Trends and Transitions: February 2010
Reaching Military and Overseas Voters Earlier
The new Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act requires states to send absentee ballots to overseas voters at least 45 days before the next federal election, beginning with those held on Nov, 2, 2010. It’s forcing at least 10 states and the District of Columbia to consider holding their primaries earlier or seek a federally approved waiver.
If a conflict prevents a state from meeting the 45-day deadline, it must apply for a hardship waiver with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Federal Voting Assistance Program. The three grounds to qualify for “undue hardship” are:
- The date of the state primary is too close.
- A delay occurs in generating ballots because of a legal contest.
- The state constitution prohibits the state from complying.
Forty-five days before the Nov. 2, 2010, election is Sept. 18.
Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia had planned to hold primaries on Sept. 14, with Hawaii on Sept. 18, 2010. That doesn’t give these states enough time to certify results, conduct recounts, print ballots and still make the 45-day deadline.
New Hampshire and Vermont are already considering changing their primary election dates.
The new federal law also requires each state to designate at least one means of electronic communication—fax or e-mail—to handle voter registration and absentee ballot applications, to provide election and voting information and to send blank ballots overseas.
Finally, states may not reject an otherwise valid registration application, absentee ballot application, voted ballot, or Federal Write-in (emergency) Absentee Ballot because of notarization requirements, paper type, or weight and size measurements.
Health Centers Struggling
Safety-net health centers are struggling to keep up with the growing demand for services from America’s uninsured, a number that has grown alongside unemployment rates.
Health centers are nonprofit providers of primary and preventive health care that serve as medical homes to a disproportionate number of the nation’s low-income and uninsured patients in all 50 states. Annually, health centers serve 20 million patients.
Research shows that health centers improve access to health care, help people manage their chronic diseases and reduce emergency room visits, all of which contribute to total health care system savings. It is estimated that health centers save between $9.9 billion and $17.6 billion a year.
About 38 percent of health center patients are uninsured. Uninsured patients increased from 6.5 million in June 2008 to 7.8 million in June 2009 because of the loss of employer-sponsored insurance, strained family finances and other pressures of the economic downturn.
At the same time, states are grappling with nearly unprecedented financial situations that put state appropriations for health centers in jeopardy. Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia report providing state funding to health centers in FY 2010. In an effort to balance their budgets, however, 23 states have decreased funding to health centers in FY 2010. Two states, Idaho and South Dakota, eliminated funding.
Colorado cut funding to health centers and programs that fund centers by $15 million. “With $1.5 billion less in revenue, cuts need to be made in almost every program to deal with budget deficits,” says Colorado Representative Jim Riesberg. “Despite the importance of health centers and the needs of our own people, cuts had to be made.”
Not all states are reducing health center funding, however. Thirteen states increased funding in FY 2010.
The Illinois General Assembly appropriated $50 million for the construction and renovation of health centers. “Community health centers have a responsibility to meet the increased needs of their communities … the Community Health Center Construction Program gets them one step closer to meeting those needs,” says Jill Hayden, the director of state government affairs at the Illinois Primary Care Association.
Health centers will have to continue to find ways to address the growing needs, as FY 2011 state budget projections are not looking any more promising.
Paid Family Leave Law Delayed
The economic downturn has caused the Washington Legislature to delay implementing a bill passed in 2007 that would have offered up to five weeks of benefits per year for parents to stay at home with a new child.
Funding was to be worked out by a legislative committee before the effective date of Oct. 1, 2009. However, because of current state budget concerns, a bill was passed last year to delay the paid leave law until Oct. 1, 2012.
Congress passed the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993, which provides most employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year. The leave can be used for the birth or adoption of a child, to care for a seriously ill immediate family member or for an employee’s own serious medical illness.
Eleven states and the District of Columbia have since passed their own versions of family leave, in most cases expanding eligibility to include caring for a seriously ill extended family member, such as a step-child, in-law or sibling. California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia enacted family leave laws, similar to the federal law, and all were unpaid leave laws when originally enacted.
In 2004, California passed the first paid family leave law. It offers up to six weeks of paid leave a year to care for a newborn, newly adopted or foster care child, or a seriously ill parent, spouse, domestic partner or child. Benefits provide for a 55 percent wage replacement, up to a maximum of $882 per week. The paid leave benefit is funded by a payroll tax on employees and allows employees to participate in the state’s temporary disability program that provides leave benefits.
New Jersey in 2008 extended its existing temporary disability insurance system to administer paid leave, and, like California, funds the program through an employee payroll tax. The New Jersey Temporary Disability Benefits law provides up to six weeks of paid family leave to covered employees for the birth or adoption of a child or to care for sick family members. New Jersey’s benefit rate is two-thirds of a worker’s average weekly wage, with a maximum weekly benefit of $546.
Nuclear Energy Legislation Explodes
At least 14 states considered legislation last year related to the permitting, building or financing of new nuclear energy generation facilities.