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Posted by John on

Trump Diaries, Chapter 1: Voices of Inauguration Day


“The imperialist-minded businessman, whom the stars annoyed because he could not annex them, realized that power organized for its own sake would beget more power.”  — Hannah Arendt

Paige and I watched President Trump’s Inauguration Speech, then packed up the camera and headed to downtown Denver to talk with someone more sensible.  Which turned out to be pretty much everybody.  Here are the voices of some of the people we met.

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Posted by John on

No on Betsey DeVos

Next Tuesday, the Senate will vote on Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.  You doubtless read about her privatization of Michigan’s charter schools.  You probably also read that she “may have confused” the fact that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a requirement of federal, not state, law.  But for students with disabilities, it gets worse.

IDEA is a federal law implemented at the local level.  Congress has never appropriated more than a small fraction of the dollars necessary to fulfill the law’s requirement of a “free appropriate public education” for all students, regardless of disability. If congressional Oscars were awarded for each year’s “most egregiously unfunded mandate,” IDEA’s budget would be Meryl Streep.  In 2016, Congress put up only 16% of the money necessary to implement the law it requires the states to follow.

The federal requirements are also broad, and open to interpretation.  One key issue: how much progress should a disabled student be expected to make from year to year in order for it to be “adequate” under the law? 

This year, the Supreme Court is deciding a case from Colorado that will determine whether students must make “substantial” progress, “more than de minimis” progress, or some other level of progress to be defined.  This question is crucial for schools and families, because it determines the kind and level of services kids get in schools, and how much those services cost. 

Once the Court decides the legal standard for adequate progress, then the US Department of Education will be responsible for enforcing it, in two ways.  The Department writes new federal regulations, which tend to get copied or incorporated by reference in state regulations, which set school policy.  And the Office of Civil Rights enforces education discrimination laws by investigating parent complaints. 

Betsy DeVos will be taking over the Department of Education at a pivotal moment in the history of special education law.  The new Supreme Court decision may have a profound impact on how states, and schools, provide services for disabled kids nationwide.  If we have an Education Secretary who believes the states should decide these matters, then the federal regulatory enforcement role, the federal enforcement role, and the federal funding role, could all go from twilight into full eclipse.  States with robust special education funding and strong state lobbies, like California and New York, would continue to serve their disabled student populations.  States with weaker funding streams and less commitment would fail these students entirely.  Levels of discrimination, unequal treatment, and denial of basic rights would increase.

These days there’s so much to oppose, and so much action to take, it makes your head spin and you stomach turn.  But here’s another one.  One note of “optimism” to consider: disability crosses party lines.  Coalitions on this issue are possible where other battles are more firmly entrenched.  Your Senator’s position may surprise you.  The link for more info, with a list of HELP Senate committee members, is below.  The deadline is Tuesday.


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Posted by John on

The Work Now

I took Trump’s inaugural speech like a punch to the gut.   Some consider his nationalism little different from Reagan’s, applaud his patriotic appeals, celebrate his invocation of God.  But Reagan rallied Americans against a distant menace; for Trump, the enemies are in our midst.  Previous Republicans believed that the tide of world prosperity would lift all boats; Trump will oppose the world’s gain, for he considers it our loss.  Former leaders appealed to the outstretched hands of a merciful God.  Trump’s deity carries a shield to protect us and a sword to “eradicate” our enemies “from the face of the Earth.”

I marched in Denver last Saturday seeking a better vision of ourselves.  I found it.  Progressive women have long counterbalanced the harshness of American individualism and moderated capitalism’s excesses.  From abolitionists to suffragettes, labor crusaders to rainbow pride, women articulate a communitarian core of the American idea.    Their fundamental concerns necessarily include reproductive rights and evolving concepts of gender, ideals that now form the next segments in Martin Luther King’s arc of history, bending towards justice, grounded in love.  They champion freedom of the body, counterpoint to freedom of the sky. 

Aligned, America’s countervailing forces of individualistic liberty and communitarian justice have spawned our greatest national achievements.  Now our national polarity has become an agonizing spasm, triggered by our mirrored fears.   The cure is not some illusion of victory; it is a deeper love. Love of liberty, love of land, love of each other.   This is the work now.

Boulder Daily Camera Editorial Advisory Board contribution, January 28, 2017

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Posted by John on

“Tiene Medicaid”

“Tiene Medicaid.”  She has Medicaid.

My work as a domestic relations mediator teaches me every day about life for low income families.  The details of individual cases are confidential, but let’s say a divorced mom makes about $1900 a month cleaning houses.  Her ex makes $2750 a month in landscaping.  In winter, neither of them gets enough hours of work to earn even those amounts on a steady basis.  He’s ordered to pay $633 in child support for their two kids, which he has a hard time coming up with at times.   Their divided households live on that, here in Boulder County.  

One conversation sticks with me. The mom — I’ll call her Octavia — stoical, uneducated but smart, scarred but not bitter, had warily agreed to give her the dad more parenting time, and we were discussing the reality that her child support payments were likely to shrink.  Her youngest child had special needs requiring extra medical care.  I remember asking, in Spanish, how she paid for this.  “Tiene Medicaid,” Octavia replied, smiled — and broke down in tears.

The Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid in Colorado in 2013.  Before that, life for parents like Octavia was one long medical and financial nightmare.  But the ACA enabled thousands of Colorado kids – with disabilities and without — to obtain government health insurance for the first time.  Medicaid expansion enabled the 20 provider members of the Colorado Community Health Network to expand their facilities, so that there are now 195 clinic sites statewide.  In Boulder County, Clínica Family Health (now celebrating its 40th anniversary) is expanding its facilities in Lafayette and Westminster to serve more patients like Octavia and her daughter.  Clínica alone has added 10,000 new patients since the Medicaid expansion.  Expanding Medicaid cut the number of uninsured kids in Colorado from 7% to 2.5% – and it cut the cost of uncompensated care by over 50% as well.

Clínica’s mission has always been to serve patients regardless of ability to pay.  But for families with more complex medical needs, such as children who require specialty referrals, Medicaid eligibility is essential.  Medicaid has also provided access to quality dental care.  And Medicaid funding has allowed Clínica to partner with other county agencies to take a broader approach to social determinants of health into account — like housing, mental health, and other needs.  

Families like Octavia’s are never far from financial catastrophe.  But a disabled child whose medical needs are well supported can more successfully attend school – and that means her mom can work enough hours to support herself and her kids.   Healthy families are productive families, holding jobs, staying in school, requiring less public assistance, contributing to our society.  More broadly, when we invest in preventive care, we invest in the social capital of our citizens.  According to the Colorado Health Foundation, Medicaid expansion has generated over 31,000 jobs, increased Colorado’s economic activity by over $3.8 billion, and raised annual household earnings by $600.  The Foundation predicts that the economic activity spurred by Medicaid expansion will generate enough General Fund revenues to offset any new state government Medicaid expenses.

But now Medicaid funding is under threat, as the new Congress and President Trump consider ways to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.  Simon Smith, the CEO of Clínica, is urging folks not to panic, stressing that their doors will always be open to patients as they always have been regardless of ability to pay.  But he does worry about patients’ access to specialty referrals outside Clínica’s areas of expertise.  More broadly, he worries about the prospect of Congress simply draining money out of the Medicaid system and forcing states to make the hard choices on their own.  Then the Feds would not be throwing patients off Medicaid directly; they’d just be providing so little money that the states would have to restrict income eligibility limits, cut benefits, or both.   He worries about the future of all of the broad-based health and wellness programs underway, about how to hold onto the progress that’s been made.

And despite Simon’s urge to keep calm and carry on, a pall of uncertainty has descended – over the providers, over the insurers.  And soon, inevitably, over moms like Octavia.  Of course, given the uncertainties women like her face every day, they have to be tougher than most of us. 

But a low-income mom of a kid with special needs has her hands full.  Many others of us have the time, and voice, and responsibility, to take action.  In Colorado, over 100 groups from across the political spectrum — from the Chambers of Commerce on down — have gathered to form the “Colorado Health Policy Coalition.”  They’re mobilizing for a comprehensive, non-partisan approach to health care reform.   Whatever your political stripe, there’s a place to stand.  It’s not just the uninsured – the health of every one of us is on the line.

-Boulder Daily Camera guest editoral

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