CHIPping Away at the Number of Uninsured Kids

By Steven Lopez, Senior Health Policy Analyst, NCLR

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Last week, President Obama signed into law H.R.2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015, bipartisan legislation that reauthorizes funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), among other things. Since its creation in 1997, CHIP has played a critical role in reducing the number of uninsured children nationwide. According to a Government Accountability Office report, since CHIP began, the percentage of uninsured children has decreased by half, from 13.9 percent in 1997 to 6.6 percent in the first three months of 2014.The same report notes that when compared to uninsured children, CHIP enrollees had better access to care, including preventive care, and had comparable access to care when compared to children with private insurance.

NCLR has been a longstanding advocate of quality, affordable, and accessible health coverage for all and we recognize that by investing in programs like CHIP, we are making a critical investment in the future of the country. CHIP has been a particularly important lifeline for Hispanic children, who are more likely to be covered by the program than by private insurance. A recent evaluation of CHIP highlighted that in the 10 states examined, more than half of the children enrolled were Hispanic. But given today’s climate, just because a program is working doesn’t mean it will avoid being the centerpiece of a political showdown. Luckily, Congress decided that protecting our children’s health and well-being is something that we can all agree upon. And while we would have liked to have seen CHIP extended for four years instead of two, maintaining funding for a program that has been an essential coverage pathway for so many children, particularly Latino children, is certainly a win.

HEALTH-child-getting-ear-checked_1However, the work is not done. Now that we know the program’s funding is secure, we need to ensure those who are eligible are enrolled. Latino children continue to be disproportionately uninsured. In fact, they are 1.5 times more likely to be uninsured compared to all children. However, programs such as CHIP present an opportunity to further reduce this disparity. According to a report NCLR released last fall with Georgetown University, 66.1 percent of uninsured Hispanic children in the United States—or 1.3 million Hispanic children—were eligible for Medicaid or CHIP but not enrolled in 2012. Outreach to eligible families, particularly Latinos, is critical to increasing awareness of CHIP, its benefits, and the fact that unlike the ACA open enrollment period, enrollment in programs like CHIP and Medicaid occurs throughout the year.

We applaud Congress for exemplifying how to solve problems by working together and President Obama for acting swiftly to sign the bill into law. Now let’s make sure that every child not only has the opportunity for coverage, but is enrolled. To learn more about coverage opportunities in your state, go to InsureKidsNow.gov or call 1-877-Kids-Now.

Don’t Leave Money on the Table! Access Your Education Tax Benefits.

By Brenda Calderon, Education Policy Analyst, NCLR

IRSLogoA 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office found that nearly 14 percent of all tax filers failed to claim a credit for which they were eligible. Tax credits help us afford higher education expenses by reducing the amount of income tax we have to pay or by issuing a refund. Unfortunately, millions of students and their families are unaware or don’t apply for the correct tax benefits, leaving much-needed dollars on the table—an average of $466 for each qualified filer!

Are you one of them?

Recently, NCLR joined Rep. Danny Davis (D–Ill.) and others on a campaign to get more people to apply for their education tax benefits. The #TaxBreaks4Students campaign encourages eligible students and families to apply for tax credits.

While eligibility criteria vary for each credit, there are a number of options available for students and families. The two largest tax credits available are the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) and the Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC), although there are many others.

GraduationAmerican Opportunity Tax Credit

The AOTC can be claimed for the first four years of post-secondary education if a student is enrolled at least part time in courses. The maximum tax credit for AOTC is $2,500, and up to $1,000 is available as a refund if you owe no taxes. If you are a current graduate student, you are not eligible for AOTC; however, you may be eligible for the Lifetime Learning Credit.

Lifetime Learning Credit

The LLC provides up to $2,000 per year for a student enrolled at least part time. Unlike the AOTC, the LLC has no limit on the number of years it can be claimed, meaning it is available to graduate students and those in continuing education programs. However, if the credit is greater than the total amount owed in taxes, it will not be issued as a refund.

How do I claim these credits?

The IRS provides an interactive guide to help you determine whether you qualify for a tax credit. Only students who attend schools participating in federal student aid programs can qualify for the AOTC. Once you confirm eligibility, the IRS provides Form 8863 to help you calculate the education tax credit. Most education institutions will mail you Form 1098T, which provides this information for you.

To learn more about income thresholds for the AOTC and the LLC, visit the IRS website.

Remember, the deadline to file your taxes is April 15!

New Report Raises Concern for Latinos as Foreclosure Crisis Continues in Communities of Color

(Cross-posted from the Home for Good blog)

Photo: Jeffrey Turner

Photo: Jeffrey Turner

During the foreclosure crisis, government regulators ordered major mortgage lenders to conduct a review of their internal foreclosure practices. This effort, dubbed the Independent Foreclosure Review (IFR), was supposed to provide relief for homeowners who suffered from wrongful foreclosure and illegal robo-signing practices. Sadly, IFR was an expensive disaster from the start, with a weak outreach plan that did not adequately reach communities of color. Just as borrowers were beginning to file claims, the government shuttered the process and opted for a settlement.

In its place, regulators settled with the banks in the $10 billion Independent Foreclosure Review Settlement, distributing relief to 4.2 million homeowners regardless of the actual level of harm done to individual families. The settlement seemed like welcome relief, given the millions of dollars paid to third-party vendors while homeowners received nothing.

However, according to the latest Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the settlement may have come too soon, before the extent of damage done to homeowners was fully known. At the time of the settlement, banks had reviewed only very small portions of their total obligations—some had completed less than 2 percent of their required case reviews. While regulators had calculated a harm error rate of 6.5 percent, at least one bank that had completed a larger portion of its review had an error rate of about 24 percent. Since this bank had completed much more of its review process than the others, it’s entirely possible other banks had higher harm error rates as well.

For the Latino community, this news is deeply troubling, as the effects of the foreclosure crisis have been severe and ongoing. Vast amounts of generational wealth and home equity have been lost, with the racial wealth gap between Hispanic and White Americans standing abysmally high. After the recession, Hispanic families experienced the largest decrease in net worth among all groups. For every dollar the average White family owns, the average Latino family owns only seven cents.

Family in front of houseSadly, the foreclosure crisis is far from over today, with a new Haas Institute report documenting the nation’s metro areas hit hardest by foreclosure and underwater mortgages. Nationwide, nearly one in five of all mortgaged homes were underwater at the end of 2013—more than 9.8 million households. States and cities with large Latino populations including Miami, Chicago, Nevada, and California all suffer from high rates of foreclosure and underwater mortgages. In Newark, New Jersey, a city overwhelmingly Black and Latino, over half of all mortgages are currently underwater. Our communities are clearly still in crisis.

Latino families and all Americans affected by the foreclosure crisis did not receive the relief they deserved as victims of mortgage lending errors. We must continue to look for practical solutions to help these families recover the wealth they lost. We renew our call to protect Latino families and all American homeowners still struggling to avoid foreclosure. With Director Mel Watt now at the helm of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, principal reduction should be implemented immediately to provide relief to underwater homeowners struggling to make their mortgage payments before it’s too late.

Today, the foreclosure crisis is still not over and communities of color are still struggling to get back on their feet and regain the massive amount of wealth lost during the recession. The stability of our entire economy depends in part on a strong housing recovery. No American dream is complete without homeownership, which is why we must continue to work to ensure that housing policies facilitating sustainable homeownership remain at the core of our nation’s housing agenda.

The New York Times’ Unfortunate Misunderstanding of the USDA Claims Program

Photo: Bread for the World

Photo: Bread for the World

You may have read in the New York Times last Friday about the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) claims program for Hispanic farmers and ranchers.  For an organization like NCLR, which has worked hard to promote some level of compensation for Hispanics who have suffered discriminatory practices by the U.S. government, it was a deeply disappointing article, full of innuendo and short on facts.  Below we address the most egregious assertions.

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