JOBS: Congress must take action on unemployment benefits
Congress is back in session, and lawmakers have only one week left to ensure that numerous benefits that are helping the nation’s millions of unemployed workers survive this recession – an extended unemployment benefits, COBRA subsidies, and additional $25 per week in everyone's benefit checks. Congress has to pass legislation this week in order for these benefits to continue uninterrupted after the end of the month.
The current plan in the Senate is to extend benefits by 15 days (through March 15th), and then work on a longer extension during the first two weeks of March. It seems ridiculous to waste time with more deliberating, as these benefits are vital for unemployed workers and they are the best economic stimulus that exists. It should be a no-brainer to extend this program through the end of the year.
TAKE ACTION! The Jobs for America Now coalition is holding a national call-in day today! Please take a moment and call the offices of your elected officials, and let them know why unemployment insurance extensions, $25 benefit supplement, and COBRA subsidies are so important. Visit the Jobs for America Now page to take action and receive talking points to help you with the call. Additionally, further talking points and updates are on our website, in our Action Center and Blog.
TAXES: Extending child tax credit would help 600,000 kids in North Carolina
Another issue Congress needs to address ASAP is passing an extension of the 2009 tax-code improvements that benefitted working families, including perhaps 600,000 in North Carolina. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) expanded the child tax credit to reach many low-income working families who previously were excluded from it, and it boosted the credit for many more such families who were receiving only a fraction of the full credit. "This measure is an effective means to keep families with children from slipping into poverty," said Meg Gray Wiehe, policy analyst with the Justice Center's Budget & Tax Center.
President Obama's fiscal year 2011 budget, as well as legislation that Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus introduced last year, would make this change permanent, along with the child-tax-credit expansion that Congress enacted in 2001 and many other tax cuts it enacted in 2001 and 2003. A report from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities says, "If Congress fails to extend the 2009 improvements... millions of low-income working families with children will lose much or all of their child tax credit, and many will fall into - or deeper into - poverty."
HEALTH CARE: Have your health premiums increased this year?
February has been a busy news month for Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.
After repeated denials, the BCBSNC CEO Brad Wilson finally admitted that, yes, the insurance company's lobbyist did initiate the change to a state law that reversed efforts to reduce health care costs for state prisoners. Wilson at first disputed the accounts of how the law was changed as reported in the Raleigh News & Observer, before finally conceding that the report was "technically accurate."
There was also the audit that looked at the state's "cost plus" contract with BCBSNC for administration of the State Health Plan. Basically, the SHP paid Blue Cross what it costs to administer the plan plus an additional amount. The SHP asked the auditor to look at the "plus" part and determine if Blue Cross is charging the state for "disallowed" costs. The trouble, according to the auditor, is that the Blue Cross contract allows the insurer to charge the SHP for nearly anything. The audit found the "plus" part includes tons of stuff, from board retreats to e-business to something called "corporate capitalized labor." Despite all of these "pluses," BCBSNC refused to help the SHP save money when the state was in crisis, and state lawmakers refused to make any public demands of the insurer.
All of this got the folks at the Justice Center's Health Access Coalition wondering -- how much have your insurance premiums gone up this year? They're collecting comments on rate increases -- either individual or group -- on the Progressive Pulse blog or via email. Click below and let us know what you're paying this year.
TAKE ACTION: Help children in farming communities be safe from pesticides
Children in farming communities are on the front lines every day because they live, play and learn near agricultural fields. Pesticides applied to fields don't stay put -- they drift, vaporize, land in homes and on schoolyards. Thanks in part to the advocacy efforts of United Farm Workers and its partners, the US Environmental Protection Agency is currently considering three related actions that would go a long way towards addressing the realities of pesticide drift exposure in farming communities: stronger buffer zones, better drift labeling, and updated risk assessments.
Help in this effort by signing the UFW's petition urging the EPA to protect farm worker children -- in order to help them grow up with less childhood cancer, fewer developmental disabilities and a better chance at life.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE: Crucial Conversation tackles "Citizens United" case
Next Tuesday (March 2), NC Policy Watch will host a "Crucial Conversation" luncheon on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case, one of the most controversial and potentially far-reaching decisions in recent American history. The court's ruling established a constitutional right for corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on politics. According to E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, the court's ruling was "an astonishing display of judicial arrogance, overreach and unjustified activism. Turning its back on a century of practice and decades of precedent, a narrow right-wing majority on the court decided to change the American political system by tilting it decisively in favor of corporate interests."
So how bad is the decision really? And what does it mean for the future of politics in North Carolina? To help you make sense of this decision and begin to chart a path forward, NC Policy Watch and NC Voters for Clean Elections are hosting a Crucial Conversation luncheon featuring Brenda Wright, one of the nation's top experts in the field of voting rights, campaign finance reform and election reform issues. Wright is a veteran civil rights attorney and the Director of the Democracy Program at the national public policy research and advocacy organization, Demos. She has argued two voting rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and has extensive experience as a speaker and writer on voting rights, voter suppression, access to voter registration, campaign finance reform, redistricting, election protection, Department of Justice oversight, and other election reform and democracy issues.
EDUCATION: Future of Wake County schools in jeopardy
The national reputation of the Wake County School District has been an enormous asset to the business community when it comes to attracting highly educated workers and promoting growth. Now, the futures of these companies – including their property values – are in jeopardy, along with the future of every public-school student in the county.
Superintendent Del Burns, a mild-mannered and dedicated public servant, was been forced to resign rather than compromise his principles and beliefs regarding the damage economic segregation will do to the children to whom he has dedicated his life.
So now the question is, when will Raleigh’s powerful and influential business leaders get to work stopping the insane effort that has been launched by clueless ideologues to destroy Wake County’s nationally renowned school system?
HEALTH CARE: Report tackles charity care policies in NC hospitals
A new report from the Justice Center's Health Access Coalition looks at the charity-care policies of hospitals throughout North Carolina. In fiscal year 2008, North Carolina hospitals provided $694 million in free care. However, it is not always easy for patients to access a hospital's charity-care policy, and not all hospitals have incomes guidelines for charity care that adequately meet the needs of their communities
The report's author calls on every hospital in the state to post a comprehensive charity care policy online, including income eligibility levels, asset limits, and catastrophic discounts. Currently, all 112 hospitals in North Carolina maintain websites; however, only 72 hospitals post some charity-care information and just 39 post comprehensive policies online.
Hospitals should also strive to provide free care to families earning less than 200 percent of federal poverty level and provide some discount to families earning less than 300 percent of federal poverty level, and they should consider benchmarking charity care policies to a reasonable cost-of-living index like the Living Income Standard. The report applauds several hospitals and hospital systems for providing charity-care levels that exceed the cost of living for their region, including Novant Health, UNC Health Care, University Health Systems of Eastern North Carolina, Iredell Memorial Hospital, The Outer Banks Hospital, High Point Regional Health System and Margaret R. Pardee Memorial Hospital.