doing a little math, I was shocked to learn that the sum I will owe at the conclusion of my graduate studies, roughly $33,000, will accrue additional interest of about $12,000 over the course of the loan. That means for the next decade I will be responsible for a monthly payment of approximately $375, in addition to covering all my other costs of living. That’s about equal to a month of groceries, a monthly car payment, or a health insurance premium. I am certainly not the worst off – and I am not alone.

Even more troubling is the additional cost to me as a woman. The gender pay gap complicates the equity women strive for in choosing to purchase an education. I might be stuck paying off my student loan debt longer than the men sitting next to me in class, due to the lower pay women receive for the same work as men. Women typically earn 79 cents for every dollar a man is paid.

Paying my loan back over a longer period means compounding interest, and a higher total cost.

Several bills in congress have the potential to change the nature of student loans and the student debt crisis. Let your representatives and fellow constituents hear your voice.

One recent notable action by President Barack Obama includes changes to rules regarding financial aid applications. These new rules allow students to apply earlier in an aim to increase Pell grant eligibility, which may decrease the total amount needed for loan borrowers. It’s a small step, but in the right direction.

If I could reach back in time to my former self I would tell her to know the key terms when reading your promissory notes, map out a plan that is best for you, and talk to your congressional representatives about legislation that will work toward solving the student debt crisis. We can make this a better world for students and higher education.

This is my story, share yours at DeclareYourDebt

The Alliance for a Just Society has written a series of reports on the effects of student loan debt which include personal narratives of students who raced to the challenge of higher education and will continue to pay the price tag for years to come.

Take Down the Confederate Flag – And Raise Up Medicaid Expansion

This opinion piece by LeeAnn Hall was originally published in Huffington Post.

It’s tempting, this summery week, to sit and savor the sweet victory that was handed us by the Supreme Court in late June with the King v. Burwell decision. The court’s ruling protected the health care subsidies that allow 6.4 million people to afford their health insurance.

Many of those are people who have health insurance and routine health care for the first time in their lives because of the Affordable Care Act. Now they can breathe a little easier, knowing they can go to the doctor when they are sick, get immunizations, medications and preventive care.

The Supreme Court’s ruling came a week after the horrifying news that nine people were killed while praying inside the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina.

One of those killed was Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a South Carolina senator who was a tireless advocate for Medicaid expansion in his state. Some called him the “moral conscience of the South Carolina legislature.”

The killings in Charleston spurred the long overdue call to remove the Confederate flag from public buildings and from license plates. Removing the symbols of racism and inequity is a significant step. Just as critical is the need to remove racist barriers to quality health care.

We must continue to fight for the nearly four million people who still don’t have access to health care because of their state lawmakers’ refusal to expand Medicaid. Nearly 90 percent of those in the health care coverage gap live in the South, and they are disproportionately people of color.

It’s time to stop debating the right to health care – that discussion is done. Now it’s time to make quality health care a reality for everyone. The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.

Billions of dollars in federal funding is in place for legislators to extend health care to everyone in their states. Yet, lawmakers in 19 states have refused to accept that funding – 13 of those states are in the South.

It’s time to end policies that perpetuate systemic racism. I ask these legislators and governors – what are you so afraid of that you would deny a mother a visit to the doctor, or a father medication he needs to be strong for his children?

Refusal to expand Medicaid and provide quality health care to all remains a stark and shameful example of our nation’s failure to overcome persistent racial disparities.

President Obama, in his elegant eulogy in Charleston, said: “It would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.”

We must all remain uncomfortable – and outspoken – until racism, fear and hate are erased, in our symbols and in our policies. One step must lead to the next step.

Taking down the Confederate flags would be a bold symbolic statement that reconciliation has at long last begun. Expanding Medicaid to millions of people would show that we really mean it.

LeeAnn Hall is the executive director of the Alliance for a Just Society, a national policy and organizing network that has produced pivotal reports for 20 years on national health issues.

Minimum Wage Shouldn’t Force Workers to Live in Poverty

On New Year’s Day, 20 states raised their minimum wages. That leaves a lot of states that aren’t increasing the minimum wage — along with the federal government.

Even some of those employees who are getting increases don’t have much to celebrate. Workers in Florida might barely notice their 12-cents-an-hour raise. And the extra 15 cents an hour in Montana, Arizona, and Missouri will be wiped out with inflation and climbing costs before the first paycheck is deposited.

U.S. legislators have refused since 2009 to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour — not even close to enough for full-time workers to make ends meet.

To put it bluntly, minimum wage is a poverty wage. Yet only 29 states have minimum wage rates higher than the federal rate — and some just barely.

In last year’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

Although Congress turned a deaf ear, activists took up the challenge. “Fight for $15” movements across the country won among the most powerful progressive victories of 2014.

Cheers to cities like Seattle and San Francisco with minimum wage plans that will increase rates to $15 an hour in the next few years. Huge congratulations to voters in Oakland, California, as well in Arkansas, South Dakota, Nebraska, and others who voted for significant minimum wage increases.

But the truth is, while it’s a great start, none of these increases goes far enough, or lifts workers out of poverty fast enough. What’s needed is a living wage that allows full-time workers to cover their basic needs and have a little savings left over in case of an emergency.

The Job Gap Economic Prosperity series — a collection of research reports by theAlliance for a Just Society — shows that a living wage comes to over $15 an hour for a single adult in most states studied. A parent supporting a child needs to earn closer to $22 or $23 an hour.

Women and people of color are least likely to earn a living wage, with half or more working full-time and not making enough to make ends meet.

Poverty-level pay is taken for granted at restaurant chains like McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts, and major retailers like Wal-Mart, that would rather invest in government lobbyists to keep wages low than in their employees.

“If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it,” Obama implored Congress in his latest State of the Union address. “If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.”

The sub-minimum wage for tipped workers has been stuck at $2.13 an hour for 24 long years. Imagine going to work every day, hoping beyond hope that the tips will make up for the tiny hourly wage. No worker should be a second-class employee.

Refusing to pay employees a wage they can live on isn’t a business plan. Paying employees enough so they can shop or dine at your business or neighboring businesses and grow the local economy — now that’s smart.

A full-time job should lead to financial stability, not poverty. We must continue to push Congress to raise the federal minimum wage and abolish the separate tipped minimum wage.

In the meantime, keep up the “Fight for $15.” We know that we can motivate our mayors, city councils, and state legislators by speaking out, sharing our stories, and presenting the facts. Most importantly, we have to vote.

Let’s make 2015 the year for $15 — and really have something to celebrate next New Year.

LeeAnn Hall is the executive director of Alliance for a Just Society, a national research, policy, and organizing network striving for economic and social equity. AllianceforaJustSociety.org
Distributed via OtherWords.org

Daley Weekly: Lame Duck Session More Reaction Than Action

Lame Duck
The Congress returned December 1 for two weeks. What are they doing with all this time?

The House is setting its collective hair on fire over the President’s Executive Order on Immigration. There are hearings in at least two committees to hammer away against the Obama “Kingship.”  There is a bill in the works to repeal all the President’s deferred prosecution, including for Dreamers. On Thursday the House voted to pass this legislation, known as the Yoho bill, by a vote of 219 to 197, an almost totally party line vote.

They may have reached a deal on appropriations that has them passing and omnibus appropriations bill to fund the government for a whole fiscal year.

Apparently the Republican Leadership may want to get this out of the way. The Homeland Security appropriations will run only until March in order to give the anti-immigrant bunch an opportunity to take another shot at the Administration. No government shutdown.

In case you were wondering, the term “lame duck” does not refer to the session but to the people conducting the session – elected officials whose terms are about to expire and who are not going to be back. Apparently the term originated in the 18th century as an allusion to stockbrokers who were unable to pay their debts.

Tax “Extenders”

After playing around with this for the better part of a year, the “extenders” apparently will pass in some form making a bunch of loopholes available for another year. House and Senate lists differ on which to include but they should close these differences quickly. This follows an attempt to pass a “compromise” that included not only an expanded list of “extenders,” but tried to make a number of them permanent. Progressive tax groups made their displeasure known and the President threatened a veto.

So it looks like they have settled on a short term fix. The Democrats in the Senate had apparently agreed to the now ignored “compromise.” If this is the Democrat’s strategy, be prepared for hard times ahead.

Police Body Cameras

The police officer who choked to death an unarmed black man on Staten Island was exonerated by a grand jury. The coroner had called it a homicide.

The President did take a stronger personal role in the matter of blacks and the cops by calling for cameras on police flack vests.

The problem is that the persistent poverty, discrimination, unemployment, poor health, bad schools, and hopelessness in people of color communities will not be solved by cameras on cops. It needs something like a domestic Marshall Plan and the politicians who have been in the ascendency are more interested in feeding cash to the corporations and the wealthy than they are in dealing with the quality of domestic society.

Economy

The U.S. economy added 321,000 jobs in November and there is evidence of regional improvements in consumer spending. The unemployment rate held at 5.8 percent. It remains to be seen whether or not the Democrats will be emboldened to resist another round of Congressional efforts to cut taxes, reduce critical spending, fight immigrants, and perpetuate inequality – the long list of discredited austerity programs that the Republican majority is sure to try to enact.

Medicaid

A committee appointed by Texas Governor Rick Perry has recommended that Texas join in the Medicaid Expansion. It looks like the state of Wyoming is coming to its senses, too, and is trying to figure out how to participate in expansion. Rumors abound that deals also are in the works in Montana and Idaho.

Pretty soon we will look at the map of non-expansion states and see the modern manifestation of a racist, slave-owning South.

Ebola

The mad scramble to contain Ebola may finally be showing some hopeful signs. There now are empty treatment beds in Liberia, which was hardest hit. Efforts to prevent its spread into Europe and the U.S. also appear to be holding. Sierra Leone has now become the new hot-bed of Ebola infection.

The appropriations bill now working its way through the U.S. Congress includes $5.3 billion to fight the Ebola epidemic.

Health Care Cost Slows

One of the big causes of the push for austerity economics has been the inexorable cost push in the health care sector of the economy. Austerity freaks should be cheering and dancing. In 2013 spending on health care grew at the lowest rate since 1960, the lowest on record.

You can read all about it in Health Affairs: http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/early/2014/11/25/hlthaff.2014.1107.full.pdf+html.

Tax Reform – the Myth

One of the things that the pundits suggest as a potential point of agreement between Obama and the coming Republican Congress is something they call “tax reform.” Here are two myths to watch out for:

Revenue Neutral. Even though it is patently obvious that the great give-away of tax loopholes to the rich and corporations has caused an enormous drain from the national treasury, the mantra is that reform should be “revenue neutral.”  That means that every cut that they make for the corporations needs to be balanced by some increase somewhere else.

In order to make it easier to do this, the House Republicans have tried to maximize the cuts being provided in the “extender” package they are pushing in the lame duck session. The more they permanently reduce taxes for the corporations on the extender bill, the less it costs them when they try to produce “revenue neutral” tax reform that cuts the rates for the corporations. Cut a bunch of rates now, without paying for them, and we will not have to account for them in the score for tax reform next year.

The other thing that they are proposing to use to find a “revenue neutral” plan is a little thing called “dynamic scoring.”   This is a purely ideological theory that says tax cuts actually produce tax revenue. Yep – cut those taxes and the economy will grow and more money will roll in and everything will be rosy. The trouble is that it doesn’t work and the experts at the Congressional Budget Office have refused to use it.

But next year the voodoo economics gang will be in charge and they are preparing to rattle a few beads over the national economy and, presto, we can cut the hell out of corporate taxes. Deficit hawks should be shuddering.

The U.S. Has the Highest Corporate Tax Rate in the World. This little myth is a media favorite. It says that, because the law sets a 35 percent top corporate tax rate, we have the highest corporate taxes. The problem here is that corporations simply do not pay this rate.

Here are some key findings from a study done by Citizens for Tax Justice:

  • “As a group, the 288 corporations examined paid an effective federal income tax rate of just 19.4 percent over the five-year period — far less than the statutory 35 percent tax rate.
  • Twenty-six of the corporations, including Boeing, General Electric, Priceline.com and Verizon, paid no federal income tax at all over the five-year period. A third of the corporations (93) paid an effective tax rate of less than ten percent over that period.
  • Of those corporations in our sample with significant offshore profits, two thirds paid higher corporate tax rates to foreign governments where they operate than they paid in the U.S. on their U.S. profits.
  • These findings refute the prevailing view inside the Washington, D.C. Beltway that America’s corporate income tax is more burdensome than the corporate income taxes levied by other countries, and that this purported (but false) excess burden somehow makes the U.S. “uncompetitive.”

Check it out: http://www.ctj.org/corporatetaxdodgers/sorrystateofcorptaxes.php.

Musical Chairs

In addition to having to get a new Attorney General confirmed by the Senate, Obama now has to get a new Defense Secretary. Every time the President needs something out of the Senate he is made more vulnerable to the extortionists. Obama apparently will nominate former Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to Defense. John McCain likes him, so maybe everything will be O.K.

Schedule

The Congress is supposed to end its lame duck session next week and re-convene with its shiny new majorities on January 6.  

Daley Weekly: Foreign Policy Takes Center Stage in D.C.

Obama Takes Charge

Wow. Quite a week for our President. He gave three separate speeches at the U.N. that can only be seen as forceful displays of U.S. leadership, however one might view some of the actual policies.

The big one was an address on foreign affairs that bluntly confronted Russia and the Islamic State. You could see some of this coming a few weeks ago when Obama reacted with uncontained anger to the beheading of American journalists. Looks like we are into a long term air war in Syria and Iraq. (We have some strategic advice later in this report.)

Obama even presided in person over a session of the Security Council that passed a resolution committing the international community to cutting off access for those who want to join ISIS in the Middle East.

Earlier, Obama gave a presentation on climate change where he specifically called out China as a major polluter and pressed for global change to limit carbon emissions.

He ended his time at the U.N. with a challenge to other countries to get involved in the Ebola crisis in Africa.

It will be interesting to see whether or not this has any political effect here in the U.S. Obama’s foreign policy critics seemed to be throwing the linguini at the wall to see if they can find anything that might stick. The Rs apparently are going to play the racism card – they began running political ads trying to tie the problems in the Middle East to Obama’s immigration policy.

Latte Land

Huge news event. Apparently overshadowing the President’s performance at the U.N., was the video of Obama exiting a helicopter and saluting the guards with a Starbucks cup in his hand. The right wing went crazy – they had finally found grounds for impeachment even though they apparently do not know whether it is a medium or a drip grind. We have other important questions that the press seems to have missed. Was this a venti or a tall? Was the absence of a burn protection sleeve another failure on the part of the Secret Service? Is Obama covertly signaling his support for the terrorists by ordering beans from Yemen? This story is just beginning. The Birthers soon will report that the coffee actually came from Kenya.

If you somehow missed it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m85jKv8nDQk

Ebola

Folks are finally recognizing just how serious the Ebola epidemic in Africa actually is. The CDC put out an estimate that the disease could strike 1.4 million people in the next four months. The death rate has also been adjusted upward from 55 percent to 70 percent, worse than the bubonic plague.

President Obama included a plea for international assistance in his U.N. speech and is working to send 3,000 U.S. troops to Liberia. Lest you worry that this is Obama’s response to the cries for “boots on the ground,” understand that they will be building aid shelters and many of them are medical personnel. The shelters are badly needed – only 18 percent of Ebola victims in Liberia are in treatment centers.

While we have opined for weeks about the Ebola epidemic spreading because of a weak healthcare infrastructure in Africa, we cannot overlook the fact that there is a serious AIDS problem here at home among the poor African American populations in the South. States that have not expanded Medicaid have a health care infrastructure problem of their own.

Anyone wanting to understand how the South has become the “epicenter” of AIDS can read a Washington Post report here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/southern-states-are-now-epicenter-of-hivaids-in-the-us/2014/09/22/9ac1525a-39e6-11e4-9c9f-ebb47272e40e_story.html.

Beneficial Ownership                       

This wonky term refers to the effort by advocates to require states to identify the true owners when they register a corporation – the owners who actually benefit. Because no state gathers this information, owners of corporations headquartered in the U.S. can commit crimes and law enforcement cannot trace the perpetrators.

The consequences of this secrecy have been documented in a study authored by our friends at Global Witness: The Great Rip Off. Among other findings, the analysis shows how it is easier to set-up an anonymous corporation in the United States than in other countries, including such places as the Cayman Islands. The study reports twenty-two cases of anonymous companies in twenty-seven states involving fraud, tax evasion, political corruption, mob crime and money laundering. Access the report and see how your state is doing: www.globalwitness.org/greatripoff.

Efforts to require states to identify beneficial owners during the state run corporate registration process have been successfully opposed by the National Association of Secretaries of State. Once you peek at this report you might want to ask your Secretaries of State why they are helping to harbour these criminals.

Eric Holder and Policing

Last week the Attorney General (more below about his resignation) launched an effort called the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice. This effort will bring a combination of law enforcement experts, social scientists, community leaders and researchers into a three-year effort to work on the problem of the police and their relations with minority communities.

Let’s hope they can make some progress.

Let’s also recognize that they quickly will discover that the problem is much broader and deeper than just the minority communities and the cops. How can the cops solve the problems of poverty, under-funded schools, health disparities, bad housing, and joblessness? How can we get the cops in a better place when we all keep hearing the thinly veiled racism of T Baggers and their political ilk? How can the cops get rid of the vote suppressers, the Medicaid deniers, the immigrant deporters, the food stamp cutters, and all the rest?

One other tiny little matter – how do you explain to a black kid who bought a dime bag of ganja that he has to go to jail when he knows that a rich, white bank executive who ripped us off for billions will never face a jury?

Immigration

The National Immigration Center has developed an analysis of the demographic impact of immigrant women. Great charts and some useful tools for advocates. http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/just-facts/immigrant-women-united-states-portrait-demographic-diversity.

Poverty

The latest figures, released by the U.S. Census last week, show a modest reduction in the rate of poverty. Before the cheering starts, take note that 45 million of your fellow Americans still live below the poverty line. Note also that poverty among children reaches one in five overall and one in three among black and Latino children.

The Coalition on Human Needs has done an analysis of the figures and reports that many more would still be in poverty were it not for safety net programs like food stamps and unemployment insurance.

 Workforce Development

Concerns persist that there will be a shortage of physicians to fill the needs created by the expanded coverage under the ACA. This issue has been thrown into high relief by efforts to pump money into the VA health system to overcome serious shortcomings in veteran’s health care – they do not know where to get the health providers they need to fill the gaps.

Marching into the breach is the American Association of Nurse Practitioners with the useful suggestion that nurse practitioners be permitted by the VA to practice within the full extent of their training, rather than having them limited by unnecessary scope of practice rules.

The whole health care system should be listening to them. A more widespread use of nurses and physicians assistants would ease shortages everywhere but changes in state scope of practice laws are being opposed by traditional physician lobbies.

Mr. Sensitivity

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) gained and then lost 50 pounds after a pregnancy. She reports that some Members of the Senate made seriously senseless and prejudiced remarks that are too stupid to quote.

One member of the Senate was outraged by Gillibrand’s revelations. Ron Johnson, Republican Senator from Wisconsin, demanded that Gillibrand disclose who made the remarks. Johnson said: “If you’re going to throw out accusations, my guess is you’d probably ought to name names.”

Johnson is Mr. Sensitivity about the treatment of victims. In 2010 he attack a bill in the Wisconsin State Senate aimed at protecting the victims of childhood sex crimes because it would be bad for business if employers who hid such crimes were held accountable. Just to prove his point, Johnson’s office refused to pursue the charge by one of his female aids that she had been assailed by a Wisconsin State Representative who was later convicted of other assaults. Johnson is one of five Senators to vote “No” on the Violence Against Women Act.

ACA

The ACA detractors insisted that folks would enroll but not pay. It looks as though 7.3 million actually paid up, way higher than the right wing ideologues suggested. With subsidies, coverage has cost them an average of less than $100 per month.

Too Big to Jail

Wells Fargo reached an agreement with the Securities and Exchange Commission to pay a $5 million fine for failing to prevent insider trading. Company executives looked away as one of their brokers used confidential information to make profitable stock investments in Burger King via associates in Brazil. A miracle may be in the works here – there still might be criminal prosecution of the broker, but the executives who looked the other way will be protected by the too big to jail principle.

The Arab Bank has been convicted by a jury in a civil case for knowingly supporting terrorist organizations by laundering funds associated with attacks in the Middle East. This is a civil case, so they will have to pay up, but will anyone enter a prison cell? By the way, this case pales in comparison to the HBSC’s laundering of $200 trillion in money for drug lords and terrorists. The right wingers think we are coddling the poor. Actually, it looks like we coddle the rich.

Foreign Policy

Everyone following the interstices of U.S. policy in the Middle East should be reading Edward Luttwak’s The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire. I carry my copy with me everywhere. Running to a mere 498 pages, this humble tome shows how the Byzantines survived for centuries while constantly being attacked from the outside, even when they had limited military options. They constantly played one invading hoard off against another. While there have been intervening millennia, very similar tribal/religious sects are there now.

The preferred methods for getting the factions fighting among themselves were bribery and dynastic marriage. While intermarriage might be the simplest solution, let’s assume for the sake of argument that Obama will not be willing to marry Sasha or Malia off to one of the Emirs. So he is pretty much left with the cash option, which apparently will be sent in the form of ballistics. But if he can get them fighting with one another, which they seem willing to do, maybe their energy will be wasted away in the deserts and not against us or our allies.

Musical Chairs

Eric Holder has announced his resignation. He is the longest serving of any of Obama’s original cabinet members. The timing has both a good and bad side. Holder just announce a major initiative on policing that needs strong leadership. However, if he is determined to leave, it is good that he go in time for a successor to be confirmed in a Lame Duck Session of Congress rather than risk having to get someone through a changed Senate membership next year.

Schedule

The elections are November 4.

 

One of the Sorriest Episodes in Recent Memory

Screen shot 2014-08-04 at 6.27.42 PMIt is clear that there are those among us who are having trouble adjusting to the new reality of race in America. Their old world of white majority domination in political and economic life is slipping away.

The changes started back several decades ago when it became clear through the 1980 U.S. Census that a racial and ethnic transformation was occurring in the population.

I used to have a bit of fun back then going to Rotary Club meetings and talking about this transformation. I would suggest that those who get the yips about such things needed to recognize that there was a better than 50/50 chance that their grandchildren were going to have brown eyes.

Now the transformation that began back then is playing out and it is bringing out the worst in us. Read more

Daley Weekly: D.C. Summer Nastiness is in Full Bloom

billD.C.  Summer

The political season is in full flower in D.C. Lots of things are being proposed and voted on in both Houses of Congress that will not become law any time soon. There is no looming debt default or government shutdown, so everyone simply is taking a stick to everyone else. They will be doing this for a solid three weeks in July.

Immigration Confrontation

A huge confrontation is coming on immigration. Two months ago Speaker John Boehner seemed to be prepping his caucus to take a vote on some version of reform. The Administration seemed to be doing things to accommodate this possibility. Events: Eric Cantor’s loss, Obama’s falling approval ratings, international crises in Ukraine and the Middle East, economic stagnation, the children’s march into the arms of ICE.

Instead of pushing reform, some House Republicans are calling for a cessation of deferred prosecutions – deporting record numbers of people apparently is not enough. All of this comes on the backdrop of a wildly unpredictable election season. What happens if inaction in the House continues? Obama cannot but react, he is being invited into a confrontation.

Things got started in earnest last week when Speaker Boehner began readying a lawsuit over executive power. At week’s end, Obama bluntly told Boehner that if the Speaker did not like him using his legal authority, then the Congress could very well do something about immigration.  More will come soon as the debate widens over what to do with the refugee crisis on the Southern Border. Read more

ACA Off to Good Start, But Will Coverage Translate to Care?

waiting room photo copyIt was nice to be out in the Pacific Northwest for a few days enjoying the rain, seeing my kids, and spending time over at the Alliance office. It was also good to see the beginnings of the effect that the Affordable Care Act is having. The guy in the bar who tells me his brother was alive because he had qualified for Medicaid. The waiter who tells me he signed up for insurance, even though he is young and healthy.

It was fascinating to sit through an Alliance staff meeting where we were shown the options they have under proposed new health insurance plans. They were being offered pretty comprehensive benefits and a couple of economic choices. The economics had to do with the size of deductions and co-payments the staff thought they could bear.

What is really different are the new limits on how much co-payment and deductability a person has to sustain in a year. Well, it is still pretty steep, between $3,000 and $5,000, depending on your plan, but that’s it. No more $80,000 medical tabs. No more need to sell the heirlooms, the car, and the family home just to survive. Maybe just the car.

This ACA is working, in spite of all the yelling about it on the part of the President’s enemies. Read more

Hall and Smedley in USA Today: Provide Data, Expand Medicaid to Close Racial Health Divide

On the opinion pages of USA Today, LeeAnn Hall, executive director of the Alliance for a Just Society, and Dr. Brian Smedley, with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, call on on HHS to release full data on who is enrolling – and who is being missed. They also call on states where lawmakers have turned their backs on their poorest families, to accept federal fund for expanding Medicaid.

Little girl Medicaid CropThe health disparities associated with race, ethnicity, culture and language in America are vast. Minorities and the poor suffer more, and die sooner, than the general population.

The ACA is an unprecedented opportunity to shrink the racial gap in health coverage and end inhumane disparities. How do we know who is being reached if Health and Human Services isn’t providing enrollment data by race and ethnicity?

Data or no data, these disparities demand action. If every state expands Medicaid, it could cut the uninsured rate for people of color in half. Instead, lawmakers in 19 states have rejected the funds, and six states are still debating.

Read the full article in USA Today here.

State of the Union Has the Right Themes, Action Must Follow

sotu photo

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 28. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama delivered his fifth State of the Union address Tuesday night: low-key compared to other addresses, determined and occasionally defiant.

He touched on many of the priorities being worked on by the Alliance for a Just Society this year, including mentioning that nine million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage. He didn’t mention that 23 states have not accepted Medicaid expansion for their most vulnerable residents.

The President called for immigration reform to be passed, a solution for college graduates trapped by student loan debt, he pushed for a federal minimum wage increase to $10.10 an hour.

“Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty,” he said.
Private businesses shouldn’t wait for a government mandate, but instead follow the lead of giant Costco and much smaller Punch Pizza and give employees a raise. Read more