Obamacare’s Misery Index: How Covered California Imposed ‘Widespread Consumer Misery’

“President Obama doubtless plans for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, to be the keystone of his legacy. That calls for an examination of Obamacare’s largest wholly-owned subsidiary. Covered California turns out to be something of a misnomer, but it’s definitely a success at spending money. Covered California has shelled out $454 million, nearly half a billion dollars, on a computer system. Covered California bosses also spent tens of millions on grants to promote the program, in addition to an $80 million television, radio and Internet marketing campaign. The system spent $1.3 million on a promotional video featuring flabby exercise guru Richard Simmons cavorting with a contortionist. Covered California also served as a lucrative landing spot for washed-up government officials such as former state finance director Ana Matosantos. She bagged a deal of $20,000 a month to advise the state exchange on “financial sustainability and budgeting issues, and evaluation analytics.” What all this technology and spending actually achieved was well documented by the Center for Health Reporting (CHR), which operates from the Annenburg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California.  The CHR’s Emily Bazar found that the state health website, like its federal counterpart, was largely dysfunctional. Those eager to sign up encountered waits of hours, days and weeks. Many requested that they not be contacted, but Covered California promptly gave their contact information to insurance agents, a blatant violation of privacy….”


Man owes $4,000, under Affordable Care Act, after getting new job

“Tax time is coming with some unexpected bills this year. For some people, who are getting health insurance through healthcare.gov, they now owe thousands to the federal government. “It’s a big surprise,” said David Ripka. It’s exciting when you get a new job, or a raise. But this year, that’s making tax time rough for David Ripka of Clio. He now owes the federal government $4,000. That’s how much the government claims Ripka underpaid in health insurance premiums. “The last couple of months I had more money come in,” said Ripka. When he applied, his monthly premium was set at $198. But after filing his taxes, Ripka was told he should have been paying $700. “It’s not good, it’s unpleasant to say the least,” said Ripka. “Our customers thought that whatever they applied, when they applied was going to be their rate for a year,” said William Tadrick, Tadrick’s Tax. When Ripka logged on to healthcare.gov last spring, to get covered, he was in a health emergency. “We weren’t sure, number one I was almost in septic shock, are you going to live,” said Ripka. That life threatening infection caused him to be off work. Eventually he went back, his income went up and, according to the government, so did his health insurance cost. “Nobody goes out of their way to tell you,”said Ripka…”


Majority of Obamacare customers get correct tax form: CMS

“The vast majority of nearly 1 million Obamacare customers have received new tax forms — with about two weeks left until tax day. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said that all but about 1,500 of the 820,000 who were initially sent botched forms have received corrected ones. The problem with the 1,500 people left is they require additional case work, the agency said Thursday, declining to elaborate. It is not clear at this time whether the taxpayers will get an extension for turning in their tax returns, which are currently due on April 15. All taxpayers can automatically get a six-month extension, but they have to send in a form by tax day. The 820,000 forms were sent to Obamacare customers who selected the second-cheapest silver plan, one of three plans available. The form incorrectly calculated the subsidy the customer was supposed to receive. CMS announced last month that about 50,000 people already filed their returns on the incorrect form and either received too little or too much subsidies. The Treasury Department said those taxpayers don’t need to file a new return, and if they got more subsidy than they should have, they don’t have to give anything back. Taxpayers who weren’t paid a large enough subsidy can file a new return to get what they’re owed. CMS also announced that 36,000 people have signed up for Obamacare under healthcare.gov‘s special enrollment period that started on March 15…”


Few sign up during ‘special’ Obamacare enrollment

“Millions of people are eligible for the ongoing special enrollment season of Obamacare, but a whole lot less than that are taking advantage of the offer. Just 36,000 or so people signed up for insurance plans sold on HealthCare.gov during a grace period for Obamacare enrollment available to people being fined for not having health coverage last year, the federal government revealed Wednesday. That equals only about 1,000 people for each of the 36 states being offered special enrollment through that federally run marketplace from March 15 through Sunday. The paltry tally is in sharp contrast to the nearly 11.7 million people nationally who signed up for Obamacare plans on both HealthCare.gov and the insurance marketplaces run by 13 states and the District of Columbia during open enrollment, which ran from Nov. 15 through Feb. 15. The lowball result was revealed in the second paragraph of a long press release by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services related to efforts by CMS to raise awareness of the tax implications of Obamacare…”


Lukewarm reception for new sign-up period under health law

“About 36,000 people have taken advantage of a second chance to sign up for coverage under the president’s health care law, the Obama administration said Wednesday. That’s not a lot, considering that an estimated 4 million people are potentially eligible. The special enrollment opportunity is being offered to uninsured people who didn’t realize they were legally required to have health insurance starting in 2014, and are getting hit with a tax penalty for not signing up. By enrolling now, they can potentially avoid bigger fines for remaining uninsured in 2015. Wednesday’s update from the Department of Health and Human Services covers the 37 states served by HealthCare.gov, through Mar. 29. It’s not the final word. Consumers have until April 30 to take advantage of the special sign-up period….”


HealthCare.gov says 36K-plus have used extra signup time to avoid Obamacare penalty

“Roughly 36,000 customers have selected health plans on the federal Obamacare portal to avoid penalties from the IRS, the administration said Wednesday in an update on the health overhaul’s intersection with tax season. HealthCare.gov customers in 37 states had until Feb. 15 to sign up for private coverage, often with the help of government subsidies, under the law. But the administration offered a March 15-April 30 grace period to people who must pay a tax penalty for lacking health insurance in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act’s so-called “individual mandate.” The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) said 36,000 had taken advantage of the extra time as of March 29. Last year’s penalty was the greater of $95 or 1 percent of household income over the filing threshold, and those who missed the February enrollment cutoff are exposed to a 2015 penalty of $325 or 2 percent of income, officials said. “Eligible consumers still have time to sign up and we want to encourage all those taxpayers who qualify to consider visiting HealthCare.gov to shop for affordable coverage,” HealthCare.gov CEO Kevin Counihan said. Although the health care law is five years old, this tax season is the first in which filers have to address their health care status on returns to the IRS…”


How This House-Passed Bill Could Help Fund Obamacare Enrollment

“A House-passed bill to replace the payment formula for doctors in Medicare and extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program includes money that could be used to help consumers enroll in Obamacare’s exchange plans or any other government-sponsored health program. Obamacare created the Community Health Centers Fund and allotted $9 billion to it, along with $2 billion to fund construction of community health centers, from 2011-2015. The mandatory funding is scheduled to end after this year. But H.R. 2, the bill passed by the House last week, includes an extension of Obamacare’s funding for health centers (Community Health Centers, National Health Service Corps, and Teaching Health Centers) for two years, at the cost of an estimated $8 billion. The main purpose of community health centers is to provide primary care services to medically underserved communities and vulnerable populations. But, according to the Public Health Service Act, this includes “patient case management services (including counseling, referral, and follow-up services) and other services designed to assist health center patients in establishing eligibility for and gaining access to Federal, State, and local programs that provide or financially support the provision of medical, social, housing, educational, or other related services.”…”


Feds plead with Congress to pass ‘doc fix’ by April 15

“The federal government is warning Congress that it must take action on Medicare’s “doc fix” issue before April 15 or thousands of Medicare doctors nationwide will face double-digit cuts.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) told providers Wednesday that it will hold onto their checks for two weeks after Congress missed its deadline to prevent a 21 percent payment cut that goes into effect Wednesday. The agency can delay payments for up to 14 calendar days under current law to temporarily shield doctors from the cutbacks, a move that has also been endorsed by several members of Congress whose efforts at a deal fell short last week. “Any delay in processing claims beyond April 15 would negatively impact providers’ cash flow,” a CMS official wrote in a statement…”


Obama doubles down on Obamacare, slams Boehner’s ‘power’ grab lawsuit

“The Obama administration is refusing to flinch in its belief that House Speaker John A. Boehner used novel and invalid legal theories to sue over how the president implemented his signature health law. Justice Department attorneys asked a federal judge in Washington late Tuesday to toss the speaker’s lawsuit, saying it exaggerates the perceived harm done by administrative delays to Obamacare, and that House Republicans cannot prove that the White House inflicted real damage on the legislative body. “Federal courts sit only to decide actual cases and controversies, not abstract claims of legislative power,” they told the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Their brief is the latest volley in the legal back-and-forth over the lawsuit, which alleges the Mr. Obama took unlawful steps to delay part of his health care law and is paying out funds to insurers without congressional approval. Mr. Boehner filed his suit in November, three months after the House authorized the suit and after two law firms decided not to take part. Democrats have criticized the lawsuit as misguided and a waste of federal time and money. The suit formalized GOP complaints over Mr. Obama’s use of executive authority and piggy-backed on criticism of the president’s decision last fall to grant deportation amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. Mr. Boehner has said if Mr. Obama can “make his own laws,” then future ones will as well, usurping or nullifying the will of a duly elected Congress. Justice attorneys said the House does not have legal standing to sue, even if Mr. Boehner feels the administration is canceling out what legislators intended five years ago. “The executive branch does not harm the House in any concrete and particularized way simply by interpreting and administering legislation enacted by a previous Congress in a manner with which the current House disagrees — whether the House labels that disagreement as ‘nullification’ or otherwise,” the lawyers said in their latest brief. They said House Republicans were merely speculating that Mr. Obama’s actions would seriously harm the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches, and that their lawsuit should fail even if a court grants them legal standing to proceed. The Boehner lawsuit has two main prongs…”


Justice pushes to have Boehner-Obama suit tossed

“The Obama administration is refusing to flinch in its claim that House Speaker John A. Boehner used novel and invalid legal theories to sue over how the president implemented his signature health law. Justice Department attorneys asked a federal judge in Washington late Tuesday to toss the speaker’s lawsuit, saying it exaggerates the perceived harm done by administrative delays to Obamacare, and that House Republicans cannot prove that the White House inflicted real damage on the legislative body. “Federal courts sit only to decide actual cases and controversies, not abstract claims of legislative power,” they told the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Their brief is the latest volley in the legal back-and-forth over the lawsuit, which says Mr. Obama took unlawful steps to delay part of his health care law and is paying out funds to insurers without congressional approval. Mr. Boehner filed his suit in November, three months after the House authorized the suit and after two law firms decided not to take part. Democrats have criticized the lawsuit as misguided and a waste of federal time and money…”


Gruber: ObamaCare quote in court case ‘taken out of context’

“The embattled ObamaCare architect Jonathan Gruber made a rare public appearance Wednesday to say that his controversial remarks about healthcare subsidies have been taken out of context. Gruber’s remarks had become a key part of the GOP-led Supreme Court case against ObamaCare, which could erase subsidies in 34 states that use the federal exchange. The MIT economist told an audience in 2012, “if you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits.” Conservative lawyers said his remarks proved their argument that tax credits are only legal in exchanges that were “established by the state,” as parts of the law say. Gruber said Wednesday that his words had been twisted by the plaintiffs…”


Jonathan Gruber politely spars with prominent Obamacare opponent

“Obamacare supporters and opponents usually war from a distance, but get them together, and they act a lot nicer. Two leading voices on the Affordable Care Act shared a stage Wednesday to air their vastly different opinions of the health care law at a forum hosted by Sun Life Financial. One of them was Jonathan Gruber, the former White House consultant who has inadvertently made statements appearing to support a major legal challenge to the law but who now insists he misspoke. The other was Michael Cannon, a health policy expert at the libertarian Cato Institute who trumpeted the legal questions raised in King v. Burwell well before the Supreme Court ever took up the case. The two men are hoping for opposite rulings when the Supreme Court hands down its King v. Burwell ruling in June. Gruber wants the justices to side with the Obama administration and allow the law’s insurance subsidies to keep flowing around the country. Cannon wants them to side with the challengers and block the subsidies in a majority of the states, dramatically undermining the administration’s implementation of Obamacare…”


IRS chief says Affordable Care Act not a problem for taxpayers

Commissioner John Koskinen says biggest concerns are enforcement and identity theft

“New health care coverage reporting mandated by the Affordable Care Act has not caused the taxpayer headaches predicted at the beginning of the year, the country’s top tax collector said Tuesday. Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen said he has been pleasantly surprised by the lack of confusion surrounding the requirement that Americans indicate on their returns whether they had health insurance in 2014 or received tax credits to buy it. If they chose not to purchase insurance, they have to pay a penalty. “The filing season has gone swimmingly,” Mr. Koskinen said at a National Press Club luncheon in Washington. “The ability to implement all the new statutory requirements and changes and have the season run smoothly has surprised almost everyone.” He attributed the good results to the fact that nearly 90% of Americans are now preparing or filing their taxes electronically. His agency has worked with software producers and tax preparers to make sure the systems worked. “For the average taxpayer, the Affordable Care Act is just another item in the questions that they get asked by their software,” Mr. Koskinen said. About 77% of taxpayers have checked the box saying they have insurance. Those seeking exemptions or paying the penalty don’t appear to be having problems getting their questions answered, Mr. Koskinen said….”


GOP senators question industry ties of Obama health official

“Two Republican senators are warning about a possible conflict of interest for a top Obama administration health official who used to be an executive at a contractor for HealthCare.gov.  Sens. Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Orrin Hatch (Utah) wrote to Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell in a letter released Wednesday, raising concerns about Andy Slavitt, the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).  Before being hired by CMS in June 2014, Slavitt was an executive at Optum, which owns QSSI, a contractor that works as “senior adviser” to CMS on the federal ObamaCare website. The senators said it is troubling that Slavitt now makes decisions at CMS that affect contractors where he used to work. In addition, Optum and QSSI are both part of UnitedHealth Group, whose insurance arm also offers coverage on the ObamaCare marketplaces. The senators said they fear contracting work on the marketplaces could give an unfair benefit to the insurance arm of the company.  Grassley and Hatch have raised these concerns before, but are renewing them now that Slavitt has moved up from deputy administrator to acting administrator at CMS. “The multiple relationships between Mr. Slavitt and United subsidiaries raise real concerns about how, and to what extent, CMS has prevented conflicts of interest given the fact CMS makes decisions that impact United and its subsidiaries every day,” the senators write. “While Mr. Slavitt may have recused himself from such decisions in the past, it may be difficult or impossible for him to do so in his current position at CMS.” Asked about the letter on Wednesday, a CMS spokesman referred The Hill to an ethics waiver that Slavitt signed when he joined the agency in June.  The waiver allows Slavitt to be involved in some matters relating to his former employer, but also sets limits. It prevents him, for example, from being involved in awarding new contracts or performance bonuses to QSSI.In February, CMS wrote a letter to Hatch responding to the senator’s concerns about the other potential conflict of interest, between the insurance and website contracting arms of United Health. The letter says that the agency has a “mitigation strategy” against conflicts of interest from QSSI. “We thereby limited QSSI involvement to areas where it would not provide subjective judgment, advice or recommendations on work in which it has a financial interest, including State-based Marketplace projects,” the letter states…”


Anti-ObamaCare GOP governors collect $400M in health grants

“Four anti-ObamaCare governors who are likely gunning for the White House in 2016 have quietly received nearly $400 million in grants under the law, federal records show. The Republican governors — Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry — have all spent much of their tenures working to undo the healthcare law. All four have refused to help the rollout of the law, leaving federal officials to launch ObamaCare exchanges on their own in their states. But a review of records by Reuters shows that the four states have received a windfall of federal dollars under programs created or expanded under ObamaCare. Walker, Jindal and Perry have been the fiercest critics of the law. In addition to refusing state exchanges, all three have refused to expand the eligibility for Medicaid out of opposition to the Affordable Care Act. The Medicaid expansion, which is part of ObamaCare, would have paid states to allow millions more low-income people to sign up for coverage. The three Republican governors have refused and continued to argue that ObamaCare should be repealed. Perry, who left office in January, applied for and won at least $150 million in grants — the most of any of the four governors…”


Romneycare’s inability to make inroads may not bode well for Obamacare

“In a finding that could strike at the heart of Obamacare, researchers at Harvard University have determined the Massachusetts health-reform effort did little to bring down the rate of preventable hospitalizations and couldn’t make much progress toward reducing racial disparities in the rate of those instances. Authors of the study, to be published Wednesday in BMJ, formerly known as the British Medical Journal, say it suggests access to doctors on an outpatient basis may not have improved much as a result of the Massachusetts effort, also known as Romneycare. Improving access to lower-income patients and cut back on ethnic disparities in medical treatment is considered one of the main tenets of the Affordable Care Act, which was implemented nearly eight years after Massachusetts put its own health reform into effect. The Massachusetts effort, however, is showing some signs that may not bode well for Obamacare, says Dr. Danny McCormick, associate professor at the Harvard Medical School and one of the authors of the study. “I think it’s potentially troubling,” McCormick said. The study shows that from late 2004—about 21 months before Romneycare was implemented—to late 2009, the rate of preventable hospital admissions came down 2.1% in Massachusetts. But in three nearby states that had no health reform—New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania—that rate came down 3.5% during that time. Further, the study shows that the rate of preventable admissions for white and Hispanics came down at a faster rate in those three nearby states than they did in Massachusetts. For blacks, preventable admissions went up at an unadjusted rate of 1.8% from 2004 to 2009 in Massachusetts, and slightly higher—2.1% — in the other three states. The Harvard study might be a bit more comprehensive than that of earlier studies, McCormick says. Roughly 900,000 patient records were examined as part of the effort. Since Obamacare was implemented last year, Massachusetts has altered its health plan to get in line with the federal tenets, including provisions for minimum coverage. There are several key differences between the earlier Massachusetts experience and Obamacare, McCormick says, but it doesn’t erase all concerns. “It’s hard to assign a weight to all of these factors,” he said….”


Replacing Obamacare

Repeal isn’t enough. Republicans need to be ready with alternative plans.

“Somewhere in America today, a Republican candidate for dogcatcher is calling for the repeal of Obamacare. Opposition to the health-care law is perhaps the one issue that unites all the disparate factions of the Republican party — and for good reason. The law remains extraordinarily unpopular, with opponents topping supporters by nearly 11 percentage points, according to the latest Real Clear Politics average. Millions of Americans were forced to change insurance plans, and others found themselves pushed into smaller networks with few choices of providers. Premiums rose. Businesses, laboring under the higher costs imposed by the law, have slowed growth; many have delayed hiring, or shifted workers from full- to part-time. The potential impact on the quality of care remains troubling. But, as much as the American people dislike Obamacare, most are less than enthusiastic about returning to the pre-Obamacare status quo. It is important, therefore, that Republicans offer their own alternatives for health-care reform. There are already several such proposals in Congress. But what the Republican candidates for president have to say about the issue will be even more important. Perhaps no candidate has been more outspoken in opposition to Obamacare than Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who has vowed to “repeal every word” of the law. Cruz has co-sponsored the Health Care Choices Act, which would allow insurance plans to be sold across state lines as long as they met certain minimum consumer protections. Beyond this, Cruz has called generally for health insurance to be “personal and portable and affordable.” This suggests that he would support proposals to provide the same tax breaks for individually purchased insurance as are currently provided for employer-based insurance. However, Cruz has not yet given any details about whether or how he would do so. On the other hand, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida has laid out perhaps the most detailed proposal for replacing Obamacare. This is not terribly surprising, since Rubio, who plans to announce for president on April 13, has tried to position himself as the “ideas” candidate. In his book, American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone, Rubio says that he would provide all Americans with a refundable tax credit that could be used to purchase insurance, while gradually reducing the tax break provided for employer-based insurance. This would transition Americans to a system where they — rather than their employers — controlled their insurance. Rubio also calls for allowing the purchase of insurance across state lines and for setting up state-run, but federally funded, high-risk pools to assist individuals with pre-existing conditions. Finally, Rubio has been a leader in opposing any bailout of insurance companies that lose money as a result either of Obamacare or of other policies…”


Clues to Roberts’ thinking on Obamacare case Guest column

“The Supreme Court’s surprising decision last week to hear a new challenge to the Affordable Care Act has once again focused attention on Chief Justice John Roberts, who cast the deciding vote in a 2012 decision that saved Obamacare from being declared unconstitutional. Many court watchers expect that he will once again be the swing vote in deciding a case crucial to the healthcare law, this one involving questions about who qualifies for subsidies under the law. But Roberts’ vote in a recent voting rights case suggests he might not step in to save the health law this time. At issue in King vs. Burwell is a provision of the Affordable Care Act that authorizes subsidies in the form of tax credits for qualifying individuals who buy their insurance from exchanges “established by the state.” But 34 states did not set up their own healthcare exchanges, opting instead, as the law allows, to send state residents to a federal exchange to buy insurance. The challengers argue that because this exchange was not created by a state, but rather by the federal government, people obtaining insurance through it are not entitled to subsidies. There are strong reasons to reject this argument. First, the intent of the Affordable Care Act’s drafters is clear. The text as a whole makes sense only if the provision in question is interpreted to include federal exchanges. At worst, the wording of the law might be considered ambiguous, and in ambiguous circumstances the court has said that it should defer to reasonable interpretations by the agency in charge of administering it. In this case, the IRS has interpreted the law to allow subsidies for those on federal exchanges. Finally, the court has a well-established tradition of looking to interpret laws so that they work and are coherent, a practice that long predates a recent tendency on the part of some justices to fixate on narrow snippets of statutory text. Still, it seems entirely possible that Roberts might focus narrowly this time on the snippet of the act extending subsidies only to those insured by exchanges “established by the state.” One argument he might make in defense of that position is that Congress has the ability to go back and fix any unclear language through a revised statute. Roberts telegraphed his willingness to take such an approach in the 2013 Shelby County vs. Holder case, which struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. The provision the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional defined which states had to get federal approval (or pre-clearance) before making changes to their voting laws. Roberts’ opinion for the majority ordered the provision struck because it was based on old data. Congress, he reasoned, could simply update the formula to respond to “current conditions” if it wished to. When Roberts wrote his Shelby County opinion, he knew full well that Congress would not update the coverage formula. Congress is polarized, and the issue was a political hot potato. Indeed, in the period since the opinion, a bill introduced to update the Voting Rights Act has gone nowhere. It is supported by Democrats and a sole Republican, Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.)…”


Reality check: Ted Cruz and Obamacare

“Amid the cascade of news last week following Sen. Ted Cruz’s official entry into the 2016 presidential race was one storyline rich with irony. It was reported that Cruz’s wife, Heidi, left her job at Goldman Sachs to work on the campaign — one consequence of which was that the family would lose her employer-sponsored health care and have to find coverage elsewhere. What’s ironic about that? The cheapest and most obvious place for the family to get coverage now is through an exchange created by the Affordable Care Act — President Obama’s signature health care law. Cruz, a Republican and unabashed conservative, has built his national reputation on trying to dismantle the law. Liberal advocacy groups and media outlets jumped at the news that Cruz might “sign up for Obamacare.” So did many conservatives. But what does obtaining coverage through an exchange created by Obamacare actually mean? Does it come with extra benefits, better coverage or subsidies? CONCLUSION: It’s true that members of Congress who choose to obtain insurance coverage through the federal government are required to purchase it through an online health insurance marketplace, or exchange, created by the Affordable Care Act. But experts say there’s no practical difference in the insurance they obtained as federal government employees before Obamacare became law and what they get now through the exchange. Members of Congress receive no improved benefits or extra subsidies…”



DHS Launches “Family Reunification,” Refugee Program for Central Americans

“To facilitate the often treacherous process of entering the United States illegally through the southern border, the Obama administration is offering free transportation from three Central American countries and a special refugee/parole program with “resettlement assistance” and permanent residency. Under the new initiative the administration has rebranded the official name it originally assigned to the droves of illegal immigrant minors who continue sneaking into the U.S. They’re no longer known as Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC), a term that evidently was offensive and not politically correct enough for the powerful open borders movement. The new arrivals will be officially known as Central American Minors (CAM) and they will be eligible for a special refugee/parole that offers a free one-way flight to the U.S. from El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras. The project is a joint venture between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the State Department. Specifically, the “program provides certain children in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras with a safe, legal, and orderly alternative to the dangerous journey that some children are undertaking to the United States,” according to a DHS memo obtained by JW this week. The document goes on to say that the CAM program has started accepting applications from “qualifying parents” to bring their offspring under the age of 21 from El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras. The candidates will then be granted a special refugee parole, which includes many taxpayer-funded perks and benefits. Among them is a free education, food stamps, medical care and living expenses. During a special teleconference this week officials from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the State Department explained how CAM will work. Only “friendly” groups and individuals invited by the government were allowed to participate and the event was not open to the media. Judicial Watch attended as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with interest in the matter. Obama administration officials offered an overview of the new CAM initiative and confirmed that the U.S. has deployed staff to the region to handle the influx of applicants. A State Department official promoted CAM as a “family reunification” program that will be completely funded by American taxpayers, though the official claimed to have no idea what the cost will be…”



“A strikingly high percentage of refugees to the United States use some form of public assistance, according to a government report to Congress. The Office of Refugee Resettlement’s Annual Report to Congress for FY2013 reveals that nearly 3 in 4 refugees were on food stamps. Additionally, nearly half were on some form of cash assistance and more than a half were on medical assistance. More than 20 percent were on Supplemental Security Income, more than 22 percent were in public housing and nearly 20 percent were on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The report noted that many households received more than one type of assistance and the data dealt with refugees who arrived in the U.S. between March 1, 2008 to February 28, 2013. To be sure, assistance use varied among region of origin. Refugees from Africa and the Middle East were the heaviest users of cash assistance at 61.9 percent and 68.3 percent respectively. Latin American refugees only used cash assistance at a rate of 8.1 percent and South Asia used about 42.7 percent. Data for Europe and the former Soviet Union was not available. The use of food stamps — or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — also varied with 88.9 percent of refugees from Africa, 91.4 percent of Middle Eastern refugees,  the Middle East, 72.9 percent of South Asia, and 36.7 percent of Latin American refugees using the benefit…”


‘I Don’t Think That’s Fair’: Carly Fiorina Hits Jeb Over ‘Grown-Up’ Immigration Plan [AUDIO]

“The 2016 field isn’t even declared yet and potential candidates are already taking swings at Jeb Bush. During an interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham Wednesday, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina hit the former Florida governor for his so-called “grown-up” immigration plan, saying it’s not “a fair plan” to lawful immigrants. Fiorina, who is likely to announce a 2016 bid later this month, also remarked that it’s not “very helpful” when Bush and others “question other’s motivations just because they disagree with them.” “Jeb Bush was out there talking the other day talking about how his approach to immigration, I guess, in comparison to all of your thoughts on it is the ‘grown-up plan,’” Ingraham told Fiorina. “What’s your reaction to that?” “I don’t think it’s very helpful when people question other’s motivations just because they disagree with them,” Fiorina responded. “I don’t think it’s a fair plan to say that people who have come here illegally and have stayed here illegally can earn the same privileges, that is the privilege of citizenship, as someone who has played by the rules and taken all the time and taken all the tests and earned citizenship.”…”


GOP lawmaker targets White House salaries over immigration action

“Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) has introduced legislation to rescind funds for White House salaries and expenses in retaliation for President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. The measure would cancel remaining unobligated funds for the current fiscal year through September. Unobligated funds are budgetary authority that hasn’t yet been committed by the government to any binding activity, such as a contract. The bill’s “findings” section declares that “the president has failed to fulfill his duty to enforce immigration law” and, therefore, “it stands to reason that when you do not fulfill your responsibilities, you typically lose your compensation.” “As the House of Representatives holds the power of the purse strings, it’s time we hold the president accountable for his blatant disregard of the Constitution as it applies to immigration and other areas of his presidency,” Ellmers said in a statement. Ellmers previously opposed the House GOP’s original bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) this year that included provisions to freeze Obama’s executive actions shielding certain illegal immigrants from deportation. She also voted against an amendment to undo the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows some illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to apply for work permits. House and Senate Republicans ultimately agreed to DHS funding that didn’t include language to revoke the immigration actions…”


Tech frustrated as H-1B visas likely to be scooped up in days

“Companies that want a temporary work visa for potential foreign hires will today begin applying to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The demand for the 85,000 available slots will likely be high, if previous years are any indication. The agency expects they will reach that number of requests in five business days, Politico’s Morning Tech reported. The annual April 1 deadline underlines, again, tech industry advocates’ frustrations with the prospect for immigration reform. Silicon Valley had hoped that President Obama’s executive changes to immigration rules, announced last November, would include releasing unused H-1B visas. That didn’t happen, although tech applauded the change of giving spouses of H-1B workers the ability to work, as U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker wrote in Inc. For most companies and startups, the fixes don’t address their greater needs. Many are supporting Sen. Orrin Hatch’s “I-Squared” bill would raise the cap to 115,000. In a TechCrunch op-ed, Max Levchin, co-founder of PayPal and CEO of Affirm who emigrated to the U.S. in 1991, called on congressional leaders to pass Hatch’s bill: The H-1B visa lottery leaves to chance what we should want to guarantee for our economy: that the best and the brightest innovators contribute to our country’s success, instead of being forced out and likely given little choice but to go create jobs for our global competitors. At nearly every company I’ve been a part of, there has been at least one heartbreaking story of a hardworking immigrant being sent back to his or her home country. Advocates for reform have launched a “Let PJ Stay” campaign to keep Pierre-Jean “PJ” Cobut, a Belgium entrepreneur and co-founder of Echo Labs, stay in the country. His visa expires June 15, and he has said he plans to move, with his Palo Alto-based wearables firm, to Canada. But labor and others have argued that raising the cap would hurt American workers. Michael Wasser, a senior policy analyst with Jobs With Justice, a labor group, argued in an op-ed in The Hill that employers have used the visa program to lay off employees and hire contract labor. Any change to the current visa program needs to come with worker protections, he said…”


Senate probes claims of workplace retaliation for Border Patrol agents not enforcing Obama orders (continuation of previous article)

“Senate Republicans are investigating allegations that federal managers retaliated against Border Patrol agents and other Homeland Security Department officials who refused to follow President Obama’s immigration policies. The claims indicate a dispute inside federal immigration agencies over what exactly U.S. immigration law dictates, given the cascade of executive actions and guidance from the administration over the past several years. Allegedly, agents who don’t want to follow the recent orders are being punished. “We are aware of multiple allegations of targeting and retaliation against DHS personnel who refuse to comply with this administration’s willful disregard of our immigration laws,” members of a Senate judiciary subcommittee on immigration told Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in a letter on Tuesday. The letter, signed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and others, noted the retaliation accusations have been included in lawsuits filed in federal court and aired in Capitol Hill testimony earlier this month. Chris Cabrera, a National Border Patrol Council (Local 3307) executive, recently told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that Border Patrol agents who repeatedly report a gathering of more than 20 illegal immigrants face retribution from managers. He said they’re being taken out of the field and reassigned to processing detainees, and also assigned to low-volume areas as punishment.  “Needless to say, agents got the message and now stay below this 20 person threshold no matter the actual size of the group,” Cabrera testified.  Even before Obama’s recent executive actions, his administration has made a series of changes to immigration enforcement. In June 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival gave a deportation reprieve — and the option of seeking two-year work permits — to some illegal immigrants who entered the United States before age 16 and before 2007. The administration also prioritized its enforcement resources to focus on deporting illegal immigrants who have committed felonies and others considered dangerous, while in some cases ignoring those with lower-level offenses….”


Nevada resolution urges Congress to pass immigration reform

Nevada lawmakers are considering a measure that would urge Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Democratic Sen. Mo Denis and other lawmakers from the Nevada Hispanic Legislative Caucus presented Senate Joint Resolution 21 on Wednesday. The measure seeks changes that would implement a guest worker program and create a pathway to citizenship for legalized immigrants. The Legislature does not have the power to change immigration law, but Denis said the measure would respectfully ask congressional representatives to do so. Opponents said they would be more open to the measures described in the resolution if the borders weren’t so porous. The committee did not take action on the resolution…”


Indictment: Menendez demanded visas for ‘foreign girlfriends’ of campaign donor

“Immigrant rights advocates rallied to the defense of Sen. Robert Menendez after his indictment on bribery charges Wednesday, saying he’s been a trailblazer for Hispanics in Congress and hoping he clears his name and can return to the trenches of the immigration fight. Mr. Menendez, the only Hispanic Democrat in the Senate, has made his mark in international affairs, where he was his party’s point man on the Foreign Relations Committee until temporarily stepping aside Wednesday evening. He also was a key author of the 2013 Senate immigration bill, takes his role as defender of the Latino community very seriously and is a major part of Democrats’ outreach to Spanish-speaking voters. Indeed, the three-term senator issues his press releases with both Spanish and English versions of his comments — and usually puts the Spanish version above the English…”


Immigration Advocates Rush to Menendez’s Defense

“Two longtime allies released statements of support within minutes of the announcement of New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez’s 14-count federal indictment Wednesday. Illinois Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez, a fellow Democrat, and America’s Voice Executive Director Frank Sharry both praised the Garden State senator’s character and his work on issues important to the immigrant community. “Bob Menendez has never given me any reason to question his integrity, his dedication to honest public service or his commitment to the American people,” said Gutiérrez, a leading advocate in Congress for an immigration overhaul. “As a leader in the House and in the Senate, he has been a key ally in fighting for sensible immigration reform and a touchstone for all matters related to Latinos in this country. “He is a friend who is quick with advice, encouragement and good ideas. I’m particularly proud of his leadership on foreign policy matters related to Latin America. My hope is that these legal matters are resolved quickly so he can go back to concentrating 100 percent on his service to the people of New Jersey and the United States.” Sharry, an immigration rights advocate who has worked with Menendez over the years on immigration overhaul legislation, echoed Gutierrez’s sentiments, calling him “not only the senior Senator from New Jersey; he’s also the senior Senator for Latinos in America.” “I know him well and love him dearly,” Sharry said in a statement. “He has been relentless and effective. … And he is a major reason why Dreamers won relief under [the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program], why some 5 million undocumented immigrants are on the verge of living without fear in the country they now call home, and why comprehensive immigration reform is an idea whose time has come for some three quarters of the American public.” Menendez is scheduled to address the press from Newark, N.J., at 7 p.m. regarding the charges waged against him by the Department of Justice. The indictment stems from his relationship with Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor and political donor to Menendez who was also indicted Wednesday….”


Cruz: Feds ignoring sexual abuse claims from young immigrants

“Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is accusing the federal government of ignoring “literally thousands” of allegations from unaccompanied minors who crossed into the United States last year. The newly declared presidential candidate sent a scathing letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Wednesday claiming that it has failed to prosecute cases, including some that may have involved sexual abuse within the agency. “Information exists that indicates the Department has been and is aware of these incidents but has chosen not to address them, or to not address them in any meaningful way,” Cruz wrote in the letter. He said he has been “alerted to” several problems, though he did not specify where the claims originated…”



Obama administration’s new spending website rolls back transparency

“A redesign of a transparency website that provides information on federal spending by the Obama administration now makes it much more difficult to see how taxpayer dollars are spent. Usaspending.gov, a website mandated by law to provide detailed information on every federal contract over $3,000, received a makeover on Tuesday. Users can no longer search federal spending by keywords, sort contracts by date, or easily find detailed information on awards, which are delivered in bulk. Information, such as how much the Pentagon spends on Viagra, used to be available at the click of a button. Locating those same contracts on the new website is virtually impossible, akin to finding a needle in a haystack. In its previous form, the website provided easy access to how taxpayer dollars are spent, as it happens. A user now must have the federal grant identification number to see details of a contract….”



“The Obama administration has awarded more that $31 million in grants to help food stamp recipients buy more fruits and vegetables. Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack says the agency has provided $31.5 million in grants to organizations that will help support beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — or food stamps — “increase their purchase of fruits and vegetables.” “Encouraging low income families to put more healthy food in their grocery baskets is part of USDA’s ongoing commitment to improving the diet and health of all Americans,” Vilsack announced. The funding for what the USDA says “will test incentive strategies to help SNAP participants better afford fruits and vegetables” was authorized by the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) with Congress’ passage of the 2014 farm bill. According to Vilsack, the government funding will also aid local producers and economies. “These creative community partnerships also benefit regional food producers and local economies along with SNAP participants,” he said. USDA notes that the funded projects are in 26 states for “up to 4 years.”


Obama Highway Plan Paves Way For New Tolls Nationwide

“A little-noted provision of President Obama’s highway funding proposal would lift the federal prohibition against states imposing new tolls on existing interstate highways. The GROW AMERICA Act would eliminate restrictions held in place since the creation of the Federal Interstate System, according to a summary of the plan’s provisions, allowing states that receive permission from the Secretary of Transportation to toll existing Interstate highways “in order to make improvements or to manage congestion.” Since its creation in 1956, interstates have been funded primarily through fuel taxes, with tolls banned on all sections of highway built after that date, according to The Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI). The only exception is a 1998 program available to three states, none of which have taken advantage of it to date. The exact criteria by which the Secretary would evaluate such requests will not be known until they are published for public comment in the Federal Register, but that has not stopped organizations on both sides of the issue from opining….”


Unions: Obama ‘right’ to push for long-term highway bill

“The AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department (TTD) said Wednesday that President Obama is “right” to push lawmakers to pass a long-term infrastructure funding measure. White House officials sent a six-year, $478 billion transportation bill to Congress on Monday as lawmakers are scrambling to beat a May 31 deadline for the expiration of current government road and transit spending. AFL-CIO TTD President Ed Wytkind said the administration’s proposal will “re-energize” the debate about an extension of the transportation funding as the deadline continues to loom. “With spring construction season beginning — and with state and local governments already canceling construction projects in the face of funding uncertainty — TTD and our affiliates are pleased that the Obama administration has looked beyond short-term patches and proposed a six-year, $478 billion transit/highway bill that would make it possible for America to build out, repair, and modernize our transit and highway network,” Wytkind wrote in a blog post on the union’s website. “The bill, an update of the Grow America Act the administration proposed last year, would increase annual surface transportation funding by nearly $25 billion,” Wytkind continued. “This long-overdue down payment for our surface transportation system would help boost the economy, create jobs, and move our transportation system into the future. Notably, the proposal would substantially increase transit and highway funding, supporting the millions of Americans who ride transit and travel on our roads.”…”


Obama takes middle-class message to red states

“Behaving as if he missed the memo about his party’s midterm election losses, President Obama will embark Thursday on another trip to red states to promote his economic policies as a better alternative for the middle class than Republicans’ proposals. Mr. Obama will travel to Kentucky — home of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has accused the president of waging a “war on coal” — to discuss the changing economy. He’ll then fly to Republican-dominated Utah, one of two states that Mr. Obama has yet to visit as president, where he’ll hold an event Friday on the economy at an Air Force base as the government releases the unemployment statistics for March. Despite Democrats losing control of the Senate in November, Mr. Obama is pushing his agenda of higher taxes and higher government spending more aggressively, hoping to win the budget fight with congressional Republicans this year and to influence the policies of his party’s next presidential nominee — presumably Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mr. Obama’s renewed push also comes as liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is turning up the heat on the administration — and on Mrs. Clinton — to boost Wall Street regulation and to kill major free trade deals in the works. Helping the middle class “is what everybody should be talking about — Democrat or Republican,” Mrs. Warren said Wednesday on MSNBC. “I think this is a fight we have to have right this minute.” Stephen Moore, a specialist on economic policy at the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation, said Mr. Obama “has done a good job of remaining on the policy offensive, even as a lame duck who got crushed in the midterm election.”


White House evaluating military-retirement proposals


Survey: US businesses add 189k jobs in March

“U.S. businesses slowed their pace of hiring in March, a private survey found. The slowdown raises questions about how much of an impact falling oil prices, a stronger dollar and harsh winter weather have had on dampening economic growth. Companies added a seasonally adjusted 18

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