STATE OPT OUT OF FEDERAL TANF BAN FOR FORMER DRUG OFFENDERS

Restores eligibility for ex-felons, whose offense was solely drug possession, for federal benefits needed to appropriately care for family members (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or “TANF”).

SALT urges an end to the lifetime ban on TANF for two major reasons: 1) it punishes both the ex-offender and his or her family and 2) it reduces the chance of the person’s successful re-entry into society upon release. The proposed bill promotes public safety by a) allowing constructive reintegration of ex-offenders, b) reducing the burden placed on family members and local communities, c) increasing the chances of gainful employment of ex-offenders, and d) decreasing the likelihood of recidivism.

Transitional Assistance Fiscal Impact. With over 2,400 fewer TANF cases from January to October 2014, this bill will expand the service population for TANF by 284 individuals.  The declining caseload means that additional general funds will not be required to finance this legislation.  The average increase in assistance payments will be $66 per month for one additional person per family unit.  The fiscal impact estimate assumes that most individuals added to the TANF caseload currently have children with active cases.  In July 2005, the department implemented these provisions for the Food Stamp program, with no discernable administrative cost increase.

  • We seek legislation to opt out of the TANF ban on formerly incarcerated persons found guilty of drug possession offenses. Because drug addiction is a medical and mental health issue, we oppose bans that preclude former drug offenders from receiving any type of social service, particularly when it punishes innocent family members. Having our government penalize individuals and their families for medical or mental health conditions is unworthy of a civilized society.

  • In 1996, Congress enacted welfare reforms designed to promote work by welfare recipients. At the same time, it provided for TANF block grants to states, grants for temporary financial assistance necessary to provide support for families.

  • The federal law provides that these temporary federal TANF benefits are not available to ex-offenders convicted of drug felonies, unless the state “opts out” of this ban. Many states have already done so, and Virginia has already opted out for other key federal benefits (eg. Food Stamps in 2005).

  • The Opt Out would eliminate this ban for those whose offenses solely involved possession (rather than distribution) of drugs. Under existing law, offenders convicted of more serious violent crimes are eligible for TANF benefits on release, so as a matter of fairness, benefits should also be available to former drug offenders.

  • Parents reentering their communities after incarceration often need public benefits to reunite with their families, pay rent, and buy food, clothing, and other necessities. Denying assistance to such families struggling to rebuild their lives is both punitive and counterproductive.

  • By strengthening families and providing transitional assistance, the Opt Out advances the Governor’s announced goal of successful reentry and decreased recidivism while reducing the $29,000 annual cost to taxpayers for incarceration per inmate.

CLOSING COMMENTS: Strong families are as important to Virginia’s future as schools and roads. With the TANF caseloads declining, excess federal funds are available to finance this initiative.  We should not miss the opportunity to take prudent steps to mitigate poverty and shield these families from unwarranted suffering.

If you have questions or would like further information, please contact John Horejsi, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..                                                               (January 8, 2015)

Response to Delegate Scott Lingamfelter by Meghan Czaikoski

Dear Editor:

Regarding “State GOP Stood on Principle” by Virginia Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Dist. 31), Fairfax County Times, 08/01/2014 to 08/03/2014.

As a constituent, I question not the sincerity but the wisdom of Virginia Delegate Scott Lingamfelter’s position regarding the state budget. The Delegate is proud of the fact that “we have a budget — one that does not expand Obamacare in Virginia.” He believes that he and like-minded legislators acted wisely.  I disagree.

What is the wisdom of excluding 400,000 Virginians, primarily working poor Virginians, from health care coverage by refusing to expand Medicaid, especially when the costs of the expansion are zero state dollars (100% federal funding for 2014 through 2016), gradually changing to 10% state funding and 90% federal match by 2020 and subsequent years for newly eligible enrollees?

What is the wisdom of leaving “$5 million [daily] in federal funds unclaimed” (Washington Post editorial 03/06/2014)?  The editorial also notes, “It has also passed up another $32 million so far this year (as of early March) in lost savings, as well as tax revenues, that would be generated by the creation of some 20,000 health-care jobs.”

Delegate Lingamfelter argues that Virginia legislators are now responsible for exercising Federal fiscal responsibility if the feds will not. However, as the Post editorial noted:
“… if Washington does renege, Virginia would have the option of dropping coverage and trimming its Medicaid rolls, as it has done in the past.”

By extension, Lingamfelter’s argument would expand to insist that Virginia should accept NO federal grants for ANY program—not education, not transportation, not Medicaid, not TANF, because of the national debt and future inability to pay.

Aside from the financial consideration, is there not a moral perspective —a perspective derived from conventional community standards rooted in ethical principles--being overlooked by Lingamfelter and other legislators?  We are our brothers’ keepers, and I think we can all agree that budgets are moral documents.   

Lingamfelter and his like-minded colleagues in the Virginia House have, unfortunately, acted unwisely from both the fiduciary perspective as well as the moral perspective. The citizens of Virginia have not been well served.

Sincerely,

Meghan Czaikoski

Claire’s Letter to the Editor

It would be my wish that every Republican member of the Virginia House of Delegates be required to read the two stories in Saturday's paper - focusing on the health and well being of the poor in southwest Virginia and their attendance at a yearly free clinic. These are folks who have worked their entire lives...the working poor.  But alas, in voting not to allow Medicaid expansion it appears that the Republicans who control the house have never met a poor person they liked.  Or wait, perhaps they've never met a poor person. These members are an embarrassment not only to the Commonwealth, but to the nation.
 
Claire O'Dwyer Randall

Letter to Speaker Howell Health Care Insurance

Dear Speaker Howell:

I write as an individual concerned citizen of Virginia.

In light of the most recent data showing the widespread beneficial effects of the Affordable Care Act (see below), it seems irrational that Virginia Republican legislators continue to oppose Medicaid expansion in Virginia. Furthermore, in light of the great need for expanded health care insurance for many Virginians, this opposition also seems most uncaring.

I urge you to use your leadership position to convince your party members to acknowledge the good sense and moral goodness of expanding Medicaid in Virginia.

Thank you for serious consideration of my comments.

Sincerely,

Eugene W. Kelly Jr.

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Turns Out, Republicans Love Obamacare

By Igor Volsky July 10, 2014 at 9:32 am Updated: July 10, 2014 at 11:07 am

Conservative groups have invested millions of dollars in opposing the Affordable Care Act, but they appear to have had little success in turning Americans against the law. In fact, according to a new poll from the Commonwealth Fund, individuals and families who enroll in Obamacare — including the overwhelming majority of Republicans — are satisfied with the product:

Overall, 73 percent of people who bought health plans and 87 percent of those who signed up for Medicaid said they were somewhat or very satisfied with their new health insurance. Seventy-four percent of newly insured Republicans liked their plans. Even 77 percent of people who had insurance before — including members of the much-publicized group whose plans got canceled last year — were happy with their new coverage.

The study also found that the percentage of uninsured has dropped, from 20 percent to 15 percent, after the first open enrollment period, with 9.5 million fewer people now uninsured. Latinos, the most likely of any racial group to lack health insurance, are seeing the biggest gains in coverage. “The percent uninsured fell from 36 percent in July–September 2013 to 23 percent in April–June 2014,” Commonwealth reports.

Moreover, states that expanded their Medicaid programs experienced the biggest drop in uninsurance rates for low-income citizens. In the 25 states and the District of Columbia that implemented coverage expansion for poorer residents, the average uninsured rate for people living below the poverty level fell to 17 percent from 28 percent. The 26 states that have rejected Medicaid expansion continue to see the uninsured rate among low income individuals hover at 36 percent.

The number of uninsured young adults dropped the most, the survey found, from 28 percent to 18 percent.

Commonwealth Fund conducted the survey from a July-to-September 2013 period, before Americans began enrolling in the Affordable Care Act, and then again from April-to-June 2014, following the end of open enrollment.

Update

Significantly, the survey also found that more than half of adults — 58 percent — “with new insurance said they were better off now than they were before.”

Source: http://thinkprogress.org/health/2014/07/10/3458577/even-republicans-are-satisfied-with-the-new-obamacare-coverage-poll-finds/?elq=~~eloqua..type--emailfield..syntax--recipientid~~&elqCampaignId=~~eloqua..type--campaign..campaignid--0..fieldname--id~~