Saturday, December 23, 2006

Timothy's Law

From the NYT:

Ending months of uncertainty, Gov. George E. Pataki yesterday signed into law a bill requiring that commercial insurance policies pay for mental health care in much the same way they cover physical illness.

The Assembly and the Senate reached agreement on the terms of the bill in June — though they did not complete passage of it until this month — but for six months the governor would not say publicly what he intended to do with it.

The signing ceremony was a rare victory for the kind of emotional politics that rarely succeed in a government most often moved by large electoral blocs, moneyed interests and lobbyists. Many legislators credited passage of the bill to the family of Timothy O’Clair, a boy who committed suicide at 12, who campaigned relentlessly for the measure.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

One in Five

Five per cent of Hispanics in the US regularly go hungry and as many as 20% do not have sufficient access to nutritious food, a US report says.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Crimes of Omission

The New York Times,
December 18, 2006 Monday

Out of Sight

There are hundreds of children in the trailer camp that is run by FEMA and known as Renaissance Village, but they won't be having much of a Christmas. They're trapped here in a demoralizing, overcrowded environment with adults who are mostly broke, jobless and at the end of their emotional tethers. Many of the kids aren't even going to school.

''This is a terrible environment for children,'' said Anita Gentris, who lost everything in the flood that followed Hurricane Katrina and is living in one of the 200-square-foot travel trailers with her 10-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son. ''My daughter is having bad dreams. And my son, he's a very angry child right now. He cries. He throws things.

''I'm desperately trying to find permanent housing.''

The television cameras are mostly gone now, and the many thousands of people from the Gulf Coast whose lives were wrecked by Katrina in the summer of 2005 have slipped from the national consciousness. But like the city of New Orleans itself, most of them have yet to recover.

The enormity of the continuing tragedy is breathtaking. Thousands upon thousands of people are still suffering. And yet the way the poorest and most vulnerable victims have been treated so far by government officials at every level has been disgraceful.

More than a third of the 1,200 people in this sprawling camp are children. Only about half of the school-age youngsters are even registered for school; of those, roughly half actually go to school on any given day. The authorities can't account for the rest.

A number of officials who asked not to be identified told me they are concerned that large numbers of children are remaining isolated at Renaissance Village, holed up in the trailers day in and day out, falling further and further behind educationally, and deteriorating emotionally.

Leah Baptiste, a caseworker from a local affiliate of Catholic Charities, said: ''These trailers are small. They were only meant for traveling. And you've got families with three and four children cooped up in there seven days a week, 24 hours a day, with no privacy, no babysitter, no job, no money -- there's a lot of help they need. Some people have learned to adapt, but a lot are depressed.''

The most critical needs for the trailer camp population are housing and employment. Many of the adults at Renaissance Village were working before the storm but have been unable to find work since. Even the lowest-wage jobs in the Baton Rouge area are scarce, and without cars (in some cases, without money even for bus fare) it's extremely difficult for Renaissance Village residents to get to them.

Beyond that, many of the residents have severe personal problems. ''They are afraid,'' said a woman who works closely with the population and asked not to be identified. ''They're embarrassed by their situation, humiliated. They don't know what to do. Some cannot read or write, so when the government drops off these bureaucratic forms for them to fill out, it's a waste of time.''

Nearly all of the residents are carrying scars from their initial ordeal. Many lost close relatives, and many came frighteningly close to dying themselves.

Candice Victor was about to give birth immediately after the storm and needed a Caesarean section. A stranger with a butcher knife offered to do it. ''She was going to sterilize the knife by pouring lighter fluid on it and setting it on fire,'' Ms. Victor said. Wiser heads prevailed, and the baby, a girl, was later successfully delivered.

The big story in the immediate aftermath of Katrina was the way the government failed to rush to the aid of people who were obviously in desperate trouble. What we're witnessing now is an extended slow-motion replay of that initial failed response. Thousands of people remain in trouble, but instead of clinging to roofs and waving signs at TV cameras in helicopters flying overhead, they are suffering in silence, out of the sight of most Americans.

The government could have come up with a crash program to build housing and find or create jobs for the victims of Katrina. It could have ensured that all those hurt by the storm received whatever social services they needed, including mental health counseling and treatment. It could have begun to address the long-festering problems of race and poverty in this country.

The government could have done so much. But it didn't.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Majority Loses, 1979-2004

From the NYT:

Over all, average incomes rose 27 percent in real terms over the quarter-century from 1979 through 2004. But the gains were narrowly concentrated at the top and offset by losses for the bottom 60 percent of Americans, those making less than $38,761 in 2004.

The bottom 60 percent of Americans, on average, made less than 95 cents in 2004 for each dollar they reported in 1979, analysis of the I.R.S. data shows.

The next best-off group, the fifth of Americans on the 60th to 80th rungs of the income ladder, averaged 2 cents more income in 2004 for each dollar they earned in 1979.

Only those in the top 5 percent had significant gains. The average income of those on the 95th to 99th rungs of the income ladder rose by 53 percent, almost twice the average rate.

A third of the entire national increase in reported income went to the top 1 percent — and more than half of that went to the top tenth of 1 percent, whose average incomes soared so much that for each dollar, adjusted for inflation, that they had in 1979 they had $3.48 in 2004.

Because of cuts in the tax rate, the top tenth of 1 percent did even better than their rising incomes alone would suggest. For each inflation-adjusted dollar they had after tax in 1979 they had $3.94 left after taxes in 2004.

For the bottom 60 percent, their income taxes were so small in 1979 that the cuts did little to change their after-tax incomes. While their pretax average incomes fell by a nickel on the dollar from 1979 to 2004, their after-tax incomes fell by a fraction of a penny less.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006