Tag Archives: Talib I. Karim

District Officials Plan Green DC for 900,000 By 2032

District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray addressed developers, construction professionals at an event billed as a Green Building Symposium on Friday, September 14, 2012 to solicit input on plans to build a green DC to accommodate 250,000 more residents in next 20 years (courtesy/Office of Mayor Gray).

By Talib I. Karim, Health & Technology Writer

Recently, District of Columbia officials hosted a day-long symposium at Gallaudet University to discuss plans for building what they call a “Green DC” by 2032.  By then, according to DC Mayor Vince Gray (D), the District’s population is expected to be near or beyond 900,000.  “We are growing at a pace of 1000 per week,” noted Gray.

In 20 years, Gray has set his sight on the District becoming the healthiest, greenest, most livable place in the country.  By so doing, Gray hopes that future generations of DC residents will credit his administration for thinking and planning ahead.

Gray says his vision was inspired by a Siemens report about sustainability read by the Mayor while attending a conference.  After the conference, Gray recounted that he called upon his team to develop DC’s own plan for sustainability.  To mark Earth Day this year, the Mayor rolled out this plan entitled A Vision for a Sustainable DC.

The symposium was a chance for the Mayor to get feedback on this vision from developers, construction companies, and other District building professionals.

According to DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Director Nicholas Majett, the event also sought to advance Mayor Gray’s plan for striking a balance between sophisticated growth and mindful conservation.

A central component of turning the Mayor’s vision into a reality is the construction of green buildings, structures that are designed and operated to reduce their impact on the community and on the health of building occupants, according to the US Green Building Council.

To stimulate the construction of green buildings, Brendan Shane, of the DC Department of the Environment, announced the plans to roll out a Green building code.  This code is instrumental in helping achieve the Mayor’s goal of having the District house more than 200 green buildings by 2032, noted Shane.

The “Green Code,” will help achieve the District’s goal of bringing about a “[F]ifty percent (50%) reduction in energy consumption in 20 years,” said Shane.  “By 2032, we need buildings that produce as much energy as they use…The Green Code will help us do that,” Shane added.

Shane also reviewed plans to stimulate urban agriculture where food is grown on roofs so, as he envisions, “[Y]ou have locally grown food accessible to everyone across the [District].”

The green symposium included several break-out sessions covering issues including renewable energy, construction and demolition, waste management, and LEED/green building standards.  In the end, the Mayor’s sustainability plan and summits like this, hopes to “[U]se a strategic approach of job creation in the green economy to chip away the District’s overall unemployment,” shared Shane.

The writer is a lawyer and talk-show host in the District of Columbia and can be reached at Talib@talibkarim.com.

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Health Reform Prevails in Supreme Court, Just One Step for People of Color and Poor

By Talib I. Karim, Health & Technology Writer

The Supreme Court’s decision on the President’s signature health reform law considered the Brown v. Board of Education of today. (Photo/courtesy Supreme Court Collection).

Astute students of history recall the exact date when Brown v. Board of Education was decided.  Thursday, June 28, 2012 may also be etched into history as the day the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in what some consider the Brown case of this era, National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius.

In the Sebelius case, the nation’s high court preserved, almost completely, President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Summary

The Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare” (as described by critics) was designed by Congress to expand health insurance coverage to over 30 million in the US and decrease health care costs.  To achieve these goals, Congress included a provision in the law requiring taxpayers to obtain a “minimum” level of health insurance coverage.  Those who failed to secure health coverage and were not exempt were mandated, by 2014, to begin paying a penalty to the IRS, similar to tax penalties.

In 2010, right after the President signed the reforms into law, the Affordable Care Act was challenged in court by groups, including the National Federation of Independent Businesses.  Earlier this year, the challenges made their way to Supreme Court, which set aside an unprecedented three days of oral arguments to review the health law.

By a 5-4 decision, the Court made several findings in the case.  First, the Court upheld its prerogative to review the individual mandate, bypassing a reconstruction-era requirement, the Anti-Injunction Act, which prevents a tax-related issue from being reviewed by the Court until the tax is accessed.  Next, Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by the Court’s four traditionally conservative members (Justices Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito), ruled that the individual mandate could not be sustained under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.  Initially, this ruling caused some media outlets to incorrectly report that the entire law was struck down.

However, the Chief Justice and the liberal wing of the Court (Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) sided together in ruling that the individual mandate could be upheld, nonetheless under the long established Constitutional power of Congress to “lay and collect Taxes.”

Finally, the Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act could not penalize states who refused to expand Medicaid by cutting off all federal Medicaid funding.  This, the Court’s majority held, was an impermissible “threat” against the rights of states.

Brown vs Sebelius

In comparing the Brown and Sebelius cases, the NAACP’s Hillary Shelton sees distinctions and similarities. Shelton notes that “Brown concerned a fight over equal education, and whether segregated schools were legal so long as they were equal.”  Brown was argued by Thurgood Marshall, then the NAACP Legal Defense and Education President, who would go on to become the first African American US Solicitor General and Supreme Court Justice.

Shelton observed that “The thing Americans needed to be successful in the 1950s was good education…today…its good health care. Further, Shelton pointed out that while Brown sought to protect mostly African Americans, the current ruling seeks to ensure working class and poor people of all races have the right to equal health care.

Impact on Doctors and Patients of Color

Congresswoman Donna Christian-Christensen of the U.S. Virgin Islands, a physician, and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus’s health reform task force, said the ruling “means a lot for people of color.”  Specifically, the Court’s decision protects numerous programs and initiatives such as placing minority health officers in each major health agency to ensure that people of color’s needs are being met, noted Christensen.

Dr. Cedric Bright, National Medical Association President, called the health reform ruling “a great victory,” yet observed that many health providers still don’t understand how the law impacts them and their patients.  “Health providers need to know how to participate in an Affordable Care Organization (ACO); how they can get funds for electronic medical records; and the benefits of using preventative health care.”  Dr. Bright recommends that as a next step, the Obama administration should sponsor seminars to educate health providers on implementing the Affordable Care Act.

The director of the DC Department of Health, Dr. Mohammad Akhter, views the case as a win for District’s residents and its budget.  “[The ruling] means that the 30,000 DC residents moved on to Medicaid can stay.  It would have a huge budget impact had [the law] not been upheld.”  Dr. Akhter points to several new community health centers in the District built using tobacco settlement money, but which depend upon the Affordable Care Act funding to remain operational and thriving.

However, Drs. Christensen, Bright, and Akter, all view the Affordable Care Act as just one step in a long march towards the end goal…quality, affordable health care for all.

The writer can be reached at tkarim@teclawgroup.com.

DC, Maryland Health Centers Win Millions from Obama Health Law Grants

By Talib I. Karim, Tech & Health Writer

DC-based Unity Health Care, a recipient of the Obama health center grants this week cut the ribbon for a $20 million health facility in Southeast, DC (Photo/courtesy Unity Health Care)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recently, President Obama’s administration awarded grants of over $728 million for the renovation and construction of health centers around the country.  DC andMaryland centers snagged more than $15 million for projects designed to boost local government’s ability to care for low and mid-income patients while creating jobs in the process.

The funds were made possible by the Affordable Care Act, described as the President’s signature legislative achievement, currently being examined by the U.S. Supreme Court, which in weeks, is set to rule on whether the law should be upheld.

“We don’t have time to wait,” to determine how the Court will rule on the law said Cecilia Muñoz, Director of the Domestic Policy Council.  Instead, the President is moving ahead to ensure that the public enjoys all the many benefits of the landmark health reform law asserts Muñoz.

One significant benefit under health reform, carved out and championed by Congressional Black Caucus and progressives in Congress, was $11 billion for community health centers.  These facilities, located in urban and rural communities alike, are designed to offer comprehensive, culturally competent, health care services to communities and vulnerable populations that lack access to quality health care.  By definition, these centers are community-based and serve individuals and families experiencing homelessness, those living in public housing, immigrants and many others.

Over the next five years, the community health center provision of the Obama health law divides its funding up by setting aside $9.5 billion to build new or expand existing health centers, and $1.5 billion to help maintain and renovate current community health centers.

In addition to expanding health care access, the funding is also designed to create jobs, according to White House officials.  The numbers back up this claim.  The Obama Health and Human Services department reports that President’s health care law has funded as many as 190 construction and renovation projects and helped open up 67 new health center sites across the country to date.  Through 2014, the law aims to fund more than 485 new health center construction and renovation projects.  It’s predicted that in total, community health center funding will pave the way for 457,300 jobs by 2015.

When its all said and done, the $11 billion invested by the government is expected to generate $54 billion in economic activity, in two ways.  First, health centers employ people in the communities they serve, including entry-level workers taking people right off the unemployed rolls.  Second, health centers purchase goods and services from local businesses, which leads to even more job growth according to thinkprogress.org, a blog of the progressive Center for American Progress Action Fund.

An example of the direct impact of the funding on local communities can be seen in the efforts of Community of Hope, one of the six DC and Maryland non-profits winning health center grants.  Community of Hope got a half-million dollars through a grant targeting existing health centers seeking to address pressing facility and equipment needs.  With the money, the non-profit intends to invest in equipment and renovations for its newly acquired Family Health and Birth Center located at 801 17th Street, NE,  near the old Heckinger Mall said Kelly Sweeney McShane, the group’s executive director.  “We want to buy an ultrasound machine, phone system, and more exam tables,” states McShane.  “We also want to configure space [of the center] so we can see more patients…and give [patients] more privacy,” McShane adds.

And even though it’s a relatively small pool of money, McShane hopes to spend as much of it as possible with small, community based, and disadvantaged businesses.  “We’re currently taking bids for a general contractor for this project,” noted McShane.  With this and the larger multimillion 50,000 square foot facility planned for Ward 8, McShane says her group is committed to spending as much of 40% of the overall construction dollars with community-based businesses.

If the health law prevails, communities can expect another round of funding for local health centers in June.  According to the US Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), up to $150 million will be available to support approximately 220 new full-time service delivery site(s) for the provision of comprehensive primary and preventive health care services including oral and behavioral health services.  Groups interested in applying for health center grants can visit http://bphc.hrsa.gov/about/howtoapply/index.html.

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The writer can be reached attkarim@teclawgroup.com.