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Good afternoon on this lovely Saturday in January! I’m Jessica, Voices’ new communications manager. I just wanted to introduce myself and share a childhood memory that complements Polly’s latest post. From time to time, the Voices staff and our supporters will share memories and lessons from childhood on the Voices Today blog. These posts may stir up childhood memories of your own (please share!) and give us all the opportunity to reflect on how these experiences have influenced our lives.

Whenever I eat fresh parsley I’m immediately transported back in time to my nanny and grandpa’s mint green kitchen. They were old-fashioned folks who grew much of their own produce in their suburban backyard. They spent hours in the garden and hours in the kitchen. They rarely cooked anything from a box.

I remember picking parsley with my grandpa and can still taste the delicious cauliflower cakes, cucumber salad and lima beans my grandma served on their formica table. Because of these positive food experiences, I have an appreciation for fresh food. I also recognize the challenge of eating healthy in our modern society. If I wrestle with purchasing a three-dollar red pepper, it’s completely understandable why someone at or below the poverty level would pass.

With 57 percent of Georgia’s children eligible for free and reduced school lunches, it’s important that we advocate for fresh foods in schools that will help them develop positive food habits to reflect on and carry into adulthood. To some children, the school cafeteria is their grandparents’ garden…

Governor Deal (front and center) meets with community and political leaders from around the world on Jan. 14 at the Georgia Capitol. Polly McKinney, Voices' advocacy director, is to his right.

Although activity at the state Capitol was slowed down this week by snow and ice, by people trying to find new offices and learn new systems, Georgia government, nevertheless, moved forward. A Governor was inaugurated, Senators and Representatives were sworn in, and the new Administration’s plan for fiscal management was delivered. The Senate and House have made committee assignments and dropped a few bills, but overall, it was an especially slow week legislatively. That said, it was a wonderful week in terms of being reminded of the deepest meaning of what Voices is about: advocating on behalf of children.

This morning, a state Senator and I, met with a group of political and business leaders from around the world. As the group arrived at the South Entrance of the Capitol, it occurred to me what a treat it would be for them to have a photo taken with the Governor. Even though it seemed unlikely that Governor Deal would be available on such short notice, we checked with his office, and surprisingly, he was in and happy to come out to meet the guests. After the photo, the Governor asked if he might address the group and take a few questions. As you might guess, I said of course and please!

He spoke of foreign students his family had hosted, and took questions ranging in subject from snow to changing political parties. It was watching Governor Deal, so close, so candid and so kind, that it occurred to me that the most important thing to note this week was the fact that we are living and raising our children in an “Advocacy Friendly” country. As disheartened as we can all get by angry rhetoric, partisan politics, and last week’s tragedy in Tuscon, it is important to remember that few other countries have such amazing access to their government. To be able to call your lawmaker on the phone at the office or at home, to be able to stand in the halls of a capitol or even a grocery parking lot and respectfully present your point of view to an elected official without fear of reprisal is a gift and, because of how our country has grown, a right. That mutual trust, that peaceful transition of power, and that welcomed self-confidence is what allows each of us to be a voice for Georgia’s children. It is what allows us each to raise our children to become voices for the children of the future.

Polly

Polly McKinney
Advocacy Director
Voices for Georgia’s Children

Hello to the Voices blog community! I am Angela Orkin, and I have been with Voices since September of last year. As advocates for children, it is important that we remember how the world looks from the view of a child. So from time to time, I’ll post stories that friends of Voices have shared about something they remember from their childhood. I’ll kick things off with a story of my own.

My father’s mother, Mimi, taught me that you don’t have to accept the expectations others have for you. We all have ideas about what it means to be 80 years old, but Mimi seemed oblivious to these expectations. When Mimi was in her early 80’s, as a dutiful granddaughter, I called her to check on her. After a few minutes, she interrupted me and said “Thank you so much for calling. I need to go now so I can visit some old people in the nursing home.”

About two years before Mimi passed away, she was referred to hospice for end of life care. One afternoon, after about two weeks of hospice “service” we got a call from the worker. She said, “we would really like to help your mother, but every time we try to visit, she is out!” Mimi refused to stop living because everyone expected her to throw in the towel. By the way she lived, Mimi taught me that you don’t have to conform your behavior to other people’s expectations. I was fortunate to learn this lesson as a child, and I have carried it with me since.

Angela

Angela Orkin
Director of Development and Strategic Planning
Voices for Georgia’s Children

The Affordable Care Act presents the opportunity for Georgia to move forward in covering uninsured children in our state and working toward improved health outcomes as well.  Notable provisions already have gone into effect, but other major components of the law will be implemented in phases for the next few years.  The federal law provides an overarching frame for how the new system will work, but it is legislation and policy decisions at the state level that will make this law work well for kids and families in Georgia.  Given that it’s the start of a new calendar year and also of a new state legislative session, many leaders in Georgia are sharing their optimistic visions for our state.  We all want to see a healthier economy for our state.  But in order to achieve that goal, it stands to reason that we need a healthier Georgia. 

We stand to gain a lot for our state if we are wise in how we implement the Affordable Care Act.  But if we are at all passive in how we implement the law, we stand to lose a lot.  We lose millions of federal grant dollars for planning and implementation that will go to other states instead.  We lose the ability to structure a health care system for Georgia that works best for Georgians. 

And, while highly unlikely, if Congress repeals the entire law, we lose even more.  No longer will parents be able to cover their children on their insurance plans up to age 26.  No longer will insurance companies be required to provide coverage for children with pre-existing conditions.  In last week’s posting, I had mentioned a national call-in day would be scheduled for this week.  Given the tragedy in Tucson, however, the majority of Congressional action on the Hill has been halted.  We will continue to keep you posted as to when the call-in day will be rescheduled.  In the meantime, please take the time to sign onto an online petition, organized in part by MomsRising, which urges Congress to move forward with the new health law.

People throughout the U.S. are still reeling from the tragic shooting this past weekend.  Our thoughts go out to Congresswoman Giffords in her recovery, as well as to all other victims and families who have suffered a loss.  We collectively mourn as a nation for the senseless suffering.  Let us also collectively show gratitude and appreciation to all Members of Congress for all that they do for us.  As you continue to advocate on behalf of kids and on other issues which matter to you, please also take the time to thank them for their public service.

Joann Yoon, Assoc. Policy Director for Child Health

Voices for Georgia’s Children

At noon today, members of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives went to work, which marks the beginning of the 112th U.S. Congress. And while there likely has not been enough time for our elected officials to get heavily involved in the process of “making laws and taking names,” they already are off and running and are expected to tackle some big issues early on.

One topic of discussion on the agenda will be the new health law, the Affordable Care Act. There’s been much discussion about efforts of House Members to repeal the law, though most of us in the field of health wonkery don’t think that will happen for several reasons. First, it would be very costly to repeal the law. Second, the Senate is unlikely to vote to repeal the law. And third, the White House likely would oppose any such legislation.

But moving beyond mere politics, Americans who are starting to benefit from provisions under the law will not want to see the law repealed. Seniors are starting to see fixes to the dreaded “donut hole” problems in prescription coverage. Parents are able to continue coverage for their children up to age 26. And insurance companies no longer are able to deny coverage to children on the basis of pre-existing conditions. 

As Congress begins renewed discussions on the health law, make sure that you speak up on how this law benefits children and families in Georgia. Next week, Voices will be one of several organizations across the country who will be convening a national call-in day to show support for the new health law. Stay tuned to this blog and to our website for details on how you can participate.

Joann Yoon, Assoc. Policy Director for Child Health
Voices for Georgia’s Children

As referenced in the previous post, members of the U.S. House of Representatives returned to the Hill yesterday for a Lame Duck session which will last for the next few weeks before Congress recesses for the holiday break. Among the legislative issues we expect to see addressed is Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which has been featured in this blog for the past few months.

Back in August, the Senate passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (S. 3307), and we now hope for the House to do the same.  Passage of the bill would address issues of child hunger and childhood obesity by continuing to fund the all-important school meal programs and also by improving nutritional standards for foods sold on school campuses and strengthening Local School Wellness Policies.  For more information, please read Voices’ policy brief.

The Lame Duck session is short, and the timing of bills moving through likely will be fast.  For these reasons, yesterday and today are designated national call-in days to members of the U.S. House to urge passage of the Senate Bill. 

Join advocates around the country and call 1-866-277-7617, ask to speak with your House member, and then urge him to pass the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Joann Yoon, Assoc. Policy Director for Child Health

Voices for Georgia’s Children

As the November 2 elections draw closer and as the rhetoric among the candidates becomes more heated, Georgians may start to feel “voter fatigue” and may begin to wonder if any common ground exists among the candidates. Thankfully, we do have an example of how the two leading candidates for Governor each has demonstrated leadership and support for a program that is helping many working families in Georgia—PeachCare for Kids. PeachCare is our state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which was created by federal legislation in 1997 and was implemented in Georgia in 1998. Although the initial creation of CHIP was through the work of federal legislators on Capitol Hill, it was our leaders here in the state who put it to work for Georgians. Governor Barnes was in office at the time that the PeachCare program was off and running, and Congressman Deal was one of the federal representatives who boldly spoke out about the importance of PeachCare when the program was threatened with extinction in 2008.

The conversations may become more heated. The tv ads and mailers seemingly may be caked in mud. BUT we have seen how each of these men has stepped up in the past to make sure that Georgia’s PeachCare program was not only effective for kids and families but also cost-effective for the state.

We can only hope that the success of PeachCare’s creation is eclipsed by even greater policies to benefit kids and families in Georgia throughout the next four years.

Joann Yoon, Assoc. Policy Director for Child Health

Voices for Georgia’s Children

Earlier this morning, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, held a press event to issue the challenge for Connecting Kids to Coverage. The goal is to find and enroll the 5 million children in the U.S. who currently are uninsured but eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (PeachCare for Kids in Georgia). Of this total number, it is estimated that 193,000 children in Georgia are eligible but not yet enrolled in Medicaid or PeachCare. Read more in the report Who and Where Are The Children Yet To Enroll In Medicaid And The Children’s Health Insurance Program? in the October 2010 issue of Health Affairs.

To underscore how the health of children impacts their educational success, joining Secretary Sebelius was U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.  Secretary Duncan spoke of the necessity to meet the physical, social, and emotional needs of children to help them achieve academically.  In an effort to coordinate efforts among different agencies, Secretary Duncan is planning to reach out to School Superintendents in those states with the highest numbers of eligible but unenrolled children (CA, TX, and FL) to find out how schools can become more involved in efforts to identify and enroll children.

At this time of year as kids head back to school, now is an opportune time to make sure that children get the health care they need…to prepare them as they learn in class, particpate in afterschool activities, and play on their sports teams.  In recognition of this need, several state governors, along with national children’s organizations, have answered the Secretary’s challenge.

Will Georgia’s next governor do the same?

Are you a political junkie?  Or are you just wondering about who is running in your district?  Are you planning to attend a political town hall meeting and do you want to be able to ask the candidate questions about issues facing children? Or, do you just want to make sure you know the correct date of the General Election?  Have we got a resource for you!

I’m excited by the new dedicated section of our website that Voice’s recently launched to keep advocates and candidates up-to-date on the 2010 elections. It was designed to provide useful information for both engaged advocates and average citizens who want to make sure that their vote counts for kids.

You can access the election page through our website at www.georgiavoices.org.  Click on the “vote” button on the right hand side of the page.  I’ll be bookmarking it as a “favorite” on my computer, and I hope that you will, too!

We want your feedback! Please send any information about non-partisan election-related events that you would like us to post, any links to important election information, or just suggestions about things you’d like us to consider including on the page to info@georgiavoices.org or by posting a comment below.

First of all, thanks to all of you who made phone calls yesterday to your U.S. House members urging them to pass HR 1586, which in part provides for additional federal dollars to help fund state Medicaid programs and also to help protect jobs in education. Your persistence in advocating on behalf of children paid off, as the House voted 247 to 161 to approve the bill, which was signed into law by the President earlier today.

Georgia now stands to receive an estimated $228 million in enhanced FMAP (which the most loyal of our blog readers now know is the amount of federal match dollars for Medicaid) and additional dollars to help protect teacher jobs within Georgia. 

One hurdle has now been cleared, but still others remain.  For one, while $228 million definitely helps fill the gaping hole in our current state budget, we still need about $150 million more to maintain a balanced budget.  Second, the additional funding for Medicaid and education was paid for, in part, through cuts in benefits within the food stamps program.  This is problematic, particularly given the current unemployment rate and overall economic downturn in Georgia.  Many of the families who rely on Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids to cover their kids are the same families who rely on food stamps to help feed their kids.  Cuts in food stamps benefits are not slated to begin until 2014, however, which does give us some time to advocate for restorative funding for this program.

While looking forward we may feel overwhelmed as we see obstacles that remain before us, looking back we should feel encouraged by all the hurdles we’ve already managed to overcome.  We simply need to maintain our stride. 

Joann Yoon, Associate Policy Director for Child Health

Voices for Georgia’s Children

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