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The Journey to Embolden Future Latinas for Public Office

Posted by Jossie Flor Sapunar on 04/23/2014 @ 11:10 AM

Underrepresentation of Latinas in Office Urges Launch of Latinas Represent

25,000,000 Latinas live in the United States. Of the 8,236 seats in state and national political office, only 109 are held by Latinas. There are only nine Latinas in Congress, and three in statewide executive office. There has never been a Latina senator.

Women’s political representation in this country has long lagged behind that of men. Even with women’s representation in Congress at an all-time high, the U.S. House of Representatives has only 79 women of 435 members; the Senate, 20 women of 100 members. This is far from equal, given that women make up 50% of the nation’s population and more than half of regular voters. While progress is being made, with more and more women running for and winning higher office, LULAC is keenly aware that more must break through. As members of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, we urge you to support the Latinas Represent campaign at www.LatinasRepresent.org.

By: Leticia Van de Putte, Texas State Senator
For more than 85 years, LULAC has dedicated itself to building a better America for Latinos across the country, to helping us fulfill la promesa – the promise of the American dream.

We turn to LULAC because LULAC fights for us. They led the historic movement to desegregate schools so that we could be educated as equals. They fought for our right to be represented in the census, to be counted, to say with one voice, “estamos presente.”

We have come a long way. But we know la promesa is still not within the grasp of so many in our community. Those who live in the shadows and fear being torn from their families, or who cannot access quality public schools and find college beyond their financial means. The millions in my home state of Texas and across the country who know that one illness could bankrupt their family. And our sisters, the Latinas across the country, who still only earn 54 cents for every dollar a man makes.

In so many of our homes, it is women who are at the decision-making table. And they know firsthand that making 54 cents on the dollar doesn’t mean that groceries, or gas, or tuition is 46 cents cheaper. But that perspective is missing from elected office – the decision-making tables that affect not just one family, but all our families.

As a sixth generation Tejana, mother, and grandmother, I understand the struggles our community has faced, and continues to face. That’s why I have worked every single day to be a voice for Texas families in the State Senate, and why I am running for Lieutenant Governor. But I am one of only 97 Latina state legislators currently serving in office nationwide. There are only nine Latinas in Congress, and three in statewide executive office. And there has never been a Latina elected to the United States Senate.

Latinas have shaped the nation for generations. We have served in the military and led civil rights movements. We do not suffer from a shortage of patriotism or leadership. But we are still missing from the halls of power.

If we want laws that work for all of us, then everyone needs a voice and a seat at the table. If we are to make la promesa a reality, we must fulfill nuestra promesa – our potential, to lead.

We can start by supporting fantastic Latina candidates who are already running for office – women like Lucy Flores in Nevada; Nellie Gorbea in Rhode Island; and Amanda Renteria, Norma Torres, and Eloise Gomez Reyes in California.

But the real work begins at home. We must look to our schools and churches, and to our mothers, sisters, and friends, to find leaders who just haven’t been asked to run yet. These are the Latinas who are already shaping our lives and inspiring us, who may have never realized their experience qualifies them to run.

I was one of those Latinas. Twenty-three years ago I sat at our kitchen table and vented to my husband that the candidates running for my neighborhood’s House seat weren’t talking about the issues important to our community, and he replied, “Well then, why don’t you run?” The light bulb came on over my head – the qualified candidate had been me all along, but I didn’t realize it until asked. But now we don’t have to hope that our family or friends will ask the right questions. Today we also have organizations like Latinas Represent that actively seek female candidates and give them the tools they need to run for office and win.

I know that we can achieve progress if we elect leaders who share our values and understand where we come from – leaders who believe in their power to do good, and who are inspired by love for our country and its citizens. This is our call to action. This is how we finally make la promesa a reality.

Leticia Van de Putte is a Texas State Senator, and candidate for Lieutenant Governor. You can learn more about her at www.leticiavandeputte.com, on Twitter at @leticiavdp or at facebook.com/leticiavandeputte. To learn more about running for office, visit www.latinasrepresent.org.

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FAQ: What are the Penalties for Not Getting Insurance?

Posted by Jossie Flor Sapunar on 03/27/2014 @ 11:00 AM

This article was originally featured on the Kaiser Family Foundation webpage on March 24, 2014. Read the original blog here.

By: Michelle Andrews

If you're uninsured, now's the time to buy a plan. March 31 is the end of the annual open enrollment period when people who don’t have coverage through their employers can sign up on or off their state’s marketplace. With limited exceptions, people who miss this enrollment window will be unable to sign up for health insurance until next fall for coverage that starts in January 2015. In addition to being uninsured, you will face a penalty for not having coverage. The fine may be bigger than you expect. Here are the details:

Is everyone required to have health insurance this year or pay a fine?

This year, most people who can afford to buy health insurance but don’t do so will face a penalty, sometimes called a "shared responsibility payment." The requirement to have health insurance applies to adults and children alike, but there are exceptions for certain groups of people and those who are experiencing financial hardship.

What kind of insurance satisfies the requirement to have coverage?

Most plans that provide comprehensive coverage count as "minimum essential coverage." That includes job-based insurance and plans purchased on the individual market, either on or off the exchange. Most Medicaid plans and Medicare Part A, which covers hospital benefits, count as well, as do most types of Tricare military coverage and some Veterans Administration coverage.

Insurance that provides limited benefits generally doesn’t qualify, including standalone vision and dental plans or plans that only pay in the event someone has an accident or gets cancer or another specified illness.

If I don’t have health insurance, how much will I owe?

In 2014, the penalty is the greater of a flat $95 per adult and $47.50 per child under age 18, up to a maximum of $285 per family, or 1 percent of your family’s modified adjusted gross income that is over the threshold the requires you to file a tax return. That threshold is $10,150 for an individual, $13,050 for a head of household and $20,300 for a married couple filing jointly.

Next year the penalty increases to $325 per adult or 2 percent of income, and in 2016 it will be the greater of $695 or 2.5 percent of income.

The $95 penalty has gotten a lot of press, but many people will be paying substantially more than that. A single person earning more than $19,650 would not qualify for the $95 penalty ($19,650 - $10,150 = $9,500 x 1% = $95). So the 1 percent penalty is the standard that will apply in most cases, say experts. For example, for a single person whose MAGI is $35,000, the penalty would be $249 ($35,000 - $10,150 = $24,850 x 1% = $249).

The penalty is capped at the national average price for a bronze plan, or about $9,800, says Brian Haile, senior vice president for health policy at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service. The vast majority of taxpayers’ incomes aren’t high enough to be affected by the penalty cap, he says.

Many more people will be able to avoid the penalty altogether because their income is below the filing threshold.

Are there any special circumstances that allow me to get insurance outside the annual open enrollment period?

Yes. If you have a change in your life circumstances such as getting married, adopting a child or losing your job and your health insurance, it may trigger a special enrollment period when you can sign up for or change coverage and avoid paying a fine. In addition, if your income is low and meets guidelines in the law, you can generally sign up for your state’s Medicaid or CHIP program at any time.

I’m uninsured and signed up on the exchange in March for a plan that starts May 1. Will I owe a penalty for the first four months of the year?

No. In October, the Department of Health and Human Services released guidance saying that anyone who signs up for coverage by the end of the open enrollment period on March 31 will not owe a fine for the months prior to the start of coverage.

What if I have a gap in coverage this year after open enrollment ends? Will I have to pay a fine?

It depends. If the gap in coverage is less than three consecutive months, you can avoid owing a penalty. Subsequent coverage gaps during the year, however, could trigger a fine.

If you have coverage for even one day during a month, it counts as coverage for that month. The penalty, if there is one, would be calculated in monthly increments.

Are parents responsible for paying the penalty if their kids don’t have coverage?

They may be. If you claim a child as a dependent on your tax return, you’ll be on the hook for the penalty if the child doesn’t have insurance. In cases where parents are divorced, the parent who claims the child as a tax dependent would be responsible for the penalty.

Who’s exempt from the requirement to have insurance?

The list of possible exemptions is a long one. You may be eligible for an exemption if:

  • Your income is below the federal income tax filing threshold (see above).
  • The lowest priced available plan costs more than 8 percent of your income.
  • Your income is less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level (currently $15,856 for an individual) and your state did not expand Medicaid coverage to adults at this income level as permitted under the health law.
  • You experienced one of several hardships, including eviction, bankruptcy or domestic violence.
  • Your individual insurance plan was cancelled and you consider plans on the marketplace are unaffordable.
  • You are a member of an Indian tribe, health care sharing ministry or a religious group that objects to insurance.
  • You are in jail.
  • You are an immigrant who is not in the country legally.

For a more complete list go to the exemptions page at healthcare.gov or the questions and answers page on shared responsibilities provisions on the IRS website.

When should I claim or file for an exemption?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. You can claim some of the exemptions when you file your tax return in 2015, but for others, you will have to complete an exemption application available at healthcare.gov.

If you believe you may be eligible for an exemption for financial reasons, experts recommend filling out the paperwork now, if possible, based on your current income and other information. That way, if your circumstances change later in the year -- if your income goes up, for example, and you no longer qualify for an exemption based on plan affordability -- having a certificate of exemption should enable you to avoid owing the penalty. In addition, losing a hardship exemption triggers a special enrollment period to buy a plan outside the annual open enrollment period, but only if you have a hardship exemption in hand.

“From a consumer perspective, even though it’s kind of a burden to go through the process, it makes sense to get the hardship exemption certificate, to be safe,” says Judith Solomon, vice president for health policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Are U.S. citizens living overseas subject to the penalty for not having insurance?

If you live abroad for at least 330 days during a 12-month period, you aren’t required to have coverage in the States.

What happens if I don’t pay the penalty?

The IRS may offset your income tax refund to collect the penalty, but that’s about it. Unlike other situations where the tax agency can garnish wages or file liens to collect unpaid taxes, the health law prohibits these activities in cases where people don’t pay the penalty for not having insurance.

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