The Districts Dime

Get Out and Vote!

November 4th, 2014 | by DCFPI

Today is Election Day! DCFPI encourages all DC residents to vote today.  Don’t forget, in DC you can register to vote at the polls on Election Day!* Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. You can find your polling place here. The offices, candidates and questions on the ballot are listed here.

 * Read more about how to do same-day registration here.

by justgrimes, available at: http://bit.ly/1ul23jA

by justgrimes, available at: http://bit.ly/1ul23jA

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Helping DC Students Facing Mental Health Challenges

November 3rd, 2014 | by Jenny Reed

Living in poverty can create tremendous pressure on families, which affects their children and makes it harder for them to go to school ready to learn. In Sunday’s Washington Post, DCFPI highlighted how addressing the impact of poverty on children is key to unlocking opportunities and closing the achievement gap in DC.

In particular, schools need to be prepared to help children who face
emotional or mental health  challenges. Low-income children are more often exposed to trauma and stress, which makes it more likely they will miss school, get suspended or drop-out. Repeated exposure to trauma and stress is especially harmful, leading to “toxic stress” with physiological effects that interfere with development of key learning skills, including memory, attention, and language.

Photo by Slowking4, available at: http://bit.ly/1qaxt5C

Photo by Slowking4, available at: http://bit.ly/1qaxt5C

Schools are a logical place to identify students with mental health needs, yet as many as 5,000 DC children may not be getting the mental health services they need. Children are more likely to engage in mental health services in a school setting compared to other outside services, so improving mental health services provided through schools is critical to improving school outcomes in the District.

The District provides a variety of services to address the mental health challenges of students in schools, but they are not found at all schools, and many schools have mental health staff with caseloads that are too large to provide adequate services. The District should increase services and funding to better meet the mental health needs of students in the following ways:

  • Expand Access to School Mental Health Programs: The District set a goal of having a mental health program in every school by 2016-17, but currently only 36 percent are covered.
  • Increase the Availability of School Social Workers and Psychologists: More than one-third of DC schools have too few social workers and psychologists to meet the needs of their students.
  • Expand the Use of Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports to all Schools:  These programs focus on encouraging desired behaviors rather than punishing negative behavior, and they can increase attendance and reduce suspensions and special education referrals.  
  • Create Trauma-Sensitive School Environments in All Schools: DCPS uses a number of programs that can help students address trauma, but not system-wide and often serving only a small number of students with the greatest needs. Schools in Massachusetts, San Francisco, Washington State and Wisconsin engage in all-staff training to be sensitive to students affected by trauma and to understand how to respond.

You can read more about what DC schools can be doing to help low-income children succeed here.

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

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How Will DC Shelter Families This Winter?

October 31st, 2014 | by Kate Coventry

Tomorrow marks the official beginning of hypothermia season, and an increase in family homelessness is expected, but the District has yet to release details of how it will meet the legal obligation to shelter families during cold weather months. Last year, insufficient planning and a large increase in homelessness led the District to place some families in recreation centers, yet preliminary court decisions stopped this practice because of its risks to children. And just this week, the DC Council gave preliminary approval to legislation clarifying that homeless families must be sheltered in private rooms.9-5-14-winter-plan-blog-f1

This means that other options are needed. There are three key issues that need to be addressed soon to avoid the crisis of last year: securing needed overflow shelter capacity, addressing a shortfall in homeless services funding, and improving services that move families from shelter.

Shelter Capacity:  The Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) predicted in its Winter Plan that shelter capacity would not be sufficient to get through the winter. Yet the District has not developed and shared how it will meet overflow needs, such as using motels or suitable DC properties. The Department of Human Services reported at a Council hearing this week that it was in contract negotiations for additional capacity but offered no details such as the number or location of this capacity.

Addressing the Funding Shortfall: The ICH also recognized that the homeless services budget was inadequate to pay for needed overflow shelter, and the Chief Financial Officer recently confirmed an $11 million shortfall in the family shelter budget.[1] This is partly because this year, the District does not have access to some sources of federal funds that were used last year. Identifying resources soon to fill that gap will make it possible provide appropriate services efficiently and effectively.

Read DCFPI’s testimony on the Winter Plan here.

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


[1] Fiscal Impact Statement – Dignity for Homeless Families Amendment Act of 2014. October 15, 2014.

 

 

 

 




[1] Fiscal Impact Statement – Dignity for Homeless Families Amendment Act of 2014. October 15, 2014.

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Community Recommendations to Improve Access to The Healthcare Alliance Program

October 30th, 2014 | by Wes Rivers

The District’s Healthcare Alliance programs help low-income immigrant residents get needed health care, but many residents struggle to access their Alliance benefits simply due to burdensome eligibility procedures. That’s why DCFPI and other advocates sent a letter to the city’s health care leadership in support of needed changes to make the program more accessible. 10-10-14 Alliance

The District adopted a stringent requirement in 2011 that all Alliance participants recertify their eligibility every six months through an in-person interview at a service center. Since then, enrollment has dropped sharply (see Figure 1), and new data from the Department of Health Care Finance suggest that the six-month interview requirement created a barrier to getting services.

This is not surprising. Workers with limited access to child care and full-time work find it difficult to complete the frequent interview requirement. Beyond that, many families are forced to make multiple trips because of a lack of language assistance, long lines, and delays in staff processing information.  

In September, three major changes to improve the Alliance program were identified at a meeting between DC’s Department of Health Care Finance and community organizations. Our letter supports these actions:

Change the face-to-face interview to an annual interview.  An annual recertification period will help Alliance members who must take time off of work to do the interview. It will also help program staff by lessening the number of clients they have to see and improving their ability to assist individual cases.

Allow community health workers to assist with parts of the recertification. If Alliance beneficiaries can complete their recertification with community health workers, the applications will have fewer problems, be processed faster, reducing the need for residents to make multiple trips. These workers already have strong relationships with the Alliance community, and can help alleviate language and cultural barriers in the application process.

Allow Alliance participants to apply online. DC has a new online public benefits system for Medicaid that uses many existing databases to verify identity and residency. Yet the Alliance program still uses a paper application. Fully incorporating the Alliance into the electronic application process would mean that many beneficiaries would never need to visit a service center in person.

 The District takes pride in the fact that almost every resident has access to health coverage and services. The recommended changes to the Alliance program would ensure that residents not only have access to health care, but can keep their coverage. We hope the Department of Health Care Finance and the DC Council will approve these changes and continue their commitment toward health care for all.  

To view a copy of the letter, click here.

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

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DC Adds Health Insurance Protections for Workers in Small Businesses

October 29th, 2014 | by Wes Rivers

The DC Council took an important step yesterday to make sure that people who work for small businesses in DC have affordable and comprehensive health insurance envisioned by Obamacare, rather than a skimpy plan that is bad for workers and risky for their bosses. At the heart of it, the bill creates disincentives for small businesses to self-insure, which makes health insurance options less risky and higher quality for employees.

 Small businesses that choose to provide health insurance can offer a plan or set of plans through DC Health Link, the District’s health exchange, or they can self-insure. Self-insurance means that instead of purchasing a health plan from an insurance company, an employer creates a fund to pay for employee health expenses directly.

Self-insurance is incredibly risky for small businesses, especially for those who have employees with high health needs. So some small businesses buy insurance plans known as “stop-loss” – which cover a business’s health expenses above a set level for any individual employee.

 But self-insurance and stop-loss plans have major problems. To keep costs low, businesses that self-insure often do not provide all of the essential health benefits required of plans sold through DC Health Link, and they do not have consumer protections such as bans on pricing based on health and tobacco use status. Secondly, self-insurance and stop-loss are unregulated and pose a lot of risk for the small business owners. For example, if a business or employee are denied coverage or payment for a claim, there is no regulatory recourse to solve the issue. This could put the business or employee at high financial risk.

 The Council action yesterday was the first vote on a bill to regulate the use of stop-loss plans, making self-insurance less desirable. The bill bans the sale of stop-loss policies to small businesses, unless the small business is providing coverage of basic, essential benefits – like those sold on DC Health Link. Second, the bill requires employers to pay $40,000 in expenses per employee before stop-loss insurance can kick in. That makes stop-loss policies unattractive, and incentivizes small businesses to shop for more robust, less risky coverage on DC Health Link.

 Both of these changes will help ensure that more employees are covered by higher quality, affordable plans. We hope DC Council continues to adopt consumer friendly policies for the private health insurance market and vote to approve this legislation on second reading next month. 

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

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