Category Archives: City of Houston

Update: Houston Dept. of Health Extends Hours for ACA Sign-Up

From the Inbox:

The Houston Department of Health and Human Services (HDHHS) will open four of its multi-service centers on Sunday and extend the business hours late into the night at six centers Monday, giving uninsured people a last chance to enroll in a health plan before the Affordable Care Act’s deadline.

Uninsured residents can set up an appointment for one-on-one help from HDHHS’ certified application counselors at the centers by calling 832-393-5423. The counselors are able to help residents compare health plans and find one that fits their budget and health care needs.

Multi-service centers opening from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, March 30, are:

  • Denver Harbor MSC, 6402 Market Street
  • Northeast MSC, 9720 Spaulding
  • Southwest MSC, 6400 High Star
  • Third Ward MSC, 3611 Ennis Street

HDHHS’ centers extending hours until 10 p.m. for the enrollment deadline date of Monday, March 31, are:

  • Denver Harbor MSC, 6402 Market Street
  • Northeast MSC, 9720 Spaulding
  • Southwest MSC, 6400 High Star
  • Magnolia MSC, 7037 Capitol Street
  • Hiram Clarke MSC, 3810 West Fuqua
  • Sunnyside MSC, 9314 Cullen

HDHHS will set the last ACA enrollment appointments with its counselors for 8 p.m. Monday. The appointments are on a first come, first served basis.

Documents needed to enroll during an appointment include:

  • Proof of U.S. citizenship: social security number or copy of U.S. passport for all family members
  • State residency: driver’s license, housing lease or utility bill
  • Income:  W-2 forms or pay stubs; unemployment or disability; social security, pension and retirement income; or copy of 2012 tax return
  • Current health insurance: policy numbers for any current health insurance and information about job-related health insurance
  • Immigration status or legal residency: Immigration document status numbers.

More than 114,000 people in the Houston area already enrolled in one of the more than 40 low-cost ACA health plans available in the region.

HDHHS set up an ACA call center as part of the Gulf Coast Health Insurance Marketplace Collaborative, a group of 13 agencies helping people obtain insurance coverage through the ACA.

Certified application counselors and outreach staff with HDHHS and the other agencies in the collaborative have met face to face with more than 152,000 area residents since the enrollment period began in October. They have also reached out or distributed ACA brochures and information to approximately 538,000 people.

Uninsured residents can also sign up for a health insurance plan online by visiting HealthCare.gov or CuidadoDeSalud.gov.

 

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#GetCovered – Houston Dept. of Health Will Be Open on Sunday

From the Inbox:

The Houston Department of Health and Human Services (HDHHS) will open four of its multi-service centers on Sunday and extend their business hours next Monday to help people sign up for a health insurance plan by the Affordable Care Act’s March 31 deadline.

HDHHS will open Acres Homes, Denver Harbor, Northeast and Southwest multi-service centers on Sunday, March 30, from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. It will also extend the four multi-service centers’ business hours on Monday, March 31, until 10 p.m., setting the last ACA enrollment appointment for 8 p.m.

Approximately 99,000 Houston-area residents have enrolled in one of the more than 40 low-cost ACA health plans available in the region. Those without health insurance have only one week left to sign up.

Residents can set up an appointment for one-on-one help from certified application counselors at HDHHS by calling 832-393-5423. The counselors are able to help residents compare health plans and find one that fits their budget and health care needs.

The phone number connects residents to an ACA call center that HDHHS set up as part of the Gulf Coast Health Insurance Marketplace Collaborative, a group of 13 agencies helping people obtain insurance coverage through the ACA.

Certified application counselors and outreach staff with HDHHS and the other agencies in the collaborative have met face to face with more than 151,500 area residents since the enrollment period began in October. They have also reached out or distributed ACA brochures and information to approximately 538,000 people.

Documents needed to enroll during an appointment include:

    • Proof of U.S. citizenship: social security number or copy of U.S. passport for all family members
    • State residency: driver’s license, housing lease or utility bill
    • Income:  W-2 forms or pay stubs; unemployment or disability; social security, pension and retirement income; or copy of 2012 tax return
    • Current health insurance: policy numbers for any current health insurance and information about job-related health insurance
    • Immigration status or legal residency: Immigration document status numbers.

Tweet of the Day: Payday Lending Ordinance Passes

I’ll give the big prize to Mike Morris of the Chron.

PDiddie has more.

Council Should Vote For Payday Lending Regs

It’s just the right thing to do. But if there are members of City Council who want to talk about “free markets” or claim they haven’t heard anything from the community, Lisa Falkenberg at the Chron has a hard-hitting article this morning, including quotes from those affected by the predatory lending practices of the industry. And then this.

Guerrero said it never occurred to her to call her councilman: “I just never thought the City Council was involved with, you know, all these little loan places out there.”

I asked the grandmother the same question: Why hadn’t she complained to her councilman about her struggles with the loan companies?

“The truth is,” she told me, “I’ve never had anybody like you come up to me and show some kind of interest. I didn’t know there was somebody out there who had somebody’s back. There’s a lot of questions that we the people have. But there’s nobody out there to hear us.”

Do you hear them now, Councilman Rodriguez?

C’mon, this is a financial issue for most families, why would most think about going to their Council member for help? A State Rep., maybe, but it’s obvious that some State Reps have been influenced by the same lobbyists and PACs, so, they probably would have met the same walls. That said, as Falkenberg mentions, the lack of movement by the Texas Legislature has now placed the opportunity to do something about this problem in the hands of City Council members, thanks to Mayor Annise Parker.

There are other members of Council who might use terms like, “personal responsibility” to describe those who cannot get ahead of these loans. But the practices, as described by Falkenberg and those interviewed, say much about the industry as it is today and how the loan process is designed to do exactly what it is doing to families. All a politician who is interested in “industry” dollars for a 2015 run for something has to do is open their eyes–or take off the blinders.

When I went off to college, my parents would worry about my finances at least a few times a year and wanted to make sure I had a few bucks in my pocket–usually as I waited for my grant/loan check to be released. So, they’d visit the local “loan company”–a pawn shop and short-term loan place. Everyone in town knew him as “El Pat,” a white dude who built his business and relied on the Chicanos in the town. High interest? Sure. Predatory? Certainly not how things are today. Then again, we’re talking about the late 80s. Years and years of Republican promotion of the “free market” have allowed the industry to run amok.

Are these businesses needed? And will these businesses still make sizable profits–even enough to pay for an extra lobbyist–with these regulations? Yes to both.

So, the smart thing is to simply vote yes–or at the very least, allow an up or down vote.

Kuff has some background. Texpatriate supports the regs, too.

Post #5000 ~ Some Thoughts

Well, the 2013 election is finally over and I’m proud to say that DosCentavos.net went 6-0, as far as picks go. Congrats to Robert Gallegos, Dwight Boykins, David Robinson, Zeph Capo, Adriana Tamez, and Robert Glaser who had some big wins against well-funded opponents.

There’s some concern about dealing with Kubosh (my at-large 3 “leave it blank” campaign garnered 6.5%, but there was even more undervotes in at-large 2!). Mayor Annise Parker is a grown-up and an effective negotiator. If everyone else plays the grown-up, then things should go smoothly. And if one is a first-termer on council, they should get to work and not “wait their turn.” The people deserve the best representation. Because as close as some of these races were, or,  as notorious as some of the member-elects may be, people will be deciding if one should be re-elected in 2015. (Texpatriate has more on this.)

There is also some concern about the lack of women on the horseshoe, and I agree with every concern. Heck, there are only two Latinos on the council, as always. But much like I don’t support just any Latino because they have brown skin (Morales), the same is probably true for other folks of other demographic groups, as was evident this year. People need to be judged on the issues, and I hope that most of the 4% who voted decided in this manner, rather than just for the mere demographic numbers game we seem to get caught up on. The real test is when someone who isn’t a woman, or black, or Latino, or Asian, or LGBT, or disabled, defends and represents whatever aforementioned demographic, or at the very least listens to those constituents. And that goes for conservatives, moderates, and liberals on the council.

The more important thing to come out of this local election is that the payday lending lobby/pacs took it in the teeth on Saturday as those they funded lost. So, where do the lame ducks stand now? Will they go with the will of the people? Or will they stand by their check-writers? If we’re going to be asking questions about City Council, then let us begin with a pending issue–because the last meeting of the City Council is this week.

On the 5,000

For those that have been reading for the last almost-nine years, and have looked at at least one of my posts, thank you. Blogging is fun, especially if you don’t take yourself so damn seriously. But I will admit, the occasional “you’re awesome,” feels good, too.

Thanks to those who have contributed, as I cannot take credit for all of the posts. But the blog sure can, and I’m glad I helped make you famous. Thank you to the organizations who have invited me to speak. Above all, thanks to those of you who have become great friends during these last nine years, whether one is a politician/officeholder, or a reader who is genuinely appreciative of a good friend (me).

Now, the  bad news. I’ll be getting caught up in politics during the first third of the year, so, my blogging may not be as plentiful. If you’re a fellow lib-lab who wants to submit something, by all means, do. I do plan on doing more Podcasting with my entertainment political commentary partner, Dr. Rey Guerra and others.

I’m no Marxist, but they’re good people. – Pope Pancho

A Video Message To Readers – Loving You by Raul Malo and Michael Guerra

Another Delay for Payday Lending Regs

Looks like a payday lending ordinance was delayed for a week at Houston City Council by Andrew Burks and Jerry Davis today after they tagged it, as reported by Laurie Johnson at KUHF today. The bigger story is how it might be tagged again next week because CM James Rodriguez was absent this week.

Mustafa Tameez is a political analyst who knows the ins and outs of City Hall.

“When something comes for a vote on city council, councilmembers have the right to tag that and what that means is that the vote is delayed for a week while they get further information. If a councilmember is not present during that tag, they have a right to tag it the following week.”

And that’s where things get interesting.

This is probably a good time to point out that Tameez has a horse in this race: he’s a consultant for the coalition of organizations that want to pass the new regulations.

“The rumors in City Hall are that Councilmember James Rodriguez wasn’t here today because it gives him the ability to tag this next week when he’s here.”

“And what does that mean?”

“Well, next week’s meeting is the last meeting for city council this year. And as of next year, there’ll be a whole new city council. The industry doesn’t have the votes to oppose this payday lending ordinance, and so there are rumors running rampant around city hall that this is a tactic being used. It’s a Washington D.C.-style tactic.”

Rodriguez who has been quite vocal against the ordinance had this reaction.

“It’s a councilmember’s prerogative to tag items, it always has been.

The Mayor, though, states she’ll pass it one way or another.

“He has the ability — through procedural moves — to throw it into the next calendar year. But I fully expect to have it passed in January if it doesn’t pass this calendar year.”

So, if Rodriguez delays it again next week, rather than allow an up or down vote, it won’t be up again until January 8.

Oh, to be a payday lending lobbyist at Christmas time.

Texpatriate has more.

Some Opposition to Payday Lender Regs

Texpatriate provides some in-depth coverage of the opposition to Mayor Annise Parker’s proposal to regulate payday lenders here in Houston. The regulations are similar to other cities around Texas.

Perhaps the most vocal opponent of this regulation was Councilmember Dave Martin, the conservative who represents Kingwood and Clear Lake. Councilmember Martin, as your might recall, was the one who first threw cold water on the Wage Theft regulation. Today, he lamented the Payday lending reform as “looking for a solution where there is no problem.”

Meanwhile, Councilmember C.O. Bradford blasted the measure as something that should be solved by personal responsibility, trying to pass off the duty to the borrower. I have to say that I had expected better out of Bradford. Also in opposition was Jerry Davis, as well as Helena Brown (who opposes just about everything).

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that Councilmember James Rodriguez also appeared hostile to the regulations. Given that District I is one of the most vulnerable districts to such usury, it really caught my eye that Rodriguez would take such a position. One may recall that Rodriguez’s close friend and predecessor on the Council, Carol Alvarado, when she ran for the State Senate, was heavily underwritten by the payday lenders. A little cursory research reveals that these same benefactors are supporting Rodriguez’s hand-picked successor, Graciana Garces, in her bid to succeed Rodriguez on the Council. I contacted the Garces campaign and was told that she has not made up her mind on the measure since “she has not studied it.” I find this absurd in no small part, mainly because the ordinance is nearly identical to those passed in other Cities; we have known for a while what it looks like.

And Horwitz is correct. One look at contributions from corporate PACs like Cash America, and one will find some contributions to some of those who aren’t rallying around the ordinance. More telling is the fact that Mayor Annise Parker also accepted some sizable checks from them, but doesn’t seem fazed by that fact as she introduces this ordinance.

The payday lending lobby has grown in influence, even making a play in 2012 by supporting Mitt Romney. Obviously, a few rules that allow for fairness in lending while allowing these corporations to keep their sizable profits, irks them to no end. On top of all of the political contributions, one must ask how much they spend on lobbying these government bodies. Certainly, the people don’t have PACs to defend and protect them.

Obviously, this was just introduced and there will be some negotiation and back-and-forth, much like with the wage theft ordinance. One thing is for sure, I’m glad Robert Gallegos, candidate in the run-off for District I, is on record as being for the ordinance.

KUHF has more.

Early Voting Begins on Wednesday, December 4

Well, it’s that time again–Early Voting for the Run-Offs for City Council begins on Wednesday, December 4. You can vote at ANY early voting location (PDF of locations). The important thing is to VOTE!

And what are the DC nods, you ask? Well, here goes. I’ll start with those things on my actual ballot. I’ll probably make comments at a later date.

City of Houston At-Large 2:  David Robinson.

City of Houston At-Large 3:  LEAVE IT BLANK ~ With all due respect to my friends in the GLBT community, I cannot and will not vote for an anti-immigrant Hispanic.

HCC District V – Robert Glaser

The other races not on my ballot, but for whom I’m rooting.

District D – Dwight Boykins

District I – Robert Gallegos

HCC District I – Zeph Capo

HCC District III – Adriana Tamez

Mayor Parker Proposes Payday Lending Regulations

This is something I had been awaiting for a while. Here are the specifics.

With support from other major Texas cities and numerous advocacy groups, Mayor Annise Parker today unveiled proposed regulations for payday lending in Houston. The mayor’s plan establishes minimum business practices for payday lending institutions and mirrors ordinances previously adopted in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, San Antonio and several smaller Texas cities.

“I had initially favored a Houston-specific measure, but decided that joining with other Texas cities in a united front on this issue is the best way to send a strong message to the Texas legislature,” said Mayor Parker.  “Lenders deserve to make a profit on their investments, but not by charging astronomical interest rates to desperate consumers who have nowhere else to turn for emergency financial assistance.  The statewide model I am recommending for approval by Houston City Council achieves this balance.”

Payday and auto title loans are high cost, small-dollar loans offered to individuals without credit checks and little consideration for their ability to repay. The initial term is typically two weeks to one month, with the term usually determined based on the borrower’s pay cycle. A borrower who fails to make a payment on an auto title loan could wind up losing his means to get to work and take his children to school.

Under existing Texas law, there is no limit to the fees that payday lenders and auto title businesses can charge and no limit on the number of times they can charge high-fees for essentially the same loan – often trapping borrowers in a cycle of debt where they are never able to pay down the loan.  For example, a fast cash payday advance of $500 that is rolled over five or more times could wind up costing $1200 or more.

Houston’s proposed ordinance would help alleviate this problem by:

  • Requiring payday loan and auto title loan businesses to register with the city annually
  • Limiting payday loans to 20 percent of the borrower’s gross monthly income
  • Limiting auto title loans to three percent of the borrower’s gross annual income or 70 percent of the vehicle value, whichever is less
  • Limiting single payment loans to no more than three refinances or rollovers and installment loans to no more than four installments
  • Requiring each installment, refinance, or rollover payment to reduce the total principal owed by at least 25 percent
  • Defining a rollover or renewal as a loan within seven days of the previous loan
  • Requiring loan agreements to be written in easy-to-understand language
  • Requiring contact information for nonprofits offering financial literacy and cash assistance

This sounds OK to me. There’s no doubt that folks have a need for emergency loans–heck, I’ve been there as a college student awaiting the arrival of the student loan check with rent due a week before disbursement. And as a college student, there’s no doubt that there was an uneasy feeling that one may  lose a crappy, yet running, vehicle.

That said, there’s also some responsibility on the part of the borrower, but I think this proposal provides for a good shot at fairness for all.

Senator Sylvia Garcia had this to say:

I applaud Mayor Parker and the Houston City Council for presenting a package of payday lending regulations to protect our citizens from unscrupulous payday lenders. The proposed package is modeled after an ordinance that was passed by the City of San Antonio and other major urban cities. I look forward to supporting Mayor Parker and the city council’s efforts to pass a Houston ordinance as quickly as possible.

So, let’s hope this gets passed in December.

Catching Up With City of Houston Stuff

I got hit by a cold early last week, felt better by last Friday, and by Saturday, a whole new wave hit me hard and knocked me out of commission. I’m not 100%, yet, but I figured doing one big post on stuff I’ve managed to notice in between bouts of napping and delirium would be in order.

We Have an Anti-Wage Theft Ordinance!

Congrats to the good people of Fe y Justicia Worker Center and their partners for staying in the fight to ensure a Wage Theft Ordinance that some call “a good start” was finally passed by City Council.

As I heard during this process that even my own member of Council was iffy, and I sorta mentioned it on the DC, his office engaged me and even invited me to further discuss the issue. As life (and family illnesses) hit me square in the face, I didn’t have time to participate much, but Council Member Mike Laster’s office remained engaged and attentive, which I truly appreciate. Ultimately, after a couple of edits, the entire Council voted for the ordinance. So, thanks to Council Member Laster, and a big DC salute to Council Member Ed Gonzalez and Mayor Annise Parker for all of their work and negotiation.

Benefits for Legally Married Folks

This is really a no-brainer–that same sex spouse gets to qualify for a spouses city benefits. This is another good first step, as now, the City can begin to moved toward a non-discrimination ordinance.

Payday Lending Regulations Forthcoming

I’ll write more about this, but on Friday, Mayor Annise Parker will announce a new drive to enact payday lending regulations. She’ll unveil the package and will ask Council to approve in December.

This is timely, and should be cause for debate among City Council candidates in the run-off. Of course, it’s also cause to look at campaign finance reports to see who’s getting payday lender money.

District I – Robert Gallegos Racks Up Endorsements

Robert Gallegos has already gotten some significant endorsements, including State Rep. Ana Hernandez and former opponent, Ben Mendez. Others include the Greater Houston Restaurant Association, the Young Democrats, my favorite unions, SEIU and HOPE, the Teamsters, the Plumbers, and some more elected officials.

Congrats to David Lee Garza and Friends

David Lee Garza earned himself a Latin Grammy for his multi-artist production, Just Friends. Of course, DosCentavos is proud to have given this CD it’s seal of approval. Here’s a sample featuring David Marez: