CMS Is Taking a Closer Look at Work Requirement Waivers

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The Mississippi Division of Medicaid asked the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for permission to impose a work requirement on two mandatory categories of Medicaid beneficiaries: parents and caretaker relatives who have incomes below 27 percent of the poverty line, and parents and caretaker relatives who qualify for Transitional Medical Assistance (TMA), because their income rose above 27 percent of the poverty line due to employment or increased earnings. This will essentially take Medicaid coverage away from low-income parents unless they work 20 hours a week.

Hold up Mississippi--not so fast! Recently, CMS directed states that want to implement work requirements to come up with a plan for people at risk of losing coverage. While CMS approved work requirement waivers in Arkansas, Kentucky and Indiana, it appears that non-Medicaid expansion states are being looked at through a different level of scrutiny. CMS deserves applause for taking a closer look at states that didn’t expand Medicaid to determine how a work requirement would adversely affect Mississippians.

Mississippi’s request to apply a work requirement to the most vulnerable Medicaid beneficiaries is counterproductive, costly and will likely result in thousands of very poor parents becoming uninsured. The state needs to figure this out completely before risking the health and well-being of its most needy and vulnerable citizens.

 

Linda Dixon Rigsby is the Health Law Director for the Mississippi Center for Justice.

The Great Racial Wealth Divide

Division has always been a common theme throughout American society.  The existence of the “haves” and the “have nots” is a reality.   The clearest example of this division is how wealth is unequally divided in this county.  According to Wikipedia, the richest 1% hold about 38% of all privately held wealth in the United States while the bottom 90% held 73% of all debt.  The current and growing racial wealth divide did not happen by mistake.  Historical wealth building policies, by design, specifically prevented households of color from participating in wealth building. 

Drivers of the racial wealth divide include: (1) lower homeownership rates and home values, (2) greater rates of unemployment, (3) income inequality, (4) lower higher education degree attainment, (5) limited ability to weather a financial emergency and (6) increased exposure to wealth-stripping products and services. 

Government policies have worked successfully to exclude households of color from building wealth and promoted the growth of the great racial wealth divide. Some of these policies included, housing discrimination through the practice of “redlining”, which shut out households of color from the opportunity to purchase and invest in the largest driver of wealth in this country: a home.  Below is a timeline of these government policies:

• 1935: The exclusion of farmworkers and domestic workers—who were predominately        people of color—from coverage under the Social Security Act of 1935.

• 1938: The exclusion of a number of tip-based professions predominantly held by Black workers— such as servers, shoe shiners, domestic workers and Pullman porters—from the first minimum wage protections enacted as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. 

 • 1944: Biased distribution of G.I. Bill benefits by officials within the Department of Veterans Affairs, which resulted in an unequal distribution of benefits—such as low-cost home mortgages and tuition assistance—for service members of color.

Information related to the racial wealth divide and efforts to address its growth are abundant. For those interested in more information on this topic, prosperitynow.org and inequality.org are excellent starting points.  

Charles O. Lee is the Consumer Protection Director for the Mississippi Center for Justice. 

*Image credit: Facebook: Race Wealth Divide*

 

Inspiring the Next Generation of Public Interest Leaders

Every spring since 2006 our organization has been energized by the arrival of law students from across the country eager to volunteer their time and talents to our clients. We have hosted  groups of students and faculty big and small from law schools of all sizes and reputations. The Student Hurricane Network launched this relationship in response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, but the compelling desire for service learning has continued well after the last storm victim’s file was closed. Students have participated in direct service legal clinics, performed research on the full spectrum of civil legal needs, and supported community mobilization and activisim. Each student’s work has moved us further toward our goal of bringing social justice to Mississippi.

 Our organization thanks the more than 2,500 law students and faculty who have volunteered to serve alongside us in Biloxi, Jackson, and Indianola. We pay tribute to these students with group photographs of law students who strengthened our legal responses to Hurricane Katrina, the BP Oil spill, and the chronic problems of poverty and inequality.

 On Monday mornings each March we welcome students into our offices ready to work but also full of questions about our organization, about public interest law,  and about the role of law in ensuring equal opportunity for all. Over time we put together presentations to respond to some of these questions and help them appreciate the stubborn challenges Mississippians face to achieve racial and economic justice. Here is a recent presentation.

 

To learn more about how to participate in service learning at Mississippi Center for Justice, see our volunteer page on our website. Thank you. 

Reilly Morse is the President/CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice.

KNOWING OUR HIV STATUS IS OUR GREATEST FIGHT

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February 7, 2018 was National Black HIV Awareness Day.  This year’s theme was “Stay the Course, the Fight is Not Over.”  Our greatest fight yet is stressing the importance of individuals getting tested to know their HIV status.  The Centers for Disease Control recommends individuals between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care and those with risk factors get tested more frequently.  However, the echoes against knowing one’s HIV status continue to serve as major hurdles.

            These echoes of fear, denial and misinformation are deeply rooted in stigma and threaten the goal of staying the course.  In response to these echoes, we must continue to educate and advocate to reduce the stigma.  When individuals know their status, it gives them the power and freedom to wholly advocate for themselves, take charge of their health, and release the chains of fear.  WE MUST STAY THE COURSE, THE FIGHT IS NOT OVER.

 

 

Alecia Reed-Owens is Health Law Staff Attorney with the Mississippi Center for Justice.

EDUCATION NOTES from our Campaign Director Jeremy Eisler

Recently, MCJ was approached by the mother of a legally blind child.  The child’s doctor had told her he needed a vision evaluation, and would probably require special educational services.  When the Mom told the doctor she could not afford to pay for an evaluation he said “You should ask your school district, they should pay for it.”

The Mom asked her district. The district told her they didn’t think the child needed an evaluation, and that they had no money to pay for one in any event,  or to pay for special services.  They did not tell her she had the right to contest their decision.

The child’s doctor was right!  The district has an obligation under the I.D.E.A.  (Individuals With Disabilities Education Act) to  identify, evaluate, and assist children with disabilities.  This is called their “Child Find” obligation. We look forward to assisting this child and helping him obtain the assistance to which he is clearly entitled.

Parents who do not agree with district’s decision not to provide their child special education services have the right to file either a state complaint, or a due process complaint.  They also have the right to request an “Independent Evaluation” at the district’s expense.  If you are having problems getting your district to assist your child with a disability, please contact us here at MCJ.

 

Jeremy Eisler is the Educational Opportunities Director for the Mississippi Center for Justice.

MCJ Provides Legal Support to Local Affordable Housing Initiatives

Not very long ago, the shortage of affordable rental housing was only a concern of those living in the dense population centers of the East and West Coasts.

Unfortunately, rising rents and declining household incomes are now crippling low and moderate- income renters here in Mississippi.

Meanwhile, the number of vacant properties within the City of Jackson is on the rise, with current estimates exceeding 15,000 units. These vacant properties generate no property taxes, attract unlawful and unsafe activities, and frequently become fire hazards.

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Thanks to a number of local advocates with the vision to see the “win-win” opportunity, and the support of state and municipal leaders, efforts are now underway to re-purpose blighted and abandoned properties into beneficial affordable housing stock.

In 2018, with the support of the MS Bar Foundation, The Mississippi Center for Justice will begin providing much needed free legal services and policy advocacy, as well as education and outreach, in order to support these innovative community revitalization efforts.

 

John Jopling is the Housing Law Director for the Mississippi Center for Justice.

DATA BREACHES AND HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF

 

            The Equifax data breach that occurred earlier this month is said to have affected 143 million U.S. customers which is about 44% of the population. A data breach is an incident in which sensitive, protected or confidential data has potentially been viewed, stolen or used by an individual unauthorized to do so. Data breaches may involve personal health information (PHI), personally identifiable information (PII), trade secrets or intellectual property.

 

            While data breaches are becoming more common, consumers should not treat the breaches as harmless.  The opposite is true.  The impact of these data breaches remains serious business for every U.S. consumer.  The hackers who breached Equifax gained access to full names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and driver’s license numbers.  The information that was stolen is exactly what we as consumers use to open bank accounts and credit accounts.  This is the same type of information criminals will use to impersonate consumers to open bank accounts and other credit accounts.

 

            Appropriate steps should be taken by every consumer to prevent becoming a victim of identity theft as a result of any data breach.   First, you should determine if you have been impacted by the Equifax 2017 breach.  You can check to see if your personal information is potentially impacted here: https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/potential-impact/. In addition, Equifax is offering complimentary credit file monitoring and identity theft protection through TrustedID Premier.  This is available for those who were impacted and even for those who were not.  You will find more information about this service at the same link provided above. 

 

                  Please understand that the damage from a data breach such as Equifax may not be seen for many years.  Checking your bank statements and credit card statements for accuracy should become a habit.  Finally, you should review the CFPB’s September 9, 2017 article titled, Identity theft protection following the Equifax data breach.  It contains important information and can be found here:  https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/blog/identity-theft-protection-following-equifax-data-breach/

The Crippling Effect of HIV Stigma on Legal Rights

The stigma of HIV has robbed countless individuals the freedom to exercise their legal rights. Perhaps more devastating, the stigma surrounding HIV has prevented individuals living with HIV from knowing the legal protections afforded to them after experiencing discriminatory conduct.  In our great country, we often hear that justice is blind but this saying does not ring true for many of the individuals I have the pleasure to serve.  Unfortunately, the internal and external stigmas that exist within the community have ripped off Lady Justice’s blindfold, or at least that is how it appears and feels for a community of people that have been ostracized and singled-out for more than thirty years.

Despite the stigma associated with HIV, it is imperative for individuals living with HIV and those who love individuals living with HIV to be aware of the legal protections and resources available to combat discriminatory behavior.   However, to properly address the crippling effect of HIV stigma, we must realize the entire burden does not fall upon individuals living with HIV or those directly impacted by HIV to know their legal rights.  The employer must properly uphold an individual’s rights as it relates to employment.  The medical provider must honor and respect the confidentiality of patients.  The landlord must uphold an individual’s rights as it relates to housing.  As a friend and neighbor, we must stand with our brothers and sisters living with HIV to alleviate the stigma that has permeated our communities for too long.

 

Alecia Reed-Owens is Health Law Staff Attorney with the Mississippi Center for Justice.

Legal Representation Critical Component of Recovery for Disaster Victims

Watching, along with the rest of America, the catastrophic flooding in Houston, my heart goes out to the people of South Texas as they confront the immediate aftermath of this disaster. Every affected individual captured by the television camera has his/her own unique story. And yet, the cumulative images – women wading through chest-deep water with their infants hoisted toward the sky, families huddled together on freeway overpasses, the frail and elderly clinging to the sides of air-lift baskets – are all too reminiscent of those from Hurricane Katrina which struck the Gulf Coast twelve years ago this week.

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Sadly, Katrina taught us that disaster recovery is a long journey with a predictable sequence of serious challenges for affected individuals, particularly those with limited resources: the displacement of tens of thousands of people from their homes; the further displacement of thousands as a result of predatory evictions motivated by the opportunity for price-gouging; disputes over regulatory decisions regarding eligibility for early and much-needed disaster assistance; not-in-my-backyard zoning decisions regarding the placement of temporary housing; crooks and con men tricking the desperate and vulnerable into paying for housing repairs that will never be performed, and of course the inevitable effort by public officials to divert disaster funds to pet projects that benefit political supporters.

 These and other challenges can be successfully surmounted only when those affected by a natural disaster have access to legal advice and assistance. As a non-profit, public-interest law firm with pro bono support from regional and national law firms, the Mississippi Center for Justice was able to provide direct legal services to thousands of Katrina victims. Those who formulate the Hurricane Harvey disaster relief legislation would be well-advised to include support for the delivery of legal services to affected populations. It won’t change the length of their journey, but it will definitely lighten their load.

John Jopling is the Biloxi Managing Attorney/Housing Law Director for the Mississippi Center for Justice. 

A CALL TO ACTION: SUPPORT THE CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU

We need the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  The CFPB is the agency standing up to the big Wall Street firms, banks and predatory lenders on behalf of individual consumers like you and me; however, the pro-consumer agency is constantly under attack for being successful for the reason it was created – to protect consumers. 

The CFPB was created in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis to fight for consumers.  It is working to stop financial firms and predatory lenders from stealing our money, and it is working to shut down the debt traps and fraudulent schemes that separate hard-working Americans from their hard-earned paychecks.

The CFPB has delivered nearly $12 billion in relief to some 27 million Americans defrauded by lenders or banks over the last five years.  It is the agency that helped catch Wells Fargo fraudulently opening millions of accounts for customers without their knowledge or permission; the agency that released a rule to protect the rights of consumers to pursue class actions and is working on a rule to curb predatory lending; and it is the agency that has received close to 1.2 million consumer complaints and helped ensure those consumers received responses to their complaints.  (Submit your complaint by clicking here https://www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/)

There are bills in the Senate to eliminate the CFPB, take away its independence and roll back consumer protections.  Please contact your Senator Thad Cochran or Senator Roger Wicker by calling 888-789-9078 to tell him to protect the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau because the CFPB protects Mississippi consumers. 

Charles Lee is the Consumer Protection Division Director for the Mississippi Center for Justice.

HIV Is Not A Crime

Mississippi is one of many states in the country with laws that criminalize HIV.  Mississippi has the 9th highest HIV diagnosis rate in the United States, and the city of Jackson has the 4th highest rate of new HIV infections in the country. 

Criminalizing HIV perpetuates stigma and fear. No other disease elicits the negative response from people like HIV and AIDS. Most laws that make it a crime to expose or transmit HIV to another person are rooted in inaccurate science.

Contrary to popular belief HIV cannot be transmitted through salvia, urine and feces.  However, a Mississippi statute enhances its penalty for up to 10 years in prison for exposure to bodily fluids if a person has HIV.

It is imperative to modernize and update Mississippi’s infectious disease statute to alleviate fears and prevent people from being prosecuted based on inaccurate science. Furthermore, the harm to Mississippi’s public health is great if people fear getting tested for HIV because of stigma, discrimination, and imprisonment.

 

Linda Dixon Rigsby is the Health Law Division Director for the Mississippi Center for Justice. 

#TheFightContinues

Today, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the injunction against Mississippi House Bill 1523, the discriminatory anti-LGBT legislation challenged in Barber v. Bryant, the federal lawsuit brought by MCJ. The people of Mississippi deserve better and so, we plan to continue to fight this discriminatory law.