Alabama editorial roundup

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

Dec. 29

The Daily Home, Talladega, Ala., on CASA volunteers provide a critical helping hand:

Volunteers recently trained in the Court Appointed Social Advocates program have made generous commitments toward helping children who have had their lives torn apart.

The Tri-County CASA program is one of 11 in the state, and one of about 1,000 nationwide, that depend on volunteers to become the court’s experts on children placed in foster care while social workers, attorneys and judges try to decide on permanent placements for their future.

Removed from their homes for abuse or neglect, foster children may find that their CASA volunteer is the only constant in their lives during this difficult time. When a CASA volunteer accepts an assignment, he or she is committing to stay involved until it is resolved, usually a year and a half. Social workers typically work with families to help them complete services so that, when possible, children can return to a safe home. Attorneys and other professionals typically work on a number of cases at a time, involving a number of families and children. CASA volunteers work only with a few children at a time so they have time to get to know the child and really finding out what will be best for the child’s future. CASA volunteers become the eyes and ears of the court, and serve as advocates for the children during hearings and other procedures.

Most of the program’s funding comes from the federal Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention, which helps with starting up and expanding programs. Volunteers receive training but no other compensation, and must undergo background checks and complete training before being sworn in by the court.

Once assigned, the volunteers act as watchdogs for the children until they are placed in loving, permanent homes. They review documents and records, interview the children, family members and professionals in their lives, help the child understand the proceedings, provide reports and keep the courts informed of developments — they help connect all the pieces and keep the child’s best interests front and center.

Nationally, some 77,000 volunteers advocated for 234,000 children in one recent year. In Alabama there are about 300 volunteers. Alabama’s state CASA program started in 1997, but most counties still do not have CASA programs in place.

While the goal is to help find the best permanent home for the children, the Alabama CASA Network lists other benefits from the program — that children are more likely to be adopted, less likely to re-enter foster care, and more likely to have a plan for permanency. They are more likely to get help while in the system, more likely to do better in school, more likely to have positive attitudes toward the future, value achievement and be better able to work with others and resolve conflicts.

One volunteer in Talladega County and five in St. Clair County were recently sworn in by the courts, giving them authority to gather information on behalf of the children they will be helping. It’s a big commitment, and one that should make a big difference for children who desperately need help and stability in their lives.



Dec. 23

Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News on health care paid for with higher premiums:

Republicans set records for futility as they voted over and over again to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. They made themselves look petty and impotent as they flogged the legislative dead horse repeatedly. And their efforts to shut down the government rather than fund Obamacare made financial markets panicky and generally frustrated the public.

The only problem is that they were right about the Affordable Care Act. Their methods were badly flawed, but they had the right idea. It is a bad law that should be scrapped. Unfortunately, the best the American public can hope for is tweaks and refinement.

The ACA was sold to the American public on a foundation of half-truths and untruths. Americans were told that premiums wouldn’t increase and it wouldn’t cost them anything. But premiums for many private policies have skyrocketed. Americans were told that they could keep their policies and their doctors if they wanted to. Now millions find their policies canceled or they find themselves with policies that won’t pay the doctors they’ve been seeing. That alone is reason enough to start over from scratch.

The law is so bad that its chief proponents, President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies, keep delaying implementation of its major provisions. They hope that will dull the worst of the impact so that the public doesn’t have to digest all of the flaws simultaneously.

In the latest move, the health insurance industry’s largest trade group, American Health Insurance Plans, got its members to voluntarily extend deadlines for premiums until Jan. 10, giving consumers who buy insurance by Dec. 23 an extra 10 days to pay. The move came at the administration’s urging. The cushion will come in handy if consumers are plagued by further computer problems like the ones that gummed up the system during the launch of the federal government’s website.

President Obama has acted unilaterally (a move of dubious constitutionality) to delay the law’s employer mandate and other provisions. But at some point, the full weight of this ill-conceived legislation will bear down on the American people.

The ACA’s main purpose was to help uninsured and underinsured people obtain decent insurance. The belief was that with insurance, they would receive better health care. Most Americans wanted some kind of health care reform, particularly measures that would prevent insurance companies from canceling policies after policyholders got sick, as well as ones that would help people get coverage for pre-existing conditions.

The problem is that they were told it could all be done and it would be a free lunch. Now Americans are finding out those who have been responsible and bought insurance over the years are subsidizing that free lunch with higher premiums. They pay more and get less, and the officials who did this to them walk away without penalty.

Obviously, there is much tweaking and refining to do.



Dec. 27

The Anniston (Ala.) Star on President Obama:

Today’s trending political narrative often is yesterday’s news. Nothing is guaranteed.

The Republican Party continues to court internal disarray and is struggling to gain traction with Americans young, non-white, non-native born or gay. America’s changing demographics — less white, less native-born and more accepting of gays and lesbians’ rights — makes those votes vital in any national election.

Nevertheless, anyone with a basic understanding of U.S. politics can see that the party of President Barack Obama faces a few roadblocks for the 2014 midterm elections. One of them is the president himself.

On Thursday, a new CNN/ORC International poll showed that Obama’s influence will weigh heavily on congressional elections. Fifty-five percent of those polled by CNN said they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes the president.

(The CNN poll also showed that voter enthusiasm among polled Democrats was less than it was for Republicans, and that the GOP owned a slight advantage in the fight to control Congress in the last two years of Obama’s time in the White House.)

Set none of this in stone. As CNN’s pollsters correctly explained, the GOP swing in the congressional vote is directly linked to the Obama administration’s bungled rollout of the Affordable Care Act and its faulty website. Two months ago, a similar poll showed Democrats ahead in the congressional races by eight points, 50 percent to 42 percent. It’s now 49 percent to 44 percent in favor of the Republicans. Most of the swing has been caused by male voters, CNN’s polling director said; female voters continue to poll in favor of Democrats.

As the ACA’s website improves — and as more Americans sign up for health-care coverage — the bungled rollout’s influence may dissipate. It’s a long time between now and the opening of the 2014 polls.

But there’s no sugarcoating the fact that Democratic candidates for Congress — particularly those in vulnerable districts or states with diversity among voters — may face tough campaign choices as the election season heats up.


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