At town halls during Congressional recess, Californians urge support for Affordable Care Act

February 24, 2017 12:49 PM CST By Marilyn Bechtel

OAKLAND, Calif. – Amid the nationwide wave of town hall meetings during the Congressional recess, many gatherings and actions have been held across California, with saving and improving the Affordable Care Act high on the agenda.

California has been a leader in implementing all aspects of the health care law.

More than one-third of Californians – and 60 percent of the state’s children – are now covered by Medi-Cal (the state’s Medicaid), while another 1.4 million are covered through the state’s exchange, Covered California.

Worry about losing their coverage animated many of those participating in a Feb. 21 town hall with U.S. Representative Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, one of the few California Republicans hosting town halls. The gathering drew some 900 people, who also expressed their concerns about the environment, education and other issues.

The scarcity of town halls hosted by Republican representatives aroused the ire of many constituents.

In the Central Valley city of Modesto, several hundred gathered at a constituent-organized town hall to demand that U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, oppose ACA repeal unless an even better plan replaces it. Denham was not there, though he sent a representative to  listen to the discussion. So far he has not scheduled a town hall on the topic. Nearly 110,000 people in his district would lose their coverage following repeal, the great majority of them having gained coverage through the Medi-Cal expansion.

In southern California, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, angered many constituents by failing to show up for a Feb. 21 town hall on the repeal of the health care law, despite “missing person”-style posters reading “Last Seen in Washington supporting President Trump,” and a full-page newspaper ad published the previous week, inviting him to the town hall.

Other districts represented by Republicans, especially in the heavily-agricultural Central Valley, also have large numbers of people covered under the ACA. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, the House Majority Leader, represents one of them.

On a more positive note, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, joined Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan in holding a town hall here Feb. 18, which drew an overflow crowd of more than 1,000 people. Health care was a major issue, along with immigration, racial issues and women’s rights.

In an interview, Lee told Oakland North that it is important for people to hear from others who have benefited from the ACA and how they would be impacted by repeal. “Second of all,” she said, “it is important for people to know that we are together in this resistance movement against this anti-American backwards Trump agenda.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, also held a town hall Feb. 18, where she was joined by California Secretary of Health and Human Services Diana Dooley and the CEO of S.F. General Hospital, Dr. Susan Ehrlich.

Three members of Congress in nearby Contra Costa County – Reps. Mike Thompson, Jerry McNerney and Mark DeSaulnier – joined in hosting a town hall in Martinez on Feb. 18, with saving the ACA at the top of the agenda.

California mayors announced their own Feb. 22 Mayors’ Day of Action in a press release signed by the mayors of San Francisco, Union City, West Sacramento, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Oakland, Davis and San Jose. The actions focused on virtual phone banks to members of Congress. The mayors said “staggering numbers” of Californians have benefited from the ACA, and added, “When we work together, Californians can accomplish great feats. We’re confident that standing together, we can save the ACA.”

The California Pan-Ethnic Health Network (CPEHN) says over two-thirds of Californians covered under MediCal are people of color), with every racial/ethnic group experiencing increased coverage since 2013. Latinos make up half those enrolled in Medi-Cal, while coverage has more than doubled among Asian/Pacific Islanders and risen by one-third among African Americans.

CPEHN warns that “Proposals to drastically change Medi-Cal by eliminating the Medi-Cal expansion for example, would significantly harm low-income communities overall with particularly negative impacts on Latinos, Asian/Pacific Islanders and African Americans.

An analysis by the University of California/Berkeley’s Labor Center says California also faces major economic consequences under a partial repeal of the ACA. Besides the loss of coverage by millions now covered by Medi-Cal, and the loss of federal subsidies helping those covered through the exchange, the state would lose $20.5 billion in yearly federal funding for the expansion, and more than 200,000 jobs would also be lost, the majority of them in the health care industry.

No wonder that back in December, Health Access’ Tam Ma told a Sacramento symposium on the Affordable Care Act, “It would be hard to imagine going back to a world without the consumer protections and financial support provided through the ACA and our other health care programs.” And Anthony Wright warned participants to prepare not just for a sprint, but also for “the marathon ahead.”

Via People’s World 

California legislators challenge Trump anti-immigrant agenda

December 8, 2016 10:32 AM CST  BY MARILYN BECHTEL

OAKLAND, Calif. – As their new two-year legislative session opened Dec. 5, members of California’s state Senate and Assembly moved quickly to build on post-election initiatives to protect and uphold the rights of the state’s undocumented immigrants.

2015 study by the Public Policy Institute of California estimated California’s undocumented population at 2.67 million, or nearly a quarter of undocumented immigrants in the U.S., and said they make up just over 6 percent of the state’s population. Other estimates put the figure at around 2.3 million.

Both legislative houses passed identical resolutions urging President-elect Donald Trump to form humane immigration policies, avoid mass deportations, and keep President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, policy intact.

Both resolutions sharply condemned “bigoted, racist or misinformed descriptions of the immigrant community that serve only to foment hatred and violence,” and called for a “comprehensive and workable approach to solving our nation’s historically broken immigration system.”

The resolutions noted the vital role immigrants play in the state’s industries, including technology, health care, agriculture, construction, hospitality, and domestic services, and pointed out that immigrants also make up a large percentage of small business owners, helping to create economic prosperity and jobs.

They also said undocumented immigrants make up about one-tenth of California’s workforce, account for $130 billion of the state’s gross domestic product, and pay billions in state and local taxes.

Both legislative chambers now have Democratic supermajorities. The vote in the 40-member Senate was 27-13 along party lines, with three Republicans opposing and 10 abstaining. In the 80-member Assembly, two Republicans – Brian Maienschein of San Diego and Catharine Baker of San Ramon – joined Democrats in a 57 to 14 vote.

Speaker of the Assembly Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, called immigrants “a part of California’s history, our culture, our society.” He noted that “they pay taxes, sometimes more than billionaires,” and are helping to make the state the world’s sixth largest economy.

“With this package of legislation we are telling the next Administration and Congress: If you want to get to them, you have to go through us,” Rendon said.

Senate President pro Tempore Kevin De Leόn, D-Los Angeles, recalled Trump’s positive comments about “Operation Wetback,” the mass deportation program of the 1950s, and warned that California will not return to such inhumane policies.

De Leόn added, “It is neither humane nor wise to ignore the many contributions of this community to our economy and culture. California celebrates diversity. We don’t deport it.”

From resolution to practical policy

Wasting no time, legislators in both Senate and Assembly introduced several bills to carry out the resolutions in practical terms.

State Senator Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus, introduced a bill to create a state program to fund legal representation for noncitizens facing deportation. His office has issued a fact sheet noting that 68 percent of people in immigrant detention facilities lack legal representation, and those who are represented are over five times more successful in challenging deportation.

Hueso’s bill includes provision of a yet-unspecified amount of state funds, and would also create a fund that could accept donations.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, who chairs the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, introduced a bill to create state-funded regional centers to train defense attorneys and public defender’s offices on immigration law and the consequences of criminal proceedings.

Both bills were marked for urgency status, meaning they require a two-thirds majority to pass and become effective as soon as they are passed.

State Senator Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, introduced three measures under the overall title, Fight for California.

One would require approval by California voters if Trump proposes to build a wall on the California-Mexico border costing more than $1 billion. Another would bar state agencies from sharing information on a person’s religious affiliation with federal agencies, if the information would be used to compile a database solely on religious affiliation. The third would bar local governments from hiring private for-profit companies to detain immigrants and would require detention facilities to meet basic health and safety requirements.

Lara’s parents came from Mexico, and were undocumented before they became citizens.

And De Leόn introduced a measure to bar all state and local law enforcement from investigating, detaining, or reporting individuals for immigration enforcement, and from helping federal authorities to require individuals to register on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, national or ethnic origin. De Leόn said local law enforcement could still honor warrants to transfer violent offenders to federal authorities.

Immigrant rights groups signal support

Organizations engaged in immigrant rights work around the state are signaling their support for the legislature’s actions.

The San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium said it applauds the state’s elected officials “for taking proactive measures to protect immigrants and refugees against potentially harsh immigration and enforcement policies from the incoming Trump administration.” SDIRC said “the best way to protect the wellbeing of our entire community is ensuring that people feel they can move freely in their communities without fear.”

Stewart Kwoh, who heads Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Los Angeles, said California is “sending a message to President-elect Trump that we vigorously oppose his xenophobic and bigoted anti-immigrant agenda” and will do everything possible to defend and protect immigrants.

Yannina Casillas, legislative and government relations coordinator for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), called the proposed measures “concrete steps to ensure that the rights of undocumented immigrants and vulnerable immigrant communities are protected.”

Jennie Pasquarella, immigrant rights director at the American Civil Liberties Union of California, said “now more than ever, California must stand by its values of fairness and due process, and the many immigrants that call California their home.”