County Supervisors Expand Health Care For Undocumented Immigrants



By Melvin Willis | Photo courtesy: Anthony Wright

Contra Costa County supervisors voted 4-1 on Sept. 22 to enact a new pilot program that — pending matching funds from local hospitals — would provide health care coverage to potentially thousands of undocumented immigrants for the next year.

An estimated 19,000 Contra Costa County residents remain without health coverage despite President Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act. Now Contra Costa County, like San Francisco and Los Angeles counties before it, will narrow this gap with a program designed to cover an additional 3,000 adults, regardless of their immigration status.

County supervisors designated $500,000 to launch the program this coming November, with similar matching funds expected to come from area hosiptals. The program intends to provide basic, preventative and non-emergency care to uninsured adults for a year.

Lydia Arizmendi, a 52-year-old Richmond resident and member of the community group Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, is one of them.

“I have not been able to get checked out by a doctor because the out-of-pocket costs at the clinic are too expensive,” said Arizmendi, who has been living with diabetes and kidney pain for more than a year.

Arizmendi works as a janitor, cleaning fast-food restaurants. She said that some days her pain from diabetes becomes so bad that she can’t get out of bed to go to work. But because of her undocumented status, she can’t receive the care she needs, and remains afraid that she could end up in an emergency room or lose her life to a preventable illness.

“Health care for all means that I could benefit from regular doctor visits,” she said. “With my condition, that could mean the difference between maintaining my health or a costly emergency visit that I’m afraid would be a huge burden on me and my family.”

The new pilot program will be available to Contra Costa County residents 18 and older who remain uninsured and not eligible for full-scope Medi-Cal or the Covered California exchange created through Obamacare. Household annual income must not exceed 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($16,105 for an individual; $32,913 for a family of four).

Four participating community health centers — La Clinica de la Raza, LifeLong Medical Care, Axis Health and Brighter Beginnings — would provide primary care services to participants. Planned Parenthood of Northern California would also provide limited services.

Health care advocates argue that lack of coverage doesn’t only hurt people’s health; it can also hurt California’s economy. A 2009 Center for American Progress report found that lack of insurance cost the California economy between $18.3 and $36.7 billion in lost productivity that year.

Support for providing health care, regardless of immigration status, has also grown in recent years. According to a recent Field Poll, 58 percent of registered voters think California should provide Medi-Cal to all undocumented immigrants.

“Today was a huge victory in bridging the gap of health equity in Contra Costa County,” said Alvaro Fuentes, executive director of the Community Clinic Consortium, which represents community health centers in Contra Costa County. “The vote today echoes the voices of thousands of individuals — locally and statewide — committed to improving the health of their communities by ensuring that everyone has access to quality and affordable health care.”

Melvin Willis is an organizer with ACCE (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment)

Health Watchdog Put E-Cigarette Manufacturers On Notice

SAN FRANCISCO — A California health watchdog put e-cigarette manufacturers on alert on September 2, warning them that if they don’t recall the products they have sold on the California market within 60 days, they could be sued.

The action follows independent lab tests by the Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health (CEH) of e-cigarettes manufactured by 24 companies; 21 of them had products that have high levels of one or both of the cancer-causing chemicals, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, said Charles Margulis, media director at the center.

The CEH found that most – 50 of 97 products examined – contained high levels of one or both chemicals.

Vapor4Life and R.J.Reynolds, two manufacturers listed among the companies whose products were tested by CEH, did not respond to requests seeking comment.

Brought on the U.S. market eight years ago, and promoted as a lot less hazardous than conventional cigarettes, e-cigarette manufacturers have been recommending them as a quitting aid for smokers.

The product is also known as a personal vaporizer, or electronic nicotine-delivery system, among other names. Some look like a regular cigarette, others come with a pocket-size vaporizer and nicotine-juice cartridges.

Critics said that in many respects it is not that different from the conventional cigarette. A drag from its mouthpiece gives the person a genuine nicotine fix.

Research findings reported in The New England Journal of Medicine state that “like conventional cigarettes, electronic cigarettes may function as a ‘gateway drug’ that can prime the brain to be more receptive to harder drugs.”

Because major tobacco companies such as R.J. Reynolds have gotten involved in the e-cigarette market, health and environmental groups grew suspicious of claims that e-cigarettes are “healthier than smoking,” and that they contain “harmless water vapor.”

“These cigarettes are promoted as safe and as only containing water vapor, which is a lie,” asserted Dr. Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California in San Francisco and director of the school’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.

Glantz accused California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris as being lax in enforcing issues around e-cigarettes and tobacco products.

“She’s been asleep at the switch on this,” he asserted, noting that just last week she “quietly settled” with some e-cigarette manufacturers in California for violating a consent decree with the state that they would stop selling flavored e-cigarettes.

In the 60-day notice sent out Sept. 2, the CEH is not only demanding a recall of products already sold, it wants manufacturers to provide “clear and reasonable warning” for products sold in the future, plus pay an appropriate civil penalty for violating the state’s Health and Safety Code.

CEH executive director Michael Green said his agency’s legal action aims to force the industry to comply with the law and create pressure “to end their most abusive practices.”

photo credit courtsey of PR News Wire. 

Nature Walk Draws Out Hundreds

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By Luis Cubas

Clouds couldn’t stop the annual Walk to Nature, hosted by local nonprofit YES Nature to Neighborhoods, on August 29.

Nearly four hundred people came out to attend this year’s walk, designed to introduce residents of Richmond’s flatlands to the regional parks that line the city’s 32 miles of shoreline.

“A lot of people don’t realize that they have this beautiful, natural, pristine environment that’s very close to them,” said Eric Aaholm, executive director of YES. “It’s important for us to be able to show people that it’s straight in their backyard.”

Participants gathered for the third annual walk at the Richmond Greenway starting point on Sixth and Ohio streets around 9:30 a.m., their destination at Miller Knox Regional Shoreline and Keller Beach two miles away.

“It’s nice to be outside again, I’m really enjoying the day today and seeing the turnout,” said Kelsey Radmilovic, YES’ camp-to-community coordinator. “This is the first year that it’s been at the beach, which it looks like a lot of people are taking advantage of.”

Participants received t-shirts along with bags and water bottles at the start of the walk, while food and family activities like board games, volleyball, hula hooping, swimming, Zumba and more awaited them at the end.

“My children are having fun, and that’s what’s the most important,” said Aurora Alejo, who attended the walk for the first time with her family. “It was a really nice atmosphere and delicious food — taquitos, salad and natural water with cucumber and lemon.”

YES Nature to Neighborhoods offers leadership and wellness programs, along with family and summer camps, to bring the residents of Richmond closer to nature, and nurture leadership in the community.

“This is our biggest event,” said Tana Monterio, the organization’s community wellness coordinator. “We’re going to get people out into nature, we’re going to get nature to the people.”

Have a Headache? You Might Not Be Drinking Enough Water


Commentary, Ronvel Sharper

More than half of American children aren’t drinking enough water. That’s according to a new study by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Being under-hydrated can cause emotional and physical effects ranging from serious health problems to headaches and irritability. It can also affect your performance in school. The study also found discrepancies by ethnicity and gender; black children are at the highest risk for inadequate hydration, and boys are more at risk than girls.

“The good news is that this is a public health problem with a simple solution,” wrote senior author of the study Steven Gortmaker in a press release. “If we can focus on helping children drink more water—a low-cost, no-calorie beverage—we can improve their hydration status, which may allow many children to feel better throughout the day and do better in school.”

If drinking water is essential to good health and is as easy as turning on the tap at in your kitchen sink, then why aren’t we doing it?

For one, parents and kids don’t know how important drinking water is. Parents don’t talk about how you should drink water on a daily basis or else you can end up feeling under the weather.

And it can be hard to remember to drink water when you are always being exposed to sugary sweets on TV and in stores. There’s always a Sprite or Coca-Cola ad playing on Youtube or television. There’s never an ad for water! When you walk by a Pepsi display in a store window, and walk by all the sodas and juices, you might forget that what you really need is water. That’s how the marketers make customers for life; they outcompete water so they can have more sales for their product.

But these products can make you even more dehydrated, according to Jeff Ritterman, retired cardiologist and former Richmond city council member who tried to pass a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages in Richmond in 2012. “Most soft drinks contain caffeine which is a mild diuretic, which means it makes you pee, leading to water loss.”

Even educated kids make this mistake. I know a bunch of college friends who guzzle energy drinks on a daily basis; they say it keeps them awake and that it’s perfectly harmless. College students have been drinking these sugary drinks so much that they have come to think of it as a substitute for water.

Kids usually wait until they feel thirsty before they drink water. But according to Chris Daniels of, that’s too late: “By the time you feel thirsty, you could be headed for dehydration.”

I can tell you from personal experience that this is true. I’ve ended up dehydrated a few times, even though I thought I was drinking enough.  I even went to the hospital once for the headaches.

I used to hate drinking water when I was younger. I used to prefer sugary drinks like sodas and juice. I always preferred some flavor to my drinks, so instead of water, I would drink soda because I thought sodas and juice were basically more flavorful versions of water. Also, they were addictive; I’ve been drinking them my whole life. Soda basically was the only thing that quenched my thirst.

One day, I had a horrible headache. It was so unbearable that my mom rushed me to the hospital. When I got there, my doctor said I was dehydrated and told me to drink more water.

I was skeptical at first, but when I got home and drank a lot more water, I felt a lot better. Actually, I felt completely fine. And, from that moment, I decided to drink more water every day.

Dehydration can make you feel horrible, and you might think it’s something way worse. If you just drink some water, it might be just what you need.

Immigration Relief Increasing Health Coverage; CA Kids Eligible Now


News Report, Anna Challet | New America Media

In California, hundreds of thousands of kids in immigrant families are eligible for Medi-Cal but not enrolled, according to a new study from Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families.

Some of them are kids who have undocumented parents, but who are themselves citizens or lawfully residing. Some of them are eligible for the DACA program but haven’t applied (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows some undocumented individuals who came to United States as children to qualify for work permits and deportation relief). In California, if you qualify for DACA, you qualify for Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program.

So even though broader immigration relief is still on hold, for many families in California there’s no reason to wait for health coverage.

“As we wait for immigration reform to take effect, there’s still a number of kids in immigrant families in California that are eligible for coverage now,” says Sonya Schwartz, a research fellow at Georgetown and one of the authors of the study. “There’s up to about 400,000 kids who are eligible right now who we could be enrolling in programs.”

According to the report, over 200,000 youth could gain state-funded Medi-Cal if they sign up for the DACA program and are low-income. And another 223,000 citizen and lawfully residing children whose parents are undocumented could be signed up for Medi-Cal now.

There are a variety of reasons why kids in the latter group might not be signed up already, says Schwartz.

“Immigrant families have additional barriers to getting into programs that others don’t necessarily face,” she says. “There can be fears about immigration status and information you have to share about yourself, even though there are protections for parents who don’t want to share personal information.”

“There are so many citizen kids and lawfully residing kids who are living with immigrant parents, and they’re just hard to reach because parents are busy working two jobs, they’re not necessarily native English speakers, they might not know what’s available,” she adds. “Or you might have a family where there’s an older child who is undocumented who was born abroad, and then kids born here after that who are eligible for coverage, and parents may not want to just enroll one.”

An additional 170,000 undocumented children will become eligible for Medi-Cal as early as May 2016. Earlier this year, Governor Jerry Brown announced a budget allocation that will provide health coverage for all of the state’s kids in low-income families, regardless of immigration status.

What’s still uncertain is the future of immigration programs for children and families created by President Obama’s executive action in November 2014. A new program, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), stands to allow some 600,000 immigrant parents in California to gain work permits and deportation relief – and they’ll qualify for Medi-Cal if they meet the income requirements.

Schwartz says that parents getting immigration relief makes them more likely to obtain health coverage for their children, because they don’t fear exposing their status.

The executive action also expanded the DACA program by removing the age cap. Schwartz’s study estimates that some 55,000 individuals who will qualify for expanded DACA are uninsured and will likely qualify for Medi-Cal.

The programs are on hold, though. A judge in Texas put in place a preliminary injunction that stopped their implementation, and a resolution won’t come until next year.

All told, over a million Californians could gain access to coverage if and when immigration relief goes into effect.

“Four hundred thousand kids in California could be eligible now for coverage, and then another 170,000 more kids in May, and then hundreds of thousands of parents and older kids when immigration reforms make their way through the courts,” says Schwartz. “It’s huge.”

Three Years Later


By Tania Pulido

The memory is a vivid one for me. It was a beautiful day in Richmond; I was hanging out in my backyard in Richmond Annex when I heard sirens. My heart dropped, the first words that came out of my mouth were, “It’s not Wednesday.” I kept repeating that sentence as I moved closer to the fence to get a better view of the Chevron refinery where a black cloud of smoke was billowing up from, before spreading over parts of Richmond and San Pablo.

Three years have passed since the refinery fire on August 6, 2012. To recognize the anniversary elected officials, community organizations and residents gathered out front of the Richmond Civic Center this year.

The event was held as a way to remember the tragedy while celebrating the community’s resiliency. Speakers included Richmond City Council members Eduardo Martinez and Gayle McLaughlin, along with leaders from local activist groups.

Lipo Chanthanasak an active member in the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, moved to Richmond in 1988 and was deeply affected by the fire. “This is a history we cannot forget,” Chanthanasak said. “We learned that it could’ve been prevented but it wasn’t.”

The fire sent 15,000 people to nearby hospitals, illustrating the damage the refinery could do. As a community gardener with Urban Tilth, I was heartbroken when we decided it was necessary to remove plants from the garden, and stop gardening until we could have soil tests done. I remember being moved hearing co-workers share their stories of digging up their gardens and feeling hopeless, not knowing if their gardens were safe, with the crowd at the town hall meeting following the fire.

Following the fire we experienced a new level of community action. People who normally did not participate in political actions showed up to events, community leaders who tended to be neutral about Chevron’s business practices took to social media to voice their discontent with the corporation and it seemed that from all over the political spectrum people were devastated to experience another explosion.

Stephanie Harvey, a Richmond resident shared her experience at the hospital following the fire. “When I went to Kaiser the doctor was wearing normal clothing, no suit,” she said. “He prescribed aspirin and sent me home. He didn’t even look at my eyes even after I told him about my concerns.”

Others were concerned that not enough had changed for the better in the years following the tragedy. “Chevron is still here polluting,” Olivia Eldred, a nurse with the California Nurses Association told the crowd. “And if there is a next explosion where will people go?” she asked, referring to the recent closer of Doctors Medical Center—a hospital that previously served a large part of Richmond and San Pablo residents.

Reverend Earl Koteen of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley said that while he believes the people who work at the refinery are not evil, the outcomes and effects the refinery wrecks on nearby communities is. Koteen challenged attendees to find a middle ground with those who work at the refinery and those who are actively organizing to hold them accountable. “May we find love in the battle,” he said.


Drought Pushes Small Farmers to Be at ‘Top of Their Game’

News Report,  Nancy DeVille

As California’s record-breaking drought extends into its fourth year, small farmers are struggling. But you wouldn’t necessarily know it by a trip to the local farmers’ market.

That’s because small farmers are doing everything they can – from ancient techniques to high tech – to become more efficient.

Still, many say they are afraid that they have reached “the top of their game,” and further cutbacks could cause economic pain.

“It’s definitely getting drier here and that makes me really nervous,” said Pilar Reber, owner of the Sunnyside Organic Seedlings in North Richmond. Her business grows about 400 kinds of vegetables and herbs to sell to Oakland restaurants and Berkeley co-ops. “I’m using water from a well that I have no way of finding out how much is in it or when it might go dry.  So I can’t plan unless I really know what the future is. If my well ran dry tomorrow, I just don’t know what I’d do.”

Reber is also using high-tech devices. She now uses a GPS system that tracks the wind and temperature to determine exactly how much water the plants need. She’s also planting less and going longer between watering cycles. The staff also mulches all winter long to hold moisture in the soil.

“I can know exactly how much water I need to put down that day because of how much sun and wind we got,” she said. “We are really on top of the curve as far as water management.

“Most farmers are already 75 percent efficient with their water use. So to ask us to cut back another 25 percent, that’s scary, because we are almost already at the top of our game. I think everyone is nervous about it.”

California’s drought can be felt nationwide as homeowners are urged to take shorter showers, stop watering their lawns and forgo the weekly car washes. But the agricultural community is seeing the biggest impact. A recent UC Davis study estimates the industry could lose 18,600 jobs and $2.7 billion in revenue this year.

But it’s not all bad news for smaller farmers. As the demand for local, organically grown produce increases, Richmond farmers’ markets remain popular. Fruits and vegetables are plentiful at the city’s various weekly markets as farmers work hard to keep up with the demand.

Jorie Hanson, owner of Buttercup Farms Garden in Clayton, sells her produce each Wednesday at the Richmond Main Street Farmers’ Market. She sells everything from tomatoes, eggplant, beans and lettuce to strawberries and plums. She’s managed to stay afloat and make a profit but is struggling to ensure that her water usage is compliant.

“It’s already hard to be a small farmer because it’s hard to make money growing vegetables,” Hanson said. “With the drought it adds more pressure to the process because we have to be more conscience of water usage. If they limit my water use any more, I’ll have to go out of business.”

Instead of raising prices, many farmers are choosing to plant significantly less produce than previous years, according to Alyssia Plata, spokeswoman for the Pacific Coast Farmers Association. The association operates over 60 farmers’ markets throughout the Bay Area including the Richmond Main Street Market.

“We do have some farms that just don’t have enough product to come to the markets to sell,” Plata said. “Some have dropped down to only participating in two markets instead of seven.”

“Agriculture has been getting a lot of flack over the drought, but we want people to understand that small farms can’t afford to irrigate with water. And because of the drought, many have reduced one-third of their operation.”

At the Friday Farmers’ Market at 24th Street and Barrett Avenue, some farmers are starting to reduce their volume, but the quality remains, said Steve Ghigliotto, who ran the weekly market for 12 years and recently resigned. The market averages about 20 farmers a week.

“The quality is just as good but they are reduced to selling seconds – fruit that might be bruised a little bit. But their attitude is very good and they are learning that they can do almost as good with less water,” he said.

“Most of them are just taking it in stride. They are not happy with it but they are doing the best they can. If the drought continues, it will have a greater impact.”

While the severity of the drought is constantly discussed, many agriculture advocates agree that the impact on farmers is not widely understood.

“I don’t think the consumer really understands the impact because they are not the ones growing the produce. They won’t really realize that, until a particular produce they like is not here anymore,” Ghigliotto said.

Call for California Asians and Hispanics to Show United Front on Health4All

SAN FRANCISCO — Even as health care advocates are celebrating California’s recent “landmark victory” in getting its undocumented children health care, Latino and Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities should show a united front and make sure that all of the state’s undocumented residents get the same benefit, urged Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens.

“The API and Latino communities have similar backgrounds and we both believe in giving back to community,” said Lara at an ethnic media briefing hosted by New America Media on July 21, 2015, with his “partner in crime” as he referred to Assemblymember Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, at his side. “We’re fighters. There’s something in our DNA that wants us to go forward.”

Lara’s Health for All bill (SB 4), was originally intended to provide health care to the state’s nearly 2.6 million uninsured residents, regardless of their immigration status. That would have been done either by enrolling them in Medi-Cal, (California’s name for Medicaid, the insurance program for its low-income residents) or by allowing them, after getting a federal waiver, to buy health insurance on Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace, with their own money.

But last month, Governor Jerry Brown approved a $40 million budgetary allocation for providing Medi-Cal for the state’s 170,000 undocumented children, a significant victory for SB 4 supporters.

Brown’s move would reduce the cost of SB 4 significantly, but would still leave nearly 1.5 million undocumented adults uninsured.

Lara’s is optimistic that his other health care coverage bill, SB 10, will close the gap by providing those left uninsured full-scope Medi-Cal benefits if they meet eligibility requirements and if funding is available. If it’s not, they will get limited scope benefits. SB 10, like SB 4, has passed the Senate and is now before an Assembly committee.

Both bills, Lara said, will stand a good chance of passage if the AAPI and Latino communities campaign together.

The health care bills are “about inclusion, collaboration and partnership,” Bonta agreed, as he addressed the packed room of reporters and some health care advocates. For his part, he will inspire all Asian Americans to campaign for the bills, he said.

Lara once again slammed President Obama for excluding undocumented immigrants from benefiting from the 2010 Affordable Care Act (ACA). ACA was designed to provide affordable health care for all legally residing U.S. residents.

SB 4 will seek a federal waiver to allow California’s undocumented immigrants to purchase insurance on Covered California, but without providing them subsidies. An estimated 390,000 people will benefit from the waiver, Lara said.

He pointed out that it’s in the state’s financial interest to pass his bill. Without it, undocumented immigrants will continue using hospital emergency rooms even for their basic care, currently costing the state $1.7 billion annually.

Lara said he can understand the plight of undocumented and uninsured immigrants because his Mexico-born parents were at one time in that situation themselves.

Bonta, the co-author of the bill in the Assembly and chair of its health subcommittee, observed that when Lara first introduced his bill last year, the odds were stacked against its passage, especially given that a similar bill the senator introduced the previous year did not get out of committee because of its $1.3 billion annual price tag. This year’s bill would cost a lot less because no state subsidies will be given to those who purchase insurance on Covered California.

Three California undocumented immigrants – two from the API and one from the Hispanic community — shared their own personal stories that brought home the importance of having access to health care.

Amy Lin testified about being undocumented and uninsured. 

Amy Lin, who came with her mother to the United States from Taiwan as a 12-year-old, said it was hard for her to watch her 50-something-year-old mother slog as a domestic worker and not have health care.

“She suffered lower back pain and joint pain that became chronic,” Lin, now 23, and a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiary said. “She relied on over-the-counter pain relievers. We bonded over the massages I gave her.”

Lara’s bill, she asserted, means a lot to the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who face a similar situation.

Jesus Castro, 20, who immigrated to the United States with his parents from his native Mexico in 2001, recalled how as a young boy he once dislocated his elbow playing baseball. The curandero his father took him to told Castro a story to distract him as he popped the elbow back in place.

His 44-year-old mother, Christine Marquez, told how she too had to rely on such remedies to treat her frequent nosebleeds and other health issues. She recently quit her job because of a slipped disc.

Twenty-seven-year-old Samoan native Tali Seumanutafa recalled how she went through some 25 surgeries to treat a crippling bone disease. The Shriner’s Hospital paid for her surgeries and hospitalization until she turned 18 and aged out of its charitable care program. When the disease recurred in 2011, she checked in at San Francisco General. She was left with a half a million dollar bill that she has not paid.

“I’m unsure of where me and the bill stand,” Seumanutafa said, noting that she now feels more secure because she has Medi-Cal, thanks to her DACA status.

One of the issues many of the state’s lawmakers are concerned about is whether providing Medi-Cal to the state’s undocumented will give them access to health care given the shortage of doctors in the Medi-Cal network. Asked about this, Lara said that both he and Bonta are working on addressing this issue.

Last month, Bonta was appointed chair of the Public Health and Developmental Services Committee that was set up to convene extraordinary sessions to discuss, among other things, how the state can allocate more money for its Medi-Cal program.

“It’s always good to have the chair of the health committee support your bills,” Lara said, turning toward Bonta with a smile.

Both lawmakers agreed that if California, which Bonta called “the most progressive state in the nation,” succeeded in getting health care for all its residents, the rest of the country would likely follow suit.

“California is coming to a neighborhood near you, whether you like it or not,” Lara said.

Connecting the Uninsured


News Report, Ann Bassette | Richmond Pulse

Rosa Garay is a mother of 8-year-old twins and like tens of thousands of Contra Costa County residents she’s uninsured and worried about her health.

“I’ve been struggling with losing weight and need to check my thyroid,” Garay said. “I’m a single mother of two and I have to be in good health but if I’m not OK, who’s going to be with them?”

Garay, 35, said she first applied for healthcare through Covered California at the beginning of year but was told she didn’t qualify. (Her kids are covered by Medi-Cal.)

“I applied for Covered California, they sent me a letter saying I didn’t qualify for them as well because I’m low income so they automatically sent my application to Medi-Cal,” she said, “but I’ve been waiting for this answer since February, and I haven’t received anything.”

Garay was one of nearly a thousand people who attended a health care fair last month in Richmond to learn more about healthcare options through the state and get questions answered in person.

The event, titled “WE Connect Health Care Enrollment & Resource Fair,” was held on Saturday, June 27 at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium. It offered Contra Costa residents a chance to come and sign up for Medi-Cal and Covered California, participate in free health screenings and learn better practices to maintain a healthy lifestyle. According to a press release put out by We Connect following the fair, there are 86,000 people in Contra Costa who are still uninsured.

WE Connect is a statewide project of The California Endowment. The Richmond event was hosted in partnership with Healthy Richmond, Contra Costa Health Services, LifeLong Medical Care, Community Clinic Consortium and Brighter Beginnings.

In addition to healthcare education, attendees could also learn about housing, immigrant resources, legal aid and more.

Booths dotted the inside of the auditorium, offering fun and free goodies to increase health awareness. The U.S. Department of Agriculture handed out “Best Bones Forever” card decks, emblazoned with graphics and fun facts about calcium intake, as well as suggestions on how to incorporate fitness and healthy food choices into everyday life. LifeLong Medical Care gave away jump ropes, water bottles and reusable ice packs to spread awareness about their services. And, WE Connect volunteers were busy replenishing wooden baskets filled with potatoes, onions, spaghetti noodles and rice as guests stocked up on the free food.

Meanwhile, in the Kids Fit Zone, young ones boxed, bowled and played tennis. Some chose to take advantage of the coloring stations and had their face painted by a fairy princess from the children’s entertainment group Happily Ever Laughter.

“WeConnect has connected all of us,” said Rochelle Rawls Shaw, Administrative Assistant with Healthy Richmond.

Garay said she received more information about her health care status at the event. “The person who helped me today told me my application was good, but they asked me for certain things,” she said, adding that she didn’t know before the event what other information she should send in. “We did it again, so we’ll see if they need anything else. I’m excited. I hope it’s good news,” she added.

Edith Alonso also attended the event, along with her mother and teenage son. She is insured but said she wanted to learn more about healthcare service options.

“I’m covered through Kaiser Permanente but you need to know other options – you could lose your job,” she said. “When you don’t have insurance you’re between a rock and a hard place. We have to be informed about every thing that happens with health care, immigration and housing.”

Tracee, who wouldn’t give her last name, is a student from Trinidad who has lived in Richmond for the last five years. She is covered through Medi-Cal, and wanted to take advantage of the free vision screening. While there she also had her glucose and blood pressure checked. For her, an event like this is more than educational — it’s a way to show support for the service itself.

“Free healthcare is important,” she said, “and when people don’t attend these events, they think we don’t care about our health. But we do.”

Undocumented Kids to Get Health Coverage in State Budget

Calling it one of the “best” budgets the state has ever had, California Gov. Jerry Brown said the $167.6 billion dollar budget the legislature passed Tuesday would pump more money into child care and education, pay down the state’s debt by $1.9 billion and provide health care for its undocumented children.

“This is just one step and we need to do more,” Brown said during a press conference, referring to the $40 million budgetary allocation for providing health insurance to an estimated 170,000 undocumented children in the state  through Medi-Cal – California’s name for Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income people.

A jubilant Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, called the $40 million allocation a “modest investment in health care that will be transformational in the lives of not only children,” but also their families and the community as a whole.

He noted that the budget deal “affirms our commitment to embrace and integrate our immigrant community, to lead where the federal government has failed and to acknowledge the hard work and sacrifice of a community that contributes billions of dollars” to the state’s economy.

“This expansion of coverage to all children regardless of immigration status would make California’s children healthier, our health system stronger, and our families and communities more financially secure,” asserted Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, the statewide health care consumer advocacy coalition.

Lara’s own Health for All bill (SB 4) will provide health insurance for all Californians regardless of their immigration status. It is now before the Assembly, after it cleared the Senate last month. If it is signed into law, California would be the first state in the country to provide state-funded health insurance to its undocumented residents.

The original intent of SB 4 was to provide health care for the state’s nearly 1.5 million undocumented residents, both adults and children, either through Medi-Cal or by allowing them to purchase health insurance on the state’s exchange. But the state must first seek a waiver from the federal government to allow them to purchase health insurance on the state’s exchange, Covered California. The Affordable Care Act prevents undocumented U.S. residents from any federally funded health insurance program. The waiver will be sought if SB 4 passes.

According to researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and University of California in Los Angeles, expanding Medi-Cal to undocumented California residents, under Lara’s bill,  would  have cost the state between $353 and $369 million annually, representing a 2 percent increase from what it currently spends. But now that the state has approved $40 million in its budget to provide insurance for its undocumented children, the Medi-Cal cost in Lara’s bill will go down.

“It would also provide the momentum for SB 4 to move forward,” Wright said.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, who participated alongside the governor in the press conference and had backed SB 4 since it was introduced in the Senate late last year, said Washington’s inaction has caused “financial consequences throughout the country.”

Lara’s bill, he said, will send a “very strong message” to lawmakers in Washington who have “dithered” on immigration reform.

The governor’s remark that more needs to be done, including how to address the low Medi-Cal reimbursement rates – among the lowest in the nation — will be discussed in a special session in a few weeks.

Brown said that his office would be hiring an immigration coordinator to assist youth who have been granted temporary relief from deportation under President Obama’s executive action of 2012. One million more California residents could become eligible for deportation relief if the federal courts allow Obama’s 2014 executive action to move forward.