GCO signed coalition letter urging policymakers to prioritize high-speed broadband in rural Georgia
The Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) has signed on to a coalition letter urging policymakers to prioritize the use of federal emergency dollars for high-speed broadband in rural, underserved areas of Georgia.The letter makes four recommendations:
Target funds to areas without access to high-speed broadband, defined as 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload
- Avoid investments in government-owned networks
- Reduce red tape around deployment
- Ensure adequate resources for permitting approval
GCO’s take: “Broadband for rural areas should’ve been a priority prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, it’s an emergency,” said Buzz Brockway, GCO’s vice president of public policy. “Good Internet access will be a boon to rural Georgia. Broadband is also crucial for some of our state’s most vulnerable students, and expanding Internet access is closely aligned with GCO’s mission to expand educational opportunity. In the middle of all this, we can’t afford to get mired in bureaucratic red tape, either. That’s why we must avoid working through government-owned networks and instead quickly review and approve applications to get this done.”
GET BUZZ’D AT THE STATE CAPITOL
A focus on the state legislature and the policies effecting Georgian’s everyday life.
Buzz Brockway, VP of Policy, is in downtown Atlanta at the state Capitol building, and walks us through the the last day or sine die of the legislative session.
Get Buzz’d At the state Capitol
A focus on the state legislature and the policies effecting Georgian’s everyday life.
Buzz Brockway, VP of Policy, is in downtown Atlanta at the state Capitol building, and walks us through the proposed changes to The Special Needs Scholarship, occupational licensing, a current protest, and more.
Key GCO priority bills make crossover deadline
The Georgia legislative session is halfway over, and already we’ve made some important progress in breaking down barriers to work and expanding opportunity for all Georgians.
We reached a key legislative mark on March 8: The crossover deadline. That means that any bill not passed by at least one chamber (either the Senate or the House) is likely dead for the remainder of the session.
The great news is that several key bills supported by the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) made the crossover deadline.
Watch Buzz Brockway, VP of Policy for GCO, from the state Capitol as he updates us on what legislation is moving forward, and what is over for the year.
Heading up that list is a measure that would expand the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship. This program helps students with individualized education plans (IEPs) attend a private school that is a better fit for their individual needs. On March 3, the state Senate passed a measure, Senate Bill 47, that opens the scholarship to preschoolers in addition to students with a wide range of special needs, just not those with an IEP.
We’re continuing to work with lawmakers on the House side to pass the bill and send it to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk for his signature. We’re hopeful that 2021 will be the year this important measure becomes law in order to better serve families of special needs students who have disproportionately suffered during the pandemic.
We’re also seeing progress on occupational licensing reforms. Occupational licensing is needed in some industries and job categories, but the laws on the books today in many cases are an unnecessary roadblock to employment for workers.
Two bills on this issue made the crossover deadline. The first, Senate Bill 45, allows people who move to Georgia and hold an occupational license to immediately be granted a provisional license. This will allow these new Georgians to immediately go to work and support their families.
A second measure, Senate Bill 27, extends the time (up to two years) a retiring military member may count their military training toward requirements for an occupational license
Both bills are now pending in the House.
We’re pleased that two adoption-reform bills passed the House before the crossover deadline. House Bill 114 would increase the annual tax credit available for adopting a foster child from $2,000 to $6,000. And House Bill 154 would lower the minimum age to adopt from 25 to 21.
Foster and adoptive families play a crucial role in creating stable environments for some of the most vulnerable children in our society. Anything we can do through policy reform to help these families should be a priority.
In an attempt to address the type of tragic vigilante violence that occurred in the Ahmaud Arbery case, lawmakers unanimously passed House Bill 479 on March 8. The measure overhauls Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law to generally prevent bystanders from attempting to arrest an individual suspected of a crime. GCO believes this is a crucial piece of legislation to prevent unnecessary tragedies and foster greater racial justice in our state.
Bills that didn’t make the cut
Unfortunately, supporters of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) will likely have to wait another year before we see them become a reality. Although a measure (House Bill 60) to create ESAs passed the House Education Committee on Feb. 26, it never came up for a vote on the floor of the House.
ESAs are an important way to expand educational access and choice for Georgia students. They allow parents and kids—no matter their race, the circumstances of their birth, or their socioeconomic status—to have equal access to the funds needed for a great education. We’ll continue fighting for ESAs in the 2022 legislative session.
On a positive note, bills that would have legalized parimutuel horse-race betting and casino gambling in Georgia are now dead after failing to make crossover.
Let’s Take Politics Out of Healthcare
The federal government’s surprise move against Georgia
In a raw political move, the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS) removed the approval of Georgia’s Pathways to Coverage, labeling the program as “pending.”
Despite the fact that the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is consuming the resources and attention of the Governor’s office and the Department of Community Health, CMS gave Georgia only 30 days to respond before the federal government might eviscerate the program. In its February 12 letter, CMS targeted the program’s work or other community engagement components and also threatened “review” of other provisions of the program.
This move by the new administration in Washington, D.C., appears to be unprecedented. Finally secured last fall, the approval was part of an administrative process, which included time for public comments, that took years to develop.
Pathways to Coverage serves non-disabled adults below the poverty line. It is a critical component of Georgia’s plan to reduce the number of uninsured and make healthcare coverage more affordable, without sacrificing quality of care or causing other serious drawbacks associated with a traditional Medicaid expansion. It is based on the idea of not keeping these adults below the poverty line but moving them above it.
The Success Sequence provides an outline of how to reverse the cycle of poverty in our communities. GCO uses this as a framework for much of our work.
Let’s focus on helping people instead
The so-called Affordable Care Act (ACA) has caused havoc for Georgians when it comes to healthcare coverage and costs. The rate of healthcare price increases did not abate but accelerated. As we reported before, our own data analysis confirmed other research by showing that for individual markets, “Georgians suffered average price increases of 70.7% for Bronze plans, 77.3% for Silver plans, and 70.4% for Gold plans” over five years.
We also found that prior to the ACA, the median cost for a health insurance plan on the individual market for a family of four was $5,386 per year. But within six years, the cost varied from $17,550 to $26,081, depending on the level of the plan.
The bulk of Georgia’s uninsured problem lies not below the poverty line, but above it. Therefore, Pathways to Coverage necessarily links to Georgia’s Reinsurance Program designed to drive down costs in the individual markets. The test of the demonstration project will be to see how well Georgia can move people out of poverty into situations where they have better opportunities and more resources for health coverage, such as coverage through affordable individual markets or, better yet, employer-based coverage.
America has one of the world’s best and most innovative healthcare systems, if you have insurance to afford it. By far, employer-based and private insurance provides the best coverage. Medicaid has among the worst healthcare outcomes, can trap families in poverty (as we and others have demonstrated), and can be an obstacle in moving to the much-better private coverage. Incentivizing people to improve their circumstances is an important strategy that this demonstration project hopes to prove.
The Spirit of the Law
The new administration in Washington might feel like they are doing the right thing by attempting to strongarm states like Georgia into Medicaid expansion. However, this action raises concerns.
First, the question of whether the federal government can mandate states to expand Medicaid was already settled in the negative by a seven-to-two U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Second, removing a critical component of this demonstration project will not likely accomplish expansion but, if followed through, will compromise the effectiveness of the project. Third, it goes against the whole purpose of demonstration projects.
Pathways to Coverage is an approved—and hopefully remains so—Section 1115 waiver to Medicaid rules, which is found in the Social Security Act. In enacting this section of the law, Congress acknowledged that a one-size-fits-all approach dictated by the federal government is not always the best way to solve our public policy challenges.
Congress acknowledged this principle again when it enacted Section 1332 of the Affordable Care Act that allows states to come up with alternative plans in coordination with Section 1115 waivers. Georgia took advantage of both these provisions of law in developing its healthcare strategy.
Finally, demonstration projects allow states to experiment with what works best. Without experimentation, we hinder our ability to discover better ways to run public programs for the benefit of people.
The best overall resolution would be for CMS to reinstate the approval and allow the demonstration to move forward. CMS will monitor the project, of course, but it must let it play out to see if the project will demonstrate a better way. Georgia has a vested interest in making it work. If not, Georgia could choose to modify or abandon the project. Besides, the federal government will have the opportunity to review the results when the waiver comes up for renewal.
Failure to reinstate the approval will likely result in a legal struggle before the courts. Who knows how long such a legal process will take? Instead of using our resources and time to bicker before the courts, we should apply them to seek out the best ways to improve people’s lives.
*Erik Randolph is Director of Research at the Georgia Center for Opportunity. This blog reflects his opinion and not necessarily that of the Georgia Center for Opportunity.