By Andrea V. Brambila
They’ve painted Onesies emblazoned with “Healthcare for All Kids”. They’ve sent apples and e-mailed letters to legislators. They’ve taken pictures of smiling toddlers, signed petitions and told their own healthcare stories. The national activist group MomsRising is making it easy for the Bay Area’s busy moms to take political action on an issue that is especially close to their hearts: children’s health.
By offering short, convenient and often creative opportunities for action that moms can fit into their congested schedules, MomsRising aims to show that being a mom does not have to mean political isolation.
Assemblymember Loni Hancock and Joan Blades, founder of MomsRising
“Mothers are often isolated and want to get in touch with other like-minded people,” said Donna Norton, co-director of MomsRising’s California Campaign.
Joan Blades, co-founder of MoveOn.org, started MomsRising on Mother’s Day 2006. The group is based on a website, MomsRising.org and is feedback-driven. It has no central office, although many of its core members, including Blades, live in the Bay Area. The group boasts over 120,000 members nationwide. In California they have 25,000 alone.
“Write us and tell us that you want to work on it,” Blades told members at a recent Berkeley forum on children’s healthcare.
Early on, organizers conducted a survey asking members what issues they cared about most. Healthcare emerged as a core issue. Others were paid family leave, realistic and fair wages for mothers, and quality, affordable childcare.
At a Berkeley forum earlier this month, about 50 Bay Area members met in person for the first time to talk to each other and to urge local legislators to extend affordable healthcare coverage to all children in California. Both Assemblymember Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) and Assemblymember Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) attended.
Lack of coverage means many families live in a state of uncertainty regarding any health problem, they said, and coverage means children will get more preventive care and will spend less time being sick and missing school.
The California Legislature’s Assembly Health Committee passed a healthcare bill, AB 1X, Nov. 14 and will send it for a floor vote on Nov. 26. The bill would cover all children and their parents earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty line. The poverty line is $20,650 for a family of four. Despite two months of negotiations in a special session, Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger still disagree on how to finance the bill.
MomsRising does not favor any bill in particular. But with healthcare bills stalled at both the national and state level, they want legislators to at least cover children.
An estimated 7.3 percent of California children remain uninsured. Although the Bay Area has a lower percentage of uninsured children at 3.4 percent, affordability is a major issue for many of the region’s mothers.
“Currently, state assistance kicks in based on poverty level. And for people that live in the Bay Area, poverty level isn’t really relevant because costs are so high,” said Ashley Boyd, co-director of MomsRising’s California Campaign.
The poverty level is set nationally and does not vary according to geography or a particular region’s cost of living.
DeSaulnier, himself a single father of two, also emphasized that any bill the Legislature passes shouldn’t be more expensive for those it’s trying to help by requiring higher deductibles, for example, or not including full benefits.
“The danger is we can declare victory, but it’s not a real victory,” DeSaulnier said.
Only 56 percent of California’s employees were covered through their employers in 2006. And employers who offer coverage are reducing benefits to spouses and children.
Berkeley MomsRising member Linh Spencer with daughters Nai Li, 7, and Minh Kai, 4
Even MomsRising members with health care said they want other children to have what their children have.
“My children get very good healthcare,” said Linh Spencer, Berkeley mother of two. “And I’d like to think that everybody’s children could get as good healthcare.”
Hancock advised members to meet with their representatives, even in small groups of five. There’s nothing like a determined group of mothers to strike “terror” in the heart of a legislator, she said.
“Now we know what we need to do and what we need to say,” said Krista Keim, mother of two.
Norton stressed that the grassroots aspect of the group is important because not only do members illustrate the impact of legislation through personal stories, but they also feel empowered. She told the story of a woman in MomsRising who had gone to a legislator’s office and told him about living without health insurance.
“She really felt like she had made a difference,” Norton said.