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New Coalition Demands Transparency in Federal and State Recovery Spending

New Coalition Demands Transparency in Federal and State Recovery Spending; Poll Shows Public Support for Accountability

Thursday, February 5, 2009

PERMALINK: http://http://www.progressivestates.org/node/22641

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EVENT: strategy call on immigrant integration policy

WHAT: Call on immigrant integration strategies and what states can do, with an eye on limiting the budget impact, to welcome immigrants, who drive local economic engines.
WHEN: Friday, February 6th, 2pm EST
WHO: Minnesota Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, Majority Whip and Vice Chair, Health, Housing and Family Security
Jon Blazer, Public Benefits Policy Attorney for National Immigration Law Center
Luvia Quiñones, Assistant Director of the New Americans Initiative, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Caroline Fan, Immigration and Workers' Rights Policy Specialist, Progressive States Network

DIAL-IN: (800) 391-1709, Login Code 709424
RSVP: http://www.progressivestates.org/conferencecallrsvp

Increasing-Democracy

By: Nathan Newman

New Coalition Demands Transparency in Federal and State Recovery Spending; Poll Shows Public Support for Accountability

With the federal government about to transfer hundreds of billions of dollars to the states, with many of those funds going to private contractors, a broad-based, bi-partisan coalition of organizations has come together in a Coalition for an Accountable Recovery.    The Coalition, which Progressive States Network participated in creating, is promoting reforms at both the federal and state level to assure transparency in how funds are used by federal and state contractors, the number of jobs created, and the quality of jobs created-- with the results posted online in easily searchable websites for the public.

Public Support High for Transparency: A poll released yesterday by the Coalition highlights the public support for transparency:

  • Three-quarters of voters (76%) believe that “creating a national website where citizens can see what companies and government agencies are getting the funds, for what purposes, and the number and quality of jobs being created or saved” would have an important impact on the package, including 39% who believe its impact would be extremely important. 
  • Fully 76% of American voters said creating state level websites to track funds was “important,” and 34% said it was “very important.” 

Unfortunately, the current federal recovery bill does not require that states to publicly track  the funds or create public websites to show how they are spending the money, despite the fact that state governments will be responsible for dispensing over half the funds.  

State Action on Disclosure:  State government do make some aspects of their spending and contracting decisions public, as detailed in this report by Good Jobs First. But few states track job quality standards outside of public works construction projects and almost none comprehensively track their overall contracting programs, a point Progressive States Network highlighted in our report, Privatizing in the Dark: The Pitfalls of Privatization & Why Budget Disclosure is Needed.

States have begun taking increasing action to improve accountability, with partial contracting reforms enacted in a number of states.  A couple of especially strong bills are moving in legislatures this session, bills that should be models for states committed to establishing the transparency the public is demanding.  

  • In Massachusetts, Sen. Cynthia Creem and Reps. Antonio Cabral and Jay Kaufman are proposing a bill to create a searchable online database detailing the costs, recipients, and purposes for all appropriations, including contracts, grants, subcontracts, tax expenditures and other subsidies funded by the state government. 
  • And a coalition in Oregon are promoting potentially the most effective contracting accountability bill in the country, House Bill 2037, which would collect detailed information on the contract terms, location, hours worked and wages paid for all jobs created under each individual contract, along with aggregating the data for all statewide contracts by contractor and agency and making the data publicly available on the Internet. 

With the public demanding job creation results from the recovery package, enacting similar laws in every state to ensure transparency and accountability in state contracting should be a top priority this legislative session.  

 

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Growing-Economy

By: Caroline Fan

State Unemployment Insurance Systems Being Modernized in Anticipation of Federal Recovery Program Funds

When Governor O'Malley (D-MD) announced his legislative agenda for the session, one centerpiece was an expansion of unemployment insurance to part-time workers currently excluded.  Other states, including  California, Hawaii, Oregon, Colorado, Minnesota, Iowa, Utah, and Texas are passing that and other reforms to modernize antiquated systems that leave many unemployed without help.  In fact, due to state rules, only 17 percent of low-wage unemployed workers and 37 percent of higher-wage unemployed workers are receiving benefits.

States are acting partly in anticipation of new federal help that, as we outlined in a December Dispatch, advocates have been pushing for and the House included in their original version of the federal recovery package.  That version included $7 billion for the Unemployment Insurance Moderization Act ( S. 1871/H.R. 3920, Title IV) which would provide incentive payments to states that have or will implement initiatives to help low-wage, women, and part-time workers get through these tough times.  Over the past decade, more than half the states have already adopted the reforms that qualify for incentive funding under the UIMA.

Models for Reform:  Legislative language on the provisions falls into several categories:

  • Washington has strong language on creating an alternative base period during which a worker's most recent income can count toward calculation of UI benefits.The state also passed extended unemployment benefits for workers who are still in training.
  • Georgia has already passed language that allow part-time workers to gain access to the UI benefits that they have paid into. New Mexico also provides benefits for part-time workers and proposed New Mexico HB 20 would provide a $15 additional allowance per week per dependents.
  • California allows for spouses who have to move to a different state to follow their spouse's change of job to apply for UI benefits. 

The National Employment Law Project has outlined models for unemployment insurance expansion here with a state by state guide as to what each state needs to do to achieve UIMA reforms to qualify for federal funding. 

Reforms Can Encourage Reemployment: Despite concerns that expanding eligibility for unemployed residents will bear too great a financial burden, lessons can be drawn from North Carolina, which extended unemployment insurance benefits three years ago to part-time workers and those with sporadic or only recent work history.  Employment Security Commission president Tom Whitaker found that the change resulted in fewer repeat claims and no significant increase in total benefits: "Instead, we've moved more people from the unemployment line to the re-employment line and decreased our workload." 

Health benefits for the unemployed  Another key reform included in the current House version of the recovery package is a temporary expansion of Medicaid to cover unemployed individuals up to 200% of the poverty line, while providing a 65% subsidy for coverage under former employer health plans under the COBRA program for those making more.  Unfortunately, the current Senate bill strips most of those provision out, leaving the unemployed vulnerable to medical catastrophe.

Amidst the federal stimulus debate around health care for unemployed workers, Families USA has released an important report detailing what states can do to protect unemployed workers' coverage.  The report provides state-by-state recommendations for immediate action by legislators - these include enacting "mini-COBRA" laws and allowing individuals who have lost employer coverage to purchase coverage in the indvidual market from their previous insurers without limitations for pre-existing conditions.

Need for Congress to Act:  With several states are facing insolvent UI benefit funds as unemployed residents flood the rolls and facing the loss of health care from their previous employers, it is even more important that Congress pass the stimulus package to ensure that state unemployment funds can stay solvent and states can reform.   Notably, unemployment benefits go a long way to stimulate the economy , providing $2.15 in economic growth for every dollar in benefits spent by workers and their families on housing, groceries and other basic necessities.

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Valuing-Families

By: Adam Thompson

States Advance National Health Care Debate with Key Reforms

While the effort for federal health care reform recovers from the withdrawl of former Sen. Majority Leader Tom Daschle to lead President Obama's health care reform efforts, state legislators are moving forward with a medley of health care bills - both incremental and comprehensive in scope.  These reforms reflect key priorities for federal reform and can be tapped to bolster the public's support for the federal effort.

Public Plan Option:  Whether to include a public plan option in federal reform, as President Obama continues to advocate, is already being debated nationally.  In the states, legislators are moving bills that would do just that.  In Iowa, Sen. Jack Hatch wants to allow private small businesses, nonprofits, and municipalities to join the state employee health plan - enabling these small groups to benefit from the increased bargaining power of the state employee pool and potentially cut their health care costs.  The proposal builds on a similar plan passed by the Connecticut legislature in 2008, which was vetoed by their Governor under pressure from insurance companies despite millions in projected savings to Connecticut cities and towns. Sen. Hatch's proposal is a key element of SF48, a bold set of initiatives that promise to increase options for health coverage, improve the quality of care, and cut health care costs for businesses, families and state and local government.  Similarly, New Hampshire State Representative Jill Shaffer-Hammond has proposed HB617 to allow small employers to join the state employee health plan.

According to Connecticut Speaker Chris Donovan, 24 states currently pool local and state public employees.  What these plans would do is enable private small employers to benefit from the same cost-cutting bargaining power of public employers achieved by any large group.

Savings from a Public Plan:  In Washington State, a plan first proposed in 2008 by Sen. Karen Keiser would create a public-private purchasing pool in which consumers could choose from a range of providers and private insurance plans - achieving health care for all residents and administrative efficiency while enhancing health care choice.  Last Thursday, the actuarial firm Mathematica Policy Research testified to Sen. Keiser's health committee that her plan, the Washington Health Partnership, would generate $1.6 billion in new economic activity, save state taxpayers $330 million in spending, and reduce employer health care expenditures by $2.35 billion and family out-of-pocket spending by $1.03 billion.  

Sen. Keiser's plan was modeled after an on-going Wisconsin initiative, Healthy Wisconsin, championed by State Sen. Jon Erpenbach.  Both plans provide guaranteed health care for all residents and generate significant administrative savings by pooling residents while enhancing medical choice.  A 2007 study by the Lewin Group found that Healthy Wisconsin would save the state $1.3 billion in annual health care expenditures. Citizen Action of Wisconsin reported that the plan would save families on average $1,320 to $4,180 each year.  A similar plan, the New York Health Plan, was recently introduced in New York by Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and would likely achieve similar savings.  

Insurance Reform:  During the current belt-tightening of state, business, and family budgets, legislators want to ensure consumers are getting value for their health care premiums.  Called "medical loss ratios", bills have surfaced in Maryland (Del. Heather Mizeur, HB 272) and New Hampshire (Rep. Susi Nord, HF 678) requiring insurers to spend at least 85% of premiums on medical care - a standard that would be the highest in the country.  Lawmakers in Connecticut and Washington are also considering similar standards.

In Colorado, lawmakers are moving several bills designed to rein in the insurance industry; bills which reflect President Obama's and others' priorities for reform and tap into the public's frustrations with the insurance industry.  Highlights include a plan to prevent insurers from charging higher rates to women simply because of their gender, tightening rules under which insurers can cancel a policy, increasing the age young adults can remain covered by their parents' policy from age 25 to 30, and require better coverage of preventive care services.  Similarly, Iowa Sen. Jack Hatch's omnibus health care bill - SF48 - would create an insurance exchange similar to the Massachusetts Connector, require insurers to allow children to stay on their parents' health insurance to age 25, institute a "soft mandate" that all children to 300% of poverty have coverage, and allow undocumented children to qualify for health care programs.

In Wyoming, the Senate approved two bills (SF95 and SF62) aimed at closing loopholes that health insurance companies use to deny coverage - S95 defines when a treatment qualifies as medically necessary and creates an external review process for patients who are denied coverage for a procedure, and S62 prohibits insurance companies from adding discretionary clauses to insurance policies that allow them to easily deny coverage of procedures.

Rx Reform:  As we wrote recovers, states can cut health care costs and promote broader health care reform by targeting Rx.  Sen. Hatch of Iowa has included in his health care reform package several leading Rx reforms that will curb the inappropriate influence of industry marketing over physician prescribing decisions, reducing costs for the public and private sectors.  Model initiatives in Sen. Hatch's plan include: curbing industry gifts to physicians; creating a prescriber education program; ban "data-mining" and protecting medical privacy; and, improving regulation of pharmacy benefit managers to prevent quid-pro-quo between drugmakers and those who manage drug benefits for public and private health plans.  In Washington, Rep. Jamie Pedersen has filed HB1493 to prevent drug makers from obtaining a patient's prescription data and using that information to directly market to the patient - a practice which invades privacy and drives-up Rx costs.  In New York, Assemblymember Gottfried has introduced A2008 to improve regulation of pharmacy benefit managers and the purchase of medications for public and private payers.

Conclusion: This is a brief and incomplete survey of health care reform activity in the states.  Yet, it underscores that states continue to press ahead on important initiatives; initiatives that reflect priorities for federal reform - a public plan option, tightened rules around insurance, Rx pricing reforms, and more. Showcasing state action will help maintain the drumbeat for federal reform within public opinion and ensure that federal reform includes these and other key priorities.

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Valuing-Families

By: Adam Thompson

SCHIP "Down Payment" on Health Care Reform Is Signed Into Law

Calling it "a down payment on my commitment to cover every single American", President Obama signed into law an expansion of SCHIP, the State Children's Health Insurance Program.  The law, twice vetoed by President Bush, will enable states to expand coverage to 4 million uninsured children by 2013 and maintain coverage for the roughly 7 million currently enrolled in the program.  The law signed by President Obama includes several key advances:

  1. It allows states to cover documented immigrant children and pregnant women, who previously were not eligible or faced a 5 year waiting period
  2. It requires parity for mental health - meaning states must cover mental health care at a level on par with coverage for physical care, and 
  3. It requires states to provide dental coverage under their SCHIP programs.

Passage of the SCHIP expansion is seen as an early win for the Obama Administration and the new Congress, and an important step towards broader health care reform.  In signing the legislation, President Obama said, this "is just one component of a much broader effort to finally bring our health care system into the twenty-first century."  Similarly, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “This is the beginning of the change that the American people voted for in the last election, and that we will achieve with President Barack Obama."

 

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Growing-Economy


Taking Action to Protect PEG Public Access Stations- Illinois Investigating AT&T


AT&T's cutting-edge television service, U-Verse, is creating frustration for community programming advocates and being investigated by both state and federal officials.  After receiving a large number of complaints, Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, launched an investigation into the U-Verse system's underminging of  access to PEG channels (i.e. Public Education and Government stations). 

Additionally, according the Chicago Tribune, the Federal Communications Commission is currently reviewing petitions from coalitions representing "thousands of towns, schools and community groups which demands a ruling declaring AT&T in violation of rules about fair treatment of public programming."   As Helen Soule of  the Alliance for Community Media, argues, "[t]he Alliance, its members and its coalition partners are simply asking that PEG channels receive the same quality standards of delivery as commercial channels."    As the digital transition approaches and cable operators move around services in order to increase space for high-definition content, faster Internet speed and Wireless Broadband services, advocates of public access channels are fighting to ensure that PEG channels will not just disappear. 

AT&T is not the only cable provider that has used the digital transition as a mechanism to "channel-slam" PEG stations.  As we highlighted last year, Comcast attempted to move Michigan PEG channels off the "basic" tier of services and stick them in "digital delivery."  This move placed the channels in the 900 range, making them unavailable to a large number of cable subscribers.   Charter Communications took similar actions in Reno, Nev., and Wisconsin last year.

The U-Verse Problem: The specific controversy with U-Verse revolves around whether or not the service violates state law and federal rules requiring service providers to give community programming equivalent treatment to broadcast channels.  While AT&T claims it is giving similar access, public access supporters make a strong case that the communications company is simply not meeting its legal duty.   Under the U-Verse system PEG programs are placed on Channel 99.   From Channel 99 individuals must find their way through on-screen menus to the town and program they want.   Programs on Channel 99 besides being hard to locate, also take a long time to load (watch this video example) and cannot be digitally recorded.

Need to Reform Video Franchising Rules: One reason that PEG stations are being channel slammed is that over the last few years 20 states have implemented state video franchising agreements where PEG stations were not clearly defined nor were the guidelines of how to treat PEG stations adequately spelled-out.  Local governments who had traditionally supported PEG stations, lost much of there ability to set rules or standards under those state franchising agreements.  For example, while many local Michigan officials wanted to protect PEG channels from Comcast's plans to move the stations out of the basic tier,  the recently enacted uniform video services local franchise act, Public Act 480, greatly diminished legislators power to stop Comcast.  In order to ensure that PEG stations continue to be available to the public states should consider returning franchise authority to a local level, or in the least, revisiting their state video franchising laws to strengthen PEG protections.


 

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Resources

New Coalition Demands Transparency in Federal and State Recovery Spending; Poll Shows Public Support for Accountability

Progressive States Network - Privatizing in the Dark: The Pitfalls of Privatization & Why Budget Disclosure is Needed
Progressive States Network - States Take Action to Reform Contracting Process  
Good Jobs First - The State of State Disclosure: An Evaluation of Public Information About Economic Development Subsidies, Procurement Contracts and Lobbying Activities
AFSCME - Stop Bad Contracts and Protect Public Jobs: Sample Legislative Language 
Oregon House Bill 2037 -- Relating to disclosures concerning public contracts.

State Unemployment Insurance Systems Being Modernized in Anticipation of Federal Recovery Program Funds

Progressive States, Unemployment Insurance Modernization Should be Part of Recovery Plan
Unemployment Insurance Moderization Act, S. 1871/H.R. 3920, Title IV
Families USA - Protecting Unemployed Workers' Health Coverage: What States Can Do
Peter S. Hart/NELP Poll of Unemployed Persons
Implementing the Model Provisions of the Unemployment Insurance Modernization Act in the States - National Employment Law Project (NELP)
This guide provides a summary of the key reforms that qualify for incentive funding under the UIMA and model state legislation to help policy makers in the states as they introduce bills in preparation for their legislative sessions.
GAO Report — Receipt of Benefits has declined, with disparities for low-wage and part-time workers
The Unemployment Insurance Modernization Act: Filling the Gaps in the Unemployment Safety NetWhile Stimulating the Economy - National Employment Law Project (NELP)
This handy fact sheet provides information on UIMA and key state-by-state data. 
Center for Budget & Policy Priorities, Addressing Longstanding Gaps in Unemployment Insurance Coverage
NELP, Close the Deal on Health Care for the Unemployed

States Advance National Health Care Debate with Key Reforms

Progressive States Network - Health Care for All
Progressive States Network - Health Insurance Reforms to Ensure Fairness and Access to Coverage
Progressive States Network - Rx Policies: Cut Health Care Costs and Promote Broader Health Care Reform
Health Care for America Now - Statement of Common Purpose

 

SCHIP "Down Payment" on Health Care Reform Is Signed Into Law

Families USA - Children's Health

Taking Action to Protect PEG Public Access Stations- Illinois Investigating AT&T

Alliance for Community Media
Assessing the Damage:  Survey shows that state video franchise laws bring no rate relief while harming
Video Demonstrating How U-Verse Actually Treats PEG Stations
Illinois AG's Office Examining U-Verse’s PEG Programming, Critics Complain About Access, Delivery Method, Quality
Lansing Mayors Press Release Regarding AT&T PEG Suits 
Michigan Court Certifies Questions to FCC Regarding Comcast's PEG Channel Move

Masthead

The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Interim Executive Director
Caroline Fan, Immigration and Workers' Rights Policy Specialist
Julie Schwartz, Broadband and Economic Development Policy Specialist
Christian Smith-Socaris, Election Reform Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Health Care Policy Specialist
Austin Guest, Communications Specialist
Marisol Thomer, Outreach Coordinator

Please shoot us an email at dispatch@progressivestates.org if you have feedback, tips, suggestions, criticisms, or nominations for any of our sidebar features.

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