Healthcare fair comes to South LA

Volunteer Carmen Abalos enjoyed a healthy snack during a break.

Volunteer Carmen Abalos enjoyed a healthy snack during a break.

Los Angeles Trade-Tech College was abuzz with crowds, booths, colorful displays, food, and games being played under large white tents last Saturday afternoon. In one corner, children bounced in an air-filled castle, taking occasional breaks to drink bottled water and eat fruit cups. The adults moved from table to table, chatting, carrying reusable shopping bags filled with paperwork and hand sanitizer.

In spite of the carnival-like atmosphere, the event’s purpose was serious: to provide hundreds of L.A.’s lowest income families with healthcare before the day’s end.

The line to enroll stretched out the door of LATTC’s Aspen Hall as Congressional Representative Karen Bass entered the event. Bass, South L.A.’s District 31 representative, took time out of her Thanksgiving break to conduct a town hall meeting during the health fair.

Addressing the crowd beneath the tent, she said, “You never get to hear about what we do, you only get to hear about what we don’t do.”

South LA Congresswoman Bass engages with the audience at Saturday's town hall meeting.

South LA Congresswoman Bass engages with the audience at Saturday’s town hall meeting.

Bass then said she would discuss the former, going on to explain three bills recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives that could improve the quality of life for residents of South L.A.

The first bill she described was called the “Local Hire Amendment.” At present, federally funded projects are prohibited from giving preference to local companies. This bill, which flew through the House with a unanimous vote, will allow local South L.A. companies to be given preference for work on local projects.

The second bill would empower Child Protective Services to develop better systems for identifying and intervening when children are victims of sexual exploitation. Sex trafficking is an ongoing issue in California, with thousands of victims identified in the last few years alone. Many of these victims are children. Right now, minors arrested during raids on the sex trade often enter the criminal justice system. This new bill, passed by the House July 25, would help channel these children into protective services instead of sending them to jail.

Another recently-passed bill Bass touched on will develop resources to identify foster children at risk for being trafficked, or who may already be victims.

Silvia Pocasangra, her daughter Silvia Flores and granddaughter Genesis Flores being the enrollment process.

Silvia Pocasangra, her daughter Silvia Flores and granddaughter Genesis Flores being the enrollment process.

Bass also discussed the application on behalf of a South Los Angeles “Promise Zone,” explaining that $500 million dollars in funding for anti-poverty programs could potentially pour into the area.

Bass then took questions from the floor. These ranged from concerns over health care policy, to the U.S. intervention in Iraq, to additional funding for mental health resources, to the reintegration of prisoners slated to be released due to Proposition 47.

Prop 47 changes the penalty from a felony charge to a misdemeanor for certain offenses involving drug or property possession. With its passage earlier this month, 10,000 prisoners serving time for felony offenses will become eligible for sentence reductions. In an effort to help these individuals make the transition, Bass has secured some California’s $8 million to help reintegrate members of her district who will be released from correctional facilities in the wake of Prop 47’s passage.

“So when they come out, they don’t go right back in,” she said.

The line to enter LATTC's Aspen hall for healthcare enrollment at this weekend's health fair.

The line to enter LATTC’s Aspen hall for healthcare enrollment at this weekend’s health fair.

Ron Richards of South Los Angeles told Bass that he liked the idea of the Affordable Care Act. But, he said, “I just don’t like the idea of being forced to buy health insurance from an insurance company.” Bass responded, “If we did away with the individual mandate, the entire Affordable Care Act would fall apart.”

She also explained California’s role in the healthcare revolution. She said, “Even though there has been tremendous resistance, to the ACA – in California because we are so large, and so many people have signed up we are actually carrying the entire nation.”

Recently covered  families received the carpet treatment for r.

Recently covered families received the carpet treatment for r.

Before, during and after the town hall, blue-shirted volunteers from Community Coalition walked visitors through the complicated process of applying for coverage.

As families large and small reemerged out of the glass double-doors at the far end of Aspen Hall, they had their photos taken, red-carpet-style. They smiled while holding homemade signs reading, “I’m Covered!”

Kaiser, Watts Health, County of Los Angeles and other organizations vied for attention from new and former enrollees. Lilly Saucedo of Community Coalition said that even after working all morning, the applicants continued to pour in. “So far, we’re at 50 units,” she said. A unit is a family, as small as two but as large as large families get in South L.A. “And we’re still going strong.”

If you would like resources or information about healthcare enrollment, please reach out to the Community Coalition at (323) 750-9087. 8101 S. Vermont Ave, Los Angeles CA 90044.

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