US Wealth Gap

  • U.S. wealth gap is widest in at least 30 years, study finds, By Patricia Cohen, December 17, 2014, New York Times: “The wealthy are getting wealthier. As for everyone else, no such luck. A report released on Wednesday by the Pew Research Center found that the wealth gap between the country’s top 20 percent of earners and the rest of America had stretched to its widest point in at least three decades. Last year, the median net worth of upper-income families reached $639,400, nearly seven times as much of those in the middle, and nearly 70 times the level of those at the bottom of the income ladder…”
  • Wealth gap in America widens to record level, report says, By Don Lee, December 17, 2014, Los Angeles Times: “The wealth gap between middle- and upper-income households has widened to the highest level on record, says a new report. Using the latest Federal Reserve data, the Pew Research Center said Wednesday that the median wealth for high-income families was $639,400 last year — up 7% from three years earlier on an inflation-adjusted basis. For middle-income families, the median wealth — that is, assets minus debts — stood at $96,500 last year, unchanged from 2010. The result is that the typical wealth of the nation’s upper-income households last year was nearly seven times that of middle-class ones…”

Child Poverty

A tremendous number of school children in America still live in poverty, By Emily Badger, December 17, 2014, Washington Post: “Earlier this fall, the Census Bureau reported that child poverty in America is finally declining for the first time in more than a decade. But while the national trend is ticking down, in many parts of the country — particularly the South — poverty rates for kids are still above the national average and higher than they were before the start of the recession. According to new Census data out today, poverty rates for school-aged children in 2013 were still above their 2007 levels in nearly a third of all counties, many of them clustered around metro areas in California, Arizona, Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina…”

State Welfare Reforms

  • Republican governors push to reshape welfare programs, By Damian Paletta and Mark Peters, December 15, 2014, Wall Street Journal: “A large number of Republican governors are pushing to reshape social-welfare programs with drug testing or other requirements, arguing that the new rules better prepare recipients for employment and assure taxpayers that the benefit money is well spent. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, fresh off his re-election, said he would propose his state join several others in mandating drug screening for people seeking nutrition or cash assistance. Utah Republicans want to require that certain residents allow the state to assist them in finding a job if they want to collect benefits through Medicaid, the health-care program for low-income and disabled Americans. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is proposing Medicaid recipients kick in at least a few dollars a month as a condition for receiving benefits…”
  • LePage to pursue welfare restrictions, more job training in 2015, commissioner says, By Michael Shepherd, December 17, 2014, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel: “Gov. Paul LePage will pursue restrictions on food stamps and cash welfare benefits and expand job training to Medicaid recipients when the Maine Legislature convenes next month, one of his top lieutenants said on Wednesday. The proposed welfare limitations, outlined by Mary Mayhew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, are nothing new. The Republican governor tried unsuccessfully to get those ideas through the Democrat-led Legislature over the past two years. He may struggle to get them through a Democrat-led House of Representatives this year…”

Free School Lunch Program

Free lunch pilot program lets districts feed everyone at high-poverty schools, By Erin Duffy, December 15, 2014, Omaha World-Herald: “Omaha Public Schools officials hope a new free lunch pilot program being launched in six schools will speed up lunch lines, cut paperwork and fill more rumbling tummies. Starting Jan. 20, six high-poverty schools in north Omaha will start serving free meals to all students, regardless of income, no questions asked. Only one other school district in the state — Santee Community Schools, a reservation school in Niobrara with fewer than 200 students — has opted in for the program, a piece of the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010…”

States and Medicaid Expansion

  • Haslam’s Tennessee Plan would expand health coverage, By Dave Boucher, December 15, 2014, The Tennessean: “In a major policy move, Gov. Bill Haslam has announced the new Insure Tennessee plan, a two-year pilot program that would provide health care coverage to tens of thousands of Tennesseans who currently don’t have access to health insurance or have limited options. The plan would be leveraged with federal dollars, said Haslam, who has been working for more than a year on a Medicaid expansion plan that could gain approval from both federal officials and the Republican-dominated state legislature…”
  • Medicaid expansion could be months away in Alaska, Associated Press, December 14, 2014, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: “State health commissioner Valerie Davidson said it could be July before the state is in a position to begin enrolling Alaskans under expanded Medicaid coverage. Davidson said issues need to be worked out with a Medicaid eligibility system as well as with a Medicaid payment system that has been plagued by problems since going live in 2013. Both are being converted from one technology system to another, she said…”
  • Robert Bentley suggests he could accept Medicaid expansion, By Brian Lyman, December 12, 2014, Montgomery Advertiser: “Gov. Robert Bentley suggested Thursday that he could support an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program in the form of a block grant with employment requirements. In remarks before lawmakers wrapping up three days of legislative orientation, Bentley — who for years has expressed staunch opposition to expansion — said he would not expand the system until proposed reforms of the state system go into effect. However, he added he would be open to discussing a block grant program, similar to an expansion that took place in Arkansas this year…”

Medical-Legal Partnerships

Need a doctor? This anti-poverty program will get you a lawyer, too, By Seth Freed Wessler and Kat Aaron, December 13, 2014, NBC News: “When Tony Cox, 53, woke up in the hospital after suffering a heart attack when he fell off a ladder during a roofing job, he figured he’d hit bottom. ‘All I could think about was getting better and getting back to my family,’ he says. But that day in the hospital was not his lowest point. Over a year later, a sheriff’s deputy arrived at the modest two-bedroom house Cox shares with his wife Donna and their now 16-year-old son bearing a notice that their home was in foreclosure. Out of work from the injury, Cox had fallen behind on mortgage payments. ‘We were getting ready to be homeless, to move in with family,’ Donna says. ‘We would have been separated.’ The couple tried to catch up, to renegotiate their mortgage, but could not make the payments—not until they sought help from a legal services attorney, who brought the foreclosure case to court and compelled the bank to renegotiate the terms of their loan. Over the coming years, the person who saved Cox from the worst consequence of his heart attack was not a doctor but a lawyer…”

Food Insecurity in the U.S.

America’s real hunger game: 50 million in crisis, By Steve James, December 12, 2014, NBC News: “In the richest country in the world, nearly 1 in 6 Americans go to bed hungry. As the holiday season of giving approaches, the slow recovery from the 2008 recession and cuts in the government’s anti-hunger programs have only put more children and seniors at risk, advocates for the poor and hungry say. Corporations are finding more creative ways to help fight the scourge, but the number of hungry has risen, percolating up into the middle class and sparking fears for the welfare of aging baby boomers…”

Homelessness and Hunger in U.S. Cities

  • Survey finds acute homelessness in Boston, By Katie Johnston, December 11, 2014, Boston Globe: “More Boston residents are living in emergency shelters than in any of 25 major cities surveyed nationwide, according to a report released Thursday by the US Conference of Mayors. The survey provided a detailed snapshot of Boston’s homeless population, including the revelation that a quarter of the city’s homeless adults have jobs. In Trenton, N.J., by comparison, only 4 percent are employed. Still, these jobs don’t pay enough to put a roof over their heads…”
  • U.S. mayors fear hunger, homelessness will rise under GOP Congress, By Christopher Smart, December 11, 2014, Salt Lake Tribune: “City officials who deal with poverty at street level every day across America are bracing for potential cuts in social programs as a Republican-dominated Congress takes over next month. A new report on hunger and homelessness underscores those concerns, painting a grim picture of life on the lower rungs of the economic ladder — despite a recovering economy. Although progress has been made on some fronts, city leaders fear food stamps could be pared back and worry that federal funding for housing might not keep pace with rising costs…”
  • Major cities, including Cleveland, expect ongoing issues over hunger and homelessness, study says, By Roxanne Washington, December 12, 2014, Cleveland Plain Dealer: “Requests for emergency food is expected to increase over the next year in several metropolitan areas, while meeting those needs could continue to fall short, says a task force of some U.S. cities, including Cleveland. The findings are from the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors Status on Hunger and Homelessness report released Thursday. Twenty-five cities with populations of 30,000 or more were surveyed…”

Drug Testing and Public Assistance Programs

Drug-testing welfare recipients: War on drugs or war on the poor?, By Husna Haq, December 11, 2014, Christian Science Monitor: “The Michigan Senate Wednesday approved legislation that would require welfare recipients undergo drug testing, a controversial policy that’s created a contentious debate. While supporters say the Republican-backed legislation targets drug use and encourages responsible public spending, critics say it is unconstitutional, humiliating, and wasteful…”

Children’s Health Insurance Coverage

  • Children’s health program faces cloudy future under ACA, By Christine Vestal, December 4, 2014, Stateline: “The Children’s Health Insurance Program got a big boost under the Affordable Care Act, which called for an increase in federal funding for the program and required states to maintain 2010 enrollment levels through 2019. But in the waning days of the lame-duck Congress, it is still not clear when or whether funding for the federal-state, low-income children’s health plan known as CHIP will be authorized beyond Sept. 30, when it is set to expire…”
  • Reports: Fewer uninsured children in Florida, but challenges ahead for public program, By Daniel Chang, December 4, 2014, Miami Herald: “In Florida, as in the rest of the nation, the number of children without healthcare coverage has declined during the last five years — but the Sunshine State still has one of the country’s highest rates of uninsured children, a challenge that could be met or missed depending on policy decisions on the state and federal levels, according to a brief published this week by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. While the number of uninsured children aged 18 and younger in the state has decreased from about 668,000 in 2008 to 445,000 in 2013, according to the report, Florida has the highest rate in the South and fifth highest in the nation…”

Availability of Medicaid Doctors

  • Half of doctors listed as serving Medicaid patients are unavailable, investigation finds, By Robert Pear, December 8, 2014, New York Times: “Large numbers of doctors who are listed as serving Medicaid patients are not available to treat them, federal investigators said in a new report. ‘Half of providers could not offer appointments to enrollees,’ the investigators said in the report, which will be issued on Tuesday. Many of the doctors were not accepting new Medicaid patients or could not be found at their last known addresses, according to the report from the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. The study raises questions about access to care for people gaining Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act…”
  • Report: Many U.S. Medicaid doctors often unavailable, By Bill Toland and Kate Giammarise, December 10, 2014, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “A new federal report suggesting a substantial percentage of U.S. doctors who are supposed to see Medicaid patients are unable or unavailable to do so bolsters outgoing Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s claim that Pennsylvania’s working poor could be better served with private health insurance coverage. In a report issued Tuesday, the U.S. Office of the Inspector General found that ‘slightly more than half of providers could not offer appointments to enrollees.’ Medicaid enrollees are supposed to select their doctors from a list of providers connected to each Medicaid managed care plan…”
  • Doctors face steep Medicaid cuts as fee boost ends, By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar (AP), December 10, 2014, ABC News: “Primary care doctors caring for low-income patients will face steep fee cuts next year as a temporary program in President Barack Obama’s health care law expires. That could squeeze access just when millions of new patients are gaining Medicaid coverage. A study Wednesday from the nonpartisan Urban Institute estimated fee reductions will average about 40 percent nationwide. But they could reach 50 percent or more for primary care doctors in California, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois – big states that have all expanded Medicaid under the health law…”

SNAP EBT Cards – Massachusetts

US orders Mass. to fix food stamp procedures, By Megan Woolhouse, December 8, 2014, Boston Globe: “Massachusetts last year became one of the first states to require food stamp cards to include photos of recipients, but the new program has created such confusion that some low-income families are unable to buy groceries and the federal government is demanding that the state quickly fix the problem. The cards, known as EBTs, an acronym for Electronic Benefit Transfer, act like debit cards and are issued to heads of households. But some store cashiers have turned away the recipients’ family members or others in the household — who can legally use the benefits — because they do not match the photos. Such practices violate federal rules, which require retailers to treat food stamp recipients like any other customer…”

Medicaid Programs – Oregon, California

  • Oregon to use Kentucky Medicaid system, By Saerom Yoo, December 9, 2014, Statesman Journal: “The Oregon Health Authority will import Kentucky’s online Medicaid enrollment system, marking the second phase of the state’s transition in the face of last year’s Cover Oregon technology mess. OHA Medicaid Director Judy Mohr Peterson made the announcement to legislators in the Capitol on Monday, saying the Kentucky exchange system has been successful, that it has the kind of functionality Oregon needs and that the state has a similar Medicaid population to Oregon…”
  • California managed-care pilot program meets resistance, By Anna Gorman, December 6, 2014, Washington Post: “California’s initial efforts to move almost 500,000 low-income seniors and disabled people automatically into managed care has been rife with problems in its first six months, leading to widespread confusion, frustration and resistance. Many beneficiaries have received stacks of paperwork they don’t understand. Some have been mistakenly shifted to the new insurance coverage or are unaware they were enrolled. And a third of those targeted for enrollment through Nov. 1 opted out, indicating they will stick with their traditional coverage. Prompted by the Affordable Care Act, the federal government is trying to streamline services and cut costs for the 9 million Americans who are in both Medicare and Medicaid. A dozen states have received grants to launch pilot projects, and five are enrolling participants — Virginia, Ohio, Massachusetts, Illinois and California…”

School Voucher Programs – Wisconsin

Wisconsin voucher programs march toward 30,000 student threshold, By Erin Richards, December 8, 2014, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “The total number of students receiving private-school tuition vouchers in Wisconsin is about to cross the 30,000 threshold. The three voucher programs in Milwaukee, Racine and statewide enroll 29,683 students, according to results of the official state headcount in September. That makes Wisconsin a leading state when it comes to the number of students attending private, mostly religious schools with the help of taxpayer-funded tuition subsidies…”

Drug Testing and Public Assistance Programs

  • Kansas is testing few welfare recipients for drugs, By Brad Cooper, December 1, 2014, Kansas City Star: “Drug-testing welfare applicants often gets the knock that it costs so much and catches so few. In Kansas, drug testing catches so few because it’s testing so few. After its first four months, a new Kansas law for testing welfare applicants for drugs is off to a sluggish start, only testing 20 applicants. Four tested positive. Five others refused the test. The law, passed by the Legislature in 2013, took effect July 1. It was billed as a way of weaning the less affluent off drugs, getting them treatment and job training and helping them out of poverty…”
  • Court rejects Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s drug testing of welfare applicants, By Mary Ellen Klas, December 3, 2014, Miami Herald: “A federal appeals court on Wednesday dealt another blow to Gov. Rick Scott’s crusade to conduct drug tests on welfare applicants when it upheld a lower court ruling that the practice was unconstitutional. The unanimous ruling from a bipartisan panel of judges concluded that the state failed to show any evidence as to why it was necessary to force applicants seeking Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to surrender their constitutional rights as a condition of receiving the aid…”
  • Welfare drug testing pilot program approved by Michigan House, By Jonathan Oosting, December 3, 2014, MLive: “The Michigan House on Wednesday approved a long-discussed pilot program that would mandate suspicion-based drug testing for welfare recipients, who could lose cash benefits for failing more than one test. The two-bill package, approved by the Senate in an earlier form but now awaiting final concurrence, would require the Michigan Department of Human Services to launch a one-year pilot program in at least three counties beginning by October 2015…”

Child Homelessness in the US

‘Invisible’ homeless kids challenge states, By Teresa Wiltz, December 03, 2014, Stateline: “Chances are you won’t see one of the nation’s fastest growing homeless populations camped out on a park bench or queuing up at a local shelter. One in 30 of American children is homeless—an all-time high of 2.5 million, according to a new report by the National Center on Family Homelessness (NCFH). But these kids are often invisible, crashing with their families on friends’ couches, sleeping in all-night diners or hopping from motel to motel from week to week. Some states have begun to focus on helping such children, but their efforts are being complicated by the way the federal government counts them…”

Medicaid Program – Arizona

In Arizona, swings in Medicaid access show program’s impact, By Noam N. Levey, November 30 2014, Los Angeles Times: “Bad timing turned Karen Slone’s medical problem into a crisis. Slone, 53, a former administrative assistant with diabetes, followed doctors’ advice for years, getting regular checkups. Then, last year, she lost her job and her insurance, and stopped going to the doctor. When she spotted a sore on her foot, a common complication of diabetes, Slone tried Neosporin and Band-Aids. By the time she went to an emergency room weeks later, she had a raging infection. Surgeons had to remove bones in two toes. ‘It was awful,’ Slone recalled. ‘If I’d have been covered, I would have gone to the doctor sooner.’ For low-income adults like Slone, Arizona was once a trailblazer in healthcare, providing broad access to Medicaid, the government health plan for the poor…”

Full-Day Preschool

  • Full-day preschool better than part-day, study shows, By Lauren Fitzpatrick, November 28, 2014, Chicago Sun-Times: “Children who went to full-day preschool at one of Chicago’s Midwest Child Parent Centers had higher attendance, lower chronic truancy and were generally better prepared for kindergarten than children who attended only part of the day. That’s according to a new report published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association from the Human Capital Research Collaborative which studied about 1,000 children enrolled during the 2012-13 school year, the first year the Collaborative helped organize full-day programs in Chicago…”
  • Full-day preschool prepares kids better for kindergarten, Minnesota study concludes, Associated Press, November 26, 2014, The Oregonian: “A new study at the University of Minnesota found that child participants who attended all-day preschool were better prepared for kindergarten than those who didn’t. Early childhood education advocates say the results show Minnesota should invest more in preschool programs. They say the move could help narrow the achievement gap between white and minority students in Minnesota…”

Low-Wage Work

  • Low wages keep restaurant workers in cycle of poverty, By Mackensey Lunsford, November 22, 2014, Asheville Citizen-Times: “Here’s what goes into a rough shift for Andrea Bourgeois, waitress at a Mills River restaurant. Scrub the bathroom floors. Deal with a finicky patron, or two — or more. Stay at it for $2.13 an hour. Leave with $20 in bills and some change. It’s not an uncommon scene for restaurant workers, who have seen hours cut and wages stay the same while some chains have enjoyed bottom-line growth. But as servers and kitchen workers battle a paycheck-to-paycheck life, smaller independent restaurants face challenges of their own, a problem highlighted in Asheville because of the size of its food industry…”
  • Boosting minimum wage could be a net loss for some, By Anna Staver, November 23, 2014, Salem Statesman Journal: “Gov. John Kitzhaber wants to raise the minimum wage. The easy part would be passing legislation. Which means the hard part isn’t convincing Republicans or business advocacy groups to go along with the idea, it’s explaining to minimum wage advocates how raising wages for low-income Oregonians without adjusting the social safety net could do more harm than good…”
  • Nebraska’s ‘real’ minimum wage will be nation’s highest, By Zach Pluhacek, November 26, 2014, Lincoln Journal Star: “Nebraska’s minimum wage is on track to top the charts. The $9 hourly rate that goes into effect in 2016 will equal about $10 an hour when adjusted for cost of living, which should make it the highest effective statewide minimum wage in the nation. The effective minimum wage is based on an analysis of state minimums and federal cost-of-living data from 2012, the most recent year for which data are available…”

Legal Aid in Civil Cases

A push for legal aid in civil cases finds its advocates, By Erik Eckholm and Ian Lovett, November 21, 2014, New York Times: “Lorenza and German Artiga raised six children in a rent-controlled bungalow here, their only home since they moved from El Salvador 29 years ago. So they were stunned this past summer when their landlord served them with eviction papers, claiming that their 12-year-old granddaughter Carolyn, whose mother was killed in a car crash in 2007, was an illegal occupant. Up against a seasoned lawyer and bewildering paperwork, the couple, who speak little English and could never afford a lawyer, would very likely have been forced out of their home and the landlord could have raised the rent for new tenants…”