New American Media

Armed and Aging: As Older Americans Own the Most Guns, Should They Face More Gun Controls?

Richard Swift grew up in the era of John Wayne and Gene Autry, cinematic cowboys whose armed antics drove his daydreams. He had a BB gun years before the first whiskers sprouted on his chin. At 12, he got a .22-caliber rifle that he’d lug around the hills and fields of his rural southeastern Pennsylvania burg, shooting targets and learning to hunt.

“Mostly, I was just shooting things that were there, like a stick floating down the creek. I’d shoot bumblebees if they settled on a limb. I’m sure I made a few snakes disappear. Any kind of small, challenging target—it was about trying to hit what you were aiming at,” Swift reminisced.

His fondness for firearms didn’t fade as he aged. As a young man, he joined the Delaware National Guard, his shooting skills so honed by then that he competed in marksmanship matches on the National Guard’s army rifle team. Later, as a banker, he armed himself for protection as he delivered cash between bank branches.

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Tortured, Jailed Black Seniors Released--But Denied Social Security After Life In Prison

In an unprecedented move, Chicago officials have agreed to pay $5.5 million in reparations to black men, who spent decades in prison after police tortured them into confessing to crimes they didn't commit.

Although each man could receive as much as $100,000 before taxes, the settlement points to another major financial roadblock that a corrupt and racist police, prosecutorial and judicial system drops in the path of black men who have been wrongfully convicted.

Loss of Youth--and Social Security

As a result of their arrests, convictions and decades behind bars beginning at young ages, wrongfully convicted men spent their most-productive years in prison. They were prevented from working at jobs that provided pensions and that paid into the Social Security benefits system for their retirement beginning as early as age 62.

Their loss of youth and income in this instance was caused by now disgraced former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his subordinates.

Burge and his so-called midnight crew tortured 120 African-American men between 1972 and 1991, using electric shock, mock executions, suffocation and beatings.

The police department finally fired Burge in 1993. He was convicted of perjury in 2010 for lying about having tortured accused men, but not about torture itself because the statute of limitations had expired.

A judge sentenced Burge, former commander of Area 2 and Area 3 on the mostly African American South and West Sides to 4½ years in prison. He was released last October.

During a Finance Committee hearing on April 14 at Chicago City Hall, Stephen R. Patton, Chicago's Corporation Counsel, said many of them are now seniors. Patton, who oversees civil claims against the city, was a key participant in the deal to pay the men reparations.

The Corporation Counsel's spokesman said the government department did not have exact demographic data, such as ages, on all the men who would be eligible to receive reparations.

Although the reparations checks will provide a one-time income bump for men who literally have had nothing for decades, that money could quickly run out so they will need a monthly source of regular funds to pay rent, buy food, gas, ride the bus or just to see a movie.

To achieve that goal these elders, who lack work skills and education, face a steep climb.

Arresting and convicting innocent black men are systemic in the nation's police departments, prosecutors' offices and courts.

Released as an Old Man

Joseph Sledge is an example of an African American man who spent most of his life in prison, in his case for a double murder he didn't commit.

Sledge was 33 when he was sentenced to life in prison in 1978 for the 1976 murders of a mother and her daughter in their Elizabethtown, N.C., home. He was age 70 when he was released from prison in January, after spending 37 years behind bars before DNA evidence proved he wasn't the women's killer.

Sledge is eligible for $750,000 in state compensation, but he probably does not qualify for Social Security retirement benefits because the nearly four decades he spent in prison prevented him from doing work that would have paid into the fund, said Christine Mumma, his lawyer.

According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), a person needs 40 credits (quarters), or 10 years of work to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits

"Social Security does not have a program that compensates wrongfully convicted individuals with no work history," the spokesperson wrote in an e-mail.

Bryan L. Sykes, assistant professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of California, Irvine, said African American men with felonies face barriers to employment and wage growth, thereby lessening their qualifications for Social Security.

Wrongfully convicted men released from prison after decades behind bars receive the most attention because many read about them and believe when they are freed that justice has finally been achieved.

Last year, 125 people were exonerated for crimes they didn't commit, according to the National Registry of Exonerations [http://tinyurl.com/moalhx8] at the University of Michigan Law School. Historically, 60 percent of exonerees are African American men.

Black men who are mentally ill and never held a job because of their illness and African Americans who cannot find work because of race discrimination or who are paid under the table often for menial jobs also don't receive Social Security retirement benefits.

Lack of Social Security by the Numbers

Data concerning black men who don't receive Social Security Retirement Benefits is scant.

The total number of African Americans 65 or older who receive Social Security was 2.9 million based on 2012 data, said Sara E. Rix, until recently a senior strategic policy advisor at AARP.

Of the nearly 3 million African Americans 65 years old and older who receive Social Security, 15.82 percent or 563,028 do not, Rix said.

"There are approximately 311,000 total males over the age 60, who do not qualify for Social Security retirement, due to not having worked enough quarters. Of the 311,000 total males, approximately 45,000 are African American men," Ben Stump, an SSA spokesperson, wrote in an e-mail. This information is based on a small study.

Andrew Burrell, 68, is one of those black men who comes close but doesn't have the required 40 credits to receive Social Security retirement benefits.

"I have 37 quarters," said Burrell who lost his job as an automobile spray painter for Maaco in 1978 after suffering a nervous breakdown on the job. Police escorted him from Maaco and took him to Chicago-Read Mental Health Center.

"I have gone to the Social Security office six or eight times to get my Social Security, but they won't give it to me,” Burrell said. He has been psychiatrically hospitalized several more times, making it impossible to get hired.

Burrell lives on $740 a month from Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is designed to help elderly disabled people who have little or no low income. If he qualified for Social Security retirement benefits, Burrell said he would receive more than $1,000 a month.

David Nero-Mailey, who has been in and out of mental hospitals, said he never has held a paying job, but he volunteered at three Chicago hospitals for 25 years, working in their mailrooms.

However, Mailey, 58, is proud of his late father, John B. Mailey, a janitor, who worked a job that paid into Social Security.

Holmes' Story

Anthony Holmes has a different story to tell.

Holmes confessed to a murder he didn't commit after being tortured by Burge and his crew. He spent 30 years in prison before being released in 2004 on probation, said his lawyer G. Flint Taylor. Holmes' conviction has not been overturned.

Holmes, who is now 69, testified at last week’s Chicago City Council Finance Committee hearing, sometimes stopping talking to wipe away tears. Holmes said he couldn't get job when he got out of prison. "This has been very hard on me and my family," he told the standing-room only hearing of mostly white women, many of them wearing "Reparations Now" T-shirts.
The audience gave him a standing ovation before and after his testimony.

In a 2014 study by the Center for American Progress, the authors, Rebecca Vallas and Sharon Dietrich, wrote that people with convictions face barriers to employment, housing, public assistance and education and this significantly affects black men.

"These barriers adversely impact not only individuals, but also their families, communities and the entire economy: The U.S. loses an estimated $65 billion per year in gross domestic product due to the unemployment of people with criminal records," wrote Vallas and Dietrich in their report, titled "One Strike and You're Out: How We Can Eliminate Barriers to Economic Security and Mobility for People with Criminal Records."

Holmes finally found work as a day laborer, loading trucks newspapers on trucks. Meanwhile, Burge, Holmes' torturer, collects a $4,000 a month from his police pension and lives in Florida. The city of Chicago also has spent $21.8 million defending Burge in court.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Amnesty International USA, and the Chicago Torture Justice Memorials (an umbrella organization that includes Black People Against Police Torture) reached the agreement concerning reparations. The entire 50-member Chicago City Council will vote on the reparations ordinance next month.

 

Labor Shortage: Germany Needs More Immigrants

BERLIN, Germany — Yves Pierre, 34, traveled around the world for over a decade looking for a land of opportunity - a place to live where he could have steady work in order to support his family back in Haiti. When he found a job with a multinational cruise line based in Berlin, he embraced Germany as his new home.

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Mental Health Patients Will No Longer Be Discriminated Against Under ACA

Like most severely mentally ill patients, 23-year-old Daniel Padilla doesn’t see himself as that.

The insurance companies that cover him – Medi-Cal (California’s name for Medicaid, the federal-state-funded insurance for low-income and disabled people) and United Health Insurance -- don’t see the schizophrenia he was diagnosed with at age 19, as deserving the same benefits as someone with a medical condition.

His father, Benito, must go after the insurers month after month to get them to pay Padilla’s psychiatrist to keep his schizophrenia under control.

“The insurers approve three visits and then they put you through hell,” asserted San Diego-based psychiatrist Dr. Rodrigo A. Muñoz, who has been treating Padilla all along.

“Insurers discriminate against people who are mentally ill,” Muñoz said.

But that’s all going to change soon. When the historic Affordable Care Act fully unrolls on Jan. 1, 2014, it will require insurers to offer mental health care benefits equal to physical health benefits. In other words, a disorder in the brain will be treated no differently than one in the kidney, Muñoz said.

Not just people with mental disorders, but those with substance use disorders have encountered penny-pinching annual and lifetime caps on coverage, higher deductibles, or simply no coverage at all.

Federal Parity Law

The blatantly discriminatory practices by health insurance companies prompted Congress in 2008 to pass the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA), which mandated that psychiatric illness be covered just the same as other medical illnesses. It required insurers to offer the same annual and lifetime dollar limits for mental health care as for medical and surgical care.

But the law applies only to larger employers – those with 50 or more workers – that offered a health plan that covered mental health and substance abuse. Smaller employers, as well as people who buy their own insurance, are excluded from the benefits of the law.

“Smaller employers have resisted changing the law, saying they will go broke” if they had to include mental health coverage in their health care plans, Muñoz pointed out.

The ACA has extended the MHPAEA provisions to state insurance exchanges, known as Covered California in this state. This would require policies purchased by smaller employers and individuals through the exchange, as well as those purchased outside of it, to be MHPAEA-compliant.

Had the MHPAEA mandated universal psychiatric benefits when it was created, insurers like Padilla’s would not have been able to discriminate between the treatment of psychiatric and non-psychiatric medical illnesses, he said.

Only a Fraction of the Mentally Ill Get Treatment

Dr. Clayton Chau, who practices psychiatry in Orange County, Calif., said that because of the discrimination factor, poor access to care and inadequate insurance coverage, only a fraction of those with mental illness get treatment.

A report by the Surgeon General indicates that one in four Americans has a diagnosable mental illness at any given time. National and international studies show that 1 percent of the general population has schizophrenia, an illness that is treatable, though not curable. Surveys, including those done by the National Institutes of Mental Health, show that only about 50 percent of Americans seek psychiatric treatment.

According to Randall Hagar, director of government relations with the California Psychiatric Association, a state mental health parity bill signed by Gov. Davis in 2000 required insurers to cover the diagnosis and treatment of a range of mental illnesses under “the same terms and conditions applied to other medical conditions.” The intent of the law was to eliminate the disparity in co-pays and higher deductibles.

In the opinion of many advocates, Hagar observed, the law is “routinely violated by plans and insurers, and enforcement is generally weak.”

That prompted Sen. Jim Beall, D-Campbell, to try five times to give more teeth to federal and state mental health parity laws. Beall’s first four bills were vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger, and his most recent bill (SB22) didn’t even make it out of committee.

What the Health Care Law Will Do

Under the ACA, aka Obamacare, health insurers are forbidden from excluding people with pre-existing illness from medical coverage. By definition, Americans with a mental illness have a pre-existing disorder, and up until now, private health insurers have denied with impunity coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.

California has added a mental health component to its expanded Medi-Cal program, under ACA, to ensure that its Medi-Cal population with mental disabilities receives more comprehensive mental health benefits, starting Jan. 1, 2014.

The current mental health component of Medi-Cal “is limited in terms of the number of providers and the number of services” it offers, Chau said.

Older people with mental illness will also benefit from the ACA because the law will close the notorious “donut hole,” allowing the Medicare population to not have a break in medication.

Padilla, who’s currently working for his GED, has been able to stay on his father’s insurance because of his age. A provision in the ACA allows children under 26 to remain on a parent’s insurance plan.

Muñoz is relieved that the ACA will help patients like Padilla access the care they so badly need. The removal of lifetime caps by insurance companies will enable mentally ill patients to access care before turning to suicidal thoughts, becoming violent or ending up homeless, he said.

Blacks Who "Stand Their Ground" Are Often Imprisoned

The recent acquittal of neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year-old unarmed Trayvon Martin has led to intense scrutiny of Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, which hung over the Zimmerman trial along with similar “no retreat” self-defense laws, and their impact on people of color.

“I think the Trayvon Martin case highlighted the racial inequalities that exist in American society,” said Brendan Fischer, general counsel of the Center for Media and Democracy. “It is a symbol of how the American justice system devalues the lives of people of color. [And], ‘Stand Your Ground’ has embedded a lot of these injustices into the system. Statistics have shown its application has been anything but equitable.”

Supported by the National Rifle Association, “Stand Your Ground” was passed by the Florida legislature in 2005. The measure turned age-old self-defense principle on its head by allowing persons to use deadly force to defend themselves, without first trying to retreat, if they have a reasonable belief that they face a threat.

The law’s template was then adopted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit organization made up of corporations, foundations and legislators that advance federalist and conservative public policies, authorities said. Since Florida passed the law, similar measures have been introduced in one form or another in about 30 states, usually those with state legislatures dominated by Republicans.

“That law gives law-and-order activists, right-wingers and vigilantes an arguable basis for defense and opens up a pathway for unjust dispositions of justice because it allows civilians to shoot first and make certain determinations later,” said Dwight Pettit, 67, a renowned Black attorney in Baltimore.

Pettit drew comparisons to police-involved shootings of African Americans when the officers make claims such as “I was in fear for my life,” or “I thought he was reaching for his gun,” and are exonerated. He said he discusses the phenomenon in his soon-to-be-released book Under Color of Law.

“Blacks don’t fare well with these laws at all,” Pettit said. “It’s another lessening of protection for African Americans.”

An analysis conducted by the Tampa Bay Times last year showed that defendants in Florida who employ the “Stand Your Ground” defense are more successful when the victim is Black. In its examination of 200 applicable cases, the Times found that 73 percent of those who killed a Black person were acquitted, compared to 59 percent of those who killed a White.

Similarly, an analysis of Supplemental Homicide Reports submitted by local law enforcement to the FBI between 2005 and 2010 demonstrates that in cases with a Black shooter and a White victim, the rate of justifiable homicide rulings is about 1 percent. However, if the shooter is White and the victim is Black, it is ruled justified in 9.5 percent of cases in non-Stand Your Ground (SYG) states.

In SYG states, the rate is even higher—almost 17 percent, according to John Roman of the Urban Institute.

The trends could partly explain Zimmerman’s verdict, some legal experts said. While his defense team did not invoke the law, Circuit Court Judge Debra Nelson introduced the principle in her instructions to the jury.

“If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force, if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony,” she said in her instructions to the jury of one Hispanic and five White women.

To police officers and prosecutors in Sanford, Fla.—who had initially decided not to charge Zimmerman—and to jurors in the case, Zimmerman’s “fear” of Trayvon Martin, a hoodie-wearing Black teenager, likely appeared to be justified, Fischer said.

“If you have a case like George Zimmerman, who is part White, alleging that a young Black male is a threat to him, a lot of times law enforcement would agree that such as person did [constitute] a threat because of the biases and presumptions about Black males, in particular, which exist in society,” he said.

Conversely, Stand Your Ground laws are less accommodating of Black defendants. Such was the case of successful African-American businessman John McNeil who was found guilty of aggravated assault and felony murder in Georgia in 2006 in connection with the fatal shooting of White contractor Brian Epp. McNeil said Epp threatened him and his son during a hostile encounter after going onto McNeil’s property to confront him. He was released earlier this year on time served.

Similarly, in July 2012, Marissa Alexander, 31, the mother of three, was given a 20-year mandatory sentence for an aggravated assault conviction for firing a warning shot into the air in the garage of her home at her abusive husband. Alexander said the man was moving toward her as she attempted to retreat from him when she fired the shot. He was not injured.

Florida Sen. Gary Siplin (D) said the Alexander case was his motivation to attempt to get the Stand Your Ground law overturned. He was unsuccessful, however, because “there are more Democrats in Florida, but more Republicans [are] in charge and they don’t want to change the law,” he told the AFRO.

Working toward a repeal of the laws would be a positive outcome or response to the verdict in the George Zimmerman case, Fischer said.

“People have to vote and elect legislators that would support more just laws that protect the rights of all people instead of just a few,” he said.

In the meantime, many officials are vowing to examine the laws and work toward their repeal, if necessary.

“It’s time to question laws that senselessly expand the concept of self-defense and sow dangerous conflict in our neighborhoods,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a speech to the NAACP on July 16. “By allowing, and perhaps encouraging, violent situations to escalate in public, such laws undermine public safety.”

The Trayvon Martin case “opened up a nationwide inquiry into the appropriateness and efficacy of Stand Your Ground laws,” said Commissioner Michael Yaki, of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, who initiated the body's investigation into racial bias in the application of such laws. He said the commission is committed to investigating the laws.

“To honor Trayvon and his family, we will continue this inquiry with resolve and renewed purpose,” Yaki said.

Not All Migrants Want the American Dream, Many Just Want to go Home

On my 16th birthday, in an indigenous village in southern Mexico, I translated for a church group of white Americans from my hometown in eastern Washington state. In their one-room hut, I asked an indigenous Mexican family what they wanted to know about the United States. The daughter replied in Spanish, “Nothing.” The conversation moved back to their lives, their work, how they grew their food as indigenous subsistence farmers. 

Most of us assume the American dream is universal, that everyone wants the specifically American rags-to-riches story told ubiquitously from Horatio Alger in the 19th century to contemporary soap operas. This assumption provides a backdrop to the current immigration debates, fears of the “tide” of Latin American immigrants assumed to be wanting to come in, and desires to “secure” the southern border through increasingly dangerous means. Yet, on this 4th of July, we might do well to spend a moment thinking critically. Who dreams this American dream and who does not? 

Over the past several years, I have lived in labor camps with, picked berries with, and interviewed many indigenous Mexican migrants in the United States and Mexico. I have followed the work of other scholars (Michael Kearney, Lynn Stephen, Jonathan Fox, Bonnie Bade, Konane Martinze, Rick Mines, Ed Kissam and Jennifer Burrell, to name only a few) interested in this group as well. The indigenous Mexican migrant farmworkers I have come to know do not dream the American dream as such. They do not hope to become U.S. citizens, leaving behind their hometowns in Mexico. They do not dream of becoming American business owners or entrepreneurs. They do not imagine that, if they work hard enough picking berries in Washington state or pruning vineyards in rural California, they could become wealthy. 

Rather, the indigenous Mexican migrant farmworkers I know want to be Mexican citizens, living primarily in their hometowns in the southern Mexican states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Guerrero. They want Mexico to be their home. They do not want to have to cross a mortally dangerous desert in order for them and their families to have a chance to survive. They want to live in their ancestral lands with their relatives. 

Sadly, the Border Patrol policies (such as “prevention through deterrence”) that encourage migrants to cross in increasingly dangerous areas have increased risk and death on the border. And ironically, the increasing border enforcement is encouraging those who have crossed in the past to stay longer and longer in the United States, instead of doing what they would have chosen to do: return home after the harvest season each year. 

I spent this past New Year’s Eve with some of my indigenous Mexican migrant companions in central California. As the current debates on immigration reform were just beginning, I asked my migrant friends what they hoped for. First and foremost, the young man nicknamed “El Gordo” explained, they need legal permission to work in the United States. His friend, Samuel, whose leg was recently run over by a farm truck, added that they need basic legal protections as workers that have long been ignored or broken in the agriculture sector and they need health care while they are working in the United States. Finally, Samuel and “El Gordo” intimated a hope that at some point in the future they might be able to stay in their hometown in Mexico without having to migrate to the United States at all. 

It is important that immigrants have the opportunity for legalization in the United States and we must fully support immigration reform in this direction. At the same time, politicians would do well to remember the diversity of immigrants and their dreams. We must work toward fair enforcement of worker protections for those already here, regardless of their immigration status. Finally, the most basic (and long-term) solution for many immigrants would be transnational development so that those who so desire are able to stay in their home countries. This should include renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, enacted a few years after my 16th birthday in southern Mexico) in ways that foster the ability of Mexican subsistence farmers to survive at home. In this way, more rural Mexicans would not have to say, like my indigenous Mexican friend Macario while crossing the desert border, “There is no other option left for us.” 

Latest Immigration ‘Compromise’ Perpetuates GOP Myth of Border Insecurity

Editor's Note: Senators on Thursday outlined a bipartisan "compromise" that would dramatically increase spending on border enforcement. The plan, which includes 20,000 additional border agents, military technology upgrades and the completion of 700 miles of fencing on the U.S.-Mexico border, is an attempt to move immigration reform forward by addressing what Republican lawmakers say is one of their most pressing concerns -- border security. But NAM contributor Earl Ofari Huchinson writes that Republicans' interest in border security is a myth.

For more than a decade, the GOP has relentlessly latched onto the issue of the United States’ supposedly leaky borders to torpedo any deal on immigration reform. The current “compromise” is no different, even though the shellacking that Mitt Romney took from Hispanic voters in the 2012 presidential election, coupled with the grim prospect that the GOP could be mortally wounded in 2014 and 2016 by Hispanic voters, has Republicans proclaiming that they are now sincere in their desire for immigration reform. Yet those fears haven’t stopped the party from pulling out the old border enforcement card. GOP Senator Marco Rubio, the party’s point man on immigration reform, said bluntly, “The only way we're going to pass an immigration reform law out of the House and Senate so the president can sign it is if it has real border security measures within it." Safe and secure borders, they say, are simply in the public and national interest.

This is simply more GOP mythmaking at its worst. The U.S. spends nearly $20 billion annually on border security measures and that figure will be ramped up even higher in 2014. That’s more spent on border security than ever before, and far more than the government spends on all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. The massive spending has paid off. Nearly every inch of the border is patrolled, around the clock, by waves of more than 20,000 border patrol agents and at least six unmanned aircraft. Both outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller, Attorney General Eric Holder, and Homeland Security officials have publicly admitted that unarmed drones are used to patrol the Mexican and Canadian borders, as well as the Caribbean Sea, and in other law enforcement operations.

The result has been that illegal border crossings have plunged steadily for the past few years. That drop, combined with the surge in deportations which are at an all-time high, add up to an historic low in net illegal immigration into the country. The unstated downside is that with the hyper aggressiveness of border patrol and the immigration crackdown there has been a sharp rise in deaths since 2010 from the desperate efforts of undocumented immigrants to skirt the patrols, and the use of lethal force by patrol agents under dubious circumstances.

The irony is that there was a brief moment a decade ago that the GOP seemed to get it right on immigration reform. Then President George W. Bush was widely and unfairly blamed at the time for making a mess of the immigration reform fight in Congress by not pushing hard enough for passage of the immigration bill debated in 2007. Immigrant rights groups lambasted Republican senators for dumping crippling demands for tight amnesty, citizenship and, of course, the border security provisions on the bill. Leading Republican presidential contenders that year didn’t help matters by flatly opposing the bill as much too soft on amnesty and border enforcement.

This did much to kill whatever flickering hope there was for the bill’s passage. This undid the inroads that Bush made in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections when he scored gains with Latino voters. A big part of that was due to the perception (and reality) that Bush would push hard for immigration reform. Immigration then was not just about fixing America’s alleged broken borders but a crass, naked political grab for Latino votes. Even so, the party still couldn’t shake its ingrained, nativist xenophobia on what American citizenship should be about. That didn’t include any backpedaling on the party’s opposition to a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented.

Two crushing presidential defeats, and the unrelenting hostility of Latino voters, has only slightly changed the party’s thinking on immigration reform as can be seen from its pile on of amendment after amendment to the current bill, with the centerpiece being border security as the non-negotiable condition for the bill’s passage.

Arizona Senator John McCain in a candid moment, without saying as much, admitted that the GOP’s canard of hopelessly porous borders was a sham. He not only said that the borders were more secure than ever, but also gave figures on the colossal number of illegal immigrant apprehensions during the past near decade to give lie to the insecure border myth.

The question now is how far the GOP will push the border myth to get its way on immigration reform. If the past political battles over the immigration reform bill are any guide, the answer is all the way.

Fight Rages On for Medicaid Expansion in Texas - State with Highest Rate of Uninsured

Health care advocates and business groups, whose efforts failed to move Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas legislature to expand the state’s Medicaid population under the Affordable Care Act, are digging in for a protracted struggle that might extend until 2015 or beyond.

Had Medicaid expansion been enacted during the legislative session that ended last week, individuals earning between 0 and 138 percent of the federal poverty level (an individual earning up to roughly $15,000, or, for a family of four, up to $31,000) would have been eligible for Medicaid health coverage beginning in 2014. The federal government would have paid the entire cost of Texas’s expansion for the first three years through 2016, and 90 percent in years thereafter.

Texas’s Tea Party-driven political leadership shunned an estimated $100 billion over time, money that would have assisted in providing health insurance to an additional one million Texans, according to the state’s Health and Human Service Commission, at a proportionately small cost to the state.

“When the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) first got approved as a federal program, Texas didn’t take it, but we kept on working and working, and finally they did take it,” said Rev. Vincent Fana, Community Projects Facilitator for Texans Together Education Fund, Inc., a civic and community advocacy organization based in Houston that serves the city and its metropolitan area, where about a third of the state’s 3 million African Americans reside.

“So we need to use our efforts on CHIP as the model, in terms of how to get Medicaid expansion. We need to educate people about what it was the [federal] government was trying to bring in and who opposed it.”

Given that the Texas legislature meets every other year, Medicaid expansion won’t come up again for consideration until 2015, unless public pressure persuades Perry to moderate his position. He could call legislators back to Austin for a special session to consider the issue, as he has already done this year on redistricting. Such sessions are typically used by governors only to promote legislation they support, and Perry’s opposition to Obamacare has been unwavering.

Texas leads the country in the highest rate of those without health insurance – 26 percent out of a total population of 26 million. And of the 6 million residents who are uninsured, 58 percent – or 3.6 million – are Latino, including 1.3 million children under age 18.

Juan Flores, executive director of the San Antonio-based La Fe Policy Research and Education Center, notes that the Latino community has scored some success in reducing the total percentage of uninsured Latino children from 26 percent to 19 percent. He credits the drop to increased enrollment in the state’s CHIP program. Yet, coverage of Latino children still lags behind Whites and African Americans, where the uninsured rates have fallen to 10 percent.

Flores said that Texas has historically moved very slowly on health and human service issues, with low per capita investment compared to other states, a trend he blames for perpetuating a longstanding pattern of marginalizing the state’s Latino community.

Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus, a Washington DC-based research and advocacy organization promoting children and family issues, fears the Texas decision means that many parents will now assume their kids don’t qualify for any federal health care assistance and therefore may be less inclined to seek out services. “Texas doesn’t do a fabulous job on outreach,” the Texas native explained. “There are a large number of kids in Texas who are eligible for assistance but not enrolled.”

Rev. Fana agrees that people need to be pro-active about determining their eligibility. “One aspect of our campaign is to put together a basic outline of all the things that the ACA brings to people even without Medicaid expansion,” he says, ticking off free mammograms, colonoscopies, blood testing, glucose and diabetes testing. “But nobody knows about that down here.”

Fana said advocacy groups will encourage those who qualify for federally subsidized health insurance to enroll in the state’s health insurance exchange, which is scheduled to begin operating Oct. 1 but has yet to be set up by the federal government. (Texas opted not to establish its own exchange.)

Nonprofit advocacy organizations are not alone in clamoring for Medicaid expansion. Eva DeLuna Castro, Senior Budget Analyst at Texas’s Center for Public Policy Priorities, says Medicaid expansion “had enormous support from chambers of commerce, from local, county, and city governments,” which were anxious to avoid increasing property taxes to cover the uncompensated costs of emergency room care for the uninsured. Including charity care, that cost was $5.4 billion in 2011, according to a Texas Hospital Association survey.

Then, too, the decision not to expand Medicaid means that those between 100 percent and 138 percent of the federal poverty level, who are currently uninsured, will now be funneled into the state insurance exchange but at a higher cost to businesses, according to a new report by tax preparation company Jackson Hewitt.

DeLuna Castro explained that without Medicaid coverage, companies that employ more than 50 individuals but do not provide health insurance could face between $299 million and $448 million each year in penalties paid to the federal government just to cover employees who earn between 100 percent and 138 percent of the FPL. They now qualify for sliding-scale premium help in the exchange, but had the state opted for Medicaid expansion, they would have been covered by that and no penalties would be owed.

For Anne Dunkelberg, Associate Director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, that people above the poverty line will be eligible for sliding-scale taxpayer subsidies while those below the poverty line will now get nothing is one of the gross inequities resulting from the state’s rejection of Medicaid expansion. She and other advocates like Lesley of First Focus believe the issue will resonate with people.

Flores is reserved about Medicaid expansion’s short-term prospects. Like DeLuna Castro and other observers, he noted that hospitals and the medical establishments have teamed with businesses and local jurisdictions to make the case, but he said the political dynamics are now worse than ever.

“The governor, the Speaker of the House, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, almost a supermajority of legislators in the House and Senate oppose the ACA altogether and certainly oppose Medicaid expansion,” Flores observed.

Dunkelberg, whose organization supported Medicaid expansion, says no one in the health advocacy community is throwing in the towel. “I think it’s going to take continued pressure from the vast majority of Texans who favor Medicaid expansion – a higher level of engagement.”

In a poll conducted for the American Cancer Society earlier this year, 85 percent of the state’s African Americans and 73 percent of its Latinos supported accepting federal money to bring more Texans into Medicaid coverage, as contrasted with 47 percent of its white residents. Overall, 58 percent of Texans favor taking federal money, but that sentiment hasn’t translated into sufficient political power to force the issue.

Rev. Fana, again referring to the advocacy community’s prolonged courtship of the state before CHIP was embraced, understands the relatively sluggish pace of change and the political battles ahead. “Unfortunately, that’s going to have to be the Texas way.”

Filipino Seniors in U.S. Looking to Return Home - with Medicare

While the U.S. Congress deliberates over proposed changes in the nation’s immigration laws, one group of immigrants who became naturalized citizens and who retired and have grown old in this country are seeking a congressional change that is the reverse of what most immigrants want.

Baby boomers, war veterans, widows and retirees originally from the Philippines are hoping welfare assistance and entitlement benefits they have earned would follow them should they decide to return to the land of their birth. Many are World War II veterans who fought under U.S. command and were promised federal compensation only partly provided since then. Advocates believe the United States could save money were it to permit the seniors to return home with their benefits, especially for Medicare.

Understandably, the accessibility of health insurance at this time in their lives is a major consideration as they dream of making their “giant leap” back home. Medicare recipients must be at least 65 or be disabled.

WWII-Era Seniors Assess Their Future

In Seattle’s Filipino-American community, aging WWII veterans and widows meet twice weekly at a senior center where they frequently share meals subsidized through the Older Americans Act.  At these gatherings they assess their hopes and future plans.

Veteran Tomas Villanueva, 90, and his wife Esther, 87, have lived in a subsidized senior housing facility in downtown Seattle for the past 21 years. 

During World War II, Villanueva served in Guam as a Philippine Scout recruit of the U.S. Army. Following the war, he returned to his home province in Southern Luzon where he served as a constabulary officer. He and Esther decided to emigrate to the U.S. in 1991. 

After securing their American citizenship in 1994, the couple filed petitions for some of their six adult children to receive visas enabling them to join their parents in Seattle. The Villanuevas were especially hoping that as they grow old, two of their daughters would provide them a family safety net. 

Eventually, the U.S. government approved four visas for the Villanueva children—but they have remained on the waiting list in the Philippines since 1994, because of tight annual numerical immigration quotas the U.S. sets for some countries. 

Two of the Villanueva children eventually lost interest in emigrating to the U.S.  And the two daughters, still determined to join their parents, learned that worldwide demand for U.S. family visas was so large in 2010 that the demand triggered a retrogression rule, effectively freezing visas and adding several years of wait time to the backlog of applicants.

According to the National Visa Center, the agency that releases visas for all approved applications processed by the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service (CIS), such a rule applies when the number of visa applications exceeds a given threshold. As of June 2013, CIS is processing applications filed as far back as 1992, two years before the Villanuevas petitioned for their daughters. Based on the past experience of petitioners, a delay of five or more years may be likely in this case.

As they waited, the aging couple needed medical attention. Medicare covered Esther’s pacemaker in 2008, and she has elevated blood pressure. Tomas, once active as an officer in Seattle’s Filipino war veterans’ association, has shown symptoms of dementia and oncoming diabetes.

Esther has been debating whether to keep waiting for her daughters to arrive, or to return to the Philippines for good. Keeping her Medicare coverage has been the single, most important factor, she said. 

Care Unaffordable in U.S.

“But whether or not Medicare will be accessible to us in the Philippines, there is no other choice but to go back home because we cannot afford caregiver services or retirement home expense in the States,” she explained. Experts say that despite Medicare coverage, uncovered out-of-pocket costs for seniors in the U.S. are now close to 20 percent of their income.

Esther continued, “The long delay of our daughters’ coming has made us decide to go home. We will be nearer to them if we need help.” 

An unofficial survey conducted by a coalition of Filipino organizations and community groups across the U.S. shows that about 100 Filipino American professionals retire every day. 

While they can take their Social Security retirement benefits and savings anywhere in the world, it is a different story for their Medicare coverage overseas. Until Medicare extends coverage to them outside the U.S., they will need private medical insurance. 

Elderly couples in Washington State whose combined income does not exceed $18,000 a year are entitled to a monthly average of $500 in Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Esther and Tomas qualified for SSI and receive a combined monthly supplemental income of $800. 

Esther also receives a monthly pension of $100 after retiring as an employee of Volunteers of America. Because Tomas receives a military pension only from his military service with the Philippine Constabulary, equivalent to $120 a month, he is entitled to SSI benefits as a senior residing in Seattle. 

If retirees return to the Philippines, they receive 75 percent of their Social Security pension. For Esther it will be a meager $75 per month.  If veterans choose to reside in the U.S., they receive burial benefits and each widow receives an average lump sum of $9,000, with the amount partly depending on a departed soldier’s rank. 

Medicare Portability

"Filipino-American war veterans and their widows are leading the way in the campaign for Medicare portability. In the 65-and-above age group are 200,000 Filipino elderly in the U.S.," explained Eric Lachica, organizer of U.S. Medicare Philippines, a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. 

Lachica conducts monthly teleconferences among advocates of the movement based in key American cities, from Honolulu to Boston. 

A seasoned lobbyist in the U.S., Lachica spearheads the campaign for Medicare portability, an extension that will allow retired Filipino-American immigrant professionals access to their Medicare benefits at internationally accredited hospitals and health care providers in the Philippines.

The campaign by Filipino-American community advocates and elderly leaders for Medicare coverage for retirees wherever they decide to live has been bolstered by a study published in May by the journal Health Affairs.

According to the study, immigrants in recent years contributed about $14 billion more per year to Medicare than they received from the program. As a result, foreign-born U.S. residents produced a $115 billion surplus from 2002-2009, while the rest of the population created a $28 billion deficit over that same period.

The study points out that the aging U.S. population was sucking money from Medicare faster than it could replenish those funds, and immigrants helped cover the shortfall.

South of Seattle, Filipinos in Tacoma who are officers and members of the Filipino-American Physicians of Washington (FAPWA) take a differing view and are skeptical about the proposed Medicare portability. 

Change Unlikely, Say Some

Former FAPWA president Nic Panlasigui believes that Medicare “is simply too big an institution that it would take time for Congress and CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] to formulate any significant change.”

Panlasigui, a physician who is also a noncommissioned colonel in the U.S. Army and does work at nearby Fort Lewis, explains his view: “Because U.S. Medicare will demand higher standards of performance, any official extension to so-called Third World countries would entail extensive work. There are concerns about quality of facilities in overseas hospitals, physicians’ credentials, equipment, support functions and the ever-present concern over fraud.”

He continued, “20,000 Filipino doctors and 200,000 Filipino nurses practicing in countless medical centers across the U.S. know the score and we would be the first to wish that such benefits work their way to the native land to help retirees and old folks.” 

Following weeks of deliberation and earnest discussions among seniors at the nutrition site about the immigration reform bill pending in the U.S. Congress and Medicare, Esther decided to bring home Tomas. 

The old soldier had started to wander about the halls of the housing facility in the wee hours and this has alarmed Esther. After informing her daughters about her decision, she and Tomas flew home on May 21.

Her parting words to friends: “If the immigration reform bill will bring my daughters to the U.S., well and good. But the safety net we need as we age is not certain. Back in the old village, the caring family network I know can always take the place of Medicare.”

Every Native American Child Left Behind: Sequester Guts Indian Education

Educators in Indian country are working feverishly and creatively to deal with the cuts to federally funded preschool-to-grade 12 programs mandated by the so-called “sequester.”

The sequester, a series of automatic federal spending cuts totaling $85 billion in 2013 and $109 billion for each year from 2014 to 2021 for a total over $1.2 trillion in debt reduction [when savings on interest payments are included], was authorized by the Budget Control Act of 2011. It went into effect in March because Congress could not agree on a budget that would reduce deficit spending by $2.4 trillion over the next decade as part of the effort to deal with the country’s nearly $17-trillion debt.

Head Start, intended to promote school readiness in children from birth to five years old from low-income families by supporting their cognitive, social and emotional development, serves 1 million children a year nationwide. The program was developed in the mid-1960s as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. Sequestration is expected to knock out five percent of Head Start funding across the board, even though most Head Start programs cannot currently accommodate all families who apply, according to the Health & Human Services Department’s Administration for Children & Families, under which Head Start operates.

Approximately 70,000 children are expected to lose access to the program because of these cuts.

In 2013, Head Start programs nationwide will take a $406-million hit as a result of the sequester. Of that amount, nearly $12 million will come from Indian Head Start, according to the National Indian Education Association. Melissa Harris, director of the Catawba Indian Nation Head Start in South Carolina, is proud of her program, which serves 80 children, most of them from the tribe, at one center on the reservation, for the full year. She says the sequester is devastating her program. “Right now, we’re downsizing from five days of service to four days for the summer.”

Not only will this reduction affect the children’s preparation for school but, Harris adds, “we’re concerned about meals. We serve two meals a day. On Fridays, will the children have a meal? Will they be watched by siblings or adults? Every weekend this summer will be a three-day weekend and we’re not sure the children’s basic health and safety needs will be met.

“We recognize the responsibility to get the U.S. budget in order, but this is not where you start, at the foundation of our children’s lives.”

Of the $12 million in cuts Indian Head Start must deal with, more than one-tenth, or $1.4 million, will come from the Navajo Nation’s program, which serves 2,115 children in Early Head Start and Head Start and through home-based education activities. Director Sharon Singer notes that it costs more to serve rural areas, which often do not have accessible services and where transportation is always a challenge. “We’re looking for ways to cut costs and still serve our children and families,” she says.

The Navajo Nation began restructuring its Head Start program in November 2012 to build a high-quality program. That initiative will help cope with the funding cuts. “As part of the restructuring program,” says Singer, “we expect to reduce employees by 30 percent. We’ll combine positions and hire highly qualified teachers who can each be responsible for more children. And we’ll streamline our program, cutting out middle management and offering direct services to children and families.”

For now, says Singer, the Head Start program will be able to continue serving the same number of children, but further funding cuts will affect services. “Head Start provides a continuous program from Early Head Start to Head Start to kindergarten, which is so critical now that Common Core standards require that children be able to read by third grade or not be promoted. Our job is so important. It provides the foundation in learning and literacy for our children.”

The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians of Oregon’s Head Start program will take a much smaller cut—$48,000, but its program is smaller and the impact will be serious. DeAnn Brown, director of the program, says they will close one week early this year and start two days later next, and they will need to cut supplies to classrooms and teacher training dollars.

Brown says her program serves 112 children and about the same number of families. It is a center-based Head Start program with seven classrooms. The program operates 3.5 hours a day, 4 days a week during the school years and serves both breakfast and lunch. “The cuts will be felt by everyone,” she says. “It’s only a week, but families are still dependent on Head Start for childcare. They’ll have to make other arrangements for that week. A week’s worth of childcare is a lot for our families.” Another concern, again, is nutrition. “Children rely on Head Start for two-thirds of their nutritional needs four days a week. Some kids might not get the nutrition they count on when Head Start is not operating for those days.

“We hope there are no further cuts. As it is, we still don’t serve all the kids we could. Further cuts would impact our enrollment. We hope there aren’t any.”

The $12 million in cuts to American Indian Head Start programs is not just a matter of consequence for the nation’s tribes. National Indian Education Association President Heather Shotton says, “When the federal government does well by our Native children, it does well by everyone’s children…. When budget cuts hurt the education of Native children, they harm education for everyone’s children.”

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