By Clare S. Richie

The good news is that the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Emergency Fund created by the federal Recovery Act of 2009 is creating jobs for poor families who have limited prospects. This program has the added benefit of stimulating local economies as these newly employed individuals spend their wages close to home.

Thanks to the TANF Emergency Fund, states are expected to create more than 240,000 subsidized jobs in the public and private sectors for TANF recipients, the long-term unemployed, and low-income youth.

Georgia set a goal of placing 5,000 unemployed adults and 15,000 low-income youth into jobs by September 30, 2010, the current deadline. The program is subsidizing 80 percent of adult wages for six months and has already subsidized youth summer employment. To date, Georgia has created new jobs for 14,800 youth and 1,558 adults.

Mother of Many Children is a privately owned day care provider in Savannah. Owner/Director Yvonne Bass was excited when she learned her small business was approved for the TANF subsidized employment program administered by the Georgia Department of Human Services. Through this program, Bass was able to hire up to three additional employees to assist in providing optimal child care for her clientele. Bass is extremely hopeful that the program will be extended because she will reinvest the savings she gains from the jobs program into her business so she can expand the square footage of the center and serve more families, and thus hire more qualified child care workers.

Unfortunately, the TANF Emergency Fund expires on September 30, 2010. Without an extension, Georgia will close down this successful subsidized employment effort for those hardest hit by the recession, whether or not it has spent all of its allotted funds. In fact, the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) has already stopped accepting applications and projects, falling short of its adult goal by 1,500 jobs.

That’s not all. Newly-employed adults stand to lose their jobs on September 30, 2010. Most states like Georgia encourage, but do not require, employers to hire program participants once the subsidy ends due to the uncertainty of the current economic climate. At a time when Georgia’s unemployment rate is 9.9 percent, such job losses are troubling and unnecessary.

Georgia can avoid these job losses as well as employ substantially more adults and youth if Congress enacts a one-year extension. The House has twice passed an extension of the TANF Emergency Fund that was fully offset (so as to avoid increasing the deficit). The Senate has failed to act, despite the thousands of jobs at risk and pleas from program administrators and governors in states across the nation.

Extending the TANF Emergency Fund has received support from a majority of senators but has fallen short of the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster. Georgia’s two senators have twice failed to support the extension, despite Georgia’s high unemployment and rocky economy. As a result, instead of continuing these proven and cost-effective programs, states are closing their doors to new job seekers and businesses employing low wage workers like Mary’s — and determining when current participants will receive their very last paycheck.

If Congress extends the TANF Emergency Fund before September 30, 2010, Georgia would:

•Place thousands more of the 480,000 unemployed Georgians into subsidized jobs.
•Create and preserve thousands of jobs.
•Boost local economies as newly employed workers begin spending their paychecks.
•Maximize the use of funds available in the TANF Emergency Fund. As of the current deadline, Georgia will leave nearly $100 million on the table.

Without an extension, Georgia and other states will close down their successful subsidized employment programs, which will cost thousands of jobs, remove much-needed income from local economies, adversely affect local businesses, and make it impossible for many low-income parents to cover basic expenses. Georgia and the nation cannot afford to lose these jobs.
Richie is senior policy analyst for the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute.
Copyright (C) 2010 by Georgia Forum. 8/10


By Daniel Brindis

If you blinked, you might have missed Senator Blanche Lincoln change what your child likely eats for lunch at school. Recently, in the wake of Elena Kagan’s confirmation, the Senate quickly and unanimously passed Lincoln’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

After years of negotiations and a recent push from Michelle Obama, the proposal received 30 seconds of floor time, which was more than enough for it to pass without any objection. The Act will reauthorize the federal school lunch program before the September 30 deadline, and it will also take initial steps to make school lunches healthier, safer, and more accessible.

Although it receives a splinter of the attention given to the two wars, healthcare, and the economy, the school lunch program has a huge impact on America. More than half of U.S. children are eligible for Federal School Lunches and the purchasing power impacts the way our food is grown and consumed. Within schools this means that the lunches served under the school lunch program are served to everybody. In a cafeteria there is no “poor” section or “privileged” section -- it is the same food, same kitchen (that is, when there is a kitchen on premises). Unless you pack your son or daughter’s lunch, this proposal mandates what your children are eating.

Studies show that kids’ ability to learn and the nutritional value of the food they eat goes hand in hand. You don’t have to read the academic literature about this -- ask your local teacher what it’s like to teach a class that just consumed French fries and surplus beef served in gobs of undistinguishable “brown sauce.”

Besides encumbering attention-spans, the current school lunch system presents a serious problem: obesity. Children currently enrolled in the federal school lunch program are more likely to be obese than children who are not enrolled. Overall, 30 percent of American children are obese.

We are all stakeholders in this crisis. Obesity is a major factor in our ballooning healthcare costs because increased diabetes and cardiac disease are drains on Medicare, Medicaid and private plans. Obesity not only impacts our pocketbooks, but it also presents a National Security concern -- almost one third of young adults 17-24 years old are too obese to serve in the military. This is a problem that we need to address now. Each year we don’t address obesity, we neglect another class of young Americans.

Doing anything in the Senate these days is no small feat considering the fierce political climate, the bottlenecked Senate calendar, and the 60-plus vote mentality. The proposal passed mainly because the $4.6 billion bill was completely paid for by taking away money from other programs. Almost half of the funding comes from Food Stamps (the SNAP program).

The proposal is a step in the right direction, but the new changes are slight. It adds 6 cents per meal, per child (now a pittance $2.38 per meal). There is also some language that strengthens food safety, mandates wellness education, and sets guidelines for all food sold during school hours (a la carte and vending). The proposal provides funding for school gardens, which is important because they provide physical activity, food, and wellness education simultaneously.

The proposal does not go far enough though. We are missing an opportunity for real solutions to our broken food system.

Next month, the House will soon address the school lunch issue. Their proposal is slightly more ambitious and provides more resources -- $8 billion and more meals to more children. Still, this proposal’s increase (also 6 cents) is still nowhere near the additional $1-$2 more that nutrition experts estimate is necessary to bring school lunch standards up to par.

At the end of the day, neither proposal addresses other fundamental issues with school lunches. Nutritional standards are not enforced and in most schools, real fruits and vegetables are a distant reality.

Every year we delay in aggressively addressing school lunches, we neglect another class of 5 million children who are beholden to the same unhealthy food. Our students are not learning how to eat and enjoy healthy food. Instead they have been fed food influenced heavily by a fast food culture. Are chicken nuggets and French fries really the model of nutrition we want our children to follow? We cannot afford to wait another five years to make important changes in children’s nutrition. The young are where our nation’s obesity crisis begins – and in our schools we need to make nutrition a lesson for life.
Brindis is the Director of Policy for Earth Day Network. Earth Day Network’s Green Schools initiatives include reforming school lunches in order to promote local and sustainable agriculture, fight obesity, and develop students’ understanding of where their food comes from and their place in the eco-system.
Copyright (C) 2010 by the American Forum. 8/10

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

ERA: Three States and Nothing More


By Carolyn Cook

When you're competing against the clock for the Grand Prize, you may not win, but at least you're entitled to your previous winnings.

Not so with the Equal Rights Amendment. Congress gave women the nod they were due, but their blessing came with a seven-year hitch. Constitutional Equality was an all-or-nothing proposition to be achieved within seven years. Considering it took 72 years to obtain a right to vote, a time limit for all other rights was doomed to fail.

ERA was first introduced in 1923 by Alice Paul, a Republican, lawyer and courageous suffragist – who was imprisoned, tortured and force-fed to obtain the vote for women. ERA was essential to acquire all other legal, economic, social and political privileges that were customarily the birthright of men only.

"Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."

Forty-seven years of stagnation prompted 20 courageous Pittsburgh NOW members to disrupt a Senate hearing with homemade signs demanding immediate action on ERA. Civil disobedience could have led to their arrest but ultimately freed ERA from congressional stalemate by an overwhelming majority in 1972.

ERA attracted over 450 organizations. People from all walks of life lobbied, petitioned, raced, marched, rallied, picketed and boycotted for its passage. It was favored by a majority of Americans, scoring an impressive 67 percent in a nationwide survey. Women's groups pressed for an extension but were granted only three more years. Despite 35 states approving ERA, it fell three states short of becoming the 27th Amendment. On June 30, 1982, the campaign launched by Congress was ended by Congress.

Does a human's right to equality expire?

My friend's husband told me he supports ERA as long as he doesn't lose his "perks." ERA doesn't apply to the private lives of individuals or business. ERA would eliminate sex discriminatory laws while expanding beneficial laws to both sexes equally. It guarantees that the full range of opportunities exist for all individuals based on their talents, capabilities and preferences, and not limited by gender or stereotype. ERA would ensure that sex discrimination is guaranteed the same protection as race discrimination. It expands individual freedom by limiting government interference.

Will women earn equal pay for equal work? Will public policies provide greater flexibility for parents struggling to balance work and family? Will government be held accountable to eliminate sex-based hate crimes such as rape and domestic violence? At what point will the FCC & FTC determine that violent, hate-filled images and lyrics directed at women and girls crosses the line of entertainment and free speech to jeopardize peace and security? ERA is the foundation to begin to address these questions.

In exile for 27 years, ERA is finally making a comeback. Congress needs to listen. Citizens did not abandon ERA in 1982 - you suspended our campaign. In case you're unaware, women are working 24/7 both inside and outside the home. We are making daily sacrifices for our country, our families, our education, our careers, and our communities. We simply don't have the freedom to organize in our own interests. We're too busy caring for everyone else's.

In 2009, Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri, Florida and Louisiana reintroduced the federal ERA. All five attempts were defeated. How can a handful of legislators control the interests of 157 million women? Behind closed doors with no media attention.

Article 5 of the Constitution grants Congress the power to amend the ratification process. Will Congress hit the reset button on ERA and require all 38 states again or use its powers to jump start the ratification process for the final three states needed?

With an economy struggling to get back on track -- beginning a nationwide ERA campaign requiring 38 states is both unrealistic and unnecessary. Give women a head start and a fighting chance by accepting the 35 states that have already approved ERA and allow us to target the three last states necessary to take that victory lap in 2015. Ready. Get Set. Game On!
Cook is the founder of United For Equality, LLC and the DC representative for the ERA Campaign Network.
Copyright (C) 2010 by American Forum. 8/10


By Linda Meric

There are many areas of life in this country where it appears that we live in two worlds. And that’s no different when we consider paid sick days. In the first world, if you’re sick, you stay home from work, take care of yourself, and have the time to get better.

In the second world, if you’re sick, you go to work anyway. In the second world, you go to work, even when your child is sick. You know that if you stay home, you’ll lose pay – or maybe even your job.

As we approach Women’s Equality Day on August 26, the day that marks the 90th anniversary of women’s right to vote, it’s troubling that so many of the workers who live in the second world are women. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, more than 22 million women workers lack paid sick days. And though women still bear the brunt of care-giving duties in most American families, we are also the least likely to have a paid sick day available to care for a sick child. Fifty-three percent of working mothers, as compared to 48 percent of working fathers, lack a paid sick day they can use to care for a child.

The U.S. is one of only four industrialized nations that do not offer a national standard of paid sick days. It just isn’t right. I wonder what the suffragettes, who worked so hard and so long to win women’s right to vote, would say about the lack of this basic workplace standard.

Let me tell you about Tahirah.

She and her young daughter live in a world without paid sick days. Twenty-something Tahirah had achieved a milestone in life: she finally had her dream job -- crew leader in a Denver airport restaurant with a clear path to the management track. There was just one problem: her daughter suffers with asthma and Tahirah had no paid sick days.

She managed to make it work for a while. Then, one day, her daughter had a brutal asthmatic episode. Her daycare provider called to inform Tahirah that she should meet her at the hospital emergency room. But her supervisor withheld the information -- until the lunch rush was done and he didn’t need Tahirah at work anymore.

The incident forced her to quit that job.

Seventy-eight percent of workers employed in hospitality and food service, and 69 percent of workers employed in administration and office work, lack paid sick days. This is a serious concern because, like Tahirah, they are the workers who have the most intimate contact with the public. The lack of paid sick days isn’t just an issue for family care-givers, it’s an issue of public health, as we saw during last year’s H1N1 flu epidemic. We all are at risk when workers lack the opportunity to stay home and get better without the possibility of spreading contagions to the rest of us.

There’s something else, too: Economic justice.

In these tough times, with families struggling mightily to hang on, to keep a roof overhead and food on the table, it seems particularly punitive that a worker could lose income or even lose a job simply for getting sick or for having a sick child. What would Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth have to say about how the lack of paid sick days disenfranchises women and their families?

Hundreds of 9to5 members and activists think those courageous women would deeply identify with the paid sick days movement. That’s why we’ve chosen Women’s Equality Day for 9to5’s National Day of Action -- Healthy Workplaces: Paid Sick Days Now!

On August 26, we will organize events around the country, from Sacramento to Washington, D.C., and call for Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, federal legislation proposed by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, that would guarantee up to seven paid sick days a year.

It’s time that the U.S. joined other industrialized countries around the globe and made this one America; one where no worker has to choose between the family she loves and the job she needs.
Meric is executive director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women. For information on a Women’s Equality Day event near you, contact
Copyright (C) 2010 by the American Forum. 8/10


By Kathleen Rogers

On Aug. 26, we commemorate Women’s Equality Day and reflect on the true meaning of equality. The day is important, not just to evaluate where women are in terms of representation and equal pay for equal work, but also to consider the potential for jumpstarting climate negotiations and the green economy by strengthening women’s leadership in these areas.

Our elected leaders and the world’s heads of state have failed to solve the climate crisis or to shift into a green economy – all while everyone knows that the path we tread will exhaust the world’s food, water and energy. Public opinion strongly favors action; nonetheless, progress is stalled. It’s no coincidence that female participation is dismal in the U.N.’s climate negotiations, in the halls of our government and in corporate board meetings.

Women get the connections between climate change, public health and economic growth, because climate change is disproportionately affecting women. Heat and extreme weather already impede the work that falls on women worldwide, e.g. collecting water and growing crops. Not only are women responsible for as much as 80 percent of farming in the developing world, they’re much more vulnerable to natural disasters than men.

But women need not be victims of the climate crisis. A new generation of women entrepreneurs, leaders and civil society, have demonstrated the potential for being the solution to the climate crisis. But they must be mobilized and given an opportunity to influence government and business.

An influx of female leadership might solve the climate crisis. Studies have shown that successful female entrepreneurs take different risks than their male counterparts. Female entrepreneurs risk their own personal capital -- their time, their finances. Male risk-taking, on the other hand, seems to involve the wealth of others.

Politically powerful women in the U.S. and abroad want to find solutions to the climate-change dilemma. They want to champion women’s roles in establishing a green economy. From Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who created a new office for women at the State Department, to Amina Benkhadra, Morocco’s Minister of Energy, Mines, Water and Environment, to Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. framework on Climate Change, women are beginning to play key roles in the climate and renewable-energy discussion. They’re making their voices heard.

Investing in the strength of women seems to be a no-brainer, especially in these difficult times. We must invest in employing this team-playing, collaborative and hard-working half of the population while raising our collective female voices, because women exemplify fresh perspectives, long-term considerations and sane risk-taking.

Our leadership must include more female entrepreneurs who consider long-term costs while honoring debts to lenders and to future generations. Did you know that women are less likely to file for bankruptcy, or that the most successful micro lending projects in the developing world are those that loan exclusively to women?

In 1992, as the global community gathered at the first U.N. Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, it agreed to a set of principles on sustainable development. One of these principles was that: “Women have a vital role in environmental management. … Their full participation is therefore essential.” Almost 20 years later, we have yet to see that full participation. Why the slow-going? Before the Rio Earth Summit of 2012, we’d like to change that.

We need to convene female leaders to re-examine the climate crisis through a different lens. These leaders can then mobilize women all over the world to promote innovative solutions, all while promoting participation of women in green technology. This effort would include women political and business leaders, as well as top minds from the creative world.

As we shift into a new green economic model, we need women to be front and center as entrepreneurs and technical workers. And, with targeted training, education and mentorship, we can make the girls of today leaders of the new green economy of tomorrow. When it comes to the world’s future, we can’t afford to take risks with the wealth of others nor the wealth and well-being of future generations.
Rogers is president of Earth Day Network.
Copyright (C) 2010 by American Forum. 8/10


By Major General Paul D. Eaton

Through repeated tours at Fort Benning and eventually serving as its Commanding General, I got to know Georgia and Georgians pretty well. First, among the places I have served, my neighbors around Fort Benning display a pride, patriotism and national security awareness that helped me in my mission at the Home of the Infantry. And they are natural allies to those of us in uniform who devote our careers to America’s national security, our No. 1 priority while on active duty, and in retirement.

Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson will soon have the opportunity to protect America’s national security by voting in favor of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia, which would further a process started by Ronald Reagan to verifiably reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals to 1,550 warheads and 700 deployed launchers. The New START Treaty also ensures strategic stability by reinstating strong verification regime that allow U.S. inspectors, for the first time, to peer inside Russian missiles and track Russian warheads with unique identifiers.

As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has written, “The New START Treaty has the unanimous support of America's military leadership -- to include the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all of the service chiefs, and the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, the organization responsible for our strategic nuclear deterrent.”

Recently, I joined a group of retired flag officers, including Lt. Gen. Dirk Jameson, former commander of all ICBM units and Deputy Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, in expressing my support for the New START accord. Like Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen, we understand that the New START Treaty is essential to our national security.

For over 40 years, the U.S. has pursued strategic stability through an arms control process that has been vigorously supported by Republicans and Democrats alike. The New START Treaty both continues these established principles and tailors them to meet the security needs of the 21st century. In today's security environment we must protect against the dual threats of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. With the combined nuclear arsenals of the U.S. and Russia accounting for nearly 95 percent of the world's nuclear weapons, the first step to nuclear security begins with New START.

The original START agreement expired on December 5, 2009, leaving the U.S., at present, without the intrusive inspection and verification regime that allowed U.S. inspectors to monitor Russia’s nuclear arsenal for so many years. The U.S. Senate should work to reinstate these verification provisions by ratifying the New START accord and getting U.S. boots back on the ground as soon as possible. Without these measures, our Strategic Command loses its access to Russia’s nuclear forces and the predictability between the world’s two largest nuclear powers is called into question.

Some have argued that we’ve not yet fully explored the treaty. That’s not true. The Senate has held an extensive series of hearings and meticulously reviewed the treaty and its accompanying documents. Throughout this process, serious national security experts of all ideological stripes have voiced strong support for the New START treaty. James Schlesinger, Brent Scowcroft, William Perry, Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Stephen Hadley, Colin Powell and scores of others have all expressed strong support for this treaty.

Senators Chambliss and Isakson would do well to recognize that when they cast their vote for New START, they will be faced with a choice: strengthen our national security with a vote in favor of the New START Treaty, or choose to ignore the advice of our nation’s most trusted voices and expose the nation to greater risk due to loss of verification of Russian behaviors and intent. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, George H.W. Bush’s National Security Advisor, previously warned Senators that a rejection of this treaty would throw our nuclear policies into a “state of chaos.”

The support for New START from our military is clear. The national security benefits of New START are clear. So is the choice. Senators Chambliss and Isakson must support the New START Treaty and choose a safer Georgia and a stronger America.
Major General Eaton served more than 30 years in the United States Army, including combat and post-combat assignments in Iraq, Bosnia and Somalia and command of the Army Infantry Training Center in Fort Benning, GA.
Copyright (C) 2010 by Georgia Forum. 8/10


By Rev. Stephanie Coble Hankins

On top of all the problems working families face in this bleak economy, we can add one more: for the first time in three years the federal minimum wage won’t go up this summer.

From 2007 through 2009, the nation’s lowest paid workers received modest, yet long overdue increases in their paychecks each July. In 2007, Congress finally raised the federal minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour, phased in over three years.

But this year, workers will get nothing. The federal minimum wage will once again be flat unless Congress takes action again.

Until 2007, the federal minimum wage had been stuck at $5.15 an hour for 10 years. The federal minimum wage for tipped workers like waitresses and car wash workers is even lower. It’s been frozen at a meager $2.13 an hour since 1991.

For the child care worker who watches your toddler and the waitress at your local diner, the minimum wage plays a big role in setting their pay scales. That’s why farsighted business leaders like Costco’s CEO Jim Sinegal have been supportive of raising the minimum wage to help America’s working families.

The faith community also supports raising the minimum wage. As an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), I can think of few causes that the faith community should be more interested in than ensuring that the working poor in our own neighborhoods earn enough money to support their families.

This summer, the Georgia Minimum Wage Coalition has trained college interns at DOOR Atlanta to teach over 200 high school students on mission trips to Atlanta about the struggle of Georgia’s minimum wage workers. Our goal is to help these students recognize that families can’t make ends meet with wages that remain stagnant year after year.

The solution to the minimum wage problem is straight-forward. Simply “index” it, so that it is automatically adjusted each year to keep up with the cost of living. Indexing is already the law in 10 states. Workers in those states see a small automatic bump in their wages every year, helping families keep from falling farther behind on basic expenses.

Florida has indexed their state minimum wage. Georgia hasn’t. So while janitors and elder care workers in Jacksonville will be getting a raise next January 1st, the same workers in Valdosta won’t. In fact, Georgia’s state minimum wage is still $5.15 an hour, meaning that workers not covered by the federal minimum wage can still be legally paid this poverty wage in our state.

There is a proposal that would raise Georgia’s minimum wage to the federal rate of $7.25 an hour and index it to the cost of living. Despite broad public support to raise the minimum wage, it has yet to receive a House committee hearing.

This is really a shame. Fixing the minimum wage is vital for working families and key for restoring consumer spending that our economy needs to grow. A strong minimum wage puts money into the pockets of low-income families who spend it in their local communities. According to the Economic Policy Institute, last year’s rise in the minimum wage (from $6.55 to $7.25 an hour) generated $5.5 billion in new consumer spending.

It’s not just the economics of a higher minimum wage that makes sense. It’s also the right thing to do for our neighbors who are working hard and still struggling to stay afloat.
Rev. Hankins is an ordained Presbyterian minister who works as a part-time faith-based organizer for the Georgia Minimum Wage Coalition.
Copyright (C) 2010 by Georgia Forum. 8/10


By Rims Barber

There is a provision of the new Health Reform Law that will help sick Mississippians this year. Nonprofit hospitals will have to meet new indigent care requirements.

Mary Jo went to the hospital recently and was given a bill of over $15,000. She was uninsured and unable to pay more than about $20 per week. It would take her about 15 years to get out from under this debt. Many hospitals are established as private nonprofit entities, and are expected to give back charity care to the community in exchange for their tax-exempt status.

The new Health Reform Law, passed by Congress this year, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, amended Section 501c(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. It now requires nonprofit hospitals to publish guidelines for financial assistance, explain who is eligible, and how a person can apply for assistance.

In order to qualify for nonprofit status, a hospital must:

• Develop written financial assistance policies
• Limit what they charge for services
• Observe fair billing and debt collection practices
• Conduct regular community needs assessments.

With the exception of the needs assessment, these requirements go into effect this year. The Secretary of the Treasury is charged with enforcing the new provisions and has authority to issue further guidance and regulations as needed to make sure they are correctly implemented. The hospitals will report to the I.R.S on their annual 990 forms.

The Mississippi Human Services Agenda wrote all the private nonprofit hospitals in Mississippi asking them how they intended to comply with this new requirement. Only three hospitals responded to our survey, and we were directed to their websites for specifics on their financial assistance/charity care policies.

The web-published sliding scale showed discounts from the hospital charges, based on income. Since most hospitals accept a discount from insurance companies of 30-40 percent as payment in full, we can see that the hospitals are using their sliding scale to grant some patients the same discount as they give insurance companies.

Two hospitals used this sliding scale:

% of Poverty $ for Family of 4 Discount from charges

Below poverty $22,050 100%
100 – 119% $26,240 100%
120 – 139% $30,650 90%
140 – 169% $37,265 80%
170 – 199% $43,880 70%
200 – 299% $62,930 40%

Persons would have to bring documents with them to verify their income when they enter the hospital and declare that they are uninsured.

A major religious nonprofit medical center recently released a policy that allows any uninsured patient who applies during the admission process to have their hospital charges discounted by at least 50 percent (regardless of income), and free care for those under 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

If all our state’s nonprofit hospitals would make the effort to obey the law, and let people know that they may be eligible for discounts on their hospital care (and how they can qualify for this benefit), we would be much better off. People should let their local nonprofit hospitals know that they expect them to follow the law and treat the needy with equity.
Barber is director of the Mississippi Human Services Agenda.
Copyright (C) 2010 by Mississippi Forum 8/10

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why Health Care Reform Now?

By R.C. Braun, MD

Both during and after the health care reform debate many pondered two important questions: Why does our country need to reform our health care system? And, especially, why now when we are in the midst of a serious economic recession?

The response to the first question is in fact why it has it taken so long to change a system which is increasingly failing due to inefficiency, excessive cost, frequent poor results, and exclusion of far too many persons? All of these factors contribute significantly to our country’s economic problems and is why health reform is and was so needed.

Now, can we afford to reform our health care system? On the surface it appears that the proposed changes cost far too much. However, the changes are designed to be “budget neutral” by doing away with much of the waste and profiteering, and instead, promoting cost-effective care.

Many fears have been voiced, often promoted by organizations or businesses which might lose money or influence due to the new proposals. We are told that the government will take control of all health care and make medical decisions, that “I’ll lose my very good health insurance,” or that “Medicare will be drastically cut back” in order to pay for new programs for the uninsured.

It should be recognized that the majority of Americans who have good health care through private pay, insurance, or Medicare will only be slightly affected.

For Tennessee, this legislation comes at a critical time of near disaster for our health care “safety net.” TennCare, which 10 years ago was a national leader in providing health care for the needy, has been decimated to the point that now our state is one of the worst in the nation. The new legislation, among other relevant things, provides federal funding to Tennessee of more than $4 billion a year to cover 650,000 people who are currently uninsured.

Since our bureaucracy moves slowly, full implementation of the new legislation will not take effect until 2014. However, some of the following benefits for many of us will start before the end of this year. For example:

• Health insurance will be mandated, and help in providing it will be available for those in need.
• Insurance companies will be monitored, and will be required to pay out at least 80 percent of their premium income in benefits.
• Insurance benefits cannot be arbitrarily denied or excluded for “pre-existing conditions.”
• Annual checkups and preventive or screening services, such as mammograms and immunizations, will be covered without co-pays and deductibles.
• “Job lock” (continuing unsatisfactory jobs in order to keep health insurance) will disappear with “insurance exchanges.”
• Nearly all children can be covered up to age 26 on their parent’s policy.

Special Medicare provisions for seniors include:

• All guaranteed Medicare benefits remain intact, and reforms help the program remain solvent for years to come.
• Medicare Advantage (Part C) will be revised for better efficiency and fairness.
• Gradual reduction of the “doughnut hole” in Medicare Part D, starting with a $250 rebate this year.
• 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs.
• Investments in training more primary care physicians.

Implementation of the new health care legislation will not solve all of our health care problems, but the negative spell has been broken, and we can look forward to continuing improvements over the years.
Braun is a medical doctor in Pleasant Hill.
Copyright (C) 2010 by Tennessee Editorial Forum. 8/10

By R.C. Braun, MD

In 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the bill establishing the Social Security Administration. It was bitterly opposed by many as an intrusion of government into the lives of private citizens. As originally envisioned it was a very imperfect and incomplete plan, with many defects. Many millions of needy citizens were not included.

There have been many changes in Social Security since 1935. For the most part, these have been positive changes such as adjusting costs and benefits and including more people. This has been an ongoing evolution. Still today there are imperfections and inequalities, such as the lower contribution rates for the wealthy.

There are still some people who oppose Social Security and say: “I don’t need it and I don’t want it.” But the vast majority of senior Americans are dependent on it. It has made life easier for our entire society. Very few people today would agree to its abolition.

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the establishment of Medicare, to provide access to affordable health care for seniors and persons with disabilities. Again it was opposed by many, and there were attempts to repeal it. This program also has gone through many changes since 1965, some to make it more efficient, or to add benefits, some to lower costs. And there have been recognized abuses and wastes.

Nevertheless, Medicare has been remarkably effective in bringing access to health care to millions of persons who otherwise would have had to do without care. The increasing life expectancy of Americans is the lasting legacy of Medicare.

However there are still many who grumble about Medicare. Even persons who use and benefit from Medicare complain: “Get the government out of our lives!” However today it would be hard to imagine what life would be like for many persons without Medicare.

Is history repeating?

On March 23, 2010 President Barak Obama signed health care reform into law -- the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Again, this was a very controversial act, fraught with omissions, ambiguities, inconsistencies, and concessions to special interests. Again there has been talk of repeal, or of opting out of its provisions.

But passage of this bill came after many years of almost universal recognition of the serious inadequacies and injustices of our health care system, and after a number of failed efforts at reform by Congress. There has been great pressure on Congress to simply JUST DO SOMETHING!

The major opposition to this bill has been spearheaded by businesses in the health care field which anticipate losing some of their enormous profits, especially the drug and health insurance industries. Major concessions have been made in an attempt to keep them “on board,” but the handwriting is on the wall. They recognize that their dominant role in controlling health care in this country will necessarily and inevitably diminish.

As with Social Security and Medicare, we can anticipate many changes in the present health reform legislation, changes which will modify, clarify, and improve its provisions for the betterment of our health and our country.
Braun is a medical doctor in Pleasant Hill.
Copyright (C) 2010 by Tennessee Editorial Forum. 8/10

By Michael Lipsky and Ed Sivak

Presently, the work environments of our state and local public service workers are being crippled by the fiscal crisis in the states. Legislatures around the country face gaps of $260 billion in the next two fiscal years, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In Mississippi, we estimate a shortfall of over $500 million over each of the next two budget cycles in relation to needs.

For the public workforce, this fiscal crisis threatens functions critical to our communities’ sense of well-being, as well as the economic status of our workforce. County governments have laid-off workers, and state employees have been asked to accept unpaid furloughs and increase their contribution to their retirement funds. Critical positions will remain unfilled, and caseloads will increase. Once again state and local workers will be asked to do more with less.

In Mississippi, 226,000 people work in state, county and municipal governments, part of a workforce of 15 million in these sectors around the country.

The enduring value of the state and local public service was recently dramatized in the aftermath of the tornadoes that swept through Mississippi this spring.

Within 12 hours, responders from state and local law enforcement and the Mississippi National Guard came from around the state to assist with storm recovery. Within 48 hours, employees of the Mississippi Commission for Volunteer Service had deployed over 200 volunteers to the area creating a “volunteer city” that served as a clearinghouse for state employees and volunteers to provide urgently needed relief ranging from infant formula to disaster counseling.

Another example of the dedication of state workers is of course happening daily on the Gulf Coast. As oil from the broken well endangers our shorelines and threatens the way of life for many Gulf Coast residents, state workers tirelessly strive to mitigate the damage to the region’s economy and environment.

Technicians in the departments of Environmental Quality and Marine Resources are monitoring the Gulf’s waters, air, beaches, and commercial fisheries. Specialists in the Department of Employment Security are connecting people to thousands of jobs related to oil spill recovery. Workers with the Board of Animal Health are coordinating efforts to rehabilitate wildlife. As is the case with any disaster in the state, the dedicated people at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency provide the leadership to pull all these pieces together.

To work in public service means that the final decision about what constitutes a job well-done is made by determining that you have met a public need, and knowing that you have extended yourself on behalf of others. In contrast to private sector counterparts, the bottom line for public service workers is not profitability but the public good.

Police and highway patrol troopers, who represent one out of every 25 state and local workers, are never off duty, and teachers, who represent more than one out of every four state and local public employees, are always asking whether they have extended themselves enough with the time and resources available to them. There is always another client to see at a work-training center, or another call that a social worker could make on behalf of an elder requiring services.

In short, public sector work requires deep commitment to the service ideal.

Our state and local public service workers deserve better. Mississippi must ensure that we not only recognize the admirable work of our public service workers, but also find revenue sources to properly staff and fund these services for the good of Mississippi.
Sivak is the Director of Mississippi Economic Policy Center. Lipsky is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Dēmos. An expanded 30th Anniversary edition of his book, Street Level Bureaucracy, was recently published.
Copyright (C) 2010 by Mississippi Forum 8/10


By Pat Byington

Several times I have been invited to the weekly meetings of the Rotary Club of Birmingham. Like any busy business club meeting, with a couple of hundred people in attendance, there is a chorus of knives, forks and spoons, clanging ever so slightly as members try to finish their meal when a speaker begins to speak. This past May, when Bill Finch, former director of Conservation at the Nature Conservancy and longtime nature writer spoke to Rotary it took only 30 seconds before the room fell completely silent.

He was speaking about the Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Only a few weeks after the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, Finch described the slow moving invasion that was taking place on Alabama’s and the Gulf Coast’s shores and its devastating impact on our people and the environment. When he finished his presentation, the audience was shell-shocked. I remember walking amongst the members of the club after the meeting – heads were shaking, and shoulders slightly lowered. The members were somber.

According to Finch, we are in the midst of a “severe ecological rearrangement.”

Oil sheens had invaded Grand Bay, Alabama’s model estuary. On Petit Bois Island, an area west of Dauphin Island, 60 tons of oil pebbles and patties have already been picked up. The beaches looked like a Dalmatian.

In some places the effects may not be obvious for a year or two. Because of the toxicity and the oxygen deprivation caused by the spill, whole generations of fish, crabs, and shrimp will be impacted this year, next year and beyond. Life in our estuaries, the beaches and wildlife will change, and in some cases disappear altogether. Whole links in the food chain are broken.

One of the questions within Rotary’s four-way test, the guiding principles members ask of each other is: “Will it be beneficial to all concerned?” We need to start developing strategies and solutions that will benefit all Gulf residents as well as our delicate environment.

One such benefit and strategy has been developed by the Nature Conservancy and endorsed by the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Mobile Baykeeper, Alabama Coastal Foundation and the Alabama Department of Conservation, which calls for the construction in three to five years of 100 miles of oyster reefs and 1,000 acres of marsh and sea grasses in Mobile Bay. The new reefs will help nurse our local fisheries back to health. Over the last century, we have lost 90 percent of our marshes, sea-grasses and oyster reefs in the bay. The oil spill threatens the remaining fragile habitat which we need to ensure a viable seafood industry. This strategy will repel the effects of the oil spill and start the natural and ecological recovery process.

This crisis will be unlike any other confronted by our state and region. It will take years; maybe even a generation, to address the harm that has been caused. Be mindful, Alaskans are still dealing with the adverse effects of the Exxon Valdez spill, more than 20 years later. This spill is many times greater than that disaster.

In response, Gov. Riley needs to create a permanent non-partisan task force in Alabama to develop beneficial strategies that will nurse the gulf back to health. This is not just a Mobile-South Alabama crisis. We all need to pitch in and help our fellow Alabamians.

Along with the task force, we must insist, that every candidate for Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General pledge to work immediately on the oil spill once elected in November, if not sooner. There is no time for a transition.

The motto for Rotary International is “Service Above Self.” Maybe that is why the Rotarians leaving that meeting were so somber. They understood the enormous generational task ahead.
Byington is a longtime Alabama environmental advocate and currently the director of the Eastern Forest Partnership.
Copyright (C) 2010 by Alabama Forum. 8/10


By Steve Macek and Mitchell Szczepanczyk

On December 3, 2009, the cable giant Comcast announced plans to buy NBC/Universal from General Electric in a $28 billion merger.

Ever since, lawmakers in Washington and legions of activists have been raising the alarm about the threat such a deal would pose to telecommunication workers, cable and Internet users, and communities of color.

As a result, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), the Justice Department, and two Congressional committees have spent months carefully reviewing the proposed merger. The FCC even held a public hearing on the matter in Chicago last month.

Chief among the concerns the FCC must consider is the impact of the merger on workers. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts has promised that “there will be no massive layoffs,” even though every big media merger inevitably brings with it steep job cuts. For example, when AOL bought Time-Warner in 2000, the company laid off some 2,400 employees in the space of a year, about 3 percent of its total pre-merger workforce.

What’s more, Comcast has a long history of attempting to break its employees' unions and firing labor organizers. When Comcast bought AT&T Broadband in 2002, Comcast refused to negotiate a first contract with 16 former AT&T collective bargaining units and forced employees to attend intimidating anti-union meetings. Comcast has also spent lavishly to defeat the Employee Free Choice Act, which aims to strengthen workers’ right to form unions. Unsurprisingly, research shows that Comcast pays its workers 30 percent less in wages and benefits than other, unionized telecom companies.

The FCC must also scrutinize the potential of a combined Comcast/NBC to undermine “network neutrality,” which requires Internet Service Providers to treat all legal Internet content equally. Comcast is America’s leading provider of broadband Internet access and has been caught repeatedly blocking its users' downloads on peer-to-peer file sharing sites. They even sued the FCC over its right to enforce network neutrality and won in a controversial federal court case.

A Comcast buyout of NBC/Universal would also lead to Comcast control of the NBC and Telemundo broadcast networks and 52 cable channels, including MSNBC, Bravo, USA, E!, Style, Versus, and Comcast SportsNet. Having this mother lode of content would give Comcast even greater incentive to discriminate
in favor of its own online video offerings and against video available from BitTorrent, YouTube, or

A Comcast/NBC merger could also be detrimental to communities of color. This very concern was the main topic of a hearing, also held in Chicago, by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet on July 8, 2010. There, complaints abounded about the lack of diversity in Comcast and NBC hiring practices, the companies' upper-level management and their television programming.

As Representative Maxine Waters pointed out at the hearing, only two of 28 Comcast executives and only two of 18 NBC Universal executives are people of color. Even worse, of the dozens of cable networks currently owned by Comcast and NBC, only one is headed up by a person of color. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists opposes the merger –which will give Comcast control over the second-largest Spanish language TV network in the county-- because they fear it will lead to fewer jobs for Latino broadcast journalists and less coverage of the Latino community.

Comcast and NBC have offered some proposals to address these concerns, but as Stanley E. Washington, president and CEO of the National Coalition of African American Owned Media, said previously: “It’s crumbs and they know it is crumbs.” And as Representative Maxine Waters said at the Chicago House Committee hearing: “Neither Comcast nor NBC made any of these (pro-diversity) moves…until all of this began to unfold.”

Then, there’s the bread-and-butter issues about Comcast and cable television in general: higher cable costs, fewer cable channels (especially fewer independent channels), less funds for public access, education, and government cable channels, and ever worsening customer service.

Over the past five years, Comcast has jacked up its cable rates by nearly 50 percent in certain markets and plans to raise rates by 4 percent for some customers again in August. At the same time, the company has long had the lowest customer satisfaction ratings of any of the country's cable and satellite TV providers.

For all of these reasons, the FCC and the Justice Department should reject the proposed merger, which for the public is decidedly not Comcastic.
Macek is an associate professor of speech communication at North Central College. Szczepanczyk is an organizer with Chicago Media Action.
Copyright (C) 2010 by American Forum. 8/10


By Jane H. Aiken

Incarceration rates in Missouri are 12 percent higher than the nation. We also spend 6.8 percent of our state budget on the cost of incarceration.

Currently there are over 30,000 men and women in Missouri’s prisons. Reducing that number would substantially reduce costs so we can better spend that money to support the thousands in the state who find themselves out of work, hungry and homeless.

Governors all over the nation are looking hard for ways to stop unnecessary, costly incarceration. Absent some kind of expansive legislative action, this cost-saving strategy rests solely in the hands of the governor. The concern, appropriately, is that if we release these prisoners, will they commit new crimes?

So how can we reduce the prison population, while at the same time, protect Missourians?

The single best indicator of determining whether a person will commit another crime after leaving prison is age. Older prisoners pose a significantly lower risk of recidivism if released.

In addition to their lower risk, older prisoners impose much higher costs on the system as maintenance and medical costs, on average, are two to three times that of a younger prisoner.

Let’s look at a 40-year old prisoner. The prisoner did not have a criminal record before the present offense. The prisoner has already served considerable time and has an excellent institutional record. The prisoner has made use of the rehabilitative, educational and skills-building training provided in the prison. The prisoner has a supportive family and job prospects upon release. It’s easy to see that the prisoner described here (while admittedly rare) should be considered for release to save us all money.

To make it easier, let’s add equity issues into the mix. Missouri has historically sentenced women charged with violent crimes far more harshly than their male counterparts. Issues that have been traditionally excused in men, like alleged infidelity or alleged poor parenting, have been used to taint women, inflame juries, and obscure weaknesses in proof. This has resulted in extremely long sentences and perhaps wrongful convictions.

The problem of gender bias has improved over time but there are women in Missouri prisons who were convicted before societal awareness of this problem existed.

Governor Nixon is considering a clemency case that calls out for release, if not to correct the gender bias that plagued her trial, to reduce the cost of incarceration.

Patty Prewitt is emblematic of the prisoner who should be free. Prewitt’s trial focused far more on her infidelities and suggested bad mothering than on the facts of her case. Not surprisingly, she was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for 50 years. Her case is ripe for scrutiny. Even if the equities do not persuade, she is 60 years old, has served 25 years of her sentence, has an excellent institutional record, has participated in virtually every prison program for which she qualified and even created others, has a family eager to have her home, and four job offers waiting for her.

Even former Department of Corrections’ employees support her release. Sixty-five legislators saw the merit in ending her incarceration and urged Governor Nixon to grant her clemency. It’s time to release Patty Prewitt. If not for her, then for all of us who must pay the bills for her incarceration and her inevitably increasing health care needs.

There is nothing more the State of Missouri can do to her or for her. Send her home to her children who have been waiting for their mother for 25 long years and to her aging parents who yearn for her to be with them in their final days.
Aiken is the director of The Community Justice Project at Georgetown University Law Center and former Director of the Civil Justice Clinic at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis.
Copyright (C) 2010 by Missouri Forum. 7/10


By Rev. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson

Bob Corker has defied typecasting for a freshman senator, emerging in his first few years in the U.S. Capitol as a go-to leader for getting work done across party lines. Tennesseans should urge him to continue in this vein by leading his fellow Republicans in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to support the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).

New START, which was signed by President Obama and Russian President Medvedev this April, is presently under review by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and could be sent to the Senate floor as soon as late July. The Treaty is a conservative and modest reduction in both nations’ strategic nuclear forces. It limits each side’s deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, a reduction of approximately 30 percent from the 2002 Moscow Treaty, and restricts deployed delivery vehicles—ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers—to 800.

Perhaps most significantly, New START will continue the verification regime that has given us intelligence on Russian forces for the past two decades. START I, which was proposed by President Reagan and signed by President George H.W. Bush, expired last December. Though both nations have agreed to continue abiding by its provisions in the interim, the need to formalize these trust-building mechanisms has led Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to urge the Senate to ratify New START “as soon as possible.”

Senator Corker has been a careful and thoughtful questioner throughout the more than 10 Senate hearings thus far on New START. He has heard a level of bipartisan support that is nearly unimaginable in the current, poisonously partisan environment of the Beltway. Treaty endorsements so far have come from top security officials representing every administration from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush, including George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, and James Schlesinger. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “The New START Treaty has the unanimous support of America's military leadership,” citing “the security it provides to the American people.”

Equally telling is the opposition to the Treaty, which has proven shockingly weak. The voices raised against New START have been primarily those of individuals whose foremost interest is not improving national security, but scoring political points against the Obama White House. Mitt Romney, as an aspiring 2012 presidential candidate, has emerged as the most prominent national critic to date—but nuclear experts dubbed his error-riddled and embarrassingly ill-informed op-ed against New START as “flat wrong” and “shabby, misleading, and…thoroughly ignorant.”

In the meanwhile, red herrings—the Treaty’s alleged impact on American missile defense, for example—have been thoroughly refuted by those who are actually responsible for national security, like Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, who testified that, “The New START Treaty actually reduces previous START treaty's constraints on developing missile defense programs in several areas.”

Yet despite New START’s overwhelming bipartisan support and substantive merit, its fate in the Senate is uncertain. The question is which direction Republican senators will go. Senator Richard Lugar, a recognized expert in nuclear arms control and the GOP’s elder statesman on foreign policy, has declared his strong support for the Treaty; Senators James Inhofe and Jim DeMint have stated their opposition. Senator Corker’s decision on New START could be a bellwether for the rest of the GOP caucus.

Let’s be candid: if this Treaty, which has the unanimous support of our military leadership, had been negotiated by a Republican president, ratification would be both expeditious and with a huge majority. This means that the sticking point is that New START is President Obama’s treaty. Unfortunately, some Senate Republicans seem to be choosing the “party of no” over the traditional axiom that “politics stops at the water’s edge”—preventing the ratification of a treaty that is so obviously in our national security interests.

Senator Corker’s conservative credentials are above reproach. But in an increasingly ideological Capitol, he faces an uphill battle to employ the commonsense pragmatism that he demonstrated as a successful businessman and mayor. Tennesseans would do well to exercise our responsibilities as active citizens and stand behind Senator Corker, letting him know we appreciate his style of leadership on behalf of our state and our nation—and that we welcome the political courage necessary to choose the greater national good over oppressive partisanship.
The Rev. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson is the founding director of the Nashville-based Two Futures Project, an organization of Evangelical Christians for nuclear security.
Copyright (C) 2010 by Tennessee Editorial Forum. 7/10