The Districts Dime

Back to Basics: Profiles of DC’s Key Health, Housing and Tax Assistance Programs

August 15th, 2014 | by Kathy Haines

Local taxpayer dollars support many important services that help DC residents with basics like healthcare, affordable housing and tax assistance. We at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute have used our summer to update easy-to-read summaries of the largest of these programs. We’ve included information on who is eligible, services that are provided and areas for future focus.  

Here is a snapshot from each updated brief. Click on the links below to read the complete summary of each program.

                         HEALTH CARE & HOUSING

Medicaid8.15.14 doctor

  • Provides:                     Health insurance
  • Impact:                        Assists 225,000 residents (roughly 1 in 3 DC residents)            
  • FY 2015 Budget:        $700 million local funds, $2.1 billion federal funds

Healthcare Alliance

  • Provides:                     Health insurance for those who don’t qualify for Medicaid
  • Impact:                        Assists 14,500 residents (primarily undocumented residents)
  • FY 2015 Budget:        $50 million in local funds

Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF)8.15.14 apartment building

  • Provides:                     New or newly renovated affordable housing
  • Impact:                        Built or preserved an average of 400 units annually since 2009              
  • FY 2015 Budget:        $40 million in local funds

TAX ASSISTANCE

DC’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

  • Provides:                     Refundable tax credits to low-income working residents
  • Impact:                        56,000 families or individuals received the EITC in 20118.15.14 dollars
  • FY 2015 cost:              $55 million

DC’s Low-Income Property Tax Credit, also known as Schedule H                                    

  • Provides:                     Property tax assistance for renters and owners
  • Impact:                        8,300 tax filers received Schedule H in 2011
  • FY 2015 cost:              $19 million

Stay tuned to the District’s Dime for new and updated policy briefs from DCFPI on key programs that help DC’s low- and moderate-income residents. 

To print a copy of today’s blog, click here.

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Health Reform Means Big Changes for Medicaid Eligibility Rules and Processes

August 12th, 2014 | by Wes Rivers

The Affordable Care Act has allowed the District to improve access to health care through Medicaid, by making more residents eligible and by expanding Medicaid services. The ACA also changed the way many residents will apply for and renew their benefits starting this fall, in ways that should make it easier to get and keep health coverage. But the changes – particularly in how income is counted to determine Medicaid eligibility – may be confusing to some. 

We want to explain those changes today, doing our part to make the transition easier. 

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Changes in How Medicaid Will Count Income to Determine Eligibility 

The Affordable Care Act changed the way DC and the states collect income information from people applying for Medicaid, with the new format closely following how we report income on federal income tax forms. The new method is known as Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI).

This makes sense because the same income rules and application are used to determine whether residents are eligible for tax credits and subsidies to help pay for health plans sold on DC Health Link. The tax credits and subsidies are for people with incomes that are moderate but too high to qualify for Medicaid. 

This means that residents who are not sure whether they are eligible for Medicaid or for the tax credits can apply for both using just one application. The new process will also make it easier for administrators to verify income and eligibility through federal data sources. 

How to Apply for and Renew Medicaid Benefits 

The creation of the DC Health Link – DC’s online, health insurance marketplace – and the new income-counting methods make it easy for DC residents to apply for Medicaid. And they should make it easier to renew their eligibility each year. 

Starting in November 2014, the District will send current Medicaid recipients a pre-populated renewal form to collect missing tax and income information. After filling out the form this one time, the renewal process for every year going forward is “passive” – meaning that residents may not have to do anything to maintain their eligibility. The District will match information provided on the form to federal and local data hubs to verify eligibility. The recipient will not have to complete renewal forms again unless the data hubs return inconclusive results. 

It should be noted that the application and renewal processes remain largely unchanged for people who are Medicaid-eligible due to age or disability status. Moreover, new Medicaid applicants who have applied since October 2013 will not have to fill out the renewal form. 

Any time systems change, there are technical glitches and consumer confusion, so providers and consumer representatives should familiarize themselves with the new processes before November. This presentation is a good resource that walks through the renewal form.

To print a copy of today’s blog, click here.

 

 

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How Did Funding for Affordable Housing And Taxes Change in Next Year’s Budget?

August 7th, 2014 | by Wes Rivers and Jenny Reed

The District’s Dime is back with more updates on the changes in next year’s budget!  Today we’ll cover two big topics in DC: affordable housing and taxes.  

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Affordable Housing in DC’s FY 2015 Budget

The District plans to spend $151 million in local revenues on affordable housing next year.  That’s 16 percent more than the initially approved budget for FY 2014, after adjusting for inflation.  But the Mayor and Council added $40 million in mid-2014 to the Housing Production Trust Fund.  Taking that into account, the FY 2015 budget is a 10 percent drop from the FY 2014 budget.  The FY2015 budget includes: 

  • Increases to rental assistance. About 500 more low-income households will get help from DC’s local rent supplement program, including some seniors who will be able to move out of nursing homes and homeless families. 
  • Funds to house chronically homeless veterans and families. The District will end chronic homelessness among veterans next year and provide permanent supportive housing to about 75 chronically homeless families.
  • A new locally funded low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC). The new credit, modeled on the federal LIHTC, will draw more private investment into the production of affordable housing.

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Tax Changes in DC’s FY 2015 Budget

Next year’s budget includes many tax changes by starting to implement many of the recommendations of the D.C.  Tax Revision Commission. These changes include: 

  • Income Tax Cuts for Virtually All Residents. Lower- income residents will benefit from an increase in the standard deduction and from an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit for childless workers. The budget also reduces the income tax rate on income between $40,000 and $60,000, which will help moderate and higher-income residents. The budget calls to further increase the standard deduction and further reduce the middle-income rate in future years if certain revenue triggers are met.
  • Business Tax Changes. These include a cut in the business income tax rate, a change in the way multistate companies determine DC profits, and a business income exemption to encourage investment firms to locate in DC. The business tax rate will be reduced further if triggers are met.
  • Property Tax Assistance for Seniors. The budget expands the Schedule H property tax credit for low- and moderate-income seniors and allows interest-free property tax deferrals for long-time senior homeowners. 
  • Sales tax changes. The budget raises taxes on non-cigarette tobacco products and expands the sales tax to a number of services. Both were recommended by the tax commission. 

Keep checking back in with the District’s Dime for more toolkit updates this summer!

To print a copy of today’s blog, click here.

 

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How Health Reform Can Help District Smokers

August 6th, 2014 | by Wes Rivers

The District has been a leader in using the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to expand health insurance to nearly all of its residents. But we should not stop there. The next step is to focus on providing services to address DC’s long-standing health disparities, including those caused by tobacco use.  The District has taken advantage of some – but not all – of the ACA options to enhance tobacco treatment. The District’s next wave in health reform should include aggressively attacking tobacco use in the city. 

About one in five District adults smoke, including nearly one in three African-American adults. Residents east of the river are more likely than others to be frequent smokers. This means that tobacco use worsens health disparities across the city. 

The District has already taken advantage of two Affordable Care Act provisions to provide tobacco prevention and cessation services, especially among residents who are Medicaid eligible. 

  1. Banning private health insurers from charging tobacco users more for their health plan. The ACA allows DC and the states to ban private insurers from charging smokers more than non-smokers for their health insurance premiums. DC chose to ban rate hikes for tobacco users, as the price increases could prevent lower income residents from accessing the care they need to quit. 
  2. Expanding Medicaid coverage to include face-to-face tobacco counseling and cessation medication for pregnant women. Tobacco use during pregnancy can have serious health effects on the fetus, so the ACA mandated coverage of counseling and cessation drugs for this population. The District amended its Medicaid State Plan this year to include these services. 

8-6-14-tobacco-blog-t1But the District is not doing enough to provide Medicaid coverage for FDA-approved cessation drugs or to cover tobacco counseling services. The ACA requires state Medicaid programs to cover all seven FDA approved cessation drugs (See Table 1) for all enrollees by January 2014. DC covers only three of these drugs (nicotine gum, patch, and lozenge), which means the city is out of compliance with ACA and missing the opportunity to greatly curb preventable disease. 

The District also has the option to fund the “tobacco quit-line” – its telephone counseling service – using Medicaid dollars. The District would need to conform the quit-line with proven practices, which could lead to a more effective program and a sustainable funding stream via Medicaid.  

Improving health outcomes is not only good for tobacco users and their family and friends. It also will reap long-term healthcare cost savings. A good example is Massachusetts — which implemented comprehensive Medicaid coverage for tobacco cessation services and medication and found that every dollar invested in the cessation program resulted in $3.12 in medical savings. 

To print a copy of today’s blog, click here.

 

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In the DC Metropolitan Region, Black Workers Are Being Hit Especially Hard

August 5th, 2014 | by Jenny Reed

Black residents in the Washington region have a much harder time finding a job than white residents —even when they have a college degree.  And the gap in earnings between white area residents and Black and Hispanic residents is growing. This suggests that policymakers need to focus not only on improving education and training, but also on efforts to help connect residents with jobs.

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No matter the education level, Black residents in the region face far higher unemployment levels than other residents.  (See Figure.) Thisis particularly true for Black workers without a high school diploma, where one in four Black residents are unemployed, compared with fewer than 10 percent of White, non-Hispanic residents. Even Black residents with an advanced education face job challenges. The unemployment rate for Black residents with a college degree or more is 6 percent, compared with 2 percent for White residents with the same educational attainment.

Beyond these challenges, the wage gap between Black workers and White workers has risen since in recent years. In 2007, the typical Black worker earned 74 cents for every dollar the typical White worker earned. By 2012, that had fallen to just 70 cents. Hispanic workers also face a large wage gap. Hispanic residents in the region made about 73 cents for every dollar earned by the typical Black resident in 2012 and just 51 cents for every dollar earned by White, non-Hispanic residents.

It is not entirely clear why Blacks are facing a harder time in the region, but certainly discrimination and a lack of access to opportunities play a role.  A recent study in Baltimore, for example, that followed nearly 800 low-income school children for nearly 30 years found higher employment levels among White men without college degrees than Black men without college degrees. One of the reasons? Many more White men were able to secure well-paying industrial jobs due to connections from friends and family in the industry.

With many Black residents being left behind in the region, policymakers should look to solutions that can help improve access and opportunity for them.

To print a copy of today’s blog, click here.

 

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