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…”

Working Households and Basic Needs – Florida

United Way study finds working families struggling to get by, By Jenny Staletovich, November 11, 2014, Miami Herald: “Almost half the residents of Florida, including much of the state’s glitzy southern half, are barely getting by, living below the federal poverty level or struggling to pay for food, housing, childcare and other basic needs, according to a United Way study released Tuesday. Dubbed the ALICE report, the study looks closely at the working poor — those people squeezed between the nation’s poorest and its middle class, often overlooked and living paycheck-to-paycheck. Statewide, about 2.1 million households fall into the category, the report found. In Miami-Dade County, the rate is even higher: 21 percent of households live below the federal poverty level and an additional 29 percent can’t afford a ‘survival budget…'”

Students and Internet Access

With no Internet at home, Miami-Dade kids crowd libraries for online homework, By Douglas Hanks, October 12, 2014, Miami Herald: “Once again, Christina Morua found herself in the South Dade library longer than she would like on a school night. The 28-year-old single mom sat in the bustling children’s section on a recent Thursday, waiting for her fourth-grader to get on a computer and start some online math homework. ‘We don’t have any Internet at home,’ Morua said as her oldest, 11-year-old Abel, clicked through an assignment on a library laptop while Alina, 9, waited for her turn at a desktop. ‘We just reserved a computer. We have to wait 70 minutes. He got one of the last laptops.’ With more school materials heading online, parents like Morua find they can no longer count on home for homework. That leaves Miami-Dade libraries as a crucial venue for their youngest patrons, but funding challenges, reduced hours on school nights and aging equipment have made it harder to meet the demand…”

Medicaid Expansion for Children – Texas, Florida

Texas and Florida did expand Medicaid — for kids, By Phil Galewitz, September 29, 2014, USA Today: “Republican lawmakers in Florida and Texas snubbed the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion for adults, but their states did broaden the program this year — for school-age children. Those states were among 21 — including some big Democrat-led states, such as California — that were required to widen Medicaid eligibility for children between the ages of 6 and 18 by 2014. That little-known provision of the health law was one factor helping 1.5 million kids gain coverage in the state-federal health insurance program for the poor, according to a survey of a dozen states by Kaiser Health News…”

Child Welfare System – Florida

Florida Senate moves forward with massive rewrite of child welfare laws, By Mary Ellen Klas and Carol Marbin Miller, Miami Herald: “A key Senate committee approved a sweeping overhaul of Florida’s child welfare law Wednesday, the first step toward passage of a series of reforms designed to stanch the deaths of children at the hands of their parents or other caregivers. The proposal, an amendment to SB 1666 approved by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, is the most significant revamp of the state’s child welfare system in at least a decade. It aims to increase the quality and quantity of child protection investigators and strengthen the ability of the state to remove a vulnerable child from an unsafe home after the parents have demonstrated a pattern of neglect or abuse…”

Miami Herald Series on Florida Child Welfare System

Innocents Lost: a Miami Herald I-Team investigation, series homepage, March 2014, Miami Herald: “After Florida cut protections for children from troubled homes, more children died, often in cruel and preventable ways. To understand the magnitude of the problem — and possible solutions — the Herald studied every death over a six-year period involving families with child welfare histories. This series is the result of a year’s worth of reporting by the Herald’s Investigation Team, and multiple lawsuits to obtain state death records…”

State Unemployment Systems – Florida, Massachusetts

  • Unemployment without benefits, By Matt Dixon, February 17, 2014, Florida Times-Union: “When lawmakers passed a $63 million ‘modernization’ of the state’s unemployment compensation system in 2011, proponents promised it would ‘improve the claims, benefits and appeals process.’ So far, the opposite has been true. Instead of streamlining the system, the changes have created a technological mess that has blocked or delayed badly needed benefits to more than 100,000 Floridians who lost their jobs through no fault of their own. The modernization project, dubbed ‘Project CONNECT,’ was passed along partisan lines, with Democrats and some legal groups in opposition. So far, many of their fears have been realized, according to a Times-Union investigation…”
  • Jobless aid still eluding some in Mass., By Megan Woolhouse, February 18, 2014, Boston Globe: “Devastated by the layoff last year from her job of 15 years, Heidi Thompson-Totman found new hope when she was approved for a federally funded program that would provide her with up to about a year of unemployment benefits while she retrained to work as a graphic designer. Borrowing $2,000 to cover tuition and enrolling at North Shore Community College last fall, Thompson-Totman looked forward to completing her associate’s degree and getting back to work — until her weekly benefit of about $300 stopped without explanation two months ago. Now, she and her husband, barely getting by, are planning to sell their Boxford home so they can pay college tuition for their two children. ‘We are going downhill fast,’ said Thompson-Totman, 47. ‘We can’t make our bills.’ Thompson-Totman is among many jobless Massachusetts residents enrolled in or approved for retraining programs who had benefits mistakenly cut off or delayed because of another defect in the new $46 million computer system for managing unemployment claims…”

Recession and Poverty

  • After recession, economic gap widens, By Michael Pollick, September 29, 2013, Sarasota Herald-Tribune: “For Realtors selling million-dollar homes and wealth managers who control seven-figure nest eggs in Southwest Florida, the recession that began in 2007 was more of a bother than a crisis. Navigating the Great Recession, at least for the uber-rich and those who make handsome livings catering to them, provided as many opportunities as problems…”
  • Great Recession won’t recede for many, By Michael Pollick, September 29, 2013, Sarasota Herald-Tribune: “When Joel Sugar moved to Sarasota from Illinois in 2006, Southwest Florida’s economy was humming along at an unprecedented pace. Housing prices were skyrocketing, jobs were plentiful, opportunities seemed endless. For Sugar and countless others, those days seem like a lifetime ago. ‘I honestly cannot believe how much our standard of living has dropped, and how we have accepted it,’ said Sugar, who in better times owned a jewelry store in Joliet, Ill…”
  • In urban North Carolina, deep pockets of misery are masked, By Gene Nichol, September 29, 2013, News and Observer: “It’s common to think of North Carolina poverty on a rural-urban axis. We’ve become a state, the narrative goes, of booming, economically vibrant metropolitan centers accompanied by in many instances struggling, chronically poor rural communities. The traditional portrait is accurate, so far as it goes. Per capita income is markedly higher in urban counties. Poverty and unemployment rates, on average, are elevated in rural ones. Our policy framework, understandably, reflects the divide…”

States and the Affordable Care Act

  • As healthcare law rolls out, its effects will depend on your state, By Noam N. Levey, September 6, 2013, Los Angeles Times: “Colorado residents shopping for health insurance next year will be able to compare health plans using a star system that ranks insurance companies on quality. In Oregon and Maryland, consumers will save as much as 30% on some plans after state regulators forced insurers to lower 2014 premiums. Californians will get extra help selecting a health plan next year from a small army of community workers paid in part by foundations and the state. As President Obama’s healthcare law rolls out next month, even supporters acknowledge there will be problems. But Americans who live in states backing the Affordable Care Act will receive substantial protections and assistance unavailable to residents in states still fighting the 2010 law…”
  • Law will shift demographics for Medicaid toward healthier group, study finds, By Ankita Rao, September 9, 2013, Washington Post: “The health law is expected to change the face of Medicaid – literally. As part of the federal overhaul, some states have opted to expand in January this state-federal health insurance program for low income people to include Americans who earn as much as 138 percent of the federal poverty line (just under $16,000 for an individual in 2013). As a result, the new enrollees will include more white, male and healthy individuals than those eligible before the Affordable Care Act expansion, according to a study in the Annals of Family Medicine…”
  • Corbett weighing Medicaid expansion if tied to changes, By Don Sapatkin, September 11, 2013, Philadelphia Inquirer: “Gov. Corbett is considering an expansion of Medicaid to cover hundreds of thousands of uninsured residents if he can also win significant changes to the existing part of the entitlement program, which otherwise would continue in its current form. Linking the two issues – a Medicaid expansion envisioned by the Affordable Care Act and money-saving changes in a program that he considers unsustainable – could achieve goals sought by liberals and conservatives. But it will require a delicate balancing act with both parties in Harrisburg as well as the Obama administration…”
  • Lack of Medicaid expansion puts some Floridians in new donut hole, By Marni Jameson, September 13, 2013, Orlando Sentinel: “Nearly 1 million Floridians will fall through a large donut hole next month when the health insurance exchange — a key element in the Affordable Care Act — opens. The unintended coverage gap in the new health-care law will put a large group of uninsured residents right in the middle — not earning enough to qualify for tax credits available through the exchange, but earning too much to qualify for Medicaid…”

Youth Homelessness – Florida

Miami-Dade volunteers survey kids on the street, By Elinor J. Brecher, August 29, 2013, Miami Herald: “Armed with some disquieting statistics about why kids end up on the streets, about 100 volunteers fanned out across Miami-Dade County on Thursday for a headcount of homeless 13 to 24-year-olds. Called ‘iCount,’ the Housing Survey for Youth Under 25 was a joint effort of the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust and the Miami Coalition for the Homeless, with support from organizations that deal with at-risk youth, including the Miami-Dade school system’s Homeless Education Program, Miami Bridge, Pridelines, The Alliance for GLBTQ Youth, Our Kids, Switchboard of Miami and Educate Tomorrow…”

Growing Number of Charter Schools

  • Charter schools a growing trend, By Gabrielle Russon, August 25, 2013, Herald Tribune: “With charter school enrollment booming across Florida, nine groups are seeking to capitalize on the trend by opening new charters in Southwest Florida. Six groups in Sarasota County and three in Manatee County have applied to start charter schools in the 2014-15 year. The statewide deadline to submit applications for next school year passed earlier this month.Throughout Florida, the number of charter schools is on the rise, jumping from 579 in 2012-13 to an estimated 625 this year, or by 8 percent, according to the state’s Department of Education…”
  •  New crop of charter schools opens doors, By Jennifer Smith Richards, August 26, 2013, The Columbus Dispatch: “About a third of the new charter schools set to open this fall in Ohio are opening in Columbus. There are 17 new schools approved to open here, including schools with single-gender classes, an online/in-person hybrid and another that teaches courses in construction. Statewide, 52 charters are allowed to open. It’s the largest number of new schools in the past three years, according to the Ohio Department of Education. For the start of the 2011 and 2012 school years, 35 and 33 new schools opened, respectively.Some of the new charters in central Ohio target neighborhoods without close-by schools. Some want to serve a particular type of student — inner city and poor, for example. And at least one is opening anew after just having been shut down for poor performance…”

SNAP Enrollment – Florida, New Hampshire

  • Despite more jobs, number of food stamp recipients keeps rising, By Donna Gehrke-White, August 19, 2013, Sun Sentinel: “Despite a dramatic increase in workers finding jobs in the past year, the number of people on food stamps in Broward and Palm Beach counties continues to rise to historic levels. Even though the unemployment rate in Palm Beach County has dropped from 9.6 percent to 7.7 since last July, the number of food stamps recipients has jumped to 194,120, an increase of 6.3 percent, according to the latest data from the state…”
  • Food stamp caseload begins to fall in N.H., but agencies say many still need help, By Ben Leubsdorf, August 22, 2013, Concord Monitor: “The number of New Hampshire families relying on food stamps peaked in January and has been declining for six straight months, in large part because a newly reintroduced federal rule is limiting some low-income adults to three months of assistance…”

School Accountability Formula – Florida

Low-income schools struggle under state’s grading system, By Michael Vasquez and David Smiley, August 10, 2013, Miami Herald: “With dozens of changes in just the past three years, the formula behind Florida’s A-to-F school grading system has been criticized as a confusing mess. But there’s been at least one constant in Miami-Dade and Broward results: The wealthiest schools never get Fs, and schools with high populations of poor students face an uphill battle to even get a C. The trend is visible through a decade-plus of school grade results, dating back to the first grades issued in 1999…”

School Accountability Formula – Florida

School grades drop under new formula, By Michael Vasquez and David Smiley, July 26, 2013, Miami Herald: “Florida education officials released preliminary school grades for elementary and middle schools on Friday – and, as expected, the grades dropped due to changes in the state’s complicated accountability formula. In Miami-Dade, including both district schools and charters, nearly 60 schools received failing grades — 46 Ds and 13 F’s. In Broward, 33 schools got a D and 13 got F’s. Last year, Miami-Dade had 29 D schools and four F’s; Broward had 13 D’s and four F’s. With public skepticism growing about the validity of Florida’s A-to-F grading system, the dominant question has become: Are public schools really failing, or is it the state’s letter-grade system that deserves an F?…”

States and Medicaid Expansion

  • Arizona Gov. Brewer secures Medicaid expansion after months-long fight with Legislature, Associated Press, June 13, 2013, Washington Post: “Ending a six-month legislative session, Arizona lawmakers endorsed a key element of President Barack Obama’s health care law in a huge political victory for Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, after a lengthy fight over Medicaid expansion that divided the state’s Republican leadership. The expansion that will extend health care to 300,000 more low-income Arizonans came after months of stalled negotiations, tense debates and political maneuvering as Brewer pushed the Medicaid proposal through a hostile Legislature…”
  • House approves bill to expand Medicaid to 470,000 low-income Michiganders, By Kathleen Gray, June 14, 2013, Detroit Free Press: “Expanding Medicaid coverage to 470,000 low-income Michiganders was not an easy vote for many on the floor of the state House of Representatives on Thursday. But in the end, the bill that would take advantage of an element of the Affordable Care Act passed the House by a 76-31 vote. But it didn’t come without hours of private deliberations and public passions on both sides of the political aisle. The bill was described as both a historic tool to get health care to Michigan’s most vulnerable residents and an unprecedented expansion of the federal government…”

Medicaid Reform – Florida

Fla. gets final OK for Medicaid privatization, By Gary Finehout and Kelli Kennedy (AP), June 14, 2013, Miami Herald: “Federal health officials have given final approval to a plan to overhaul Florida’s safety net health insurance program. Gov. Rick Scott announced the decision on Friday, saying it would allow the state’s Medicaid program to ‘to provide Medicaid users with quality, value-based and patient-centered care…'”

Unemployment Claims System – Florida

State to finally replace ancient jobless-claims computer, By Jim Stratton, May 21, 2013, Orlando Sentinel: “In good news for the jobless and employers alike, the state’s 1970s-era computer that processes unemployment claims is finally getting replaced. The new system is coming this fall, five years after the computer almost ground to a halt. The $63 million network is expected to make online filing easier for jobless Floridians. Officials say it will give them ready access to their payment history and allow them to quickly determine whether a claim has been approved. It should ease the workload on employers — who pay for the state’s unemployment trust fund — and help the state reduce and recover overpayments. Officials with the Department of Economic Opportunity estimate it will cut program costs by $43 million a year…”

Jobless Benefits – Wisconsin, Florida

  • Measure requiring 4 work searches per week for jobless benefits passes, By Jason Stein, May 13, 2013, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Jobless workers getting state benefits could have to double their number of work searches to at least four per week from two currently – raising Wisconsin’s requirements to among the highest in the nation, under a provision approved by the Legislature’s budget committee Monday. The Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 along party lines to approve the changes proposed by Gov. Scott Walker to allow his administration to impose an even higher number of work searches across the state or in specific regions, putting Wisconsin at the lead nationally for work requirements for unemployment insurance. Workers would need to comply with the requirements in order to keep receiving their benefits…”
  • Sequester forces 4-week cut in jobless benefits, By Jim Stratton, May 13, 2013, Orlando Sentinel: “Florida will soon slash four weeks of unemployment benefits to laid-off workers nearing the end of their eligibility. The reduction is happening because of the so-called sequestration, the automatic federal budget cuts that began in March. Up to 100,000 laid-off workers could be have their benefits cut off. Florida’s maximum weekly payment is $275 a week, so a four-week cut could cost the jobless up to $1,100. The average person will lose about $924, the state said…”

Foster Care Reforms – Florida

Nation is watching Florida’s new foster-care reforms, By Kate Santich, May 9, 2013, Orlando Sentinel: “For thousands of foster kids across Florida, life is about to become a little more ‘normal.’ Under newly passed laws being watched by much of the nation, children growing up in the state’s care will soon be allowed to play sports, sleep over at a friend’s house, go to a movie or do any of the things other children do without their caretakers having to pursue background checks and court orders. Also, instead of having to leave foster care on their 18th birthdays, they’ll have the option of staying until age 21 as long as they’re going to school, working or getting job training…”

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Florida

In Florida, a food-stamp recruiter deals with wrenching choices, By Eli Saslow, April 23, 2013, Washington Post: “A good recruiter needs to be liked, so Dillie Nerios filled gift bags with dog toys for the dog people and cat food for the cat people. She packed crates of cookies, croissants, vegetables and fresh fruit. She curled her hair and painted her nails fluorescent pink. ‘A happy, it’s-all-good look,’ she said, checking her reflection in the rearview mirror. Then she drove along the Florida coast to sign people up for food stamps. Her destination on a recent morning was a 55-and-over community in central Florida, where single-wide trailers surround a parched golf course. On the drive, Nerios, 56, reviewed techniques she had learned for connecting with some of Florida’s most desperate senior citizens during two years on the job…”