2021-4-15

Virginia expands Medicaid access for legal immigrants

By Cameron Jones, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Ni Kin became a permanent resident in 2002 at 70 years old, but she was unable to work after moving from Myanmar to Virginia due to mobility problems.

Kin required more medical attention related to her condition as she aged, but was unable to see a doctor because she didn’t have insurance, according to her grandson Tin Myint. Kin didn’t qualify for Medicaid due to a state rule requiring permanent residents to present 10 years of work history to use public health insurance, Myint said. Kin also did not qualify for no-premium Medicare, since she never worked in the country and does not qualify for Social Security benefits.

“We have family friends who live in other states that were able to get Medicaid when they applied, who've been living here for 10 to 15 years, and we thought that applied to us also,” Myint said. “That was disappointing and shocking to hear that Virginia was one of the very few states that had this particular rule.”

Kin is one of thousands of permanent residents in Virginia that will qualify for Medicaid due to a new change eliminating the 10-year work history requirement, known as the “40-quarter rule,” according to the Virginia Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit group that advocates for low-income Virginians. The commonwealth was one of six states with a 10-year work history requirement for Medicaid. 

Gov. Ralph Northam and state legislators approved a budget last year that eliminated the rule. The change went into effect this month. 

Northam’s line budget amendment includes $4.4 million in state funds for this change, according to the Virginia Poverty Law Center.

Freddy Mejia, a policy analyst at the Commonwealth Institute, said the old rule was a roadblock for legal permanent residents. The Commonwealth Institute is an organization that analyzes the impact of fiscal and economic issues on low-income communities.

“Someone who comes to the country as an older adult, possibly doesn’t get the opportunity to work for 10 years but gets sick,” Mejia said as an example.

Mejia said lawmakers and advocates lobbied for the change in the 2019 General Assembly, but it did not pass. Northam and lawmakers approved the change as a line budget amendment in 2020, but it was vetoed once the COVID-19 pandemic began, Mejia said. It was funded again in the 2020 fall special session, and the change went into effect April 1, 2021. 

Mejia credited this change to advocacy efforts from different parties, including the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium, the Virginia Poverty Law Center, and politicians such as Del. Mark Sickles, D- Franconia, Sen. George Barker, D- Alexandria, and Northam. 

Jill Hanken, a health attorney and director of ENROLL Virginia, said immigrants have suffered in a disparate way throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and the policy change will encourage people to apply for the coverage they need. ENROLL Virginia is a project of the Virginia Poverty Law Center that helps Virginians access affordable health coverage.

“Statewide it demonstrates that Virginia is welcoming and interested in making sure that immigrants have access to the health services that they need,” Hanken said. 

ENROLL Virginia will continue alerting immigrants across the commonwealth of this change, Hanken said. 

Meanwhile, Myint is excited to sign his grandmother up for Medicaid.

“I can’t wait for her to get proper medical checkup, the needs that she needs to have a living condition she deserves,” Myint said. 

 

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

WARNER REINTRODUCES BICAMERAL, BIPARTISAN LEGISLATION TO ENSURE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SURVIVORS ARE NO LONGER RESPONSIBLE FOR FORMER SPOUSES’ STUDENT LOAN DEBT

~ Bill would make a commonsense fix to make it easier for borrowers who need to separate their joint consolidation loans ~

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and U.S. Rep. David Price (D-NC) reintroduced bicameral, bipartisan legislation that would provide much-needed relief for individuals who previously consolidated their student loan debt with their spouse. While Congress eliminated the joint consolidation program in 2006, it did not provide a way for borrowers to sever existing loans, even in the event of domestic violence, economic abuse, or unresponsiveness from a former partner. The Joint Consolidation Loan Separation Act, cosponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and John Cornyn (R-TX), would fix this oversight, which has unfortunately left too many borrowers liable for their former spouse’s student loan debt.

“Victims of domestic violence who flee their dangerous living situations shouldn’t find themselves burdened with their partner’s debt when trying to move forward with their lives. Unfortunately, that’s the reality for some Americans who are stuck with joint consolidation loans,” said Sen. Warner. “This commonsense bill would help a vulnerable population who’s been unfairly held responsible for their former partner’s debt, by giving them the ability regain their financial independence.”

“This bill is a direct response to my constituent’s experience with a damaging joint consolidation loan. I introduced this bill to provide relief to borrowers who are victims of abusive or uncommunicative spouses by allowing them to sever these loans,” said Rep. Price. “The impact on borrowers is often crippling and I’m grateful for the bipartisan support that this common-sense bill has received. Congressional action is long overdue.” 

“Survivors of domestic violence should never have to pay the debts of their abuser,” Sen. Rubio said. “This legislation would provide financial independence to those survivors who previously consolidated their student loan debt with their partner. I am proud to join Senators Warner and Cornyn in reintroducing this legislation, and I urge my Senate colleagues to support this bill to deliver relief to these individuals.”

“Victims of domestic abuse should never, ever be on the hook for an abusive partner’s debt,” said Sen. Cornyn. “I am proud to join this commonsense, bipartisan effort that will be key in helping vulnerable Texans, and others across the nation, regain their financial autonomy.”

Specifically, the Joint Consolidation Loan Separation Act would allow borrowers to submit an application to the Department of Education to split the joint consolidation loan into two separate federal direct loans. The joint consolidation loan remainder – the unpaid loan and accrued unpaid interest – would be split proportionally based on the percentages that each borrower originally brought into the loan. The two new federal direct loans would have the same interest rates as the joint consolidation loan. 

Each borrower would also have the ability to transfer eligible payments made on the joint consolidation loan towards income-driven repayment programs and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

The Joint Consolidation Loan Separation Act is supported by a number of organizations, including the National Network to End Domestic Violence, National Consumer Law Center, North Carolina Coalition against Domestic Violence, and the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance.

“When survivors escape abuse, they should be able to start over without the debts of their abusers. We applaud this bill for creating a solution for those survivors who consolidated loans either in good faith or under duress and are now rebuilding their lives,” said Monica McLaughlin, Director of Public Policy at the National Network to End Domestic Violence. 

“For far too long, many student loan borrowers have been stuck in joint consolidation loans, and this bill ensures that struggling borrowers, including survivors of domestic and economic abuse, who previously consolidated their student loan debts, have the opportunity to regain their financial footing. We applaud Senator Warner and Representative Price for their efforts. This bill would benefit many vulnerable student loan borrowers, and we are proud to support it,” said Persis Yu, Director, Student Borrower Assistance Project for the National Consumer Law Center.

“Survivors of domestic violence in North Carolina face many barriers when they decide to leave an abusive relationship; shouldering the burden of an abusive partner’s debt should not be one of them. We applaud Congressman Price for filing this bill and helping survivors get one step closer to regaining rebuild their lives and regain their financial independence,” said Kathleen Lockwood, Legal & Policy Director at the North Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“The Action Alliance is pleased to support these efforts to provide victims of domestic and economic abuse with student loan relief. This bill will make a difference for people who need it, and I hope Congress will move swiftly to enact it,” said Jonathan Yglesias, Policy Director at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance.

A copy of the one-pager can be found here. A copy of the bill text and be found here.

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