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Berkeley’s Skinner unveils bill to overturn GOP child support law

State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, has announced the “Child Support Reform Act,” which seeks to ensure that low-income families receive all the child support payments to which they are entitled. The act, Senate Bill 337, would overturn a decades-old law under which child-support payments meant for families who receive CalWORKs benefits go to the state rather than to the families and children.

“The Child Support Reform Act will right a historic wrong,” Skinner said. “Last year, more than 1.2 million California children living in or near poverty did not receive the full child support payments made by their parents. California must stop taking the lion’s share of support payments that rightfully belong to families and kids.”

Under a California law that dates back to the administration of Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, when a non-custodial parent makes a child support payment to a parent and child who receive CalWORKs benefits, the payment doesn’t actually go to the custodial parent and child. Instead, all but $50 of it goes to the state. The rationale behind the law was that the state should be “reimbursed” for providing CalWORKs benefits to low-income families and children. It was also designed to discourage parents with children from going on welfare.

“Most people don’t realize that when a child support payment is made to a low-income child, all but $50 of it goes to the state,” said Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which is co-sponsoring SB 337.

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We Stand United Against Trump’s Divisive Public Charge Rule

Western Center’s Mona Tawatao shared her wisdom on the Trump Administration’s proposed Public Charge rules in the California Health Report. An excerpt is below, the full piece is available here.

In this country, we believe that our value and ability to contribute to society should not be based on how we look or how much money in our wallets. These principles of fairness and equal opportunity are what unite us as a nation.

The Trump administration’s proposed public charge rule flouts these core values. It is yet another one of the President Trump’s schemes to divide us. This is the president who has also torn apart families seeking asylum protection at our southern border and declared a “national emergency,” bypassing Congress and our Constitution, in an attempt to build a wall between the United States and Mexico.   

ABC’s of your Health: New bill aims to help Californians keep health care coverage during life transitions

When people undergo life changes like marriage or divorce, moving to a new home in a new area, losing a job, or aging out of their parents’ insurance coverage, they may also face gaps in health care coverage.

State Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, wants to help.

Her bill SB 260, introduced on Feb. 12, will require health plans and insurers to give consumers who lose their coverage for any reason notices of the availability of Medi-Cal and Covered California coverage.

“SB 260 is a critical piece of legislation for communities in the Central Valley and throughout California,” said Hurtado. “Experiencing life transitions is inevitable, particularly in the Valley where communities face poverty at an alarming rate.”

The bill will also make it easier for Covered California to reach out to consumers, who have lost their coverage to help minimize gaps in their coverage. The bill eases that transition by assigning them to a low-cost Covered California plan. They then have the option to opt out of that plan or shop for another. SB 260 also makes it easier for Californians who lose Medi-Cal coverage when their income rises to gain access to a subsidized health plan through Covered California.

…“When someone loses Medi-Cal, they don’t have enough time to enroll in a Covered California plan that will start when their Medi-Cal ends,” said Jen Flory, policy advocate for Western Center on Law and Poverty. “This legislation will help ensure consumers don’t face gaps in coverage just because they start earning a little more money.”

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Medical credit cards purport to ease medical cost burdens, but end up creating stress. A new Western Center-sponsored bill could change that

By Jen Flory, Western Center Health Policy Advocate

For many medical consumers, medical credit cards are offered as a way to pay for unexpected medical costs not covered by insurance. Those costs can include trips to the dentist, chiropractors, and veterinarians. Most people know how quickly medical bills can upend a person’s finances, so medical credit cards can seem like a good deal – especially when they are presented with a zero percent introductory rate.

The tricky part about medical credit cards, and what many consumers of the cards misunderstand, is that while they enjoy that zero percent rate for a period of time, when the introductory period is up, they will not only pay a higher rate (which is to be expected), but they will also face deferred interest. Deferred interest provisions allow card issuers to charge interest on the entire original balance, regardless of how much is paid off during the introductory period. That extra interest adds an unexpected burden for the medical consumer who thought they were doing something to help with their medical bills.

For example, if a consumer puts $1,000 on their card and pays off $900 by the end of the introductory period, the new 26.99% interest rate will be charged not on the remaining $100 balance, but on the original $1,000. The consumer will end up paying $269.90 in interest on a $100 balance.

To add insult to injury, many people are encouraged to sign up for medical credit cards while they are awaiting services in treatment rooms. Without the time and means to research alternatives, and in such stressful circumstances, consumers don’t have the opportunity to fully understand what they are signing up for.

Consumers have also reported being signed up for credit cards while sitting in a dental chair about to get treatment, or for dental services that could have been covered by Medi-Cal. Many Medi-Cal recipients are still being charged for dental services in spite of the restoration of dental services for adults with Medi-Cal. In some cases, the needed services are not covered by Medi-Cal; in other cases, Medi-Cal services are available to treat the condition, but patients are upsold more expensive services, which often end up on medical credit cards.

In 2009, AB 171 (Jones) was passed to require dentists to give notices prior to signing a patient up for a credit card to pay for services. In 2014, SB 1256 (Mitchell) expanded those rules to any licensed health care provider. While the law does provide for basic patient notification, few consumers understand how deferred interest provisions work, so they are shocked by high interest charges later added to their account.

To protect medical consumers, Senator Holly Mitchell has introduced SB 639, which would prohibit medical providers from offering products with deferred interest provisions, and would prohibit them from signing patients up for medical credit cards in treatment areas. The bill would also require providers that accept Medi-Cal to explain to patients what Medi-Cal does and does not cover, and it would require language in the notices about medical credit cards to be written at a 6th grade reading level.

Third-party financing may have a place when patients need services they cannot immediately pay for, but more must be done to protect consumers. Products with ‘gotcha’ clauses like deferred interest have no place in a medical practice. Consumers should never feel pressured into applying for medical credit cards, and they should always understand what they are signing up for — especially since their health and wellbeing is on the line.

Free Rides to Doctor’s Offices Help Low-Income Californians Get to Medical Care

Following a state law that went into effect last year, significantly more low-income Californians are using free transportation to get to medical appointments.

Ride services were already offered by 17 of the 21 Medi-Cal managed-care health plans. Yet AB 2394, authored by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, mandated that all enrollees have access to free transportation, whether through ride sharing, vans or public transport. The mandate officially took effect last July for Medi-Cal, California’s low-income health plan.

Though some 70 percent of Medi-Cal managed-care enrollees already had access to such services, many enrollees were falling through the gaps.

“We had heard a lot of stories about the challenges of people getting to the doctor when they didn’t have a reliable vehicle,” said Linda Nguy, policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which sponsored the legislation.

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Senator Melissa Hurtado Introduces Bill to Help Californians Keep Health Coverage during Life Transitions

Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) introduced legislation on Feb. 12 to help Californians keep health coverage during life transitions.

SB 260 will require health plans and insurers to give consumers who lose their coverage for any reason notices of the availability of Medi-Cal and Covered California coverage. The bill will also make it easier for Covered California to reach out to consumers, who have lost their coverage to help minimize gaps in their coverage.

“SB 260 is a critical piece of legislation for communities in the Central Valley and throughout California,” said Senator Hurtado. “Experiencing life transitions is inevitable, particularly in the Valley where communities face poverty at an alarming rate. This bill’s proactive approach eliminates the extra step for someone who is undergoing a transition in their life by ensuring that they maintain health coverage,” continued Senator Hurtado.

…“When someone loses Medi-Cal, they don’t have enough time to enroll in a Covered California plan that will start when their Medi-Cal ends. This legislation will help ensure consumers don’t face gaps in coverage just because they start earning a little more money,” said Jen Flory, Policy Advocate for Western Center on Law and Poverty.

Read more here

GUEST POST: I went without meals in college. Now I’m advocating to put an end to student hunger on campus.

By Yesenia Jimenez

I am far too familiar with the realities of growing up poor and hungry in the U.S. When I was young, my family of seven shared one room, and I shared a twin-sized mattress with my older sister until I was in the 8th grade. Going to college felt like a reach, but my mother and high school mentors never stopped believing in me and encouraging me.

I enrolled in Pasadena City College (PCC) after graduating from high school. I traveled for two hours on the Metro to get to school every morning. Some nights, I wouldn’t get home until 11 pm.

My peers and counselors didn’t know that when I was on campus, I regularly skipped meals because I didn’t have enough money to purchase food from the cafeteria. To get through the day, I usually depended on the free food that student clubs and local churches offered students.

I was grateful for community college since my tuition was fully waived, but I struggled to purchase expensive books and materials with financial aid. Back home our family couldn’t afford to pay for Wi-Fi, so staying on campus for long hours felt like my only option. Food seemed like the easiest expense to cut, but doing so caused constant hunger and a feeling of anxiety when I was in the classroom.

When I graduated from PCC, I transferred to UC Davis. I thought transferring would solve many of the financial problems I faced at community college; I thought universities offered meal plans as part of their financial aid packages, but that assumption turned out to be wrong. At UC Davis, I found myself struggling to find enough money to pay for housing and food.

Looking for help back home was not an option — in fact, there were many times I needed to send money home. At my lowest point, during the summer quarter of 2016, I ran into delayed financial aid problems. I was a full-time student with a part-time research job, and I had $20 in my bank account with no secure housing for the next couple of weeks.

I broke down in the middle of campus and called my mother. She cried with me, and I know she felt helpless because all she could send was a couple of extra dollars. That weekend, I met up with my campus fellowship mentor and shared my frustration and anxiety with her. She immediately opened her home to me, expected nothing in return. She was a godsend.

I consider myself fortunate because I know many students don’t have someone to turn to. It shouldn’t take “fortune” for students to stop experiencing hunger. My biggest regret is not looking further into SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) during my college years; it is my hope that students experiencing hunger will have improved access and information about government assistance benefits.

Student hunger on college campuses is a problem that is growing across California, and across the country. As the cost of living increases, wages stagnate, and more first generation students enter college, the need to provide students with support so they don’t experience hunger is crucial. For low-income students, college is a pathway out of generational poverty; the last thing students investing in their future need to worry about is where their next meal will come from.

At the request of lawmakers, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report in January recommending the government take steps to find out how many college students are hungry across the country, and to clarify SNAP student eligibility rules. I traveled to Washington DC to share my experience with lawmakers as they begin to seek solutions to this issue.

I’m glad the issue of student hunger on campus is gaining attention, but it’s critical that immediate solutions are available for students.

Fortunately, advocates like Western Center have been working on this issue for years, and have made progress in implementing solutions. Last year, Western Center was a lead co-sponsor for AB 1894 (Weber) in California, which allows colleges and universities to run CalFresh Restaurant Meals Programs to address student hunger.

The passage of AB 1894 built on the previous four years of policy victories in the area. The first was AB 1930 (Skinner) in 2014, which required the California Department of Social Services to identify which student jobs could be considered training programs, so they could be exempt from the student work rule that prohibited receipt of SNAP benefits.

Additionally, Western Center and a coalition of anti-hunger and student rights advocates called for continued and increased funding for the Hunger Free Campus Initiative in the 2018-19 Budget Act. The request was set at $5 Million for the UC System, $5 Million for the CSU System and $20 Million for Community Colleges. The final Budget Act investments approved $10 Million for Community Colleges, but failed to fully fund both the UC and CSU System Programs, awarding each only $1.5 Million.

Western Center’s continued commitment to fighting for increased funding for this work will have a significant impact for students across the state, and serves as a model for ways other states can address student hunger. Hopefully, with its new Governor and with increased federal interest, California will take the necessary steps to fully fund programs to eradicate student hunger in the state.

Ending hunger on college campuses will require sustainable solutions across financial aid and college systems, targeted toward the most vulnerable students. That means we must invest in students where they are at, and do everything in our power to make sure they have access to the tools and resources they need to nourish their minds and bodies.

I am thankful for the help I received on my quest for higher education. Now I want to make sure every student has the opportunity to invest in their education without the debilitating burden of hunger.

 

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Yesenia is currently an Emerson National Hunger Fellow with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute working on Strategies to Reduce Student Hunger on Mass Campuses. Originally from South Central Los Angeles, Yesenia moved into the Ramona Gardens Housing Projects in Boyle Heights, CA, where her pursuit for social justice grew. While at Western Center, her work on school lunch shaming led to the successful passage of Senate Bill 250 and district-wide policy change within Los Angeles Unified School District. Her work serves as a framework for advocates seeking legislation against school lunch shaming.

 

 

Want to Eradicate Hunger in America? Take on Racism.

With more than 40 million people in the country struggling with hunger, anti-hunger advocates in the United States have their work cut out for them. In 2017, nearly 12 percent of all US households were food insecure—meaning they didn’t have access to enough food for all household members to lead active, healthy lives. Food insecurity is stratified across racial lines, affecting less than 9 percent of white households in America, but nearly 22 percent of black households and 18 percent of Latinx households.

…Jessica Bartholow, a poverty-and-hunger advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, agrees that national hunger organizations need to bring a robust racial analysis to their work, particularly with regard to how racist and oppressive systems are impacting efforts to end hunger among people of color. “If you’re not asking how race impacts outcomes in 2019, then you missed something really important about this country,” she said. “We can have the best school-meal program in the world, but if black girls are getting pushed out of school due to racism, they’re not going to get that meal anyway.”

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Nonprofit Dental Insurer Under Scrutiny For ‘Flagrant’ Spending

Dental insurance giant Delta Dental of California is facing mounting criticism for paying its CEO exorbitantly, flying board members and their companions to Barbados for a meeting, and spending a small fraction of its revenue on charitable work — all while receiving significant state and federal tax breaks because of its nonprofit status.

Now, the company — which has 36.5 million enrollees in 15 states and the District of Columbia — is hoping to pay $155 million to acquire a 49.5 percent stake in for-profit medical and dental insurer Moda Health

…In December, Consumer Reports, California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, Health Access and the Western Center on Law & Poverty penned a letter to California regulators asking them to assess whether it’s appropriate for Delta Dental to be investing in a for-profit insurer.

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