October 09, 2007
Group focuses on uninsured youth
Volunteers from area churches working to enroll children in state insurance
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Mary Lee Martens, a leader of the group Moving in Congregations, Acting in Hope, hands out informational materials at a meeting Monday night at Christ Presbyterian Church in Cortland. The group is seeking to launch a partnership with the county to sign children up for Child Health Plus, a health insurance program for New York state’s working poor.
The potential expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program has become a political football lately, both in Albany and in Washington.
Locally, however, a group of volunteers from area churches is focusing on expanding the program simply by reaching out to children who are already eligible for the program, but have not been enrolled.
“Of course we hope they expand SCHIP, we need to get health care to as many children who need it as possible, but what we’re working on is trying to get every child who is eligible covered,” said Mary Lee Martens, co-founder of the group, called Moving in Congregations, Acting in Hope, or MICAH.
A 2006 study by the Mothers and Babies Parinatal Network of South Central New York estimated that about 8.1 percent of children in Cortland County are uninsured.
Martens said she had seen estimates as high as 15 to 20 percent, but that the primary reason MICAH is looking to address children’s health care is a community-wide concern about the issue, which has taken center stage as Congress attempts to override a presidential veto of a $35 billion expansion of SCHIP that would insure more children from families of higher income.
The concern became apparent, Martens said, after MICAH members undertook a “listening campaign” between November 2006 and March. About 20 members conducted interviews with more than 250 families and asked the question if you could change one thing in Cortland, what would it be?
“We heard lots of things and it was a challenge to pick one to focus on initially, but one that just kept coming up was health care,” Martens said. “The consequences of this are huge — parents who don’t have health insurance aren’t taking their kids to the doctor, and when that happens, it often winds up becoming much more serious and costing everyone a lot more.”
While an expansion of eligibility for SCHIP and subsequently Child Health Plus, New York’s version of SCHIP, would encompass more uninsured children locally, Martens said there are plenty of children in the area who are eligible now but not enrolled.
MICAH has been meeting with local government and community leaders to determine what sort of issues are keeping parents from enrolling their children, and has found the largest impediment is administrative.
“The application process is pretty darn complex and cumbersome, so one of the things we want to explore is, can there be volunteer, trained enrollers,” Martens said.
Currently there are three enrollment sites in Cortland County that offer assistance: the county Health Department, the Family Health Network and Cortland Regional Medical Center.
County Administrator Scott Schrader, who has met with MICAH representatives a number of times, said that it might be unrealistic to try to train volunteers to help people enroll.
“But it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have volunteers assisting applicants in getting signed up,” Schrader said.
What they can do is help with awareness and help reach out to people, said Jackie Gailor, director of the county health Department. “It’d be really nice to have people out there doing the footwork … someone to kind of hand hold throughout the process.”
Increasing awareness of the program will be crucial, Martens said, as will ensuring that parents follow through on seeking insurance for their children.
“Some people think it’s a kind of charity, and they’re embarrassed, but really if they’ve ever worked in their life and paid taxes, it’s not welfare,” Martens said.
Parents without insurance may think they can get by without insurance, that nurse practitioners at their child’s school, for instance, will be sufficient care, “but that doesn’t help at all if anything catastrophic happens,” Martens said.
Norma Rhodes, a MICAH member who took part in the listening campaign, said she talked to mothers who didn’t want to include the name of their child’s father on the application.
“They don’t want to involve father so don’t follow through,” Rhodes said. “There’s a lot of red tape — sometimes people aren’t up to date on their taxes, things like that, and they shortchange the children.”
Both Rhodes and Martens said that better education and outreach could go a long way in getting more children enrolled.
“I think the churches can play a significant role in letting people know about the program, and maybe be a safer environment for people to come to with questions,” Martens said.
Other things MICAH is looking at include working with the county to lobby the state to reduce some of the red tape, and potentially to pilot programs for the state that might make enrollment easier.
“They’re a relatively new organization, but I really think they’re doing really well,” said Brian Kane of the PICO National Network, a national faith-based advocacy group of which MICAH is an affiliate. “They’ve done a whole lot of research, they’ve reached out to the county, they’re doing some exciting things.”
Marie Agen, campus minister at O’Heron Newman Catholic Center, which serves SUNY Cortland students, said the partners involved in MICAH have quickly gelled.
“It’s very exciting to have ministers and members of different churches working together and really developing great working relationships,” Agen said. “We’re at the point where we know each other’s skills and we can say, ‘Yeah, task that to so and so, they’d be perfect for that.’”
Agen said she was working to develop an offshoot of MICAH with SUNY college students, noting seven students have been trained and have been conducting interviews with fellow students about issues they would like to change in the community.
“They’re a part of MICAH, but they may have their own organizing committee, something separate so they can focus on issues in their campus community,” Agen said.
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28-unit apartment project proposed in Homer
HOMER — The owner of JTS Lumber in Cortland wants to build seven four-unit apartment buildings just south of the intersection of Route 281 and Clinton Street in the village.
Kenneth DeMunn is requesting the village change the zoning of the 4.2-acre parcel from part residential, part business, to Planned Development District-Residential.
His application went before the village Planning Board on Monday evening, and the Planning Board forwarded the application, which it deemed complete, to the Village Board, which will send the application to the county Planning Department.
After it receives recommendations from the county panel, the Village Board will hold a public hearing on the proposed zoning change and vote on it.
DeMunn’s plans call for seven 36-by-60-foot apartment buildings that are 32 feet high on the property. A two-way 24-foot winding road would cut through the property from Route 281 to Clinton Street, separating four apartment buildings on the south part of the parcel from three apartments buildings on the north part of the parcel.
Each apartment building would have four units, and each unit would have two bedrooms.
The buildings would cover 38 percent of the parcel’s area. The project would use any existing water and sewer lines, and extend water and sewer lines to parts of the property that need them.
DeMunn’s proposed project, which was drafted by lawyer Matt Neuman, of Riehlman, Shafer and Shafer in Tully, states that DeMunn is not seeking any variances or waivers at the moment because his project conforms to village law.
But he said he would like to reserve the right to apply for a variance or waiver should the project evolve in a way that would require one.
DeMunn is making sure that quality, affordable housing is needed in the village before he starts construction on his project, according to his application.
He is working with local, state and federal agencies, as well as the Cortland County Chamber of Commerce, the Homer Business Association and the Homer School District to determine if there is a need.
Superintendent of Schools Doug Larison said last week DeMunn had approached the school district seeking demographic information about the school district, but that the district does not have that information for him.
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