Kathy Castor Archives - Florida Politics

Kathy Castor pushes bills to help with student loan debt

While Washington is filled with talk about cutting taxes and possibly health care benefits, Tampa Representative Kathy Castor sat down with current and former students from the University of South Florida (USF) and the University of Tampa (UT) at the Attic in downtown Tampa on Wednesday to ask them about two of her potential proposals regarding student loan debt, which continues drag the economy.

Having attended college in the 1980s, Castor said there are students with a lot more debt in 2017, with Pell Grants not keeping pace with inflation, rising tuition costs, and the attendant costs of paying for textbooks, transportation and a higher cost of living.

The average student for UT grads is approximately $31,000. At USF it’s $22,000.

Castor is co-sponsoring two bills to address the issue. The first and most pressing legislation looks to reestablish funding for the Federal Perkins Loan, after Congress failed to reauthorize the program at the end of September. About 2.7 million students in the U.S. received the Perkins Loan, which was subsidized by the students, who paid for it at a 5 percent interest rate.

She’s also sponsoring The Student Loan Relief Act,  which would lower the cap on federal student loan interest to 4 percent for undergraduate students, 5 percent for graduate students and 6 percent for parents.  It would change the way student loan interest rates are calculated, allow borrowers with loans disbursed before the effective date to refinance their loans at the new rates and eliminate loan origination fees.  U.S. Sen. Nelson unveiled the Senate version earlier this month.

“Just having certainty that you know that (the debt rate) is going to stay there…that would be amazing to me and I’m sure a lot of students will have the confidence in what they’ll be paying,” said UT student Aislinn E. Sroczynsk.

“I think people could breath a sigh of relief knowing it’s going to be capped at something, ” added Troy Schneider, also a UT student. “That would really help a lot of people.”

Moneer Kheireddine, USF student body president, said a problem is that the payment schedule is organized so that students must pay for the entire semester just as it begins. “Instead of having to pay off loans at the beginning of the semester, they can space it out and as they accumulate their finances through the semester, they can pay that off as opposed to having to pay off loans.”

“I’ve lived most of my business career with the wolf at the door,” said Kostas Stoilas, entrepreneur-in-residence with Tampa Bay Wave, referring to the loans he continues to pay back, years after earning his MBA at UT.

“You try to keep that wolf at bay by keeping your expenses down,” he says, referring to the $40,000 in debt he incurred in school, and how that affects his monthly bottom line as heads a commercial real estate company.

Sroczynsk says she aspires to go to a top-tier law school like Georgetown. But she worries that if she can’t afford to payback the loans after graduation, it could diminish her zeal for even pursuing such a career.

“I don’t want to have to compromise my career or my passion…just because I can’t afford my loans, or because the minimal payment is too high.”

Castor jokingly asked the students who gave their thumbs up to her proposals if they were ready to lobby the state Legislature, but Kheireddine said he’s already scheduled to travel to Tallahassee three times next month and would gladly advocate on her behalf.

Castor said debt relief for students is rarely discussed in Congress these days, which is why she’s hoping to build a coalition in the House of Representatives to push for her bills.

“The bulk of the year it’s been a fight over healthcare,” she said. “I hope they’re going to talk to state legislators, business leaders and anyone else.”

Vern Buchanan says he’ll back extending CHIP

Sarasota Congressman Vern Buchanan said Monday he intends to support the federal-state program that provides health coverage to millions of children in lower-and middle-class families.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is up for renewal at the end of this month.

“This important program provides peace of mind to families that if their children get sick, they will get the medical attention they need,” Buchanan said. “I grew up in a blue-collar home with five brothers and sisters, so I understand how important that is.”

That appears to be the overriding sentiment on Capitol Hill, where the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Utah Republican Orrin Hatch and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Oregon’s Ron Wyden, announced last week that they had reached agreement on a plan to keep the program afloat.

CHIP covers more than 9 million kids, most from families not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid, the state-federal program that covers health care for people with low incomes. Income eligibility levels for CHIP vary widely among states, though most set thresholds at or below 200 percent of the poverty level — about $49,000 for a family of four. Unlike Medicaid, CHIP is usually not free to participants. Enrolled families pay an average premium of about $127 a year.

There is bipartisan support for the bill, though there are probably more Democrats than Republicans who support it in the House. In May, Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted to cut $400 million from the program.

Tampa Representative Kathy Castor participated in a news conference late last month with other local Democrats urging Congress to reapprove funding for the program.

Buchanan voted for extending CHIP the last time its funding came before the House nearly a decade ago.

The legislation originally was created for the federal government and the states to share its costs, but the Affordable Care Act increased the federal share in each state by 23 percentage points. As a result, the federal government pays the entire cost in 11 states, according to The New York Times.

The agreement by the Senate leaders would gradually restore the financial partnership between the federal government and the states. The federal share would continue to be enhanced by 23 percentage points, as under current law, for two more years, in 2018 and 2019. The increase would then be halved, to 11.5 percentage points, in 2020, and would be eliminated in 2021 and 2022.

 

Kathy Castor wants increased federal disaster aid for Florida after Irma

Tampa Democratic Representative Kathy Castor is pressing for an increase in federal disaster aid to the highest share possible to help Floridians recover rapidly from the damage caused by Hurricane Irma.

“I intend to be a proactive partner to our local Tampa and Hillsborough County communities to speed recovery,” Castor said in a statement Tuesday. “I will press electric utilities to restore power and ensure that our local partners have the resources to speed debris removal in the short term and fight for all disaster aid in the long term.

“That is why I have joined with others in the Florida congressional delegation to call for an increase in the federal share of public assistance, swift reimbursement for local partners and prompt review and approval of individual requests for assistance.”

Citing the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Assistance Act which says catastrophic storms like Hurricanes Irma warrant a higher federal cost share to cover clean up and recovery efforts, Castor says she supports an increase to 100 percent federal cost for Public Assistance Category A, which is currently funded at a 75 percent federal cost share.

 “As our neighbors return to their homes and survey the damage we will begin to understand the severity of damage inflicted upon homes, businesses and schools,” the Tampa Democrat said. “The increased federal cost share will be critical to hiring local contractors and bolstering local government debris removal.”

Castor met with Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill and the local FEMA representative in Tampa Tuesday. She says individuals who suffered storm damage should consult FEMA’s Individual Assistance Program at disasterassistance.gov and download the FEMA app to begin working on getting assistance.

President Donald Trump issued a major disaster declaration for the state of Florida Sunday, triggering the release of federal funds to help Floridians recover from the hurricane. Hillsborough, Pinellas, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward, Charlotte, Clay, Collier, Duval, Flagler, Lee, Manatee, Palm Beach, Putnam, Sarasota and St. Johns counties are all listed as Individual Assistance (IA) counties, where direct assistance can be sent to individuals and households.

FEMA released a summary of key federal disaster aid programs that can be made available as “needed and warranted” under Trump’s disaster declaration Sunday for Florida.

Moody’s Analytics has estimated that the total cost for recovery for Irma is between $64 and $92 billion.

House Republicans reject Kathy Castor amendment to protect DREAMers

President Donald Trump said beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program shouldn’t worry about their future, despite an announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the program will end in six months unless Congress addresses the issue.

On Thursday, Trump tweeted that DACA recipients have “nothing to worry about” despite the fact that his administration is phasing out the program. That news came despite a report from CBS News that the White House had issued a set of talking points on Tuesday affirming that DACA recipient should prepare to self-deport.

Meanwhile, Republicans on the House Rules Committee voted down an amendment offered by Tampa Democrat Kathy Castor on Wednesday night to protect the so-called DREAMers from deportation.

“Despite the chorus from some Republican lawmakers who say they want to protect DREAMers from deportation, the Republican majority refused to allow my amendment to come to the floor for debate and a vote.  Speaker Ryan and Republicans in Congress appear unwilling to take any step to protect DREAMers despite widespread calls for action from families, churches and businesses across America,” Castor said in a statement Thursday.

“Congress must immediately pass the DREAM Act to provide certainty and stability to these young people and our community. I will fight every day and in every way possible to protect our young DREAMers.  They know no other home but America, and my Republican colleagues and President Trump must live up to their rhetoric and do the right thing and support and pass legislation that provides a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers.”

In her statement, Castor also noted that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would accept DACA renewal applications filed through October 5, 2017, for current DACA recipients whose authorizations expire between Sep. 5, 2017 and Mar. 5, 2018.

“If you or someone you know is a DACA student or works with DACA students whose renewal is coming up, they should apply immediately and in any case before the Oct. 5 deadline. These students will be able to stay on DACA for two years,” Castor said.

 

Hillsborough lawmakers call on state and feds to reject Medicaid, CHIP cuts

Hillsborough County Democratic lawmakers Wednesday called on Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP-led Congress to reject potential cuts to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

President Donald Trump’s budget plans unveiled earlier this year would reduce the Children’s Health Insurance Program by at least 20 percent over the next two fiscal years and slash Medicaid, which covers millions of children.

Hillsborough County officials and the children who would be directly affected by those cuts, spoke out against the proposals at a news conference at Robles Park Village in South Seminole Heights on Wednesday afternoon in an event sponsored by the group Organize Florida.

Congress enacted the Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1997 as a more modest and more bipartisan expansion of federally funded insurance than compared with the failed bid of Bill and Hillary Clinton for universal health care in 1994.

George W. Bush vetoed efforts to increase the program’s reach, but Democrats succeeded in expanding it once Barack Obama took office in 2009 and again a year later as part of the Affordable Care Act. The Obama administration and Republican congressional leaders struck a deal in 2015 to reauthorize the program, which by then had been credited with helping reduce the uninsured rate among children from nearly 14 percent two decades ago to under 4.5 percent.

The Trump administration official told the New York Times Thursday that the administration wants Congress to provide money the CHIP program.

Tampa Democratic Representative Kathy Castor said that Congress had to recommit to extend the CHIP program by the end of September. She said that has to happen first, or else Governor Scott and the Legislature could then begin cutting kids from the state health care rolls.

House Minority Leader Janet Cruz says she grew up in a family where her single mother couldn’t afford to take her to the dentist as a youth with a severe toothache.

“We tried to figure out all kinds of different things to make the pain go away, and one of the number one causes of absenteeism in schools is toothaches,” she said.

Cruz said one out of every two children in Florida receives their health care through Florida KidCare. She said the program was “fundamental to fulfilling our moral obligation of ensuring that a child’s ability to access health care doesn’t vary by the size of their parents’ paycheck.

“Governor Scott, go pick on somebody your own size and stop picking on these kids!” she said to applause.

“All my life, I’ve received health care through Medicaid,” says Isabelle Hall, 17, a student at Hillsborough High School. “Without this essential service, my teeth would have rotted in my skull because of a lack of dental care. Without the psychological resources provided by Medicaid, my depression and anxiety issues would have made my life exponentially more burdensome.”

“My mother provides for me as a single parent,” she adds, “but Medicaid helps her fill in the gaps when her bi-weekly paycheck is parceled out into every bill due that month until barely anything remains.”

Low-income children are covered by a complicated mix that only the state why they leave it to the leave it to the individual of programs. Medicaid covers 37 million children. The Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, has 8.9 million enrolled. Together, these two programs cover about one in three American children, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The Hillsborough County School District receives up to $12 million annually in Medicaid reimbursement payments, according to school board member Tamara Shamburger. Those funds are used to Medicaid eligible services to students for speech therapies, psychological and counseling services, and providing assistance to students managing their diabetes.

“The loss of this funding does not lower our cost to provide these mandated services, neither does it lessen our obligation,” she said.

“I suffer from sickle cells. It is a problem, and it’s difficult to deal without Medicaid,” said Germanique Canyon, 20. “I’m coming before all of you to ask Governor Rick Scott to please just leave Medicaid for Florida.”

Samantha Underwood, 16, attends Hillsborough High School. She suffers from asthma, allergies and eczema, and had a word for politicians who often talk about “the children.”

“As they’re running for everything, they’re saying it’s all about the youth, but when they get in, they want to take from the youth, and that’s really unacceptable,” she said.

“It would be devastating for state spending if these federal dollars were to go away,” said St. Petersburg Democratic state Sen. Darryl Rouson.

Florida Democrats in Congress call for Florida special session to replace statue

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz now has gotten the other ten Florida Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives to join her call for a one-day Florida Legislature special session to replace Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith‘s statue in the U.S. Capitol.

“We must denounce symbols of what supremacy and stand up for love and compassion – not just with words, but with our deeds,” state letters from the 11 Florida Democratic members of Congress to Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran. “As the third largest state, and easily one of the most diverse in our nation, Florida has an opportunity to send a defining message.”

Wasserman Schultz first called for such a special session on her own, on Aug. 15.

The issue involves one of Florida’s two state representation statues in the U.S. Capitol. In 2016 the Florida Legislature voted to replace the Smith statute, but in 2017 was unable to agree on a replacement, so the statue remains.

The new congressional letter calls for Scott, Negron and Corcoran to act immediately, “in the shadow of Charlottesville,” to “stand at a crucial moment when leaders and institutions must confront hate and violence without ambiguity.”

A spokesman for Scott’s office expressed confidence that the legislature would take care of the matter as soon as possible. In January. When the regular 2018 Legislative Session convenes.

“In 2016, Governor Scott signed a bill that replaced this statue at the U.S. Capitol. A committee was quickly convened, public input was gathered and three names were submitted to the Legislature for consideration for a replacement. It is now up to the Legislature to decide how to resolve this issue and Governor Scott hopes they do so when they convene in January,” McKinley Lewis said in a statement.

The offices of Negron and Corcoran did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the letter.

When Wasserman Schultz first made her call two weeks ago, Corcoran responded by accusing her of being out of touch and grandstanding, noting that the Florida Legislature already had voted to replace Smith’s statue and was working on picking a replacement.

The latest letter was signed by the 11 Democrats Florida has elected to the U.S. House, Wasserman Schultz of Weston, Kathy Castor of Tampa, Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, Alcee Hastings of Miramar, Darren Soto of Orlando, Frederica Wilson Miami Gardens, Val Demings of Orlando, Al Lawson of Tallahassee, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, and Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park.

“The legislature’s inaction leaves in place of honor, a symbol that represents a painful and horrific period in American history for so many Floridians and Americans,” the letter states.

“No family visiting our nation’s Capital should have to explain to their child that the statue representing our state honors someone who fought for a philosophy built on hatred, inequality and oppression.

“We urge you to take immediate action by calling a one-day special session during the Florida House and Senate’s upcoming interim committee meetings that already are scheduled in Tallahassee and finish this important and historic work.”

Nine Florida Democrats urge Donald Trump to rescind transgender ban

Nine of Florida’s 11 Democratic members of Congress signed a letter Tuesday urging President Donald Trump to reconsider his recently announced ban on transgendered people in the military.

“There is no place for discrimination in our Armed Forces or indeed anywhere else in American society,” the letter signed by most Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives reads.

“Enforcing your ban could mean discharging active duty soldiers, sailors, Marines and members of the Air Force who serve honorably. It also would mean barring other patriotic Americans from serving in the future. Both actions are detrimental to our national security, ill-advised, and contrary to the values upon which our nation was built,” it continues.

The letter states there are thousands of active-duty transgender service members and refutes Trump’s contention that they have been a disruption or burden on the military, saying they serve with equal distinction, and are “equally deserving of our gratitude and respect.”

The letter also argues that the ban is likely unconstitutional.

The 143 signatories Tuesday afternoon included Democratic U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor of Tampa, Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, Ted Deutch of Boca Raton, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, Alcee Hastings of Miramar, Al Lawson of Tallahassee, Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, and Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Val Demings and Darren Soto, both of Orlando, had not signed the most recent copy sent to FloridaPolitics.com, but Soto’s office said he fully endorsed the letter and wanted to sign it but did not get the chance before the letter was closed.

Last month, after Trump signaled, in a Twitter post, his intention to ban transgendered people, Soto released a statement that included, “There are over 15,000 transgender military service men and women currently risking their lives every day protecting our country. Now, we must also protect them. I proudly stand with the transgender troops serving in the U.S military, you make us proud to be American! “

Demings office did not respond to an inquiry about why she had not signed the letter.

In a Facebook post Murphy, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, wrote, “All people who are willing and qualified to defend our nation and to protect those who fight alongside them should be free to serve.”

Bill Nelson calls for federal intervention over kids’ health care

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson Tuesday called on federal health officials “to exercise oversight and enforcement authority to protect more than 13,000 Florida children with special needs,” who he says were wrongly taken out of the state’s specialized care program.

The Department of Health, however, has refuted a CNN report that spurred Nelson’s concern, saying it “demonstrates a misunderstanding of Florida’s Medicaid system, the health insurance industry and the ethical standards of the State of Florida.”

In a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, which was co-signed by Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor of Tampa, Nelson said “the state has still not notified all of the families whose children were improperly removed from the program,” known as Children’s Medical Services.

That’s “despite a Florida judge’s ruling two years ago that required the state to stop using a new screening tool that declared thousands of kids ineligible,” he said.

CNN reported this month that “in the spring and summer of 2015, the state switched more than 13,000 children out of Children’s Medical Services, a part of Florida Medicaid. Children on this plan have serious health problems including birth defects, heart disease, diabetes and blindness.

“The state moved the children to other Medicaid insurance plans that don’t specialize in caring for very sick children,” CNN’s report added.

The Health Department issued its own takedown of that story, saying in part that a “new screening process for CMS eligibility has been in place since January 2016, which was developed by working collaboratively with the CMS medical providers to make sure all children who require the specialized care provided by CMS are eligible for the plan.”

The department added: “It is completely inaccurate for CNN to assert that Florida health officials made decisions based on politics. This claim is 100 percent false. The department remains committed and focused on providing high quality healthcare to Florida’s medically complex children.”

The Nelson/Castor letter says “we have seen over the years that the State of Florida has evaded its legal responsibilities in many instances to ensure access to care for the children of Florida,” adding that “we urge HHS to exercise its oversight and enforcement authority to ensure that children in Florida are appropriately enrolled in the plan that best fits their needs.

“At a minimum, every family affected should be notified immediately and given an opportunity to have their child reevaluated for FLCMS coverage. Furthermore, we urge you to contact the Florida Department of Health and ensure that the 13,074 children who lost access to FLCMS receive the care they deserve.”

The full letter is below.

Jack Latvala: State needs to spend $20 million more on opioid crisis

Republican candidate for governor Jack Latvala, who’s been aggressive in saying that Florida needs to do more to deal with the exploding opioid epidemic, on Monday called on Gov. Rick Scott to fund another $20 million to address the problem.

Latvala, a Clearwater state senator and Appropriations Committee chair, also is calling on Scott to immediately extend the executive order he originally signed in May, declaring the opioid crisis to be a public health emergency in Florida.

That request allowed the state to immediately draw down more than $27 million in federal grant funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Opioid State Targeted Response Grant. That funding has been used to provide prevention, treatment and recovery support services, but is expected to expire within the next week.

“There have been reports that suggest 14 Floridians have died every day in the first half of this year due to opioids, which is higher than the number of Floridians we have lost per day at the height of the pill mill crisis,” Latvala wrote in his letter. “If this trend continues, by the time the Legislature passes a budget in March 2018, over 2,700 more Floridians could die. Florida’s citizens cannot wait until then for more financial resources to combat this public health crisis.”

Latvala participated in a three-hour discussion in Palm Beach County earlier this month regarding the opioid crisis, where he notes in his letter to Scott that he heard from longtime health officials that said that they have never experienced a crisis of this magnitude.

“The opioid crisis presents an existential threat to the people of our state as entire generations quickly being lost, or unable to meaningfully contribute as productive members of our society and economy,” Latvala writes.

The longtime legislator breaks down his $20 million request for funding into five different categories: He says $9 million should be allocated for residential treatment; $5 million for detox services; $3 million for outpatient treatment and recovery support; $2.4 million for prevention and $600,000 in specialized services.

“I think the sheer number of people that came to talk about this issue for a guy from Pinellas County where this is really not that big of an issue, it was stunning to me that there were that many people – the magnitude of the calls to the fire department, the involvement of the Sheriff’s department, just the whole community seems to be zeroing in on trying to solve this problem, so I think the state should do our part to try to solve it with the community,” Latvala told reporters after the hearing in Palm Beach County, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Senate President Joe Negron, GOP state Sen. Rene Garcia of Hialeah and Democratic Sen. Kevin Rader of Boca Raton joined Latvala in that listening session in Palm Beach County earlier this month.

At a press conference in Tampa last month featuring Congresswoman Kathy Castor, health officials blasted the Legislature, saying that in the face of the opioid crisis, the state actually cut funding for mental health and substance abuse.

Florida ranks virtually last in the nation in spending on mental health and substance abuse, Rutherford said those on the ground fighting the epidemic needs more help from the Legislature.

Latvala officially announced his candidacy for governor two weeks ago.

“Governor Scott has been working with legislative leaders on further ways to help families who are struggling with addiction during the upcoming legislative session,” responded Lauren Schenone, a spokesperson for Scott. “Governor Scott will be announcing his legislative package to fight this national epidemic in the coming weeks, which will include significant increases of funding. We are hopeful the Legislature will support the Governor’s proposal. The Governor has been extremely focused on this issue and declared a public health emergency in May which provided $27 million in federal funds. This public health emergency was already extended today. Governor Scott has also made it easier for law enforcement to combat this epidemic.

Governor Scott appreciates the members of the Florida House and Senate for their focus on the national opioid epidemic.”

 

 

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