Get the Government Out of My Flooded House!!

November 2, 2012 at 10:37 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Well, as the clean-up from SuperStorm Sandy progresses, some Americans seem less opposed to government intervention than they used to be. Residents of Staten Island, the only Republican leaning borough of New York City, are outraged that help is not coming to them faster. Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey (who sounds for all the world like my Philadelphia working-class relatives) is actually grateful to President Obama for acting quickly.

On Wednesday, October 31, my Congresswoman, Yvette Clarke, sent out an email about government services available in the light of Hurricane Sandy:

FEMA : Federal Emergency Management Agency. Individuals and business owners who sustained losses in designated counties can begin applying for assistance by registering online, or at a toll-free number 7am to 10pm seven days a week.

TRANSPORTATION: The states of NY and RI have access to $13 million in quick-release emergency funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation, the first installment of Federal Highway Administration funds to help begin repairing roads, bridges and tunnels. The Federal Transit Administration will send experts to offices established by FEMA to provide guidance in damage assessment and recovery, and to direct transit agencies to available federal assistance programs. The FAA Air Traffic System Command Center is maintaining constant communication with airlines, the military, business aviation, and airports affected by the storm, all of whom will advise the FAA about flight schedules and plans to resume operations into affected areas. .

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and FEMA activated ambulance contracts to support state requirements to evacuate patients as needed and requested.  HHS has personnel deployed in support of state response efforts, including two 50-person Disaster Medical Assistance Teams providing triage and basic care in shelters in NJ. HHS also has personnel supporting 350 ambulances in New York that were activated through FEMA’s ambulance contracts. An additional Disaster Medical Assistance Team remains pre-staged in the mid-Atlantic, prepared to deploy quickly along the East Coast if needed.

NATIONAL BUSINESS EMERGENCY OPERATION CENTER: FEMA activated. More than 330 representatives from retail, transportation, food and groceries, building management, and other industries receive daily briefings on key federal response efforts. These briefings assist in federal and private sector planning efforts, and provide a forum to discuss response efforts and challenges that may arise for maintaining business operations.

HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT: The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is coordinating with FEMA and affected states to identify housing providers who may have available housing units, including public housing agencies and multi-family owners. HUD is also speeding federal disaster assistance to NY and NJ to provide support to homeowners and low-income renters forced from their homes in the most heavily impacted areas. The President’s major disaster declarations for NY and NJ allow HUD to offer foreclosure relief and other assistance to some families in the designated counties. HUD has granted a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures and forbearances of  (FHA)-insured home mortgages.

AGRICULTURE: TheUS Department of Agriculture regional Food and Nutrition Service leadership is working with state commissioners and program administrators to meet food needs for emergency shelters and feeding sites and to assist with Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) requests.

Republicans, by and large, think that the free market will take care of problems like old age and Hurricane Sandy. In 2005, President George W. Bush introduced a major initiative to privatize personal Social Security accounts and to permit Americans to divert a portion of their Social Security tax (FICA) into investments. When the economy collapsed in 2008, a lot of us, for whom Social Security is a significant portion of our incomes, were grateful that Congress had ditched that idea.

Then, in 2011, during one of the debates in the presidential primaries, Mitt Romney called for the privatization of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the agency at the center of government response to Sandy. You can see him arguing that position here. I imagine he will be holding a press conference later today claiming that that was not what he meant.

The question is, will we Americans, with our notoriously short attention spans, be able to forget, between now and next Tuesday, the role the federal government is playing in the recovery from SuperStorm Sandy? 

No Health Insurance? Hold on to the Bannister

September 17, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Those of you who drop in from time may remember the story of my broken wrists. Last April I fell down the steps of my parish church after the Palm Sunday vigil Mass and broke both wrists, one of them very badly, and knocked the hell out of a bunch of teeth as well. In the five months since then, four of those teeth have been wired together to keep them from breaking. Try eating corn on the cob with that arrangement.

I’m writing today to update you on my situation. Not that my little miseries matter awfully compared to the much larger disasters we’re facing nationally and internationally. In point of fact, though, it turns out that my little miseries overlap with one aspect of those larger disasters, and that’s what I’m writing about today.

My wrists are a whole lot better. I went twice a week for ten weeks to physical therapy, and did exercises for half an hour four times a day. Now I can pick up fairly heavy things, get the tops off most jars (my husband says I was actually pretty bad at this before the fall) and never wake up during the night with wrist pain. I still can’t get down on my hands and knees, but the surgeon says another five months (!) of exercises and I’ll be as good as new.

With my wrists vastly improved, I went Thursday to the dentist to get the story on my teeth. Now it’s time to hold your hat: the four implants or the bridge with gold crowns that I need to repair my teeth are going to cost between $11,000 and $14,000, of which our dental insurance will pay $1500 (minus three cleanings a year).  Now the surgery on my left wrist cost $23,000, but our health insurance, though mediocre, is much better than our dental insurance: it paid all but a $300 co-pay for the surgery. Our insurer, Oxford, is more enthusiastic about surgery than about physical therapy, though; the $50 co-pay for each of two wrist therapies a week for  ten weeks added $1000 to the wrist bill. To which we are now going to add $11-14,000 for teeth.

I don’t really mean to complain about this. As my shift-worker father, Joe Ronan, used to say, “Just be glad you have the money.” Which we do have, in our savings, thank God.

What I’m thinking about, though, and you may want to think about it too, is all the people in this country who couldn’t possibly afford all this money, the people without even mediocre health and dental insurance, for whom a fall like this would mean the end of life as they have known it. As the New York Times reported this week, there are a whole lot of these people, and more all the time. According to the Census Bureau, the number of uninsured people rose to 49.9 million last year, up from 49 million the previous year. And employment-related insurance, the foundation of the US health insurance system, dropped to 55%. Fortunately, the number of people covered by government insurance programs increased for the fourth year in a row, helping to mitigate the loss of other kinds of coverage. And the new health care law which President Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi got through will expand Medicaid coverage for the poor and provide subsidies to help middle-income people buy private health insurance.

That’s if the Tea-Partiers don’t find some way to get that health care law repealed, or to eviscerate Medicaid by handing it off to the states, or in some other way. And if Americans aren’t so stupid as to express their anger by allowing the Tea-Partiers to do it.

But if the Tea-Partiers do succeed, and the American people let them, then the only advice I have for 49.9 million Americans and counting is this: be sure to hold onto the bannister when you’re going down the steps.

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