Tag: immigration

In the Trump Era, a Seattle-Only Health Care Option?

This story originally ran at Seattle Magazine.

As the Trump Administration cracks down on undocumented immigrants and threatens to overturn the Affordable Care Act, pushing more than 20 million people off their health care plans, some Seattle leaders are looking for ways to ensure that people living in the city can access health care regardless of their income or immigration status.

To figure out how to accomplish this, they’re looking to the south—specifically, to San Francisco, another high-cost West Coast “sanctuary city” that just happens to have the only truly universal health care coverage system in the country.

The plan, known as Healthy San Francisco, isn’t technically health insurance—only San Francisco residents are covered, and only inside San Francisco’s borders. But it does provide comprehensive health care—everything from annual exams to mental health care to lab tests to addiction treatment—to people making up to 500 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $60,000 for an individual. This group includes independent contractors, lower-middle-class people without employer-provided insurance, and, increasingly, undocumented immigrants, who do not qualify for benefits under the Affordable Care Act.

The idea, according to San Francisco Health Department spokeswoman Rachel Kagan, is to “reduce the dependence of uninsured people on emergency rooms health care,” by getting them “plugged into the health care system earlier, where they can get preventative care.” At its peak, Healthy San Francisco had about 65,000 members; once Obamacare was up and running, enrollment declined to about 14,000.

People who qualify for Medicaid are ineligible for Healthy San Francisco, as are people who already have insurance. (Uninsured people who qualify for the Affordable Care Act can decide to pay the federal penalty and join Healthy San Francisco instead). “It’s supposed to be a program of last resort,” says Alice Kurniadi, a senior program planner at SFDPH, which oversees the program. Healthy San Francisco is funded by the city’s general fund, fees from participants, which max out at $1,800 a year, and a payroll tax on businesses—$2.64 per employee, per hour for businesses with more than 100 employees, and $1.76 an hour for businesses with 20 to 100 workers.

Seattle had a similar tax—derisively referred to as the “head tax” by opponents—for a brief period in the mid-2000s, when the city council passed a $25-per-employee tax to pay for transportation projects. That tax was repealed in 2009, and efforts to reinstate it for other purposes (most recently, to fund the city’s Office of Labor Standards) have failed. (Restaurants challenged the law in San Francisco, but lost; a subsequent court case concluded that the “Healthy San Francisco fees” many had instituted in protested went straight into restaurant owners’ pockets.)

City council Position 8 candidate Teresa Mosqueda, who says she will propose a “Healthy Seattle” plan here if she’s elected in November, acknowledges that there are significant differences between the fiscal and political climates in San Francisco and Seattle that will need to be addressed for the plan to have a shot here.

“The biggest difference is that [San Francisco] already has so much more revenue that they’re able to play with,” including a statewide income tax, Mosqueda says. “Because we have a different revenue system here, we need to have a larger conversation with businesses and employees” about the best way to fund a citywide health-care plan.

One thing Seattle does have in common with San Francisco, Mosqueda notes, is a large system of community health-care providers that could form the backbone of a public provider network. San Francisco’s “medical homes” are mostly community clinics, along with a few private providers. “They had three dozen health care centers and hospitals in their city,” Mosqueda says. “I’ve counted—we have almost four dozen community health centers in our city, and even more hospitals and a VA.”

No one I spoke to in either city was placing bets on whether Trump will manage to overturn the Affordable Care Act this year, but both San Francisco health officials and Mosqueda said it’s a good idea for cities to prepare for the worst.

“If we can actually create a pool that will allow people to get the comprehensive services that they need, then we should,” Mosqueda says. “I think it’s definitely possible in a post-ACA world” to deliver health-care services at the city level. “And also in a post-whatever-Trump-does world,” she adds.

 

Morning Crank: The War on Immigrants Is a War on Cities

1. “The war on facts has become a war on cities.” 

That was Mayor Ed Murray’s latest volley in his own war against the Trump Administration, launched yesterday along with a lawsuit charging that Trump has no legal right to pull federal funds from “sanctuary cities” that refuse to enforce federal immigration statutes according to the new Administration’s harsh interpretation of those laws.

Yesterday, the mayor and City Attorney Pete Holmes announced they were filing suit against the US Justice Department, whose director, KKK apologist Jeff Sessions, announced this week that he would pull Department of Justice grants to cities that refuse to assist federal agents in tracking down and detaining undocumented immigrants. Seattle’s 2017 budget assumes $2.6 million in DOJ grants for domestic violence prevention, officer body cams, human trafficking prosecution, and more.

The lawsuit contends that Sessions’ order violates the 10th Amendment, by dictating the way the city enforces federal laws, and the Spending Clause from Article 1 of the Constitution, by attempting to coerce the city into aiding immigration agents by threatening to withhold federal funding if it doesn’t.

“We have the law on our side: the federal government cannot compel our police department to enforce federal immigration law and cannot use our federal dollars to coerce Seattle into turning our backs on our immigrant and refugee communities,” Murray said.

Trump’s war on immigrants is a war on cities because cities are made stronger, politically, culturally, and economically, by the presences of immigrants, and he’s waging that war because city values—diversity, inclusion, resistance, queerness, intellectualism, and unconformity—are anathema to his backward-looking vision of a nation united by fear and mutual distrust. Seattle is the first city to formally resist Sessions’ and Trump’s unconstitutional bullying by filing a lawsuit. If cities’ response to the last unconstitutional order targeting immigrants was any indication, we won’t be the last.

2. A Queen Anne homeowner’s dogged, well-financed effort to kill backyard cottages in Seattle won a victory that will further delay a proposal to make it easier for homeowners to build accessory units and cost taxpayers thousands of dollars in the process.

This week, city council member Mike O’Brien announced that thanks to activist Marty Kaplan‘s successful effort to delay new rules that would loosen the regulations that currently make it prohibitively expensive for many homeowners to build accessory units, the city will do a full environmental impact statement to determine the impact accessory units will have on the city’s environment. The intuitively obvious conclusion would be that backyard cottages improve the environment, because they add density, which helps prevent suburban sprawl and reduce auto dependence. In addition, they allow homeowners to age in place, promoting multigenerational households and preventing the development of lot-line-to-lot-line McMansions that often sprout in neighborhoods when single-family properties change hands.

O’Brien proposed his backyard cottage legislation in May 2016. With any luck, he will be able to introduce new legislation sometime in the summer of 2018.

3. Bikesharing advocates will say goodbye to Pronto with a group ride tomorrow afternoon. Pronto riders will gather at 3rd Ave. and Broad Street at 5pm (there are two Pronto stations within two blocks, but the clunky green bikes are available all over downtown) and ride slowly up Capitol Hill, ending at a bar TBA. “Ed Murray’s house for bell ringing party optional.” Murray announced he was killing the money-losing bikeshare system in January.

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“Willing to Lose Every Single Penny”: Mayor Doubles Down on Seattle’s Sanctuary Status

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At a hastily called press conference Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Ed Murray declared he was “willing to lose every single penny” of federal funding that flows to Seattle in order to protect undocumented immigrants and refugees living in the city. Murray’s remarks came after President Donald Trump signed an executive order declaring that the federal government would withhold all federal funding from so-called “sanctuary cities”—a catchall term for cities, like Seattle, that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration agents by handing undocumented immigrants over for deportation.

Calling January 27, 2017 “the darkest day in immigration history since the internment of Japanese-Americans,” Murray said, “We will not, as we did in World War II, allow our police to become deputies of the federal government and round up immigrants in this city.” The city argues that any federal order requiring SPD to ask demand detainees’ immigration status would violate the 10th Amendment, which states that the federal government can’t force states to enforce any federal law.

The city stands to lose as much as $85 million in federal funding if Trump makes good on his threat and pulls every federal grant the city receives. In that scenario, the department that would be hardest hit is the Human Services Department, followed by the Seattle Department of Transportation and the Office of Housing. Anticipating that worst-case scenario, Murray said, he has asked every department to “reprioritize” its budget for a post-federal-funding future; specifically, he said, “I’m going to give them a number and ask them to cut their budget to that number.” When I asked whether he would order all departments to cut a certain percentage from their budgets, as previous mayors have done when economic downturns necessitated major cuts, Murray said, “I need more than a couple of hours [after the executive order was released] to answer your question.”

Turning to legal remedies, Murray said the city “is prepared to take any legal avenues that we need to to ensure that immigrants, regardless of their documentation, remain in this city and that the United States Constitution is not violated.” He also suggested what form that legal action might take, noting that the federal government is supposed to prove there is a “nexus” between any funds they withhold and their reason for withholding it. That’s a potentially risky move, though, because it could leave grants the Seattle Police Department receives through the Department of Justice especially vulnerable to cuts, since police would be the ones refusing to follow federal orders to turn undocumented immigrants over to federal agents.

img_0652City attorney Pete Holmes, who showed up to the press conference with a copy of the Constitution tucked in his inside jacket pocket, said he found it ironic that a “law and order” administration would specifically target funding for police. “[Federal] law enforcement funds help increase the security of the country,” Holmes told me before the press conference. “It’s difficult to match up. The prescribed remedies do exactly the opposite.”

Holmes said he’s “asking all the departments to identify all grants and federal funding” but declined to specify which departments stood to lose the most. “I’d rather not engage in shadowboxing these general assertions about grants,” he said. “I’d rather drill down on the specifics.”

 

Lisa Daugaard, head of the Public Defender Association, which works on police reform was in the audience during the mayor’s press conference. Afterward, she suggested another potential avenue for legal action in the fact that the executive order gives the US attorney general “general, limitless jurisdiction” to define which cities are “sanctuary cities” and punish them accordingly. There’s no official definition of a “sanctuary city,” but the Trump Administration appears to be targeting large cities whose voters did not support him, such as New York and Chicago. By defining sanctuary cities “arbitrarily,” Daugaard argues, Trump and his attorney general are  overstepping their authority under federal law and opening themselves up to a legal challenge by local jurisdictions.

“Federal agencies, and the attorney general as an agency, can’t arbitrarily choose to take action or not take action because they don’t like the lawful choices cities make,” Daugaard says. “The problem with the executive order is it gives the attorney general limitless authority, without any standards, to make arbitrary decisions about who loses federal funding. That’s the poison pill.”

Daugaard holds out hope—if you can call it that—that Trump will be forced to back down on enforcing the order when his own supporters in the hundreds of jurisdictions that have declared themselves sanctuary cities or counties start feeling the impact the loss of millions of federal dollars will have on their communities. “It’s unlawful, but it’s also untenable,” Daugaard says. “It will be devastating to hundreds of cities and counties, which will lead to a huge loss of support and momentum” for the administration.

Boos, Shouts and Chants as Sawant Opposes Vietnam Flag Resolution

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Dozens of immigrants and refugees whose families fled Vietnam during the Vietnam War and its aftermath booed, shouted “No!” and chanted “USA! USA! Vietnam!” after city council member Kshama Sawant gave an impassioned speech explaining her (apparently unexpected) vote against a seemingly innocuous resolution recognizing the Vietnam Heritage and Freedom Flag, also known as the flag of the former South Vietnam, as “the symbol for the Vietnamese community in Seattle.”

The flag, which is yellow with three red stripes (the official Vietnamese flag shows a yellow star on red background) can be seen all over the International District and in many parts of the Rainier Valley.

To the dozen or so immigrants who spoke at yesterday’s full council meeting in front of a sea of waving US and Vietnamese flags yesterday, the three-striped flag is a symbol of freedom from Communist oppression and cultural identity from 1949 through 1975, when the Vietnam War ended and South Vietnam surrendered to the north. To Sawant, it appears to represent imperialism and colonialism, and a deliberate blurring of the complicated history of South Vietnam, which was itself governed by a regime that was no better in many ways than that of Communist North Vietnam.

“The struggle against colonial rule and the domination of Vietnam by foreign powers took many complicated and twisted turns. It led to suffering and tragedies on all sides, and all people in Seattle, with its valued Vietnamese community, need to be more aware of this history and this heritage,” Sawant said.flag1

“All of you here are free to attach your own meanings to the flag. It is your right in a democracy. The city council, however, as the city’s highest elected body, has a duty to not uncritically endorse these projections and interpretations in the name of the entire city without a full understanding of the story of the flag.”

Though probably less than thrilled at being told, by an outsider, that they might want to reconsider their interpretation of their own experience, the crowd mostly kept quiet while Sawant continued with her history lesson.

“The former South Vietnamese government was also a dictatorship. The US war and occupation in Vietnam was totally undemocratic and was fought to suppress the right of the Vietnamese people to determine their own fate. The US war in Vietnam, which killed millions of Vietnamese people and tens of thousands of US soldiers, was opposed by the majority of Americans and the majority of people in Vietnam and across the world,” Sawant said. “I think that as an elected body of a major metropolitan area, we have a duty to support these antiwar activists of the past and of the present.

“While having the greatest respect for the Vietnamese community in Seattle, I am unable to vote for a resolution that ties this particular community’s (identity) to a flag that is mired in controversy.”

As soon as Sawant wrapped up her remarks, the crowd erupted in boos, flag-waving, and shouts, which didn’t end until council president Tim Burgess warned them that the council does not “tolerate that kind of outburst.” (They exploded in cheers when council member John Okamoto expressed support for the resolution immediately following Sawant’s speech.)

Although Sawant’s office told me “some council members” were aware that Sawant planned to vote and speak against the flag resolution (O’Brien and Licata, perhaps?), the council seemed to be generally taken aback by her opposition (and the fact that came prepared with a lengthy written speech to express that opposition.

“I didn’t know” Sawant was going to oppose the resolution, Burgess says. “I don’t know if we’re surprised [by what Sawant does] anymore, but she made her point. I didn’t agree with it, but her point was that … the flag evokes a lot of history. … For myself and other council members I spoke to, it’s more about Seattle and our Vietnamese community. We weren’t making a political statement about the history.”

Incidentally, Nick Licata, who opposed the war at the time and frequently aligns with Sawant’s fist-pumping lefty agenda today, didn’t have any problem with the resolution. “We are in a democracy that values freedom of speech and the freedom of communities to celebrate their histories,” Licata said. “We do not all share the same history … but we all share the belief that fair and open elections are the only way to keep democracy alive. If that only could have been accomplished in Vietnam … perhaps you would be living in peace and freedom in Vietnam, but now you are free to vote and be recognized in a democracy.”

Sawant’s aide Ted Virdone says Sawant “knew [her statement] was not going to be popular, but I think what she had to say was generally well-received.”

The resolution to recognize the flag passed, with Sawant dissenting.

Update: Check out Josh Feit’s take on Sawant’s statements in today’s Morning Fizz.