Government shutdown: What you need to know
by Holly Yan
Let's start with the obvious question: Will there be a government shutdown this week? Probably.
On that, Republicans and Democrats agree. It's everything else that has them bickering and blaming. And unless they strike a deal on a spending bill Monday, the government will begin shutting down at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.
After weeks of congressional back-and-forth, the ball is back in the Senate's court. It meets at 2 p.m. Monday to decide what to do next.
The outcome, while likely, isn't a foregone conclusion. The deadline is midnight, and one day can be a long time on Capitol Hill.
Here's a quick Q&A to get you caught up on what happened over the weekend and what to look forward to Monday.
Why would the government shut down?
Congress has one key duty laid out in the Constitution -- pass spending bills that fund the government. If it doesn't, most of the functions of the government -- from paying the military, to funding small business loans, to processing Social Security checks -- would grind to a slow-motion halt.
What's the holdup?
House Republicans insist the spending bill include anti-Obamacare amendments. Senate Democrats are just as resolute that it doesn't.
How's Obamacare tied to funding the government?
It isn't. But it's being used as a bargaining chip. A group of Republicans, led by freshman Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, despises the president's signature health care plan so much that it is willing to risk government shutdown or default.
What's their objection?
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the actual name of the law, requires all Americans to have health insurance. Opponents say it'll hurt employers, and it amounts to overreach by the federal government. Some have also criticized the medical device tax that's part of the law, saying by imposing such a tax, it's basically sending jobs overseas.
What's the Democrats' defense?
Democrats say Obamacare protects those with pre-existing medical conditions from being denied health insurance. They also say it brings costs down because those who have health insurance will no longer have to indirectly pay for those who show up in emergency rooms uninsured.
So, what happened with the spending bill over the weekend?
The Republican-dominated House passed two spending bill amendments Sunday morning -- one that would delay Obamacare for a year, and one that would repeal the Obamacare's medical device tax. The bill now goes back to the Senate, where Democrats who control that chamber have consistently said any changes to Obamacare would be a deal-killer.
What happens Monday?
The Senate will take a simple-majority vote to table the parts of the House bill with that the Senate Democratic majority disagrees with, a Senate Democratic leadership aide said. After that, the Senate plans to send its version of the bill -- one without any changes to Obamacare -- back to the House. So the political hot potato will likely continue.
And if nothing changes, does the government shuts down?
Yes. But not all at once. Starting Tuesday morning, park rangers would start locking up national parks. Most furloughed federal workers are supposed to be out of their offices within four hours of the start of business Tuesday.
But don't expect a complete halt. Most of the 3.3 million government workers are deemed "essential" or "excepted." So the mail will continue to come. The military will continue to fight. And Social Security Check will continue to be paid.
How many government workers could be furloughed?
More than 783,000 government employees, according to a CNN analysis of contingency plans published by the federal government on Friday. Not all government agencies submitted contingency plans.
And will this kill Obamacare?
It probably wouldn't. Most of the money for Obamacare comes from new taxes and fees, as well as from cost cuts to other programs like Medicare and other types of funding that would continue even if the government shuts down.
Is there any hope if a deal isn't struck by midnight?
If lawmakers reach an agreement by late Monday night, but the funding bill hasn't made it to the president's desk, the government can ignore a short lapse in funding and carry on in good faith knowing that it will. The last time that happened was April 2011.
L.A. program helps homeless women vets
by Susan Abram
She once wore Army-issue green, then earned the rank of E-3 seaman in the U.S. Navy.
But when Serwa Scorza left the uniform, insignia and base behind for civilian life, she fell out of step and lost her footing. By the time she moved to Los Angeles, Scorza's marriage had dissolved and she struggled to balance work, school and single motherhood. Homelessness came next.
“For the longest time, I couldn't get stable,” Scorza, 36, said one recent day.
Then a male veteran told Scorza something she didn't know about herself: that she, too, was a veteran. As it turns out, servicewomen seldom may be afraid to seek services from the Veterans Administration when they need it.
“Many women, when we initially outreach to them, may not even identify themselves as veterans,” said Michelle Wilde, chief of community care at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.
“They still think of that stereotype of a man coming back from war,” Wilde added.
Wilde's department was the first in the nation to organize an outreach team specifically to find and help homeless women veterans, whether they served tours overseas or stayed stateside, in times of war or in peace.
The team formed right on time, especially in Los Angeles County, when the number of homeless women veterans rose 51 percent from 2009 to 2011, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. That meant there were nearly 1,000 homeless women veterans living in cars, converted garages, and elsewhere across the region.
“Our women are very important,” Wilde said. “It has been a growing population and we have had to work really hard to meet them because they have different needs.”
With some federal funds from the Obama administration's “Opening Doors” initiative, the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program has given projects like Wilde's a boost in finding housing and assistance to homeless veterans.
This year, the HUD-VASH program received $75 million in federal funding to continue to offer rental assistance from HUD with case management and clinical services provided by the VA.
In all, 58,140 vouchers have been awarded since 2008 and 43,371 formerly homeless veterans are in homes of their own across the country because of HUD-VASH, federal officials have said.
“These HUD-VASH vouchers are a vital tool in our effort to provide these brave men and women with the earned care and benefits that help them live productive, meaningful lives,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki in a statement in August. “So long as a single veteran lives on our streets, we have work to do. But with the continued support of President Obama, Congress and our community partners, we will end homelessness among veterans.”
In Los Angeles, those funds have helped the outreach teams such as those overseen by Wilde continue to operate. The team is made up of a social worker, a nurse practitioner, a formerly homeless veteran, and a psychiatrist. The team scour the neighborhoods in areas most known for attracting tourists, but also the homeless: Venice, Santa Monica and Hollywood. Some are referred to Naomi House, which provides supporting housing for women with special needs. Others find substance abuse treatment help and housing through New Directions for Women in Mar Vista or permanent homes through L.A. Family Housing in the San Fernando Valley.
Like men, women veterans also may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, some because of sexual assault. They may return home and find that family support has vanished. Or they may have returned to jobs that no exist.
But the outreach team's efforts have helped. Of the 3,000 homeless veterans placed in homes, 10 percent were women. And the number of homeless veterans in Los Angeles County also has shown an overall drop, from 8,131 in 2011 to 6,248 this year according to the latest figures. Among women, the stats have fallen from 909 in 2011, to 352 this year.
Who is a vet?
Yet despite the success of the program, the work remains challenging, Wilde said, because of societal stereotypes of who is and who isn't a veteran.
“We've been trying to get the message out that there that there are exits out of homelessness,” she said of reaching women veterans. “Most people don't of think women or of families when they think of veterans.”
And there's a shortage of programs tailored to the needs of female veterans, Wilde added.
“We still don't have enough providers that specifically work with that population,” Wilde said. “We are looking for new providers and new programs to serve our women. The same problems that men have, women have, but women have their own unique problems.”
Scorza, who spent seven years in the military beginning in 1996 as a soldier in the Army then a dental assistant in the Navy, said she is grateful for the assistance she received through the VA. She has secured permanent housing for herself and her son, Elijah, who is 12. She has earned a nursing degree from Mount Saint Mary's College. She is eager to get back to helping people, she said.
She said she understands why women vets may not turn to the VA for services. But she would encourage them to try.
“Some female veterans may avoid or decline the help of the VA depending on what they experienced during the time they served,” Scorza said. “The fact is, the military is male-dominated and therefore there are more male veterans than female veterans. Sometimes women vets may respond to that alone and not see the importance of seeking assistance. But, the VA is improving how they interact with women veterans and there are a lot of resources in place that may benefit those who can get over their initial avoidance.
After being homeless for a couple of years, just having a place to call home, she said, put her back in step with her goals.
“Right now my life is a lot more stable than it had been. Having a place to call home is important. This stability also allowed me to complete my education. At this point, I feel like I have a more concrete foundation and a positive perception of my family's' future. It all started with a basic need being met.”
Veterans who have trouble with housing or any other issues may call 1-877-424-3838. Also the CalVet “Reintegration Form” that any veteran can fill out to connect them with their benefits and services — no matter when they served, can go to www.calvet.ca.gov
New York City
NYC cost per inmate almost equals Ivy League education; expenses tied to Rikers boost cost
NEW YORK — New York is indeed an expensive place, but experts say that alone doesn't explain a recent report that found the city's annual cost per inmate was $167,731 last year — nearly as much as it costs to pay for four years of tuition at an Ivy League university.
They say a big part of it is due to New York's most notorious lockup, Rikers Island, and the costs that go along with staffing, maintaining and securing a facility that is literally an island unto itself.
“Other cities don't have Rikers Island,” said Martin F. Horn, who in 2009 resigned as the city's correction commissioner, noting that hundreds of millions of dollars are spent a year to run the 400-acre island in the East River next to the runways of LaGuardia Airport that has 10 jail facilities, thousands of staff and its own power plant and bakery.
The city's Independent Budget Office annual figure of $167,731 — which equates to about $460 per day for the 12,287 average daily New York City inmates last year — was based on about $2 billion in total operating expenses for the Department of Correction, which included salaries and benefits for staff, judgments and claims as well as debt service for jail construction and repairs.
But there are particularly expensive costs associated with Rikers.
The department says it spends $30.3 million annually alone on transportation costs, running three bus services that usher inmates to and from court throughout the five boroughs, staff from a central parking lot to Rikers jails and visitors to and around the island. There were 261,158 inmates delivered to court last year.
A way to bring down the costs, Horn has long said, would be to replace Rikers Island with more robust jails next door to courthouses. But his attempts to do that failed in part because of political opposition from residential areas near courthouses in Brooklyn, Manhattan and elsewhere.
“My point is: Have you seen a whole lot of outcry on this? Why doesn't anything happen?” Horn said of the $167,731 annual figure. “Because nobody cares.”
“That's the reason we have Rikers Island,” he said. “We want these guys put away out of public view.”
New York's annual costs dwarf the annual per-inmate costs in other big cities. Los Angeles spent $128.94 a day, or $47,063 a year, for 17,400 inmates in fiscal year 2011-12, its sheriff's office said. Chicago spent $145 a day, or $52,925 a year, for 13,200 inmates in 2010, the most recent figures available from that county's sheriff's office. Those costs included debt-service and fringe benefits.
Experts note that New York's high annual price tag is deceiving because it reflects considerable pensions and salary responsibilities, debt service and the expensive fixed costs. The DOC says 86 percent of its operating costs go for staff wages.
New York's system differs from other cities in some other costly ways — it employs 9,000 relatively well-paid, unionized correction officers, for example, and is required by law to provide certain services to inmates, including high quality medical care within 24 hours of incarceration.
Nick Freudenberg, a public health professor at Hunter College, said the latest city figures show that declining incarceration rates haven't translated into cost savings.
In 2001, when the city had 14,490 inmates, the full cost of incarcerating one inmate at Rikers Island for a year was $92,500, or about $122,155 adjusted for today's dollars — that means the city spent $45,576 more in 2012 than it did 11 years ago.
“To my mind, the main policy question is: How could we be spending this money better?” Freudenberg said. “What would be a better return on that investment?”
Another contributing factor to the inmate price tag is the length of stay for prisoners in New York's criminal justice system. Some inmates have waited years in city jails to see trial. The DOC said in 2012 that the average length of stay for detainees was 53 days and 38.6 days for sentenced inmates.
“Not only is that a miscarriage of justice, it affects your operations,” said Michael Jacobson, a former commissioner of the city's Department of Correction and probation who serves as director of the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance. “You want to save big money? Take a quarter out just by improving the process they go through when they're in the system.”
New Michigan State Police Flint post commander wants more community involvment from troopers
by David Harris
FLINT, MI – With more state troopers than ever patrolling and investigating crimes in Flint, the new leader of the Flint state police post is eager to see his team take a more active role in the community they serve.
"We've done a good job with the law enforcement part," said First Lt. Tom Deasy. "Now we need to reach out to the community. We need to reach out to people in non-traditional ways – not traffic stops and calls for service."
Deasy took over last week at the post, replacing First Lt. Matt Bolger, who took a state police promotion in Lansing.
Deasy declined to get specifics for that outreach but said going out to churches or community centers for forums and events are things that could happen in the near future.
"Community problems are community problems," he said. "If it's a community problem and don't have the support of the community, you can't solve them."
He has already met with some pastors and other community leaders and came away impressed with their drive to make the city better.
Deasy described Flint as an "odd combination of a great city with real problems" and said the city has the potential to turn things around. His short term goal, he said, is to get Flint off the top 10 of the most violent cities in the nation.
FBI statistics show Flint has the most violent crimes per capita of any city more than 100,000 people, a title it has claimed for the last three years.
But long term, community members need to convey that they feel safe in the city before the MSP gets to draw down on its increased presents. Until then, you'll continue to see the increased presence.
The city has made progress this year with crime, but more improvement is needed.
"We need to see violent crime drop significantly and a significant drop in drug crime," said Deasy.
Five new troopers are coming in after they graduate from recruit school next month. That brings the total to about 30 troopers assigned to patrol the city and another 12 in the detective bureau. Deasy said they will be constantly evaluating to see if they need to bring more troopers in or move them around to better serve the community.
The increased presence is part of Gov. Rick Snyder's initiative to combat crime in the state's most violent cities. Troopers have worked in Flint's hotspots for crime, doing proactive policing which includes making traffic stops in search for people with warrants.
Genesee County Sheriff Robert Pickell hasn't yet met with Deasy but is looking forward to working with him. Pickell said the state police have done an excellent job combating crime in the city.
"Everything I hear about him is he is a top-notch guy," said Pickell. "I fully expect the state police will continue the same vigor in the city as they have in the past."
Deasy comes to Flint from Lansing where he was the commander of professional standards section, which is basically the MSP's version of internal affairs. He's been with the state police for 19 years. He started out as a trooper in Ypsilanti and later worked for eight years as a detective in southeast Michigan including Detroit.
The Flint post also includes Shiawassee County and northern Oakland County.
Deasy is married with three children.