State Budgets and Medicaid

  • Governors differ on extent of flexibility for Medicaid, By Amy Goldstein and Dan Balz, February 28, 2011, Washington Post: “Democratic and Republican governors, burdened by crushing budget pressures from Medicaid, said Sunday that federal officials should allow them more freedom to change eligibility rules and other aspects of the public health insurance program for the poor. But they displayed sharp ideological differences over how far such flexibility should go. After a series of private conversations at the National Governors Association’s semiannual meeting over the weekend, leaders of the group formed a bipartisan committee to explore in detail what kind of flexibility over Medicaid the governors can agree to seek from federal health officials. It remains unclear whether they will be able to forge such common ground, given their partisan disagreements over both Medicaid and the new federal law to reshape the health-care system. ‘The closer governors get to Washington, the more they start acting like members of Congress,’ said Oregon Gov. John A. Kitzhaber (D), vice chairman of the NGA’s Health and Human Services Committee, referring to the rancorous debate over health care that persists on Capitol Hill.
  • Governors: Medicaid more a budget buster than ever, By Julie Rovner, February 28, 2011, National Public Radio: “The federal government and the states have shared the cost of Medicaid, the health insurance program for some 60 million low-income Americans, since it was created in 1965. They’ve shared something else almost that long – arguments about who should foot how much of the ever-escalating bill. ‘Medicaid cost growth has been a problem for time immemorial,’ says Alan Weil, executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy. But this time, he says, things are different. For one thing, ‘the program is bigger, so growth on a larger base is more real dollars that’s harder to find…’”

Medicaid Privatization – Florida

Lawmakers poised to privatize Medicaid statewide, By Kelli Kennedy (AP), February 28, 2011, Miami Herald: “Jason Rosenstock typically waits six weeks to see a specialist to treat his pituitary disease, a side effect from a childhood brain tumor. The private insurance company managing his care for Medicaid has repeatedly denied his medications, each denial eliciting a mountain of red tape. The 33-year-old and his mother kept a journal of every phone call and e-mail detailing their fight the past few years as Rosenstock has been bounced between three different health plans. Rosenstock lives in Broward County, the largest of five counties participating in a 2006 pilot program implemented under former Gov. Jeb Bush that puts Medicaid recipients into privately managed care. Gov. Rick Scott and Republican lawmakers want to expand the program statewide during the upcoming legislative session, which begins March 8. Lawmakers say Florida must overhaul Medicaid or its rising costs, which are expected to top $21 billion next year, will overwhelm the budget. The program has nearly 3 million low-income and disabled residents, with the federal government paying more than half the bill. The state is trying to eliminate a $3.6 billion budget deficit…”

Child Abuse and Neglect – Colorado

Number of children abused or neglected in Colorado rises, By Karen Auge, February 28, 2011, Denver Post: “The number of abused or neglected children in Colorado has risen over the past three years, even as the numbers in other states have declined – with 36 children killed by abuse in 2009, up from 27 in 2007. After a dip between 2006 and 2007, the rates of confirmed child abuse and neglect in the state have increased: from 8.3 per 1,000 in 2007, to 8.6 in 2008, to 9.1 per 1,000 in 2009, the latest year for which statistics are available. In 2009, 11,339 of Colorado’s 1.2 million children were maltreated, 641 more than the previous year, according to data collected by the Colorado Department of Human Services child welfare division and provided by the Kempe Center, which treats abused children. During the past two years, 1,236 additional children were abused and neglected compared with 2007. It is not uncommon for more children to get hurt by adults when a stalled economy piles stress on a family, child welfare experts say. Still, states across the country – states where the economy is as bad as or worse than it is in Colorado – reported decreases…”

Application Process for SNAP – Connecticut

State could face sanctions over severe problem with food stamps, By Arielle Levin Becker, February 24, 2011, The Day: “Connecticut wrongly denies food stamps to eligible residents at a higher rate than any other state. It ranks among the worst in the nation in processing food stamp applications on time and paying out accurate levels of benefits. And federal officials warn that without a ‘tremendous turnaround,’ the state could face significant financial sanctions. ‘We’re really concerned with what’s happening in Connecticut,’ James Arena-DeRosa, northeast regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, told members of the Human Services and Appropriations committees Tuesday. Legislators called the figures he presented shocking. Twenty-six percent of cases in which food stamps were denied or cut off were the result of errors, according to preliminary fiscal-year 2010 figures based on a sample of cases. Fewer than 60 percent of applications were processed in a timely manner, and the rate of inaccurate benefit payments was second-worst in the country…”

Medicaid and Home Care

Delaware government: Medicaid care heads home, By Hiran Ratnayake, February 25, 2011, Wilmington News Journal: “Each morning, a home health aide goes to 43-year-old Lisa Hughes’ Newark apartment to help with her day-to-day life. Because of her health needs, Hughes is among close to 17,000 Delaware residents who would benefit from a new state program that could save millions in health care costs while keeping people out of nursing homes. From the time she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 18 years ago, Hughes’ autoimmune disease has slowly progressed. At first, it caused ‘flashbulb spots’ in her vision, but it has progressed to the point that Hughes needs a wheelchair. Aides from Bayada Nurses, a home health care company, help her get ready every morning and prepare to go to bed at night. A Bayada registered nurse — as well as occupational and physical therapists — also check on her twice a week. Hughes, who gets part of her health insurance through Medicaid, wouldn’t have it any other way…”

General Assistance Program – California

Sacramento County’s neediest must wait weeks for aid, By Brad Branan, February 25, 2011, Sacramento Bee: “Sacramento County’s poorest residents are waiting longer to receive cash assistance because of a double whammy common to social service programs these days. The county has fewer caseworkers even as the need for services has increased. The county tries to finish applications for its General Assistance program within six weeks, or two weeks longer than it did a year ago, said Paul Lake, director of the Human Assistance Department. Applications are taking as long as two months to approve, he said. Advocates for the poor, however, say claims are taking two months to three months to complete. The county is hurting these people because they have no other money to survive, advocates say…”

Earned Income Tax Credit

Tax credit helps poor, but many unaware, By Rita Price, February 25, 2011, Columbus Dispatch: “As a single mother who works and goes to college, Brandi Hardgrow adheres to a budget that leaves little room for wiggle – or for unexpected car repairs. But she gets by, and a big reason is her tax savvy. Hardgrow, 29, files for the Earned Income Tax Credit and then carefully manages a hefty refund – sometimes more than $2,500 – that keeps her household humming when her job as a Columbus-schools latchkey worker pauses for summer break. ‘It’s made a total difference in my life,’ she said. Researchers say the EITC is the nation’s best poverty buffer for low-income workers. It’s also an economic boon for their communities because recipients often need to spend a big chunk of their refunds right away…”

Paid Parental Leave

Report decries lack of paid parental leave in US, By David Crary (AP), February 23, 2011, Washington Post: “Americans often take pride in ways their nation differs from others. But one distinction – lack of a nationwide policy of paid maternity leave – is cited in a new report as an embarrassment that could be redressed at low cost and without harm to employers. ‘Despite its enthusiasm about ‘family values,’ the U.S. is decades behind other countries in ensuring the well-being of working families,’ said Janet Walsh, deputy director of the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch. ‘Being an outlier is nothing to be proud of in a case like this.’ Human Rights Watch, based in New York, focuses most of its investigations on abuses abroad. But on Wednesday, with release of a report by Walsh on work/family policies in the U.S., it takes the relatively unusual step of critiquing a phenomenon affecting tens of millions of Americans…”

UNICEF Report: State of the World’s Children 2011

  • One billion people forgotten in fight against poverty, By Annie Kelly, February 25, 2011, The Guardian: “This year Unicef’s annual flagship State of the World’s Children report, released on Friday, focuses exclusively on adolescents. A recognition, says Unicef, of the increasingly urgent need to invest in the world’s 1.2 billion 10-19 year olds, an invisible generation who are nevertheless pivotal in global efforts to reach the UN millenium development goals targets by 2015. The report argues that adolescents are often marginalised in development budgets and programming, and that if this is not corrected then investment in global poverty, health, education and employment goals will be compromised. Many of the world’s teenagers were babies or young children when the MDGs were established in 2000. Since then, many of them will have been the direct beneficiaries of the significant global gains in child survival, primary education, access to safe water and sanitation…”
  • Indian teen girls most ill-fed: UN, By Chetan Chauhan, February 25, 2011, Hindustan Times: “Indian adolescents girls are worse than even those in world’s poorest region — Sub-Saharan Africa – in terms of nutrition and empowerment whereas a majority of boys are at high risk because of their sexual activity, a new United Nations report on adolescents on Friday said. The report, ‘Adolescence an Age of Opportunity’, released three days before the union budget had found that 63 per cent of the Indian boys in the age group of 15-19 were engaged in high-risk sex with non-marital, non-cohabitating partner as compared to just one percent girls in the same age group. Still it was lowest in the developing world with the highest being in South Africa with 95 % boys and 99 % girls reporting high risk sex. The report found sexual activity among Asian children below the age of 15, including India, to be lowest in the world…”

School Lunch Programs

Some schools cut lunch options for kids who struggle to pay, By Alex Johnson, February 21, 2011, MSNBC.com: “At the turn of the new year, the Lee County, Fla., public schools were losing about $2,000 a week on school lunches. Then came the cheese sandwiches. When classes resumed Jan. 3 after the winter break, the district – the 40th-largest in the United States, with about 80,000 pupils – had a problem. Up to 1,100 pupils weren’t paying for their meals, school officials say. Because the National School Lunch Program, or NSLP, requires participating schools to provide nourishing meals for all pupils, what do school administrators do if a pupil shows up in the lunchroom with no cash and with no money left in his or her electronic meal account? Most raise their prices for kids who can pay, according to research by the nonprofit School Nutrition Association, which found that nearly 60 percent of public school districts raised lunch prices in 2009, the last full year for which national figures were available…”

Population Decrease in US Counties

In quarter of U.S. counties, deaths outnumbering births, By Hope Yen and John Raby (AP), February 23, 2011, Las Vegas Review-Journal: “In America’s once-thriving coal country, 87-year-old Ed Shepard laments a prosperous era gone by, when shoppers lined the streets and government lent a helping hand. Now, here as in one-fourth of all U.S. counties, West Virginia’s graying residents are slowly dying off. Hit by an aging population and a poor economy, a near-record number of U.S. counties are experiencing more deaths than births in their communities, a phenomenon demographers call ‘natural decrease.’ Years in the making, the problem is spreading amid a job slump and a push by Republicans in Congress to downsize government and federal spending…”

Health Insurance Coverage for Low-Income Adults – Pennsylvania

In Pa., low-income adults soon may be uninsured, By Jenny Gold, February 23, 2011, National Public Radio: “When Paula Michele Boyle first received the letter earlier this month explaining that her health insurance coverage was being terminated, she took it personally, thinking maybe the insurer had discovered something in her history to make her ineligible. But then the Philadelphia resident read on and realized that it wasn’t just her – the entire program, Pennsylvania’s state-funded health plan for low-income adults, was about to be canceled. For Boyle and her husband, Tom, both self-employed cancer survivors who need regular medical care, the news has been unnerving. ‘We were in shock over this,’ Boyle says. ‘What are we going to do now? We need doctor visits and testing.’ Nearly 42,000 people who participate in the program have received similar notices. Another 494,787 people had been on the waiting list, hoping to get such coverage…”

States and Medicaid Cuts

Obama administration asks states to cut costs without dropping Medicaid coverage, By Marilyn Werber Serafini, February 22, 2011, Washington Post: “The Obama administration is deploying squadrons of in-house experts to help budget-strapped states figure out how to save money on Medicaid, the health program for the poor that has been a source of rising tensions between state capitals and Washington. In recent weeks, both Democratic and Republican governors have been pressing the administration to be flexible in enforcing a requirement in the new health-care law that bars states from tightening eligibility for the program between now and 2014, when an additional 16 million people will be eligible for the program. Some states want to tighten eligibility now to curb spending. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has a difficult balancing act. The former governor of Kansas wants to improve relations with the governors, who are due Saturday in Washington for a big meeting. But she also wants to expand Medicaid, not shrink it…”

Financial Services in Poor Areas

Bank closings tilt toward poor areas, By Nelson D. Schwartz, February 22, 2011, New York Times: “Until it closed its doors in December, the Ohio Savings Bank branch on North Moreland Boulevard was a neighborhood anchor in Cleveland, midway between the mansions of Shaker Heights and the ramshackle bungalows of the city’s east side. Now it sits boarded up, a victim not only of Cleveland’s economic troubles but also of a broader trend of bank branch closings that is falling more heavily on low- and moderate-income neighborhoods across the country. In 2010, for the first time in 15 years, more bank branches closed than opened across the United States. An analysis of government data shows, however, that even as banks shut branches in poorer areas, they continued to expand in wealthier ones, despite decades of government regulations requiring financial institutions to meet the credit needs of poor and middle-class neighborhoods…”

Kids Count Report – Illinois

  • Group says early education investment saves money, By Zachary Colman (AP), February 17, 2011, Chicago Tribune: “With more Illinois children falling into poverty, investing in early childhood education today could save the state millions of dollars in the future, an advocacy group said Thursday. Voices for Illinois Children acknowledged the state has a huge budget deficit and is cutting many programs. But the group’s president, former state lawmaker Kathy Ryg, said services for children in fourth grade and below should be spared from budget cuts if the state wants to prevent a drain on social services when the children are older…”
  • Organization reports disparities in children’s reading skills, By Kathy Millen, February 18, 2011, Naperville Sun: “If the measure of reading skills at the beginning of fourth grade is a predictor of future success, then many Illinois children may be looking at a lifetime of struggles. By the time they’re leaving third grade, children typically make the transition from learning to read to reading to learn. But in recent years, reading scores at these grade levels have barely improved in Illinois. Wide disparities among student groups remain, especially among the 45 percent of public school students who come from low-income families. That was the conclusion of a report from Voices for Illinois Children, a group focusing on improving the lives of children throughout the state…”
  • Report shows Knox County students perform better than state averages, By Tom Loewy, February 18, 2011, Galesburg Register-Mail: “An annual report focused on the well-being of Illinois’ children released more data Thursday that showed an increasing number of kids in Knox County live in households struggling to make ends meet. But the Voices for Illinois Children’s ’2011 Illinois Kids Count’ data reports did show that despite economic and social challenges, Knox County’s third-graders performed above the state averages on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test during the 2009-2010 school year. According to ’2011 Illinois Kids Count,’ 81.8 percent of third-graders in Knox County meet or exceed the state standard in reading. Only 73.7 percent of their counterparts in the state meet or exceed the state standard in reading…”

State Medicaid Program – Texas

  • State keeps pressing for waiver to change Medicaid, but success is unlikely, By Emily Ramshawand Marilyn Werber Serafini, February 17, 2011, New York Times: “Just a few months ago, Gov. Rick Perry led a group of Texas lawmakers who were threatening to drop out of Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for the poor. A state analysis showing that Texas would lose billions of dollars in financing put an end to talk of opting out. Now, the debate has shifted, as Texas and other struggling states ask Washington for permission to operate the program as they see fit. Their approach – finding savings by curbing mandatory benefits or limiting eligibility among Medicaid populations – is unlikely to be approved by the Obama administration, which is intent on expanding Medicaid, not shrinking it. And while pressing for a waiver is a far cry from threatening to drop out, it may have the same result: fueling the fire behind Texas’ anti-Washington, state-sovereignty rhetoric…”
  • Cutting Medicaid harder than issuing soundbites, senators learn, By Robert T. Garrett, February 14, 2011, Dallas Morning News: “Texas budget writers are finding that cutting Medicaid is harder than it sounds. Reducing services that states don’t have to provide for poor adults is already a part of both chambers’ initial budgets. But Senate health budget writers were warned Monday to tread carefully for fear of costing the state more in the long run…”

Rural Broadband Access

Digital age is slow to arrive in rural America, By Kim Severson, February 17, 2011, New York Times: “After a couple of days in this part of rural Alabama, it is hard to complain about a dropped iPhone call or a Cee Lo video that takes a few seconds too long to load. The county administrator cannot get broadband at her house. Neither can the sportswriter at The Thomasville Times. Here in Coffeeville, the only computer many students ever touch is at the high school. ‘I’m missing a whole lot,’ said Justin Bell, 17. ‘I know that.’ As the world embraces its digital age – two billion people now use the Internet regularly – the line delineating two Americas has become more broadly drawn. There are those who have reliable, fast access to the Internet, and those, like about half of the 27,867 people here in Clarke County, who do not. In rural America, only 60 percent of households use broadband Internet service, according to a report released Thursday by the Department of Commerce. That is 10 percent less than urban households. Over all, 28 percent of Americans do not use the Internet at all…”

State Unemployment Insurance Funds

As unemployment insurance debts mount, interest payments loom, By Pamela M. Prah, February 16, 2011, Stateline.org: “For more than two years, stubbornly high unemployment has been taking a toll on the nation’s workforce, but for states, the mounting costs of paying benefits to millions of people who can’t find work are only beginning to become clear. Come this fall, some 30 states will be on the hook for paying $1.3 billion to the federal government for loans they took out to keep sending unemployment checks to workers who’ve lost their jobs. And that’s just the interest. In total, states owe the feds more than $42 billion, a tab they hope will evaporate on its own as the economy improves but will require decreasing benefits or raising taxes on businesses if it doesn’t…”

Welfare Reform – Britain

  • Britain begins welfare overhaul, By Sarah Lyall, February 17, 2011, New York Times: “The British government on Thursday introduced legislation that it said would simplify and reduce the cost of the country’s welfare system, saying that it wanted to change a culture in which people on welfare risk losing income if they find jobs. Calling his proposals ‘the most ambitious, fundamental and radical changes to the welfare system since it began,’ after World War II, Prime Minister David Cameron said in a speech here that they were based on a simple idea: ‘Never again will work be the wrong financial choice…’”
  • Welfare reform: Find a job or lose benefits, mothers to be told, By Patrick Wintour, February 17, 2011, The Guardian: “All stay at home mothers claiming the government’s new universal credit will be required to make themselves available for work or lose state support, putting them on a par with single parents for the first time. The requirement would apply to mothers with children aged over seven. The proposals came in the government’s welfare bill published on Thursday and were hailed by David Cameron as ‘tough, radical … but fair’. His remarks came as ministers published a raft of figures alongside the bill, for the first time showing the full impact of the introduction of universal credit and other welfare cutbacks announced by ministers. The figures show 1.7m households will lose out from the universal credit reforms…”
  • Welfare reform: ‘most radical shake-up for 60 years’, By Randeep Ramesh, February 17, 2011, The Guardian: “Iain Duncan Smith’s radical welfare bill, perhaps the most significant reshaping of the welfare state in 60 years, aims to simplify the system of subsidies that covers everything from income support to housing benefit to sickness payments. For the government the aim is to remove the benefit traps that see some people lose 90p in every extra pound they earn as means-tested benefits are withdrawn. The new system will be paid for by deep cuts in welfare, as ministers push through savings of £18bn over the next four years. There are signs of an unseemly rush to push through the bill, with details on a new child maintenance scheme published two months before a consultation on the issue is finished…”

Medicaid Eligibility – Arizona

Sebelius clears the way for Arizona to shed adults from Medicaid, By Kevin Sack, February 16, 2011, New York Times: “The Obama administration gave a green light on Tuesday to Arizona’s plan to remove about 250,000 adults from its Medicaid rolls, instructing the state that it could circumvent a requirement in the new health care law that prohibits reductions in eligibility. In a letter to Gov. Jan Brewer, the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, wrote that Arizona’s expansion of Medicaid to cover low-income childless adults had been enacted a decade ago with special permission from the federal government, known as a waiver. That waiver, Ms. Sebelius wrote, is time-limited and expires Sept. 30…”