Tag Archives: California Legislation

Climate Action is Health Action: Why Support for California Climate Legislation is Good for Our Health

This week’s blog was originally published by the Public Health Institute (PHI) on August 25, 2015. 

“Amid a historic drought that has been linked to climate change, California’s state legislature is currently considering bills that aim to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades. Often considered a bellwether in American politics and a global leader in combating climate change, California’s proposed bills could provide a model for other governing bodies to set similar goals at local, state and international levels. This year, the state’s governor, Jerry Brown, assembled state-level governments from around the world to sign a commitment to match California’s proposed target for reducing emissions. The U.S. government also recently announced a Clean Power Plan that echoes California’s groundbreaking 2006 climate change legislation.” Read more… 

Education: the Key to Health and Success for Foster Youth

carleneThis week’s post is written by HIP’s Social Media, Research, and Data Collection Summer Intern, Carlene Ervin. She is a sophomore at Yale University and a resident of Oakland, CA. 

Since I was five, my foster mom told me I would go to college. She never went to college herself but she wholeheartedly believed it was the only way to break the cycle of poverty, substance abuse, and violence. She did everything she could to get me there, including enrolling me in a college prep charter school. After a while, I had no doubt I was going to college and no one could stop me. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized my expectations were not common for most foster youth in California.

As an intern at Human Impact Partners, I was excited to see HIP has researched the educational experiences of foster youth. Last year, HIP completed a research project to inform California’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), a 2013 bill that completely overhauled K-12 school funding. LCFF increases funding for all schools, but reserves the biggest funding increases for low-income children, English language learners, and foster youth. According to HIP’s analysis, one in 150 school-aged children in California are currently in foster care. Sixty-seven percent of foster youth are removed from their homes because of neglect, and another 18 percent because of abuse.

Both of my parents struggled with substance abuse and had disabilities that limited job opportunities. When I was placed in foster care at age five, I was old enough to know something was wrong but too young to understand what exactly happened. First, I was placed in two different foster homes within three months. My third foster home became my forever home, the place I still come back to for school breaks.

Once I was finally settled, I learned that I loved learning. School soon became a refuge because I could escape in the process of learning new things. While in school, I had some behavioral issues. And I wasn’t alone: according to HIP’s report, compared to the general population, foster children have more behavior problems, more anxiety/depression disorders, attention problems, and aggressive behaviors.

Foster youth also have higher levels of mental health problems. Early life and chronic stress can lead to mental health disorders and substance abuse. These issues make it harder for many foster youth to thrive in school. One study found that only about a third of teens in foster care graduate from public school, compared to almost 60 percent of their peers.

When I got accepted to Yale University, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know many people who attended an Ivy League school. Most foster youth don’t even make it to a four-year university. In general, only 1 in 10 of foster youth attend college and of those, fewer than a third graduate in 4 to 6 years. These statistics are especially troubling because of education’s long-term impacts. People with more education are likely to live longer, have healthier babies and children, have better social networks of support, and earn more money.

Now I see that given my history, I am lucky to value education, and how that benefits my health. Growing up, I always heard stories of former foster youth who ended up in jail or living on the street. Now I see the links between education, health, and quality of life.

Happily, the State of California seems to get this. In recent years California has taken steps to address the education deficits for some of the most vulnerable youth. In addition to the local control funding law, in 2012 California extended foster care to age 21.

Although the LCFF program has had a rocky start, I think it has great potential to help foster youth succeed in school if it provides services such as mentorship and/or counseling. Although these policies are still fairly new, with greater accountability on the state’s part, they can help foster youth have a chance to improve their education and ultimately their health.

Treatment, Not Prison: Reforming Sentences for Low-Level Crimes Will Boost Health and Safety for All Californians

[Originally posted at The Pump Handle]

Reforming California’s sentences for low-level crimes would alleviate prison and jail overcrowding, make communities safer, strengthen families, and shift resources from imprisoning people to treating them for the addictions and mental health problems at the root of many crimes, according to a study by Human Impact Partners.

Rehabilitating Corrections in California, a Health Impact Assessment of reforms proposed by a state ballot initiative, predicts the changes would reduce crime, recidivism, and racial inequities in sentencing, while saving the state and its counties $600 million to $900 million a year – but only if treatment and rehabilitation programs are fully funded and implemented properly.

Read the full article at The Pump Handle.

Reforming California’s broken criminal justice system

If you haven’t seen John Oliver’s piece on the prison system in the United States, you should check it out. Oliver uses satire to make his point that the U.S. criminal justice system, and particularly the War on Drugs, fosters massive inequities.

“On the one hand, the War on Drugs has completely solved our nation’s drug problem, so that’s good. On the other hand, our drugs laws do seem to be a little draconian, and a lot of racist. Because while white people and African Americans use drugs about the same amount, a study has found that African Americans have been sent to prison for drug offenses at up to 10 times the rate, for some utterly known reason.”

What the U.S. prison system does to people and families, particularly communities of color, isn’t humorous at all, of course, and that was Oliver’s point. It’s depressing.

“Tough on crime” sentencing policies gained significant traction as the War on Drugs picked up in the 1980s. While appearing tough on crime was good for politicians’ reelection prospects, did anyone look down the road to anticipate the long-term impacts of criminalizing health problems like substance abuse and mental illness?

This summer as an intern at HIP, I’ve been working with a team of people to conduct a Health Impact Assessment to evaluate the impacts of tough sentencing policies. Proposition 47, the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act” ballot initiative, would change six low-level non-violent felonies to misdemeanors, and channel savings to prevent crime, treat offenders and people victimized by crime, and keep kids in school. Our HIA found that the ballot initiative would improve the chances at healthier and happier lives for Californians and their families.

We heard directly from the people across the state who would be most impacted by a change in sentencing policies – people who had been incarcerated, their family members, and the service providers who help them. Some quotes from our focus groups:

It used to be you do the crime, you do the time, but it’s no longer like that. The felony conviction on your record lasts for a long time. You can’t get a job, you can’t get housing, and you recidivate.”

“People don’t understand that when you lock someone up, it makes their family go through that mental turmoil, that trauma, every day. Locking someone up tears families up. It makes them go crazy.”

“If I had help for mental illness, I wouldn’t have went to prison. If I had a job, I wouldn’t have gone to prison.”

It saves money to boot. Because charging people with misdemeanors instead of felonies for these low level crimes would mean that thousands of people would not go to prison, the state would save $200 million to $300 million a year. There would be fewer people sentenced to jail as well, so counties will save $400 million to $600 million. Proposition 47 requires that state savings go toward helping the root causes of people committing crime – up to $195 million for mental health and substance abuse treatment, up to $75 million for truancy and dropout prevention, and up to $30 million for victim of crime services.

An HIA about incarceration that HIP worked on in Wisconsin also showed that providing treatment alternatives to incarceration were resoundingly positive: it would reduce recidivism, keep families together, and save money. The evidence is so strong, as one of the Wisconsin HIA partners said, “The greatest challenge in presenting the HIA was to explain to journalists that we were not hiding the downside of the policy – the preponderance of evidence for alternatives was simply that overwhelming.”

Sometimes the best public health interventions are not, strictly speaking, health interventions. A policy change that reduces the criminalization of substance abuse and mental health issues would support Californians to have a better shot at living healthy lives.

Matthew Mellon is pursuing a dual master’s degree in Public Health and Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

Paid Sick Leave: Health Advocates Can Help Win A Common Sense Policy

By HIP Co-Founder Rajiv Bhatia, M.D., originally posted at HealthBegins:

Imagine waking up sick with the flu. Wouldn’t you want to take a day off from work? What if not working meant going without pay? What if your boss has been reminding you about the value of reliability?

After July 1, 2015, fewer California workers will have to struggle with this choice. Last week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1522 making California the second state (after Connecticut) to guarantee most workers some paid sick leave.

Read the full article at at HealthBegins.

As Bills Await Governor’s Signature in Sacramento, Health and Equity Must Come First

The end of the California legislative session brings intense speculation about which laws the governor will sign and which he will veto. In the session’s final days, legislators sent Gov. Jerry Brown some 400 bills, which he must sign or veto by Oct. 13.

Many of the bills Brown is considering – on law enforcement, employment, the environment and education – have implications for health and well-being, and may also alleviate inequities in communities across the state. HIP didn’t do an HIA analysis on any of these bills, but much of the research we and others have done helps understand what is at stake. Momentum for this kind of informed decision-making is growing nationwide, and we’re hopeful that consideration of health and equity benefits and harms will only increase in California.

Here are two measures being considered by the governor and evidence that speaks directly to health considerations:

AB 4, the TRUST Act: Prohibiting police from turning undocumented immigrants over to federal authorities unless the immigrants already have a violent felony on their record. This measure directly affects many of the findings reported in Human Impact Partners’ Family Unity, Family Health HIA. If passed, the TRUST Act would reduce the threat of detention and deportation for California’s 2.7 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom are parents of children who are U.S. citizens.

Our HIA found that the mere threat of detention or deportation had profound effects for these children and their families. Nationwide, if deportations continue at 2012 levels, consequences would include poorer child health, behavioral and educational outcomes as well as poorer adult health and reduced lifespan, increased levels of poverty, and diminished access to food.

Though targeted to the federal level, our HIA made a recommendation to effectively adopt the TRUST Act as a way of reducing the harms of current policies. We found that such a policy would help to turn around the wide range of health harms we identified that result from the threat of detention and deportation.

AB 10: Increasing the California state minimum wage from $8 to $10. The first HIA in the U.S., conducted by Dr. Rajiv Bhatia at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, examined the effects of a proposed living wage ordinance in San Francisco.

The analysis documented the benefits to adult health and children’s education achievement attributable to the adoption of a living wage of $11 per hour. The findings were significant, and predicted that adoption of the increased wage would result in decreases in the risk of premature death by five percent for adults 24 to 44 in households whose current income was around $20,000. For the children of these workers, a living wage would also result in an increase in high school graduation rates and a decrease in the risk of early childbirth. San Francisco legislators used findings from the research in adopting the ordinance, and it became law in 2003.

For both of these proposed policies, the evidence of health and equity benefits is compelling. In making his decisions, Gov. Brown should make public health and community equity the highest priority.