Lee, Skinner tout free tax prep program, EITC

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, were in West Oakland today to tout a free tax assistance program that helps working poor people take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit, to the tune of many millions of dollars in the East Bay.

Barbara Lee 1-28-2011The “Earn it! Keep it! Save it!” tax assistance program – a project led by the United Way of the Bay Area in cooperation with more than 250 public and private partners, now in its ninth year – provides free tax return preparation help to families that earned less than $49,000 in 2010; it helped 52,000 taxpayers last year.

The Earned Income Tax Credit, created in 1975, is a refundable federal income tax credit for low to moderate income working individuals and families, conceived in part to offset the burden of social security taxes and to provide an incentive to work. When the EITC exceeds the amount of taxes owed, it results in a tax refund to those who claim and qualify for it.

At a news conference in the People’s Federal Credit Union at Seventh Street and Mandela Parkway, Lee said the EITC lets working families keep more of their money, which ultimately benefits the entire community in which that money is spent. And as social services continue to be scaled back, she said, such families need all the help they can get.

“We have millions that’s being left on the table” while “we have so many people who are struggling … and there could be cash in their pockets right now,” Skinner said.

The “Earn it! Keep it! Save it!” program last year operated 211 sites in seven Bay Area counties, with 3,949 volunteers helping to prepare 51,963 tax returns that brought $57.2 million in total refunds, including almost $18.3 from the EITC.


Dave Jones helps HHS tout healthcare reform

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones joined U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius this morning on a teleconference to roll out a new HHS report showing how much families and businesses can save on health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health care reforms signed into law last year.

The report says that with the creation by 2014 of state health exchanges, marketplaces where individuals without coverage through their employers can shop for insurance at competitive rates:

  • Middle-class families purchasing private insurance in the new State-based Health Insurance Exchanges could save as much as $2,300 per year in 2014.
  • Tax credits provided by the Affordable Care Act will lead to even greater savings. For example, in 2014, a family of four with an income of $33,525 could save as much as $14,900 per year since they will also qualify for tax credits and reduced cost sharing.
  • In 2014, small businesses, on average, could save up to $350 per family policy and many may be eligible for tax credits of up to 50 percent of their premiums.
  • The tax credits are already available to small businesses, and cover 35 percent of their premiums. For example, a firm with 10 workers who earn an average of $20,000 annually could currently receive credits of $35,000 annually. These tax credits could save small businesses $6 billion in 2010 and 2011.
  • All businesses will likely see lower premiums of $2,000 per family by 2019, which could generate millions of dollars in savings.
  • “If we repeal the law as some in congress have proposed, families and small business owners will pay the price,” Sebelius told reporters on the conference call, saying the nation mustn’t return to the days when rising costs put heavier burdens on family budgets and business balance sheets.

    Sebelius said some insurers are already reporting increased enrollment as they inform their small business clients of the tax credits made available under the new law.

    Dave JonesJones said the report underscores the importance of moving forward with implementing the Affordable Care Act, which he called “one of the most significant legislative accomplishments of the last 50 years.” He noted that California is the first state to pass legislation under the Act to establish its health care exchange.

    Jones also noted the new law requires that children with pre-existing conditions no longer can be denied coverage; he noted that California parents with uninsured children should enroll them before March 1 to take advantage of a lower open-enrollment rate.

    Jones earlier this week had announced that the state Office of Administrative Law approved his request for an emergency regulation giving him authority to enforce the 80 percent Medical Loss Ratio in the individual market established under the Affordable Care Act – meaning California’s individual insurers must now spend at least 80 percent of their premium revenues on medical services rather than profits, marketing and overhead.

    UPDATED @ 12:59 P.M.: U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, said this:

    “This report is as deeply flawed as the $2.6 trillion health law that the American people continue to oppose. The facts from the government’s own budget experts are clear. According to the Administration’s actuary, health care costs for the nation will rise faster under this new law, despite the White House’s claim. Every American remembers President Obama’s pledge to reduce health costs by $2,500 for families, but the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has found the President’s health care law will increase premiums by $2,100 for families purchasing coverage on their own. House Republicans have listened to the people and acted to repeal this disastrous, budget-busting health law. Now it’s time for the Senate to act as well.”

    But, from Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, the ranking member on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce:

    “Today’s report confirms that the increased competition and consumer protections in the reform law will lower health insurance premiums for millions of American families and businesses. At a time when budgets are already stretched thin by rising costs, this is one more example of how families and businesses are benefiting from the health care law and can ill afford the reckless Republican effort to repeal it.”


    Brown names Oaklander to run state ABC

    Gov. Jerry Brown today named an Oaklander who had worked closely with him in the Attorney General’s office to run the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

    Jacob Appelsmith, 47, will serve both as senior adviser to the Governor and as ABC’s director. Appelsmith since 2008 has served as a special assistant to the Attorney General and chief of California Bureau of Gaming Control; earlier, he was as a deputy attorney general; general counsel for the Office of the Attorney General’s personnel and equal employment opportunity matters; and lead supervising attorney for the Employment, Regulation and Administrative Section in the Attorney General’s office.

    From Sacramento Lawyer’s September 2001 profile of Appelsmith:

    Appelsmith has got sideburns “down to there” and wears several earrings (weekends only). But people trust him because he is a very talented lawyer and really knows employment law, Senior Assistant Attorney General Jim Schiavenza said.

    Appelsmith’s unique personal and legal style probably can be traced to his Berkeley upbringing. “Jake was exposed early on to the Berkeley community’s general presumption of social justice,” Bass said. It is probably that exposure, Bass said, that has influenced Appelsmith so that the concept of social justice is part and parcel of who Appelsmith is.


    Not only is Appelsmith concerned with social welfare, but he also has a diverse array of interests outside of his work. He proclaims that reading Charles Dickens “is a huge thing” for him. Others note his love of music. Schiavenza said that if you saw Appelsmith outside of work, you would likely find him at a bar listening to music. Bass, a former jazz pianist, said that he and Appelsmith fool around with music quite a bit outside of work and reflected on the time when the two lawyers parodied “A Streetcar Named Desire” for a select group of friends.

    At work, Appelsmith juggles a variety of projects without missing a beat, Schiavenza said. Appelsmith is a man who “stretches everyone’s imagination, is imaginative about solutions, and is willing to take risks,” Schiavenza said. Those qualities fit neatly within the attorney general’s office’s new perspective on its role as the state’s attorneys.

    From 1988 to 1994, he was an attorney with Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro. He earned an undergraduate degree from Middlebury College in Vermont and a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.

    The ABC director’s position requires Senate confirmation and has an annual salary of $150,112; the senior adviser’s post neither requires confirmation nor carries additional pay. Appelsmith is a Democrat.


    Assembly adjourns in slain union leader’s honor

    The state Assembly adjourned today in memory of Berresford “Berry” Bingham, political director of the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, who was found dead Tuesday in his West Oakland home; Oakland Police are treating the case as a homicide.

    The adjournment was at the request of Assemblyman Sandré Swanson, D-Alameda, who chairs the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee and counted Berry as a friend and constituent. Swanson made this floor statement:

    “I rise today with a very heavy heart to adjourn in the memory of a constituent, but more importantly, a good friend. Berry Bingham was a Political Director for SEIU Local 1021. For 17 years, he worked tirelessly on behalf of working families in the State of California. Berry was a delegate to the Central Labor Council in Alameda County for 20 years; served our country in the United States Navy for 20 years; was the first African American to serve on the Alameda County School Board from 1994 to 2002; and was an assistant track and field coach at Encinal High School in Alameda.

    “It was shocking to learn of his death. He was full of life and energy, believed in the process of democracy, and was a fierce advocate on behalf of working families. Bingham was gentle and kind and engaging to his friends. He was respectful, but always a fierce advocate on behalf of those he represented.

    “I saw Barry two weeks ago when I was having breakfast at Ole’s in Alameda with my wife. He walked up to me, smiled, and we embraced. We talked about the brightness of the future of California, which will now be a great memory for me. This is a terrible loss for his family and the community. I respectfully ask that we adjourn in memory of Berry Bingham, an outstanding advocate and a great patriot.”

    Bingham’s death is Oakland’s 12th homicide of 2011. A reward of $10,000 is being offered for information leading to the killer or killers; anyone with information can call police at 510-238-3821 or Crime Stoppers of Oakland at 510-777-3211.


    Bipartisan call to protect IHSS from cuts

    As the state budget process inches forward, even some Republicans are now saying that deep cuts to the state’s In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program may be ill-advised because they’ll cost California more in the long run.

    Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal includes cutting all IHSS funding for domestic services – things such as cooking, cleaning and laundry – for certain recipients; foes of the plan say this would mean more than 380,000 elderly and disabled people losing this aid. The budget also includes a proposed 8.4 percent cut to all IHSS recipient hours, atop the 3.6 percent cuts from the 2010 budget.

    State lawmakers from both sides of the aisle held a news conference this morning in Sacramento to express concerns.

    “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that cutting IHSS will have a negative impact on our state’s economy as well as local economies,” said Assemblyman Jim Silva, R-Huntington Beach, according to a news release issued by the UDW Homecare Providers Union. “As a former Orange County Supervisor, I’ve seen firsthand that IHSS is much more cost-effective than institutional care.”

    The release said Assemblyman Brian Nestande, R-Riverside, recognized some inefficiency in the program, but said he doesn’t believe cuts are the solution. “Instead, the Governor and the Legislature should be seeking to improve standards and oversight for IHSS to ensure that taxpayer dollars are being maximized.”

    Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Yucaipa, also voiced support for IHSS, the release said. “I am not one of those Republicans who say all government is bad government. I believe that government has a responsibility to take care of children, the elderly, disabled and veterans in the most humane, cost-effective way possible,” he said. “And I believe that cutting IHSS benefits would be an example of cutting off our nose to spite our face.”

    Many Democrats have decried past cuts as well as Brown’s proposal for more.

    “The fundamental question is: Do we want to promote institutional care that costs $55,000 or more per person per year to operate? Or do we want to encourage home care that costs about $12,000 per person per year?” said state Sen. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, according to the union’s release. “Instead of cutting IHSS, we must figure out ways to move a portion of the 100,000 people currently in institutions into IHSS so we can really begin to save the state money.”

    Meanwhile, a member of another union – SEIU United Long Term Care Workers – testified today before an Assembly Budget subcommittee about the hardships IHSS cuts would create. Cindy Valdez is a full-time provider to her partner, Jeff.

    “If domestic services were cut I would no longer be able to afford to work as his full-time caregiver. I would have to look for a full-time job,” she said. “We would probably have to hire another caregiver to take care of Jeff, someone who doesn’t know him and would have a harder time anticipating his medical and emotional needs. We might even have to resort to placing him in an assisted living center, something that both he and I do not want for him.”

    SEIU ULTCW President Laphonza Butler issued a release saying the state’s most vulnerable citizens can’t afford to lose these hours of care, and “for caregivers, these cuts mean fewer hours of work, possible loss of healthcare benefits, and the potential for job loss at a time when the state’s unemployment rates are already at historic highs.”


    California = disaster

    It’s official: California is a disaster.

    2012Oh, a disaster area, that’s what I meant. Sorry.

    President Barack Obama today declared a major disaster exists in California and ordered federal aid for recovery efforts in the area struck by severe winter storms, flooding, and debris and mud flows from Dec. 17 through Jan. 4.

    That funding will be made available to state, tribal, and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofits on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe winter storms, flooding, and debris and mud flows in Inyo, Kern, Kings, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Tulare counties. Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

    We still have to deal with the rest of our disasters on our own.