Little Rock When CMS, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, got ready to implement the Affordable Care Act in route to signing up 10 million people for health insurance more than $100 million was allocated by the federal government for navigators and another amount as large for community clinics and a like amount in the states in order to assist in enrollment in this new program. Now within months up to 5 million people will engage in a similar process of applying for work permits and pushing mountains of paper through the Department of Homeland Security to determine their eligibility under the still to be established terms and procedures to take President Obama’s executive order on immigration and translate it into on-the-ground reality. And, if 5 million might be eligible, many millions more will be trying to figure out if there’s any chance they are eligible or might qualify in some way or another.
Here’s the big difference though. The task of advising and assisting these millions will not be facilitated by hundreds of millions of dollars of grants from the federal government. The burden will disproportionately fall on the nonprofit, social service sector.
Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, estimated that “the new and expanded programs could draw more than 250,000 applications from New Yorkers in the first few months, posing what he described as a ‘massive human services challenge.’” In New York, they are trying to put groups and money together to meet the surge of expected interest, but that’s not going to be the case in many of the red states where this order is being resisted aggressively, and some of those states like Texas, Arizona, and Florida are where interest will be extreme.
Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) told reporters in Las Vegas where President Obama formally announced his order that he had stopped on the way out of the hall and told her, “Now sign them up.” That’s a tall order with limited resources even though Angelica will no doubt get some help from the state of California, but even so with an estimated quarter of the eligible in California her office and many others will be overwhelmed.
This is a golden opportunity but it’s not hard to see the bumpy road ahead in our “red” states where nonprofits will be besieged. There are a couple of months to get ready, but volunteers, lawyers, churches, unions, and others in cities and towns throughout the country need to think about “citizen wealth centers” as we are that can be prepared to offer assistance. This opportunity is only real and will only work, if as the President instructed, we can “sign them up.” It’s something we know how to do, but are going to need a lot of help to make happen.
People get ready!