Tag Archives: #GavinNewsome

End the Pink Tax on Moms & Babies

Amid a pandemic that has pushed millions of mothers out of the workplace, caused fertility rates to plunge and heightened the risk of death for pregnant women, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic lawmakers are seeking a slate of health proposals for low-income families and children.

Newsom, a self-described feminist and the father of four young children, has long advocated family-friendly health and economic policies. Flush with a projected budget surplus of $75.7 billion, state politicians have come up with myriad legislative and budget proposals to make poorer families healthier and wealthier.

They include ending sales taxes on menstrual products and diapers; adding benefits such as doulas and early childhood trauma screenings to Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program; allowing pregnant women to retain Medi-Cal coverage for a year after giving birth; and a pilot program to provide a universal basic income to low-income new parents.

“COVID-19 laid inequity bare for all to see,” Assembly member Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) said in a written statement. She is the co-author of Senate Bill 65, led by Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), which would pour hundreds of millions of dollars into family and health care programs annually, focusing on minority groups that Carrillo said were “pushed out of the social safety net by the prior White House.”

Newsom and the Democratic-controlled legislature are unified on major health care and social safety-net expansions, which would direct billions in health benefits and cash assistance to the state’s most vulnerable residents and low-income parents. Legislative Democrats for years have pushed a progressive agenda to help struggling parents and families, featuring proposals like those to permanently end taxes on menstrual products and diapers — expected to cost the state millions.

“We don’t need to balance the budget on half of the population that has a uterus,” said Assembly member Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), who has for years sought an endto the “pink tax” on diapers and menstrual products.

Skinner, chair of the Senate budget committee, is among the powerful lawmakers who’ve put forward legislation to make childbirth safer and parenthood more affordable. Her bill, which cleared the Senate and was up for consideration this week in the state Assembly, has several features that would dramatically expand maternal health care (transgender men also get pregnant and give birth).

Before the pandemic, Medi-Cal covered mothers only up to 60 days after their pregnancies ended unless their income fell below a certain line or they had a mental health diagnosis. Skinner’s bill, part of a broader national push to improve birth outcomes, would expand full Medi-Cal coverage to 12 months after the end of a pregnancy. Other parts of the bill would intensify state reporting and reviews of fetal and pregnancy-related deaths and severe maternal morbidity, expand housing benefits for families that have a pregnant member, and increase training programs for midwives.

Newsom’s $268 billion budget blueprint includes about $200 million a year to fully implement the expansion of Medi-Cal coverage for new mothers, with matching dollars from the federal government until those funds expire in 2027. If the expansion were not renewed, the state would revert to previous Medi-Cal qualifications.

Medi-Cal covered 45% of all births in California in 2017, the last year for which data could be found.

“Not all postpartum issues end at 60 days, and when patients lose insurance, we can’t address them in the usual way,” said Dr. Yen Truong, an OB-GYN who works with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists on legislative issues in California.

About half of pregnancy-related deaths occur during the pregnancy or on the day of delivery, but about 12% take place between seven weeks and a year after giving birth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The U.S. had 17.4 early maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2018, according to the most recent CDC data with state figures. California’s rate, 11.7 per 100,000, was among the lowest in the nation, but the state collects data on maternal deaths in a way that could result in underestimates.

California’s overall numbers also obscure stark racial disparities. Statewide, Black infants averaged 7.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared with an average of three deaths among white babies. Data from 2013 from Los Angeles County showed Black women had pregnancy-related deaths at rates more than four times as high as the overall rate in the state’s largest county.

“Given our state’s wealth and medical advancements, this is unacceptable,” Skinner, vice chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus, said in a news release.

Democrats also appear unified on another aspect of Skinner’s bill: a pilot program to test a universal basic income program for struggling families. The bill would give $1,000 a month to low-income expectant and new parents with kids under 2 years old in counties that decide to participate. Newsom has also proposed $35 million over five years for pilot programs for universal basic income.

These issues could play well, especially among women, and improve Newsom’s standing going into a recall election later this year, said Rose Kapolczynski, a longtime campaign consultant to former U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer who has worked on reproductive health care issues in Sacramento.

Indefinitely rescinding sales taxes on diapers and menstrual products — the taxes have been temporarily lifted since early last year — is a particular no-brainer because of its bipartisan appeal, she said.

“It’s hard for Republicans to attack something that is a tax cut, and sales taxes are regressive, so progressives would like it,” Kapolczynski said.

As for Medi-Cal expansions, Kapolczynski said that even though it wouldn’t affect most Californians, the pandemic has made health care even more important to voters. “The budget surplus is allowing many things that were called impossible to be possible, and that includes health care bills,” she said.

Investing in California’s young families could help close the racial gap in maternal and infant mortality, said Nourbese Flint, executive director of the Black Women for Wellness Action Project, which endorsed Skinner’s bill.

Flint is especially excited about the possibility of covering doulas through Medi-Cal. Doulas, trained as emotional and physical supports for women in pregnancy and postpartum, have been linked to lower odds of cesarean births and greater satisfaction with the birth experience. If doulas saved Medi-Cal money by reducing cesarean births, that could enable the state to renegotiate payments for labor and delivery, according to an analysis by the independent California Health Benefits Review Program. Under Newsom’s proposed budget, Medi-Cal coverage of doulas would cost about $4.4 million a year.

California’s would become the first Medicaid program to include “full spectrum” doula coverage, meaning it would include care for women who have abortions, miscarriages and stillbirths, said Amy Chen, a senior attorney at the National Health Law Program.

“California has always led the country and been a little bit in front of where our federal government is when it comes to covering folks,” Flint said.

California Healthline correspondent Angela Hart contributed to this report.

This story was produced by KHN (Kaiser Health News), a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.


They Found A Way To Say I Do

The owner of Silver Spoon, Vidya Gurikar, listened in horror as Governor Gavin Newsom effectively shut California down. Her son’s wedding, set for April 18th, was exactly a month away. The threat of cancellation now hung in the air. Her son, Shreyas, whose wedding it was, worked in the business with her, a small business that – wait for it – catered weddings.

As a high-end gourmet catering company, Silver Spoon faced cancellation of all client celebratory events. The company must pivot if they have to survive.

Vidya stepped up her takeout business. Their small business had a mortgage on the commercial kitchen to pay, and staff to keep employed. Spring harvest celebrations like Ugadi and Gudi Padwa have prescribed sweets and dishes. Client orders poured in. Vidya took to scouring grocery stores very early in the morning to gather ingredients, sometimes going to five different grocery stores to cook one takeout menu. Shreyas’ wedding had still not been canceled. March threatened to roll into April and the end of the shutdown was not in sight.

Congress passed the CARES Act on March 27 promising small businesses like Silver Spoon some reprieve. Potentially forgivable loans were available at low rates of interest. However very few saw the money before the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was exhausted. Crowdsourced database COVID Loan Tracker showed that only about 5 (or five percent) of those who applied for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan say they’ve received one. Less than 9 percent of the Protection Payment Plan monies went to the small businesses in food services.

Distribution of Protection Payment Plan

Funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, the federal government’s big initiative to aid small businesses and their employees during the coronavirus lockdown, ran out of cash within two weeks of funds opening on April 3.

On Friday, April 17, at a Zoom briefing update on the Pandemic Impact on Ethnic Populations organized by Ethnic Media Services and sponsored by the Blue Shield of California Foundation—Congressman Ro Khanna, who represents California’s 17th District in the heart of the Silicon Valley high-tech hub where Silver Spoon’s customers live, spoke of the need to increase help to small businesses and workers in essential businesses. “In an age of automation, we are reminded of the dignity and importance of work that is not remote,” said Representative Khanna.

“This crisis needs to open our eyes to the value of workers who are often invisible, and we need to give them the pay and benefits they deserve.” Along with United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Khanna has made a proposal for an Essential Workers Bill of Rights to protect frontline workers during the coronavirus pandemic. They have requested that the next coronavirus relief package to pass Congress must include the policies in the Essential Workers Bill of Rights.

Congressman Khanna and Representative Tim Ryan from Ohio, also have introduced the Emergency Money for the People Act to provide additional cash payments for hard-working Americans who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The one-time payment under the CARES Act does not provide nearly enough support for American families like Vidya Gurikar’s.

There are a number of undocumented workers working in the food industry. Panelists at the EMS briefing feared that undocumented workers, who have long been understood to be a backbone of the California restaurant industry, will receive no relief if they have no social security number.

Regardless of their immigration status, workers should be helped said Assemblymember David Chiu. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) will provide $125 million in stimulus checks to undocumented workers. The PUA benefits are payable if you don’t qualify for regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits in California or another state, and also do not qualify for State Disability Insurance or Paid Family Leave benefits.

California will give 150,000 undocumented adults a one-time cash benefit of $500 each with a cap of $1,000 per household. Undocumented workers, who are not eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or unemployment insurance due to their immigration status, form nearly 10 percent of California’s workforce, said Governor Newsom. They are “overrepresented” in sectors that have been deemed essential such as healthcare, agriculture and food services, manufacturing and logistics.

Since the pandemic hit California, other grassroots financial assistance programs have been created for undocumented workers affected by COVID-19-related job losses in San Francisco and Sonoma County. A relief fund for local migrant youth was launched in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, and Alameda counties, and recently reopened its application process.

The question that remains unanswered though is how does an undocumented worker get the monies. This is not yet clear. The state’s funds will be dispersed through regional nonprofits who have experience serving undocumented communities, and personal information from undocumented workers will not be required.

Vidya and her son Shreyas have decided to go ahead with the planned wedding. It will be a quiet ceremony in the backyard.

Orange flowers, traditional color for a Hindu wedding, festoon the metal pagoda set up beneath the tall pine tree. Fragrance of the peach-tree blossoms drops down onto the blades of lemongrass. Mint shoots sparkle green. Wooden figures playing traditional musical instruments line up under the tree, guests at the family-only garden wedding.

The bride, resplendent in a red saree, looks worriedly at the images of her parents’ Zoomed in from India. The groom, handsome in a long golden sherwani coat adjusts the turban on his forehead as he sits on an orange and black chair beneath a curtain of marigold-orange flowers. Flowers, red, yellow and orange, sway in the breeze. It is a celestial wedding remarked a guest in India later that day, when she saw the photographs.

Outside the house, colorful sweets peep out of the windows of the red sweet boxes nestled under the cherry tree. Yellow mango burfi fudge, white milk balls with black crispy crusts soaking in sugar syrup, a caviar of fragrant, sweet chickpea boondi droplets, a cloud of white, milky sweetness, encased in a pillow of white rasgulla cheese sponge, – the sweets are for the friends of Silver Spoon.

Armed with bells and Bluetooth speakers that blast out celebratory music, masked friends of Silver Spoon and its owners drive by waving to the newly married couple who appear at the door, flanked by the groom’s parents. Standing six feet apart, some friends break into a spontaneous dance.

Resilience is the hallmark of the immigrant. In the face of all odds, pirouetting small businesses will spin to the post-corona economy’s dance-tune. Governor Gavin Newsome, Congressman Ro Khanna – you are invited to join the dance.

Ritu Marwah is a 2020 California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health Journalism.