2013 Updates; 2014 Resolutions; Coffee!



Senator Michael Dembrow 
SE & NE Portland, Maywood Park

District Phone: 503-281-0608

Email: sen.michaeldembrow@state.or.us 
Website: senatordembrow.com

Twitter: @michaeldembrow



Dear Friends and Neighbors,

I’m starting this newsletter on the day after Christmas, the beginning of Kwanzaa, a clear, crisp, beautiful day.  I hope you’re finding a way to enjoy this holiday season, looking back fondly on the past year and looking forward to the year to come. 

In this final newsletter of 2013, I’m going to do a little of both—giving you status reports on a couple of the issues that I’ve been working on and looking ahead to some of the changes and problems that we still have to resolve in the coming year.

Best wishes to you and your loved ones for a VERY happy, healthy, and productive 2014!

Constituent Coffee This Saturday

Please join me this Saturday (1/4) morning for coffee and conversation at the Hollywood Senior Center.  We'll be starting at 10am and finishing around 11:30.  This time, we won't be in the smaller classroom space, which was getting a bit cramped.  We now have access to the main space in the center, so come one, come all-- the coffee is on me!

Welcome Representative Barbara Smith Warner!!!

The dominoes have completed their fall!  After Jackie Dingfelder left her position as SD23 Senator and I was appointed to take her place, that left a vacancy in my former position as state representative for HD45.  Multnomah County Democrats nominated three people for consideration by the Multnomah County Commission:  Jamie Woods, a PSU Economics Professor and former member of the Parkrose School Board and the Higher Education Coordinating Commission; Tom Sincic, a retired nurse practitioner whose background includes work at state prisons and school-based healthcare clinics here in Portland; and Barbara Smith Warner, a field representative for Senator Ron Wyden, parent activist, and former director of FuturePac, the House Democratic campaign office. 

They were three solid candidates, and a tough choice for the County Commissioners, but in the end they selected Barbara. She is indeed a great choice and enters the Legislature with a great deal of knowledge and familiarity with the process.  I first met her on her doorstep when I was first running for the Legislature.  Since then, she and I have worked together on healthcare issues in her capacity as aide to Sen. Wyden.  I know that she will be a real partner in the quest for truly universal healthcare access in Oregon and a solid representative for the district.

Barbara will be officially sworn in on January 15 (the first day of January interim committee hearings) at 1:30 p.m. in the House Chamber.  Please join me in welcoming her to the Legislature!  

Thanks to Senator Merkley, Pay It Forward Goes to Congress!

You’ll remember that Pay It Forward is an idea for a different way of helping college students pay for their share of higher education, which came out of a capstone class at PSU.  According to this strategy, the state would provide higher education tuition-free, and students then pay 3-4% of their monthly salary into a fund to keep the program going.  I helped them turn their vision into legislation (HB 3472) that ultimately passed both chambers unanimously last year.  It charges the Higher Education Coordinating Commission with recommending pilot projects that will test the viability of this creative new model.

PIF has generated a great deal of interest around the country.  As I mentioned in an earlier newsletter, Pay It Forward legislation modeled after Oregon’s has been or will be introduced in a number of other states, including Washington, California, Illinois, Vermont, Maryland, Connecticut, Maine, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey (where the legislation is closed to passage). 

Multiple state pilots will allow us to learn from one another and come up with programs proven to work.  The Economic Opportunity Institute, a Seattle-based think tank, is helping with research and keeping us all working together.

Ultimately, though, we will need help from the federal government, both with funding and with facilitation.  A crucial step occurred on December 19th , when Senator Merkley introduced S.1884 in the U.S. Senate.  Click here to view the bill draft.  Its purpose is “to test and encourage the development of Pay It Forward model financing programs.” 

Merkley’s bill would provide start-up funding for pilots in three states, ultimately expanded to ten in subsequent years.  The program would initially fund 15,000 students nationwide, with 50,000 students ultimately benefiting from a PIF pilot. It would use money that would otherwise go into Stafford loans for these students.

States chosen to participate would be required to come up with at least 10% of the funding for their respective pilots and would be required to at least maintain their current level of direct funding of higher education (i.e., PIF funding must be NEW funding, not simply shuffling money from one category to another). 

Finally, it directs the U.S. Department of Education to study and review the Pay It Forward pilots periodically.  It also directs an exploration of using the federal income tax process to ensure proper collection and enforcement for those students who move to another state.

Meanwhile, Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission has created a subcommittee to direct the work on the pilots.  Commissioner Rob Fullmer, who works in IT at PSU, is chairing the effort.

Let me know if you have any questions about the program or about Senator Merkley’s bill.

Public Guardianship/Conservatorship Bill Moves Forward

As I mentioned in the last newsletter, one of my two priority bills for the short February session would at last create a way to meet the growing, critical needs of those vulnerable Oregonians who are not in a position to make decisions about their care, living arrangements, or finances but who also don’t have the financial means to hire a guardian. 

The legislation has received its preliminary drafting and has been assigned a number—LC 276.  There is a great deal of interest in the legislation, and a number of senators and representatives have already offered to sign on to the bill as co-sponsors. 

Yuxing Xheng did a nice writeup on the effort in last week’s Oregonian. Check it out.

Trying to Fix Problems, One Family at a Time

As a legislator, it’s my job to try to do the greatest good for the greatest number of Oregonians.  That’s what legislation is all about.  But it’s also my job to be the advocate and intermediary for constituents who find themselves having problems with state government.  Thanks to the great work done every day by Logan Gilles, my legislative assistant/policy advisor, our office has been very helpful for a number of people.

Just last week we were able to help a family caught up in the Cover Oregon mess.  This family is currently paying very high monthly premiums due to some serious health conditions and were looking forward to some help via Cover Oregon subsidies. They did all the necessary paperwork, but due to the backlog in processing applications, they had received no word on their status and were therefore unable to meet yesterday’s deadline.  They faced the prospect of losing coverage entirely.  Desperately in need of coverage after January 1, they wrote me at 7 a.m. 

I’m happy to report that by the afternoon, we had resolved their problem, and it turned out that the answer was even better than expected.  It turned out that they are among the more than 200,000 Oregonians now eligible for the Oregon Health Plan, thanks to the new Medicaid expansion feature of the Affordable Care Act.  This will bring their costs down dramatically.

Under the new Oregon Health Plan income eligibility rules, in 2014 individuals must earn 138 percent of the federal poverty level or less to qualify, as compared to the 100 percent cutoff this year. The new cap means monthly income of $1,322 for an individual,$1,784 for a household of two, $2,247 for a household of three, and $2,704 for a family of four.

One of the intended features of Cover Oregon—which turned out to be more ambitious than realistic—was that its website would let applicants know immediately if they were eligible and they would then know that they’d met the deadline.  But with the inability of the website to process applications, all the applications are being processed by hand.  Not surprisingly, despite the best efforts of the front-line workers hired to do this work, people like this family are falling through the cracks.

If you think you may be in a position like this family’s and haven’t yet received your welcome packed from OHP, you can click here for more information.

UPDATE:  Late yesterday the Cover Oregon board wisely decided to extend the deadline for applications to January 6.

Health Care After ObamaCare?  January 14th Health Care Forum

Despite the very disappointing problems with the roll-out of Cover Oregon (see above), I do believe that in the end those technical problems will be resolved and many thousands of Oregonians will have access to better and more affordable health insurance.  But I’m also convinced that “ObamaCare” is just a step in the direction of where we need to be heading.

I’m therefore pleased to see that the Portland City Club is hosting a panel discussion entitled “Health Care Reform After ObamaCare: What’s left to do in Oregon?” It will be on Tuesday evening, January 14th, at Kells Irish Pub & Restaurant (112 SW 2nd Avenue). The usual format is a 5:30 meet and greet, then an order-your-own dinner, presentations by panelists at 6:15 pm, and Q&A from 6:45 pm until 8:00 pm.

I look forward to being part of the panel and sharing my own thoughts on how best we can advance as a state towards truly universal access to the health care we need.  Hope you’ll join me!

For Your Calendar:  Town Hall, January 22nd

Please mark your calendars for a tentative Town Hall on the evening of January 22nd.  Details in the next newsletter.

Until next time,

Update your subscriptions, modify your password or e-mail address, or stop subscriptions at any time on your User Profile Page. You will need to use your e-mail address to log in. If you have questions or problems with the subscription service, please contact support@govdelivery.com.