You are currently browsing the monthly archive for February 2011.

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Let’s Move Campaign, First Lady Michelle Obama traveled to Atlanta to visit elementary schools and to address a large and enthusiastic crowd (which included Georgia First Lady Sandra Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed) gathered at North Point Community Church. The mission of the Let’s Move Campaign is simple: raise a healthier generation of kids. The campaign focuses on increasing physical activity and on improving the nutritional quality of food that kids eat.

The First Lady mentioned how national, state, and local policies can encourage healthier living among kids. She specifically referred to the provision in the Affordable Care Act that now allows kids to access free preventive care screenings under their insurance plans. She likewise talked about initiatives to bring salad bars into school cafeterias.

But what really seemed to resonate with those in the crowd was when she acknowledged how hard it is as a mother to make sure that her kids eat healthy and lead active lives. She commented on how sometimes it’s easier to allow kids to sit in front of the tv for a couple of hours to keep them preoccupied, or how tiresome it gets to negotiate with her kids day after day to try to get them to eat healthy come-cooked food instead of the fast food that they really want to eat. She recognized that it’s easy to say that we want our kids to be healthy, but it takes a high level of commitment to see that they are.

One charge that she made to all adults in attendance was that we need to set the example for the kids in our lives.  We need to eat healthier.  We need to be active.   For tips on how, visit the Let’s Move website.  After all, kids aren’t the only ones who should get to run around and play!

Joann Yoon, Assoc. Policy Director for Child Health

Voices for Georgia’s Children

Georgia owes the Federal Unemployment Account about $620 million in loans taken out to pay unemployment benefits during the economic downturn. Under current regulations, states will be required to repay these federal loans, plus 4% interest. With double-digit unemployment figures, expectations are that Georgia borrowing will accelerate through the first quarter of this year. Labor Commissioner Mark Butler predicted it could reach $820 million in April. Georgia has the 16th highest loan balance nationally and the fifth highest among southern states behind North Carolina, Florida, South Carolina and Kentucky.

Where will the money come from to repay this debt? Higher unemployment taxes? Fewer unemployment benefits? Cuts to social services? An amount of this magnitude combined with Georgia’s existing and significant revenue burden would most likely affect children in struggling families.

President Obama is proposing to give states a two-year delay before automatic unemployment tax increases would hit employers, and before states would have to start paying interest on the loans. Perhaps by then, more people will be working and more families will be functioning at an economically stable level.

Learn more about the President’s Proposal by clicking here.

The Tax Reform Council (TRC) has done a pretty good job overall. Lots of thought and research has resulted in a chance for a broader revenue structure for Georgia, often supporting ideas which have long been sought by business people, advocates and economists alike. Taxing services and the casual sales of cars, aircraft, and boats, and sun-setting many tax exemptions (realizing that most would be reviewed and reinstated and others, not) are a few such ideas.

One proposal, however, which would add a 4% state sales tax on groceries, troubles a number of advocacy groups, including Voices. First let me say that we are aware that this tax could bring in a significant amount of revenue to our hurting state – to the tune of about $500 Million per year. Unfortunately, that tax also would weigh heavily on those who bring home smaller paychecks, pulling a considerable percentage of money out of their earnings to pay for necessities – namely food – for their children and family members.

But we need the revenues, right? Right. So rather than use a regressive tax such as the grocery tax, consider the idea, borne out of the 2020 Georgia tax reform coalition, of lowering the state income tax from 6% to 4.5%, rather than the 4% proposed by the TRC. Such a move would fill the revenue gap nicely, and address the inequity dilemma. There are many families in Georgia for whom even $150 per year lost to a grocery tax could mean the difference between paying a power bill, buying healthier foods, or covering a co-pay at the doctor’s office. Kids need good shelter, good nutrition and good health. Increasing the financial challenge on essential (food) items is not the way to encourage that scenario.

Next Tuesday, February 8th, JUSTGeorgia Coalition members will come together with Georgia’s network of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for a “Day at the Capitol.”  This will be a great time to get a quick update on the Child Protection and Public Safety Act, aka the Children’s Code Rewrite bill (which will be reintroduced any day now), meet your elected officials and share with them why this bill is important.

For those that can join us, we will be meeting in the Floyd Room of the Sloppy Floyd Building at 9:30 am for a legislative briefing, followed by a group photo with Governor Deal at 10:45 at the North Wing interior staircase.  After the photo I encourage each of you to visit with your legislators and invite them to join us for lunch back in the Floyd Room at 11:45.  It will certainly be a full day, but worth every effort as we continue the push for an improved children’s code which in turn will lead to improved outcomes for our children.  For more information, click here or email jneighbors@justga.org.  I hope to see you there!

Julia Neighbors, JUSTGeorgia Project Manager

So now, we keep moving forward to fully implement all provisions of the health law, the Affordable Care Act, here in Georgia. We continue working toward establishing an insurance exchange for the state and streamlining enrollment processes for health coverage within Medicaid, PeachCare for Kids, and within the Exchange.

For those who want to keep score, with this most recent decision, our “court count” stands at: 

  • 2 courts who ruled to uphold the law;
  • 12 courts who outright dismissed the constitutional challenges;
  • 1 court who ruled the individual mandate provision unconstitutional; and
  • 1 court who ruled the entire law unconstitutional.

Many believe that this case eventually will be heard by the Supreme Court, but there’s no clear idea of when that will happen. What we do know is that the Affordable Care Act remains the law of the land, and Georgia must fully comply with all requirements under the law. 

Looking forward it’s difficult to predict how long the legal fight will continue.   But looking back, we can witness how our state already has benefitted since the law was passed. Insurance companies can no longer drop coverage when children get sick. Insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to children based on a pre-existing condition.  And Georgia already has received $34.9 million of federal dollars newly available to states under the Affordable Care Act. 

With these and other benefits children in Georgia already have received under the health law, we must consider whether we can afford to have them all stripped away?

Joann Yoon, Assoc. Policy Director for Child Health

Voices for Georgia’s Children

We have all been waiting with baited breath to see what legislation is going to emerge from the Tax Reform Council’s (TRC) recently published recommendations. Today, the legislative committee that will make those decisions will meet at the Capitol, I presume to start to hammer out a bill, which is ultimately to be voted up or down as a whole by the Chambers. That said, I plan to make the next couple of Blogs about our take on parts of the TRC’s recommendations.

First, I’d like to address the proposal to increase the State Tobacco Excise Tax. The TRC proposes to increase the cigarette tax by a mere $0.31/pack, with an index for inflation for future years. While we applaud the desire to increase the tax on this product, $0.31 is not nearly enough to deter smoking by kids or adults. The Council argues that it is “mindful of the importance of business in our border communities and therefore recommends keeping the rate competitive with neighboring states.”

Remember that quote and read these statistics from the American Cancer Society:
• 90 % of adult smokers started before they were 18 years old;
• For every 10% increase in the price of cigarettes, there is a 6% reduction in use by kids;
• $1/pack tax increase would prevent about 71,000 kids from starting to smoke; and
• Save the state Medicaid program almost $485 million over 5 years

Now see if you can answer this:
Why do we want to be “competitive” when selling products which irrefutably cause cancer and drive up healthcare costs?

In 2009, Georgia was awarded an $8.9 million federal grant to improve its educational data system. Since then, Georgia Department of Education has been developing a statewide Longitudinal Data System (LDS), which allows the State, school districts, schools, teachers and ultimately, parents to make data-driven decisions to improve student learning. In fact, a large piece of the Federal Race to the Top Grant Georgia received last year is tied to the implementation of such a system.

Enrollment, attendance, assessment, and course information for Georgia’s public school students has been gathered for ages, and now can be easily and quickly reviewed. The application is designed to players at every level to make data- driven decisions to improve student learning, and allow assessment and planning which could help close achievement gaps. Already, the system has been implemented across most of Georgia, and though districts can choose whether or not to participate in the program, so far all but one county has chosen to opt in.

Monday, I was fortunate enough to attend demo on the DOE’s K-12 LDS, which some day (hopefully soon) will also track students through preschool and post secondary school as well. Though the system still needs a few more bells and whistles, the sheer ability to drill down into long term data about each district, school, teacher and student is pretty impressive, and useful. I am even more pleased, however, that the system promotes education as a continuum. Long has Georgia needed to align the designs and demands of Pre-K, K-12, college and technical schools so that investments made in all parts of the journey come to fruition for each child.

Admins/Authors

Enter your e-mail address to subscribe to our blog and receive notifications of new posts by e-mail.

Join 18 other followers

Tweets

Flickr Photos

Month’s Posts

February 2011
S M T W T F S
« Jan   Mar »
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728