Governor limits legal challenges to LA football stadium

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News

imageThe SB-292 law limits the time period for legal challenges, just for the stadium project. This will protect AEG’s proposed stadium against competitors who might try to delay the project. The law also ensures that Farmer’s Field is built to be environmentally sustainable.

At the news conference for the bill signing, governor Jerry Brown talked about the millions of Californians who are unemployed. He said SB-292 will create new jobs and get residents back to work.

“We’re going to remove some regulations, speed things up; we’re going to protect the environment but we’re also going to do it in a practical way,” he said. “Because there are too damn many regulations, let’s be clear about that.”

John Perez, the speaker of the California Assembly, said Farmer’s Field will have a significant impact on unemployment.

“This project will create 23,000 new jobs, which will benefit California as a whole,” he said. “And at a time when our state still has the second highest rate of unemployment in the nation, we need to be doing everything possible to create new jobs here in California.”

Some remain skeptical about the stadium’s lasting employment projections and others are concerned about increased traffic.

But now all AEG and the city of LA need is an NFL team to play in the new stadium.

Cuts to Medi-Cal hurt South LA residents

imageMamie Stamps lives in a little blue house in Watts. Her 17 grandchildren call her Bear in the Big Blue House, after their favorite cartoon. The inside is cramped; framed pictures of her family plaster the room like wallpaper. Stamps lives alone here. Her kids have grown and moved out; her husband died in 1992.

Stamps is now retired. She worked for 20 years at Children Institute International, where she cared for abused children.

“I did everything for them that I did for my babies. Raised them. Did everything for them. You just fall in love with the kids,” Stamps paused and laughed, caught in a memory. “It was nice.”

Like many people in the area, Stamps lives on a fixed income; like many people in the area, Stamps suffers from multiple health problems, and; like many people in the area, she relies on Medi-Cal to help her with health care costs.

Stamps has an arrhythmia and stigmatism. Today, she spent six hours at the Watts Health Center on her regular check-ups for her eyes and heart.

“I depend on Medi-Cal,” said Stamps, as she pours a cup of ice tea from a plastic pitcher she removed from an avocado-colored refrigerator. “Shoot, I don’t know how many times a year I see the doctor. A lot of times, quite a few time.”

But in January 2012, Stamps’ health care bills will increase.

On March 24, Gov. Jerry Brown signed 13 bills into law, aimed to reduce California’s $26.6 billion budget deficit. Combined, the bills cut the budget by $11.2 billion. One of the bills, AB 97, affects Medi-Cal, California’s version of the federal Medicaid program.

Medi-Cal offers health insurance to the elderly, those below the poverty line and the disabled.

The governor’s office projects the cuts will save the state $557 million. Health care activists, however, say the cuts will significantly burden low-income communities.

“Medi-Cal covers the sickest and most vulnerable people in California,” said Jessica Rothharr, program director for budget advocacy for Health Access, a health care advocacy organization.

Many people on Medi-Cal are already having trouble making ends meet.

“For a lot of these families, they’re the first one to lose a job,” said Dr. Ricky Choi, pediatrician at H & M Human Services Community Healthy Center in Oakland. Choi is also the Chairman of the National Physician’s Alliance of California, a group that officially opposes the cuts. “They’re the first ones who can’t get their kids out of a struggling school; they’re the ones that are really bearing the brunt of the recession.”

The changes to Medi-Cal may seem small. But the little adjustments will add up to a big impact for many recipients.

AB 97 has many provisions, but there are three that health care activists see as especially pernicious: Increases in patients’ co-pays, an annual soft cap of 7 doctors visits, and; a 10 percent pay cut for providers.

Ultimately, opponents to the cuts argue, the plan will cost more than it saves.

Co-Pays equal prohibitive costs

Effective in the new year, Medi-Cal recipents will have to pay a $5 co-pay on doctor visits and medications (currently, both are free). Emergency room visits will now cost $50 up front, and inpatient care will run a person $100 a day.

This may not seem like a lot. But for Stamps, that means not buying as many groceries. That means not being able to buy her grandson a little gift when she sees him every Sunday for church.

“I like to buy him little trucks,” smiled Stamps, peering down into her hand through coke-bottle classes, as though she could see the truck. “I love the way he looks when I give him those.”

Choi sees first-hand how the poor already triage their resources. Ninety-nine percent of Choi’s patients are 200 percent bellow the poverty line.

“In some cases, they can’t even afford Christmas presents, let alone pay for additional co-pays and premiums,” said Choi. “These changes will be a significant burden to the low-income community.”

Rothharr says the increase in co-pays won’t bring in a lot of revenue. In fact, according to Rothharr, hospitals and doctors don’t even want the burden of collecting $5.

“This is just an additional barrier to care,” she said. “The way it saves money is not because of the income received. The way it saves money is by reducing the amount of care.”

People can’t afford to go to the doctor, so the volume of patients’ visits and prescriptions filled is reduced.

“It’s a pretty sneaky and immoral way to go about it,” Rothharr continued. “It’s reducing access to care, reducing utilization of care by those who need it most.”

The new $50 co-pay on ER visits will also cause problems. Many people on Medi-Cal don’t have that much money lying around. But if a person is truly in need of medical attention, ERs cannot turn them away under the federal law Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA).

“It means Emergency rooms will eat it,” said Rothharr. “It’s a horrible system and that’s why the hospitals were strongly opposed because what are they supposed to do?”

This undue strain on hospitals means worse care – especially in less affluent neighborhoods where uncompensated visits will be more common.

Caps on visits means less care for the most needy

Even if a Medi-Cal patient can fork over the five bucks for a visit, the cuts will cap the number of times he or she can see the doctor in a year.

Rothharr worries that this will deter people from seeking medical attention when symptoms first show – and when they might be able to be cured.

“What you’re doing is having those people decide which of those doctors visits to skip, which of their regular tests and checkups to skip,” she said.

This is especially difficult in people with chronic conditions who need regular checkups, such as diabetes, high cholesterol and cancer survivors.

“It is not workable, and what it means is that people are going to die,” said Rothharr.

Stamps has never thought about how many times she sees the doctor a year. But now she’s going to have to. Both her conditions require regular check-ups; she depends on them. Now she doesn’t know what she’ll do.

“I’d just have to suffer through it,” she said. “I can’t afford any private medicine.”

Both children and pregnant women are exempt from the seven-visit cap.

In the original proposal, Brown wanted a hard cap of 10 doctors visits – meaning that patients could not see a physician more than 10 times, no exceptions. The Committee on Budget ultimately compromised with the soft cap of seven.

A soft caps means that a doctor could see a patient more times if they self-certify that the visit was medically necessary.

“But what you’re asking the doctor to do is take a chance in seeing that patient in the hopes that Medi-Cal will agree and pay them,” said Rothharr.

If Medi-Cal will reimburse, the payments take months to receive.

“It transfers the burden of more paperwork on physician and provider,” explained Choi.

Ten percent provider pay cut, fewer doctors

Doctors in California aren’t required to see Medi-Cal patients. And now they’re less likely to than ever.

The new budget decreases the amount received from Medi-Cal by 10 percent.

“We’re already near the very bottom in terms of states that provide reimbursement,” said Choi.

Many providers simply won’t be able to keep their practice open at the lower rate. Others will limit the number of Medi-Cal patients they see. As a result, there will be fewer doctors for Medi-Cal patients – and more demand for the ones who are. It will also be harder for Medi-Cal recipients to find a doctor.

“This is concern for providers who are really honestly seeking to provide the best care they can for their patients,” said Choi. “Unfortunately, these cuts are going to make it harder to do the jobs that we feel passionate about doing.”

The true costs

Myrna Schnur is the co-convener of the Grey Panthers of Berkeley, a social service non-profit organization that advocates for social programs in bills facing Sacramento.

The Grey Panthers have been watching AB 97 closely.

“Not only is it immoral and horrifying, it is financial foolish to cut Medi-Cal,” said Schnur.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office, the nonpartisan fiscal advisor to the state, did not account for increased use of ERs and county clinics when calculating the savings of AB 97.

This oversight is why the American Association of Medical Assistants, the Association of Emergency Physicians and the National Physicians Alliance all went on record opposing this bill.

“It’s penny wise and pound foolish,” Rothharr said. “You’re not dealing with the underlying need for care.”

In addition to a rise of uncompensated care, patients will also be sicker when they do seek medical help. Not only will that cause unnecessary suffering, said Choi, but they’ll be more expensive to treat.

“While it might not show up in the budget or the books, quite frankly it’s going to increase the overall costs of health care in California,” said Choi.

The Grey Panthers see the cuts as a human rights issue. Cutting Medi-Cal is myopic, says Schnur, and further disenfranchises the already disenfranchised.

“We’ll see an increase in hunger, adding more stress to food banks,” said Schnur.

“Clearly, this will lead to a humanitarian disaster,” said Rothharr. “We are talking about California going backwards into something that looks a lot more like a third world country.”

Choi also sees Medi-Cal cuts as a justice issue. For example, the plan will cut vision services.

“If you can’t see, you can’t do very well in school,” he said.

Choi says the changes will affect his families at the clinic immediately.

“These people are already, bearing the brunt of this recession,” he said. “They are the least able to handle this accumulated impact of all these cuts in services.”

Stamps knows she will feel it.

“I budget my money closely,” she said. “I have to. It’s all I have.”

CTA lobbies for higher taxes, better public education

The California Teachers’ Association is lobbying for a tax extension on the June ballot. If they fail, cuts to education may amount to $4.5 billion for the 2011-12 school year.

Read the complete story.

OPINION: Funding early childhood education, funding California’s future

By John Deasy and Celia C. Ayala

There’s little doubt that California today is facing monumental challenges. High unemployment, a stubborn recession and a gargantuan budget deficit are staring us in the eyes.

It’s quite evident that tough decisions must be made to right the ship. Gov. Jerry Brown began that process when he recently released his state budget proposal. Overall, it was a good start with one glaring exception: his plan to shift $1 billion in state and local Prop. 10 funds to balance the books. Doing so, in our opinion, would be a monumental mistake that would hurt education and health services for children statewide.

When voters approved Proposition 10 in 1998 by imposing a new tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products, they did so because they supported the establishment of the much needed early education and social service programs for children age 0-5.

Los Angeles County benefits in many ways through a variety of children’s health and early childhood programs funded by the First 5 LA Commission, which administers Prop. 10 funding locally. One of those programs has touched the lives of more than 40,000 four-year-olds, who have been able to receive a quality preschool education.

Brown has proposed shifting $1 billion from the reserve accounts of state and local First 5 commissions. The governor is also proposing shifting 50 percent of future state and local First 5 commission revenues to the state’s general fund for early childhood services. Should that succeed, thousands of children – especially those from underserved communities – will not receive a quality preschool education to better prepare them for kindergarten.

No matter where you stand in the political spectrum, you should be concerned because one fact is clear: the future of our state will largely depend on our children’s ability to compete in an unforgiving world economy, and early education plays an important role in helping children gain the critical thinking skills they need to succeed. The governor’s budget proposal would defeat that objective.

We could not agree more with Nobel-Prize winning economist and Professor James Heckman. In a letter to the bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Reform, he calls for investing in high-quality early education or risk putting “our country’s future in peril by producing a deficit in human capital that will take generations to correct.”

In Los Angeles County, it is sad that preschool education is already out of reach for about half of four-year-olds, mainly due to the lack of availability. That should concern all of us, because research has shown children who attend a high-quality preschool education enjoy greater academic achievement, are more likely to graduate from high school and college and are less likely to be involved in crime.

And according to a report from the RAND Corporation, African American and Latino students have lower levels of proficiency in several academic measures than white and Asian students. Preschool appears to be a promising solution to narrow such achievement gaps.

As such, it is imperative for Brown and the legislature to not take any action that would hurt early education efforts. This is especially important if we want to level the playing field for children who come from disadvantaged homes. Studies show at least half of the educational achievement gap between poor children and their more advantaged peers is evident in kindergarten, because many of them do not attend preschool.

That is crucial because children who start behind in kindergarten often remain behind throughout their entire school experience, which inhibits learning. This is one contributing factor to the fact that about 35 percent of Los Angeles students don’t graduate from high school.

We urge Brown and legislators to support efforts to even the playing field – not the opposite – and to provide a strong foundation for children by not threatening funds that support early childhood education. After all, today’s preschoolers are our country’s future leaders and taxpayers.

Simply put, we cannot afford to balance the budget on the backs of our young children. We urge Gov. Brown and the Legislature to not reduce Proposition 10 funding. Doing so would have lasting consequences that threaten not only our children’s future, but that of our state.

John Deasy is the incoming Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school system in the nation. Celia C. Ayala is the CEO of Los Angeles Universal Preschool, which funds high-quality preschool programs across Los Angeles County.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Former Obama supporters might vote Republican in next week’s elections

Listen to highlights from Obama’s speech Friday:


Groups that supported President Barack Obama in his bid for presidency two years ago are now swaying to vote for Republicans, according to a new CBS/New York Times poll released today.

Women, Independents and even low-income citizens are now more likely to vote for Republicans this mid-term election. But in the last weeks, Obama has traveled the states campaigning for Democratic candidates, attempting to convince voters to stay the course and repeat that the change he campaigned for in 2008 does not happen overnight.

Obama landed in Los Angeles last Friday to rally voters to head to the polls for Senator Barbara Boxer and the Democratic slate, drumming the same message. Boxer and an array of Democrats including candidate for governor Jerry Brown, candidate for state attorney general Kamala Harris and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined Obama at the University of Southern California.

With the backdrop of sunny skies, and an audience of 30,000 people, Obama addressed the crowd with the charisma and message of hope and change that launched him into the White House two years prior.

“You think, boy, we are not moving as quick as we want,” said the president amid cheers. “I understand that, but don’t let anybody tell you that our fight hasn’t been working. Don’t let them tell you that we are not making a difference. I need you to keep on believing. I need you to keep hoping. And if you knock on some doors and make phone calls and keep marching and keep organizing, we won’t just win this election. We are going to restore the American dream, for not just some, but for every, every, everybody in this great land.”

Jerry Brown visits South Los Angeles churches



Listen to Jerry Brown’s speech at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church.

View the slide show here.

Hot off his appearance with President Barack Obama at the University of Southern California, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown spoke from the pulpit of several South Los Angeles churches on Sunday. Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco and Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, traveled with Brown to the churches.

Over the course of the morning, Brown visited four churches in South Los Angeles and Compton. Brown used these visits as a means to encourage voter participation and to preach the Democratic platform in preparation for the midterm elections.

One of his stops, the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, is the oldest African American-founded church in Los Angeles. The pastor, the Rev. John Hunter, introduced Brown with a line of implicit support.

“The Lord oftentimes anoints and moves people to offer themselves to lead and to be a part of the solution,” Hunter said before Brown took the stage.

imageBrown is no stranger to speaking to religious audiences, as he was at one time in the seminary himself. Speaking to the large congregation appeared to energize him, even though he had just been ushered into the building moments before, running late after speaking at another church.

“I know you’re going to vote,” Brown said. “I just want to remind you to vote. This is real important. If you don’t vote, you don’t count.”

Enthusiastic applause broke out after Brown said he wants to make sure everybody has the God-given right to exceed, to soar, and to go however high they can go.

Brown continued, peppering his speech with religious references, while at the same time making powerful jabs at his Republican opposition.

“With your help and God’s blessing, we’ll make it work for everybody. Not just the powerful. Not just the people who seek out Mammon. You know, the children of darkness in their own way are pretty smart, but this is the time for the children of light. Follow the light. The light that will give us the kind of illumination that will lead us to the right path.”

He made a final call to fix the schools and reform the prisons, and then was off to his next destination.

imageWard African Methodist Episcopal Church offered a smaller, but no less enthusiastic audience for Brown. His speech became folksier and he spoke on a more intimate level to the church members, who at this point were already two hours into a church service.

“Seeking and praying and serving, that’s really what we need from our people in government,” Brown said, before launching into a tirade against money-grubbing politicians.

“They’re called public servants. But we know some of those folks over there in Bell, California, were like public potentates. They were paying themselves more than the President of the United States for running a little city. I don’t know if they were running the city, they were running off with the city.”

He asked how many people have already cast their absentee ballot. When several hands shot up, Brown responded, “Well that’s good! It’s good if you voted for me! If you didn’t, it’s bad.”

The congregation laughed, and then continued to offer verbal affirmations and smatterings of applause as Brown insisted that it’s time to stop pointing fingers and to start coming together to solve problems. “At the end of the day, we’re all Californians, and we all have to live in the state.”

Outside of Ward, one church member lamented that they didn’t have a red carpet to roll out for the man he hopes will be the next governor of California.

John Frierson, another church member and long time South Los Angeles community and political activist, shook his head. “I’ve known Brown for 40 years. He’s not the kind of guy who would like a red carpet.”
Slide Show:

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Preview of the gubernatorial debate with debate expert


Listen to the audio here:

Dr. Gordon Stables is also a communications professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He said the first gubernatorial debate between State Attorney General Jerry Brown and former E-Bay CEO Meg Whitman might be the kind of vote where people choose the candidate they dislike least.

Photo courtesy of University of Southern California’s website