Public Defender System – Tennessee

TN high court urges change, better funding to protect legal rights of the poor, By Jamie Satterfield, October 9, 2017, Knoxville News Sentinel: “The Tennessee Supreme Court announced last week it is going to try to ratchet down the costs of providing attorneys for poor people, recommend a boost in pay for those lawyers, and lend its voice to a push for money to reform a broken system. The high court in a news release detailed changes it wants to see in ensuring poor people are afforded legal representation that pass constitutional muster. Nearly all require buy-in from Tennessee lawmakers, who hold the purse strings…”

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

  • Tennessee to reinstate work requirements for able-bodied food stamp recipients, By Anita Wadhwani, September 18, 2017, The Tennessean: “Tennessee will reinstate work requirements for food stamp recipients a decade after they were eased during the height of the economic recession, Gov. Bill Haslam announced Monday…”
  • No power means no food stamps for Miami’s neediest in Hurricane Irma’s wake, By Alex Harris, September 15, 2017, Miami Herald: “Friday morning, Michael Mighty took a bus to 58th Street for a free plate of Curry Gold and peas and rice at one of his favorite Jamaican restaurants. ‘I told them to make it as hot as possible,’ he said. ‘I’m tired of eating sandwiches.’ It might be his only meal for the day. Mighty, 58, still doesn’t have power in his Overtown apartment, and for most of this week, neither did the grocery stores he relied on. Without power, he couldn’t use his food stamps, which come on a debit card-style system these days…”
  • Walmart to allow food stamp users to buy groceries online, By Leada Gore, September 20, 2017, AL.com: “Walmart is rolling out a pilot program that will allow food stamp recipients to order groceries online and pick them up at stores. The nation’s largest retailer is currently offering online ordering for food stamp and other EBT users at one store in the Houston market and four more in Boise, Idaho. More markets will be added throughout 2017, Walmart said in a statement…”

Internet Access for Low-Income Families

This city is giving super-fast internet to poor students, By Heather Kelly, May 10, 2016, CNN Money: “Around 5 million homes with school-age children don’t have high speed internet, according to the Pew Research Center. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, 22.5% of residents live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and nearly 25,000 kids are on the public school system’s free and reduced lunch program. Chattanooga is trying to close its ‘homework gap’ with a pair of programs that help low-income families get online…”

Chattanooga Times Free Press Series on Poverty

The Poverty Puzzle, series homepage, March 2016, Chattanooga Times Free Press: “Across the Southeast, families are caught in an economic trap they can’t escape, and Chattanooga now finds itself at a turning point. Do we gloss over our toxic secret? Or do we prove, as we have before, that nothing is impossible when a divided city truly unites..?”

Drug Testing and Public Assistance Programs

  • Drug testing for benefits in Tennessee yields only 65 positives, By Anita Wadhwani, February 7, 2016, The Tennessean: “A Tennessee law requiring drug screening and testing of public benefit seekers has yielded few positives for illicit drugs — and no one has been denied benefits for failing a drug test, though scores of people have walked away from the application process.  Just 65 of 39,121 people applying for a cash assistance program known as Families First in Tennessee tested positive for illegal substances or drugs for which they had no prescription since the law was implemented July 1, 2014, according to data provided by the Department of Human Services to The Tennessean…”
  • Alabama would be allowed to drug test food stamp recipients under proposal by Rep. Robert Aderholt, By Leada Gore, February 12, 2016, AL.com: “Food stamp recipients could be subject to drug testing under a plan unveiled Thursday by Alabama Congressman Robert Aderholt. Rep. Aderholt, R-Haleyville, said his  proposal would allow states to opt into mandatory drug testing as a requirement for receiving food stamps…”

Aging Out of Foster Care – Tennessee

Foster care effort sets Tennessee apart, researchers say, By Tony Gonzalez, May 12, 2015, The Tennessean: “A Tennessee foster care program has done something never before documented by researchers: made life better, at least a little bit, for a group of foster children who turned 18 and left state care.  The new findings give credit to some parts of a program run by Memphis-based Youth Villages. The non-profit’s services helped ‘aged out’ former foster children transition into adult lives — a notoriously challenging time for kids who grew up abused or in legal trouble and who often end up unemployed, homeless or jailed at rates high above their peers…”

Poverty Rate – Nashville, TN

Nashville poverty down, but disparities still deep, By Tony Gonzalez, April 28, 2015, The Tennessean: “Poverty in Nashville lessened for the fourth straight year in 2013, but pockets of high need have proliferated since 2000, according to the latest Metro Social Services analysis presented Tuesday. The overall poverty rate dipped to 17.8 percent, but the higher rate for children remained stubborn at 30.5 percent. Poverty for a family of four is defined as no more than $24,250 in household income…”

State Medicaid Programs

  • Some Iowans will face premiums for Medicaid expansion, By Catherine Lucey, February 1, 2015, Des Moines Register: “As Iowa’s modified Medicaid expansion hits the one-year anniversary mark, some enrollees will be asked to pay small monthly premiums because they have not yet completed a required physical exam and health questionnaire. For Gov. Terry Branstad, setting these health requirements was a key provision for expanding Medicaid in Iowa using funding from President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. The state received federal approval to make modifications to the traditional Medicaid terms, including setting health requirements and charging contributions…”
  • US’s 1st program using federal funds to buy private insurance for poor survives in Arkansas, By Andrew DeMillo (AP), February 5, 2015, Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune: “Arkansas’ first-in-the-nation program using federal funds to buy private health insurance for the poor will survive another year after the Legislature reauthorized the program Thursday, despite an influx of new Republican lawmakers elected on a vow to kill the hybrid Medicaid expansion. The Arkansas House voted 82-16 to reauthorize funding through June 2016 for the ‘private option’ plan, which was crafted two years ago as an alternative to expanding Medicaid under the federal health law. Arkansas was the first state to win federal approval for such an approach, touted as a compromise for Republican-leaning states…”
  • Medicaid could dump 500,000 Ohioans in 6 months, By Catherine Candisky, February 6, 2015, Columbus Dispatch: “The state will send out letters to 107,000 Medicaid recipients today telling them that their health-care benefits will be terminated on Feb. 28 for failure to verify their income. ‘They should consider this as a final notice,’ said Sam Rossi, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Medicaid. ‘There is personal responsibility. You need to report income for a program like Medicaid.’ An additional 140,000 recipients will receive termination notices next week, with 100,000 scheduled for March. The Ohio Job and Family Services Association and advocates for the poor have urged state officials to delay terminating benefits because fewer than half of those sent renewal notifications in December have responded, and many never received them…”
  • Few lawmakers supported Haslam’s Insure Tennessee, By Dave Boucher, February 4, 2015, The Tennessean: “In 21 months, Gov. Bill Haslam and his administration spent countless hours crafting a health care plan they thought could thread the political needle: satisfy Democrats in Washington, D.C., Republicans in Tennessee and help the working poor. It took considerably less time for the plan to unravel in the General Assembly. After a little more than two days, a few state Senators officially killed Haslam’s plan to provide 280,000 low-income Tennesseans with federally funded health care…”
  • Governor’s panel again urges Medicaid expansion in Idaho, By Bill Dentzer, February 6, 2015, Idaho Statesman: “Members of the governor-appointed group that developed options for expanding Medicaid to cover Idaho’s poorest adults told lawmakers Thursday that opposition to the expansion has blocked money that taxpayers are due under federal health care reform. The panel’s alternative funding plan provides greater accountability, saves money and gives the state more control over how funds are spent, they said. The federal government already has approved similar alternative plans in other states where Medicaid expansion has been politically or ideologically unpopular…”

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…”

Free College Tuition

Tennessee looks to prevent ‘sticker shock’ in higher ed by offering first two years free, By Nicole Shepherd, June 24, 2014, Deseret News: “As student loan debt reaches a national high of $1.2 trillion, Tennessee has responded by offering free tuition for low-income students attending community colleges. Concern has surfaced among educators and economists that the increase in the cost for higher education is leading new high school graduates to question whether a college education is worth the cost.’Financial aid was supposed to reduce the influence of existing family financial resources on college attainment, but those resources are now a stronger determinant than ever of children’s college prospects,’ wrote Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of education policy and sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. . .”

Unemployment Insurance System – Tennessee

Unemployment fix could take two years, By Chas Sisk, April 24, 2014, The Tennessean: “Although state officials have known about problems in the state’s unemployment insurance program for more than a year, outside observers say it could take them at least two more to straighten things out. The Department of Labor and Workforce Development says it already has begun to address mistakes raised in an audit of the program, some of them coming up for the second time…”

Minimum Wage – Tennessee

Tennessee leads nation for minimum wage workers, By Lance Williams, March 25, 2014, The Tennessean: “About 7.4 percent of Tennessee’s workforce earns at or below the minimum wage, the highest proportion of minimum wage workers in the country, according to a new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nationally, about 4.3 percent of the workforce – or 3.3 million workers – earn at or below the minimum wage. In Tennessee, about 117,000 workers earn about at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour…”

Child Welfare and Foster Care

  • Increasingly, youths are entering U.S. alone and undocumented, By Julie Shaw, December 20, 2013, Philadelphia Daily News: “Esteban rode on top of seven cargo trains, narrowly escaped death at the hands of a Mexican gang leader and was robbed on his years-long journey from Honduras to Philadelphia…And like a staggering number of minors under 18, Esteban – not his real name – entered without papers and without a parent or adult guardian. In the last two years, the number of unaccompanied children who have made the dangerous journey alone, and who have ended up in federal custody, has nearly quadrupled…”
  • Private foster care system, intended to save children, endangers some, By Garrett Therolf, December 18, 2013, Los Angeles Times: “They were found barefoot in January, huddled under a blanket against the biting High Desert winter cold, two kids on the run from a former foster mother, who had bound their hands with zip-ties and beat them. Investigators substantiated in October that a Lancaster foster father sexually abused two young sisters in his care. Such cases of abuse are scattered through the files of California’s privatized foster care system — children whipped with belts, burned with a car cigarette lighter and traumatized by beatings and threats. California began a modest experiment 27 years ago, privatizing a portion of foster care in the belief that it would better serve children and be less expensive. Lawmakers decided to enlist local charities to help recruit and supervise foster parents. Today, the state’s private foster family system — the largest in the nation — has become more expensive and more dangerous than the government-run homes it has largely replaced…”
  • Tennessee uses incentives to change a troubled foster care system, By Garrett Therolf, December 18, 2013, Los Angeles Times: “Private foster care agencies in California are paid a set fee for each child — about $1,870 per month to cover the cost of care and administration. The payment system has created an inadvertent incentive for some foster agencies to scrimp on care and lower standards on foster parents so they can take on more children. Over the last two decades, a group of states has begun to take a new approach based on setting big incentives — and big penalties. The basic strategy has been adopted by at least 12 states across the country, including Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Florida and Tennessee…”

States and the Affordable Care Act

  • Without Medicaid expansion, no insurance for 500,000 in N.C., By John Murawski and Karen Garloch, October 12, 2013, Charlotte News and Observer: “The last time Dee Baginski worked was 2-1/2 years ago as a manager for Walmart. Then a car wreck and cancer diagnosis slammed the door on ‘a whole life in retail management.’ Now, at age 54 and two surgeries later, Baginski finds herself at an Urban Ministries of Durham homeless shelter – uninsured and applying for disability. Her former $28,000-a-year job today seems like an unattainable dream. While Baginski’s reversal of fortune is beyond anyone’s control, the fate of her health care rests in the hands of North Carolina politicians. She is among a half-million state residents who would have been eligible for Medicaid in January had officials here opted to expand that government program for the poor and disabled…”
  • W.Va. to benefit more from ACA than most other states, By Paul J. Nyden, October 12, 2013, Charleston Gazette-Mail: “West Virginians will see more benefits from the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, than residents of almost any other state, according to a new study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In West Virginia 81 percent of currently uninsured residents will receive some sort of financial help in getting health insurance, either through Medicaid or through subsidies in the health insurance marketplace, the study found. That number is tied with Michigan and Kentucky for the highest in the nation…”
  • Ohio gains federal approval to expand its Medicaid program to cover state’s working poor, By Robert Higgs, October 11, 2013, Cleveland Plain Dealer: “The federal government has granted Ohio authority to expand its Medicaid program to provide health coverage to the state’s working poor, an authorization that would be worth more than $1 billion to the state in its first year. The notification, received Thursday, would allow the state to increase eligibility to people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, adding an estimated 275,000 Ohioans beginning Jan. 1…”
  • 146,000 Michiganders – at least – face loss of cheaper policies under new health care reform rules, By Robin Erb, October 14, 2013, Detroit Free Press: “At least 146,000 Michiganders — and possibly thousands more — with health coverage purchased directly from insurers now are learning their polices will end Dec. 31 because they don’t meet the minimum requirements of the federal health care act. Under the law, each policy must cover essential benefits in 10 categories. Instead of beefing up these policies, insurers are opting to drop them, advising consumers to consider other policies that are now available either from the insurers directly or though the Michigan Health Insurance Marketplace, also known as the state exchange.The policies that are ending were often less expensive on the individual market because they provided limited benefits and were sold to healthier consumers…”
  • Local health care changes limited so far, doctors say, By Bill Dries, October 15, 2013, Memphis Daily News: “The Oct. 1 start of enrollment in health care exchanges may be the most visible part of the Affordable Care Act so far. But changes to insurance and health care nationally already are about something other than lowering health care costs or widening access to health care and health insurance coverage…”

Kids Count Report – Tennessee

  • Kids Count report: Nearly half of TN pregnant women don’t receive ‘adequate’ prenatal care, By Tony Gonzalez, June 7, 2013, The Tennessean: “Tennessee children who suffer from toxic stress, abuse, and other everyday challenges such as hunger — and who aren’t tended to early — face serious consequences throughout their lives. State health and child well-being experts delivered that message Friday morning while releasing the latest ‘KIDS COUNT: The State of the Child in Tennessee’ report. This year, the annual study examines challenges to raising kids in Tennessee, and whether state programs are doing enough to help them…”
  • Report: TN children at risk for hunger, poverty, later problems, By Kristi L. Nelson, June 7, 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel: “Abuse and neglect during childhood can actually disrupt brain development, leading to lifelong problems, says a report released Friday by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. That’s not new information, but the state agency, which advocates for improvement in the quality of life for Tennessee children, uses numbers and facts to back up a call for the Department of Children’s Services to continue its efforts — and work with other agencies — to form ‘a supportive infrastructure to help vulnerable children develop successfully…'”

States and Medicaid Expansion

  • Politics complicates TennCare discussion, By Chas Sisk, June 10, 2013, The Tennessean: “Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is nearing a decision on whether to push for an expansion of TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program, but questions remain about how the plan would be structured and whether it could win approval from state and federal officials. After more than two months of discussions with federal officials over a proposal to buy private insurance for the poor, Haslam expects to know by the end of the summer whether to recommend that Tennessee join the 29 states that already have committed to expanding their Medicaid programs…”
  • Medicaid expansion gets hearing in House, By Mary K. Reinhart, June 10, 2013, Arizona Republic: “Facing a looming budget deadline and a bitterly divided Republican caucus, the state House today takes up Gov. Jan Brewer’s plan to expand Medicaid along with a controversial abortion bill some say is designed to kill the governor’s top legislative priority. The House Appropriations Committee will hold what is expected to be a contentious hearing on the two bills, likely ending with the defeat of Senate Bill 1492, which outlines Brewer’s plan to broaden Medicaid eligibility under the federal health-care overhaul…”
  • Push for Medicaid expansion continues beyond session, By Elizabeth Crisp, June 10, 2013, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Missouri’s Republican-controlled Legislature eschewed Medicaid expansion this session, but supporters are holding out hope for next year. ‘We all know that we need to expand Medicaid. Everyone knows that,’ said Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat. ‘This will save many lives, and I am optimistic that the right thing will be done.’ Republican legislative leaders have taken recent actions that appear to hint toward movement on the issue in the coming months. They also have expressed optimism over the potential to reform the health care program for the poor, using the expansion as a launch pad…”
  • Medicaid expansion unlikely to be in budget, but it’s far from dead, By Robert Higgs, June 9, 2013, Cleveland Plain Dealer: “More and more, the chances that an expansion of Ohio’s Medicaid program will appear in the state budget appear to be less and less. But the debate is far from over. While they hedge that there are no guarantees, legislators, lobbyists and the administration, continue to talk with optimism that something will be done to provide health coverage for the working poor…”

Mixed-Income Housing – Nashville, TN

Mixed-income plan could lift Nashville public housing, By Joey Garrison, May 16, 2013, USA Today: “Long before Nashville’s Cumberland River found new life as an attraction, a slum community thrived along its East Bank. It grew during the Great Depression. And as the federal government systematically built barracks in cities for the poor in the 1940s, many inhabitants found their next home nearby: a new publicly subsidized housing development erected where a women’s college and mansion had been torn down near East Nashville’s Shelby Avenue. Here, on 64 rolling acres, emerged the James A. Cayce Homes, the doorstep to East Nashville and the city’s largest public housing neighborhood, shadowed by a loud interstate and plagued historically by crime and poverty. But today, as once-forgotten, now-buzzing East Nashville continues its rebirth, the city’s most visible swath of public housing — suddenly occupying a coveted location — is the subject of a planning process to rethink and potentially tear down, rebuild and overhaul the community…”

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – Tennessee

Critics fear TN bill tying welfare to grades puts kids in harm’s way, By Heidi Hall, April 10, 2013, The Tennessean: “Children in Tennessee could become the first in the nation to determine whether their families receive full welfare benefits — they fail a grade, and the state yanks 30 percent of their cash payouts under a bill the state Senate will take up Thursday. The bill’s sponsor says it’s actually aimed at parents, who can regain benefits after their children fail. They would do that by attending parenting classes or teacher conferences or by enrolling their kids in tutoring or summer school. But in the end, the folks who make pass-or-fail decisions are students and the teachers who grade them. There are no data on how the plan might work because no other state has tried it. But some educators and parents already fear what will happen to children in unstable homes who cost their parents money…”

States and Medicaid Expansion

  • Missouri House approves budget, no money for Medicaid expansion, By Elizabeth Crisp, March 29, 2013, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “The Missouri House approved a nearly $25 billion state spending plan Thursday that calls for slight increases in education funding and modest raises for most state employees in the coming year, but it doesn’t include expansion of the state’s Medicaid rolls. Gov. Jay Nixon and other Democrats, as well as health care and business groups, have spent several months pushing for a federal Affordable Care Act-driven expansion of the health care program for the poor. But the Republican-controlled House blocked multiple attempts this week to add the more than $900 million in federal dollars to the state budget proposal and expand eligibility to an estimated 300,000 Missourians…”
  • Pence administration claims authority to negotiate Medicaid deal with feds, By Eric Bradner, March 27, 2013, Evansville Courier and Press: “Indiana lawmakers don’t need to approve legislation related to a Medicaid expansion because Gov. Mike Pence already has authority to negotiate with federal officials, his administration’s top human services official said Wednesday. That was the assessment of Debra Minott, secretary of the Family and Social Services Administration, as she fielded questions from the House Public Health Committee. The panel has been working on a bill that would set parameters for an expansion of Medicaid through the federal health care law. If the state opts to go forward with an expansion, around 400,000 more Hoosiers would qualify for government-funded health insurance. But the state would only do so using the health savings account-based Healthy Indiana Plan as a vehicle, Pence has said…”
  • Business groups optimistic about TennCare deal, By Chas Sisk and Getahn Ward, March 29, 2013, The Tennessean: “Health care and business groups are putting their faith in Gov. Bill Haslam’s ability to hammer out a deal on TennCare. But there are no signs of a master strategy that could bring that bargain about or drive it through the legislature. After months of doom-saying, health care and business groups have held their tongues following Wednesday’s momentous announcement that the state would not start offering TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program, to 180,000 more uninsured Tennesseans. The decision appeared to put the state on track to miss out on more than $400 million in federal funding in the first half of 2014 to pay for expansion and more than $1 billion a year after that…”

Medicaid Expansion – Tennessee

  • Haslam rejects Medicaid expansion, calls for ‘third’ option, By Tom Humphrey, March 27, 2013, Knoxville News-Sentinel: “Gov. Bill Haslam told the General Assembly today that he is rejecting an expansion of Medicaid for now because the federal government has not agreed to some aspects of a ‘Tennessee plan’ that involves using federal money to buy private insurance. ‘A pure expansion of medicaid, expanding a broken system, doesn’t work,’ said Haslam, contending he wants to use federal money to buy private insurance akin to the approach being tried in Arkansas. That would mean more people with health insurance without expanding the number on TennCare, the state’s system for Medicaid, he said. But the federal Department of Health and Human Services has insisted on conditions for implementing the proposal that are unacceptable, Haslam said, and for now he will not recommend expansion in Tennessee…”
  • Tenn. gov won’t expand Medicaid to cover uninsured, By Chas Sisk and Tom Wilemon, March 27, 2013, The Tennessean: “Gov. Bill Haslam rejected an estimated $1 billion a year from the federal government to expand TennCare to 180,000 Tennesseans, saying he wanted to bargain for a better deal that would ensure the state won’t have to shoulder that cost later down the road. Haslam said in a speech this morning to the state legislature that he wants to pursue a ‘Tennessee plan’ for expanding health care coverage to more of the uninsured. But the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has not signed off on it. As a result, Haslam announced that he will not expand the rolls of TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program, this year under the Affordable Care Act. But he said the state could expand TennCare later if federal officials will give it the freedom to buy private coverage, an idea being pursued by Arkansas and Ohio…”