July 2009 E-Newsletter
Mental Health Parity
Assembly Bill 244, my proposal to require health insurance companies to provide treatment for mental disorders and substance abuse equitable to physical illnesses or injuries, has passed through the Assembly and has moved to the state Senate.
This bill is crucial to delivering help to people and families whose lives have been torn apart by drug and alcohol abuse or mental illness. All too often, they cannot get the treatment they need because these conditions are not covered by their health insurers or the payments for treatment are limited.
A recently released report - 2009 Santa Clara County Homeless Census and Survey - polled more than 900 homeless people and asked what might have prevented them from becoming homeless. Thirty-two percent replied: Alcohol or drug counseling.
Clearly, people need access to treatment. I believe AB 244 could have had a positive impact on their lives and prevented many of them succumbing to mental disorders or addictions that contributed to their homelessness.
On the Road to L.A. . . .
In June, I traveled to Los Angeles to convene a special informational hearing of the Select Committee on Alcohol and Drug Abuse at Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center.
More than 400 people showed up at a pre-hearing rally to support raising fees on alcohol to help pay for the estimated $38 billion in harm booze causes to Californians.
During the hearing, we took testimony from judges, physicians, experts, and Los Angeles County health administrators. And, we listened to people whose lives have been affected by addiction, such as 16-year-old Felipe Nieto, who offered encouragement for the committee's work.
"Assemblyman Beall and his colleagues are under a cliff," Felipe said, "and we are the community standing next to them. When a boulder falls to stop them from reaching success, we cannot run. We shall stay. And we will stay strong. Together, we can push this boulder away as a team. We need to support them as much as they support us."
Honors . . .
Periodically, each Assemblymember is asked to recognize exemplarily people in their district. Here are two people we've recently selected for their distinguished contributions to our community and country:
- Joseph P. Sciarrillo Jr. - Veteran of the Year
Sciarrillo, a former Marine Corps corporal, has served as an intelligence specialist in two combat tours, Operation Enduring Freedom/East Africa in 2005 and Operation Iraqi Freedom-Barwanah in the Anbar province from September 2007 to April 2008. Last month, he was sworn in as a San Jose police officer.
- Sandra Faber - Woman of the Year
Dr. Faber is University Professor of Astronomy at the University of California-Santa Cruz. Among her many achievements is managing the installation of the of the largest astronomical spectrograph ever built and installed on the Keck II Telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. This year, she was presented with the Franklin Institute's prestigious Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science for her pioneering work that has increased our understanding of the universe and galaxies.
More Kudos . . .
It's been quite a rewarding year for the Eaglebots, Oak Grove High School's Botball Robotics team.
First, they captured the Northern California Botball robotics championship in March. And this month, the students finished fifth out of 61 teams worldwide in the International Botball Championship in Washington, D.C. Teams came from as far away as Poland and the United Arab Emirates.
Botball is distinct from other robotic competitions in that robots are fully autonomous; they are not guided by remote control. Once the competition begins, no human input is allowed. The robots execute a pre-programmed strategy designed by teams.
The Eaglebots were comprised of 14 students and six teacher/mentors. These students, who hail from low-income families and work at part-time jobs to help their parents out, beat teams that were better funded and whose students have more resources. Many of the kids are recent immigrants for whom English is not their primary language.
The Eaglebots scrounged parts from other schools and relied on the help of teachers and community members who volunteered their own time. Learn more about the Eaglebots.
I salute these indomitable kids for their hard work and inventiveness. They personify what Silicon Valley is all about.
Drought conditions have parched our wild lands, creating a highly combustible scenario for this summer's fire season. In the past six years, we've seen massive wildfires scorch tens of thousands of acres, ravage dozens of homes, and cost taxpayers more than $35 million. Click here fore some tips on how to reduce the potential for fires around your home, contact information on filing a claim, and more.
Helping America, Others, and Yourself
In April, President Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act into law.
The act not only increased the number of AmeriCorps jobs with local and national non-profit groups from 75,000 annually to 250,000 by 2017 but it has components to help students.
It established a Summer of Service program to provide $500 education awards for 6th-12th graders. In addition, the act also expanded the age and income eligibility for Foster Grandparents and Senior Companions - authorizing a Silver Scholars program that allows people 55 and older who perform 350 hours of service to receive a $1,000 education award that can be transferred to a child or grandchild.
For more information about AmeriCorps jobs nationwide go to www.americorps.gov, or for opportunities in California visit www.californiavolunteers.org.
Coping with College Loans
There's help for federal student loan borrowers in the Direct or Guaranteed, also known as the Federal Family Education Loan, programs. This help - the Income-Based Repayment -- encompasses most types of federal loans made to students, but not those made to parents. The Income-Based Repayment is a new payment option that helps borrowers keep their loan payments affordable with payment caps based on their income and family size, according to the IBR website. For most eligible borrowers, IBR loan payments will be less than 10 percent of their income - and even smaller for borrowers with low earnings. The IBR program can also forgive remaining debt, if any, after 25 years of qualifying payments. For more information visit IBR info.