Kicked While Down: Unemployed and Uninsured

While America is fixated on the BP oil spill, another crisis has been brewing under the radar: the denial of insurance coverage to the unemployed. Talk about being kicked when you’re down.

According to a June 12 Associated Press article: “Congress allowed emergency health care assistance for unemployed workers to expire May 31, and seems unwilling to renew it despite pleas from President Barack Obama.”

If you talk to most unemployed people, you will find that they do not want to be unemployed. In fact, they want jobs. Unless you’ve been living in an alternate reality (like some of our wealthier citizens), jobs have been few and far in between since before the government and free world admitted that we were in an actual recession.

Speaking of that recession, which was caused by the economic policies of the Bush administration and a Republican-controlled Congress, it’s repulsive for them to now say that they do not want to extend this benefit because it will add to the deficit. And I am disgusted with Democrats who won’t press the issue for fear of not being re-elected. The same politicians who spent countless months trying to get health care reform passed in order to be elected are now turning away from extending this benefit. With representatives like this, who needs enemies?

Lawmakers want to pretend that this deficit and this recession came out of thin air, but it didn’t, and it has impacted North Carolina in a horrible way. Last year, North Carolina’s unemployment rate was the highest it had ever been in 30 years. We won’t even mention the thousands who actually managed to keep jobs, but had to let go of insurance because they couldn’t afford it — or their small businesses couldn’t afford to offer it.

For the unemployed, insurance premiums are more of an issue because they are cost-prohibitive for anyone without a trust fund. The North Carolina/South Carolina jobless rate was at its highest level in 20 years, hitting 12.8 just in January. The unemployment rate remained above 12 percent for some time in Charlotte, prompting President Obama to make a visit in March to discuss job creation, small businesses and a green economy. As of this printing, the unemployment rate has actually been dropping for the last three months, which is good news; however, even though unemployment has dropped to 10.3 percent, 472,614 people are still currently unemployed in the Queen City. So, what happens when these folks and their families get sick?

Under President Obama’s economic stimulus plan, the government provided a 65 percent COBRA subsidy to ensure that those newly unemployed would have health insurance coverage while they looked for a job. It’s one thing to be unemployed, but unemployed and uninsured? Crazy things happen when people are under that type of stress.

Take for example Kathy Myers, the unemployed and uninsured Michigan woman who shot herself in the shoulder in order to get medical attention that she needed for a shoulder injury. It is illegal to deny emergency medical treatment to someone because they lack health insurance. Myers took advantage of that law so that she could get medical attention. That’s extreme (and hopefully Myers got some psychiatric help, too), but this incident is an example of what people should not have to do to get medical care.

Charlotte hasn’t had a “Kathy Myers” yet, but — with almost half a million people out of work and presumably uninsured — how long will it be before we have one? How much can people take? Myers reached her breaking point. What will be ours?

Not all of our elected officials have turned their backs on the uninsured unemployed. According to the AP report, “Democratic Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Sherrod Brown of Ohio have introduced a measure that would allow the program to continue helping people who get laid off through Nov. 30.” Now if only Congress would entertain it.

May 31 has come and gone, and millions of people don’t know whether they will have subsidized insurance coverage. Some people are calling it welfare. Call it what you want, but when people are desperate, they do desperate things — to themselves and to others. It’s not rocket science. Most people obtain insurance through their jobs. When they’re jobless, they don’t have insurance and this measure helped them to have something to offer their families.

I once met an Australian man who told me that he didn’t understand why Americans were up in arms over universal health care. He said that society is only as strong as its weakest members, so it is imperative that you take care of them or your country will not thrive. With more than 10 percent of Charlotteans out of work and even more without health care coverage, it’s a sure bet that we are not thriving.

This article originally appeared on Creative Loafing, where Nsenga serves as cultural critic. She also serves as editor-at-large for TheRoot.com where she writes the Buzz section and contributes features.

Spitting on Black Congress Members is Unacceptable

As many of you know, this past weekend members of the Tea Party spat on Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver and called him the “N” word. They also yelled at, mocked and shouted the “F” word to Representative Barney Frank, who is openly gay. We cannot stand for this.  The Tea Party is out of control and something has to be done. Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, Independent, Green Party, Third Party supporter or conscientious objector, this type of behavior must cease.  Our lawmakers cannot continue to benefit from it in one way (Republican votes) while trying to distance themselves from what comes with it (fear, violence and hatred).

RNC Chair Michael Steele, who is African-American, has yet to stand up to this group; instead he has previously said if he were not RNC Chair, he’d be out there with the Tea Partiers. I hope that does not include spitting on and calling other Black leaders the “N” word.

Virginia Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, recently started a Tea Party Group. While he clearly gets off on being spat upon and called the “N” word, most African-Americans do not. Thomas and Steele fail to see the hate that is being spewed at their racial group. Their mere association with this group, sends a clear message that they are in support of their tactics including fear, bullying, violence and intimidation as a means of furthering their racist agenda, hidden by a pseudo-political one.

I am urging you to write to your Congress person denouncing this group. I would suggest writing to Justice Thomas and Mr. Steele if I thought it would do any good. We all know that it wouldn’t because they have cast aside their souls in pursuit of power. So please let your Congress person know in no uncertain terms that if there is any further association with this group, then they will lose your vote, since having a clear conscious is not enough of a motivator.

Do not sit back and watch this happen. African American and gay communities have a history of standing against ignorance, violence and hatred. Let’s not get comfortable and continue to allow this so-called political group to terrorize members of our nation.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. writes the blog “Tune N” and serves as cultural critic for Creative Loafing in Charlotte.

Will Somebody Please Protect the Nation’s First Black President?

Enough is enough. President Barack Hussein Obama must be protected against zealots who are using every opportunity to harass, bully and intimidate supporters and the President by traipsing around with guns. At a protest in Phoenix, 12 people were carrying guns — one with a military style rifle, where the President of the United States of America was speaking. Let me state that again — The President of the United States of America.

Supposedly these gun rights advocates were permitted to operate in this “unsafe” space, because it is their constitutional right.  Is it their constitutional right to harass and intimidate people with the presence of guns at a protest about health care reform? Do their 2nd Amendment rights supersede my 1st amendment right to assemble or protest without the threat of violence? I am repulsed at the sheer and utter depraved indifference that law enforcement took with the President’s life by allowing these bullies to march around with rifles.  Just what are they protecting and who are they defending? I know — fear, racism and vengeance.  Not much has changed in this so-called time of change.

Some white men still think that it is their right to control everything including a person’s movement. The policing of bodies, especially of Blacks and women is as American as apple pie, and some racist and sexist holdovers won’t let go. When change comes, they do everything in their power to stop it, including relying on traditional modes of invoking and instilling fear in their perceived opponent.

Allowing this type of repugnant, venomous and abusive behavior to occur and to fester can lead to only one thing — another massacre or presidential assassination.  Why people need assault weapons at a gathering about health care, I don’t know.  Why they are allowed to operate in that fashion is even more bewildering. Nothing good has ever come from extremists with guns.

To allow people to have assault weapons in the same space as the President of the United States is unconscionable.  Not only are attendees at risk, but so is the life of the President of the United States of America.  Do we not value his life as much as other presidents because of the color of his skin? If that is the case, then that is the same perverted ideology that drives these gun rights activists over the edge.

They are not hiding their racism behind gun rights — they are in fact tying their racism to gun rights, which is as scary as being greeted at a forum by a gun-toting bigot who thinks his life means more than yours. I ask will somebody, anybody please protect innocent people and the nation’s first Black president?

This article originally appeared on TheLoop21.com, where Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. serves as managing editor. She is a cultural critic for Creative Loafing, writes the pop cultural blog Tune N, and is an Assistant Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Goucher College.