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California

Housing for Vets and Public Access Top Ballot – Will Voters Turn Out?

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Updated nonpartisan website guides voters this primary season

SAN FRANCISCO — On June 3, California voters will cast ballots that will impact housing for veterans and public access to government meetings and records. They’ll also choose the top two candidates for a handful of offices including governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and others. The newly updated nonpartisan California Choices (www.californiachoices.org), a clearinghouse for state voter information, is available to help walk voters through the process.

“If the 2012 primary is any indication, voter turnout could be low—even historically low,” said F. Noel Perry, the founder of the nonpartisan nonprofit organization, Next 10, which presents California Choices in partnership with the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. “We hope that providing voters with clear, concise information will encourage them to get to the polls.”

California Choices examines the two statewide propositions – Prop. 41 and 42 – that are on the ballot this June, providing information about the measures in a highly accessible, one-stop-shop format. Prop. 41 would authorize $600 million in bonds to provide multi-family housing to homeless and at-risk veterans. Prop. 42 would require local governments to comply with state laws providing access to public meetings and records.

The site’s “Endorsements” table shows how nearly 20 groups of all political stripes would vote on both ballot initiatives. The interactive site also allows users to save their votes using the new “My Votes” feature. Voters can then access their voting preferences at any time from another device, including from a smart phone at the polling place. Users can also share their votes with family and friends via email or Facebook.

“Low voter turnout is very simply bad for our democracy. We’re arming Californians with information so that they can become more engaged in the political process,” said Jack Citrin, Director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley.

-PRESS RELEASE-

Greenlining Urges California Public Utilities Commission: Don’t OK Comcast/Time Warner Deal

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SAN FRANCISCO – In a protest being filed today with the California Public Utilities Commission, The Greenlining Institute urges the CPUC not to approve the proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable by Comcast, arguing that the proposed merger would not be in the public interest.

“This deal poses a real threat to low-income customers, whom Comcast has shown no interest in serving,” said Greenlining Institute Energy and Telecommunications Policy Director Stephanie Chen. Key points in Greenlining’s protest include:

  • Time Warner is one of the few cable companies that treats serving low-income customers as a meaningful part of its business model, rather than just a compliance obligation. The merger would eliminate Time Warner and deliver most of its customers to Comcast.
  • Time Warner has committed to providing LifeLine service for its low-income telephone customers, while Comcast has not (telephone issues are at the heart of CPUC’s jurisdiction over the proposed merger).
  • The proposed deal promises to reduce competition in the Los Angeles-area market, threatening increased prices and lower service quality, while providing no economic benefits to residential customers (despite substantial cost savings for the merged company).
  • The Commission should investigate the proposed new company’s commitment to diversity, given Comcast’s half-hearted record in this area.

“We believe there are strong reasons for the Commission to say ‘no’ to this deal, and we’ll be bringing up additional concerns with the FCC when the time comes,” Chen said.

-PRESS RELEASE-

Brown unveils conservative new budget proposal

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By James Carter
California Black Media

Despite $2.4 billion in unexpectedly higher revenues, California Governor Jerry Brown stressed spending restraint Tuesday when he detailed his revised state budget proposal.

According to Brown, the two-year tax revenue gains are offset by increased spending, specifically higher Medi-Cal costs and state worker retirement liabilities.

"We must follow a policy of restraint," Brown said. "Arguing with reality is a very chancy endeavor. The reality is the numbers that I've laid before you: Revenues are up a couple of billion but expenditures meet the revenues almost precisely. And that's the problem."

Last week a report from the Legislative Analyst's Office stated California is facing $340 billion in long-term costs that are not being adequately addressed. The largest percentage of those costs relate to a nearly $74 billion shortfall in the teacher pension fund. Because the contributions are mandated by state law they do not automatically adjust to ensure proper funding. If contributions are not increased, most estimates expect the fund to run out of money in approximately 30 years.

"People are concerned about young people getting what they need," Brown said. "To get what they need, they need teachers. Teachers get what they need by having pensions. The pension has to be paid for. There will only be pensions in 30 years if we start laying aside money."

Ongoing and uncertain healthcare costs are another major component of California's fiscal state.

Brown said that as people were being recruited to sign up for the federal Affordable Care Act, many people who previously were not participants in the health care system discovered they were eligible for Medi-Cal, the state's low-income healthcare program.

"30-percent of the people in California are now getting health coverage under our Medi-Cal program," Brown said. "That is a huge social commitment on the part of the taxpayers of California. I'm proud we did it but we have to take into account that it is growing. Since January the costs of this Medi-Cal enrollment has gone up $1 million. What are the unknown increases the next year and the year after that? That is why we have to be very careful with how we look at spending claims."

Brown's long-view approach to tackling California's economic troubles are winning some support from the other side of the aisle. Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Brea, is guardedly optimistic about the steps and directions Brown has taken with the budget.

"I think the governor outlined a fairly fiscally conservative budget, so he is trying to acknowledge and pay down debt," Huff said. "It's hard to call this an austere budget given that it's $12 billion more than last years' budget. But given the demand for so many programs up here I would have to say that the governor's drawn a pretty strong line of fiscal restraint."

The question is whether that strong fiscal line will be able to hold up under the intense pressure from outside groups and other legislators who want to see funding restored to programs and services cut during the recession and expenditures for new programs.

One such new program is Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's, D-Sacramento, proposal to expand transitional kindergarten statewide. The program, introduced as part of the Steinberg's Kindergarten Readiness Act, provides classes and a modified curriculum to four-year-olds who miss the cutoff date for kindergarten enrollment because their birthdays fall later in the year.

Advocates of the transitional kindergarten program site statistics and studies showing the improved academic outcomes among children who attend pre-school versus those who don't. While they may agree on the academic benefits, for opponents the clear consideration is cost. If fully funded Steinberg's program could cost an estimated $1.46 billion.

When asked about the transitional kindergarten proposal Tuesday, Brown, who previously warned lawmakers about using budget surpluses on new spending, showed no signs of support.

"A lot of people have various views on the education system," Brown said. "In California we have K through 12 and two years of community college. Some people say if we just get a sixteenth year everything will be hunky dory for the next 50 years. If that's true then some reallocation has to be made within that 15-year Prop 98 program."

Brown's fiscal conservatism combined with legislators looking to satisfy constituent groups seeking a larger slice of the economic pie could make for interesting debates leading to the June 15 budget deadline.

"The truth is there are many good ideas in health care in schooling in environment, in prison reform, in court expansion, but we only have so much money. we do live within the revenues given," Brown said. "This budget is my best cut at how to spend the money. This is taking a big bite out of our long-term obligations. The Legislature will now go over it and we'll have a good conversation about what we do."

Local Leaders Move into Position of Presidency in NAACP Branch

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(SACRAMENTO) – The NAACP welcomes Minnie Hadley-Hempstead and Steven T. Webb to the Presidency of the Los Angeles and Sacramento branches.

Minnie Hadley-Hempstead is the new president of the Los Angeles NAACP. As a resident of Los Angeles for over 50 years Minnie Hadley-Hempstead has made a lifelong commitment to youth and education. Mrs. Hadley-Hempstead is a graduate of California State University Dominguez Hills with a Masters of Science in Public Administration. She also earned Teaching Credentials from the California State University Los Angeles. As the Chapter Chair for the United Teachers of Los Angeles she was often the spokesperson for educational issues. In addition to her role with the NAACP, Minnie also finds time to participate in the Laubach Literacy Action International and is an active member of her local church. Minnie has many achievements, but her family is the center of her world. Helping others is one of their most fulfilling life experiences. Ms. Hadley-Hempstead succeeds Leon Jenkins who resigned on May 1, 2014.

Stephen T. Webb is the new president of the Sacramento NAACP. Mr. Webb is a member of the ALC (Agent Leadership Council) at Keller Williams Realty and is also the Past-President of the Sacramento Realtist Association 2008-2009 and Board of Directors from 2004-2011. In 2005 Mr. Webb became the Housing Chair for the NAACP and as of January, 2013 1st Vice-President. Stephen has been a Master Realtor three times with the (SAR) Sacramento Association of Realtors, and on the Board of Directors from 2008-2010. Mr. Webb succeeds Tyrone Netters who resigned on May 8, 2014.

-PRESS RELEASE-

Obamacare Sign-ups Among Blacks Still Low in California; Increased Efforts Made to Engage and Enroll African-Americans

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By California Black Media

Concerned about the low number of African-Americans taking advantage of low-cost health insurance plans or free Medi-Cal coverage, Covered California is pumping new resources into an eleventh-hour drive to get more black Californians to seize the opportunities available through Obamacare.

The Affordable Care Act enrollment deadline is March 31. Beyond that date, Californians without health care coverage — either through an employer, the Covered California insurance exchange or Medi-Cal — will face financial penalties.

Only about half of the blacks in California eligible for a dramatic improvement in their health care coverage have enrolled thus far. Of particular interest to advocates are the opportunities in Medi-Cal: it is now available, free of charge, to all single men and women earning less than $14,431 per year; families of four are eligible for Medi-Cal with an income less than $29,367.

In a recent press briefing, Covered California executive director Peter V. Lee acknowledged the challenge of getting more African-Americans engaged in the enrollment process.

“With African-Americans it’s about 2.6 percent of folks that have enrolled, and the percentage who are eligible is about 4 percent — so we are not doing as well as we want,” he said in response to a question from California Black Media. “So, one of our targets in the last month has been to redouble our efforts. We’ve made additional ad buys in African-American papers and are doing more outreach. We’re optimistic, because our aspirations are that we want to enroll everybody that is eligible.”

However, Betty Williams, of 1 Solution — a statewide certified Covered California enroller and educator, serving a predominantly African-American population — believes the turnout could have been better. “I’ve been saying that for a long time,” she said. “The coverage in print, radio and social media just wasn’t there from the beginning. I’ve had to step up and hire more staff. In addition, the 800 [information] number closes at 5 [p.m.], and I’ve partnered with some churches to enroll people from 5:30 onward. I’ve even used my own money to cover the expense.”

These challenges don’t exist in every community. At a recent public event in downtown Los Angeles, Lee, along with Toby Douglas, director of the California Department of Health Services (DHCS), announced that more than 3 million Californians have signed up through Covered California or Medi-Cal since Oct. 1.

According to Lee, the number of consumers selecting a Covered California health insurance plan reached 880,082 by the end of February — including 762,174 consumers who are eligible for subsidies. He added that the five-month enrollment figure exceeds by more than 200,000 the base projection for Covered California for the entire six-month enrollment period, which ends March 31.

Still, in the African-American community, advocates are pushing forward with culturally-specific methods of outreach. One of those avenues: getting people enrolled in houses of worship. Several faith-based organizations in California have been enlisted to spread the word about the importance of securing health care coverage.

“Churches are considered an important engine in funneling information to the African American community, because historically the church, family and the school have been the major institutions responsible for the viability of the African-American community,” said Tara Lynn Gray of the California Black Health Network. “In addition, the church is many times the center for social interaction in African- American communities — and therefore influences ideas, thoughts and cultural dynamics of the entire community.”

With the deadline drawing nearer, civil rights organizations are also stepping up efforts to boost enrollment. Frederick B. Young Jr., president of the Tri-City NAACP in Solano County, said his organization has hosted forums aimed at disseminating accurate information and encouraging peopleto enroll.

Most forum attendees have questions about cost and the process of changing coverage. Among the proudest successes for Young’s organization: helping secure coverage for both a cancer patient and a developmentally disabled young adult.

“Our primary objective,” Young said, “is to educate folks.”

CBM correspondent Kenzie Jackson contributed to this report.

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