Op-Eds and Commentaries

GOP Still Not in Tune With Latinos

By ELIZABETH ARANDA

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The state Legislature's alternative budget proposals to the Affordable Care Act show that Republicans still do not know how to court Latinos.

Voting against the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare in Florida will win no favors with Latinos. Florida has a large concentration of Latinos who comprise the race or ethnic group most likely to be uninsured in the U.S.. The state has a high proportion of uninsured Hispanic children and Florida's Latinos also have high rates of uninsured non-elderly adults.

This begs the question, will refusing to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid sabotage Republicans' efforts to win over the Latino vote in future elections?

Many Latinos in Florida, particularly first-generation, represent the countless stories of individuals and families leaving economies where public spending was slashed in favor of neoliberal economic policies that in the end made Latino lives more insecure. Generations of Latinos have come to the U.S. to work with the hopes of achieving a better quality of life than what they had in the wake of austerity measures in their countries of origin — policies that relied on balancing state budgets on the backs of the poor and middle classes.

When policies chip away at state support for public institutions and social services, they create environments of insecurity that erode individuals' trust in their governments, including the entities responsible for such policies. Both foreign- and U.S.-born Latinos have made Florida, and Central Florida in particular, their home, setting their sights on the Sunshine State as the place where they could most likely get ahead through hard work.

The prevailing assumption among this group is that when times get tough, there is, at a minimum, a safety net to catch those who struggle—a safety net that will break their fall, at least until they can get back on their feet.

The Affordable Care Act promises to expand this safety net. Latinos need this now more than ever. Data show that 25 percent of this group reported losing access to health care in the previous two years.

This is particularly troublesome given the research on the health status of Latinos, particularly Puerto Ricans, which lags behind that of other race and ethnic populations in the U.S.

Expanded access to health care is vital to ameliorating these health disparities. But refusing to expand Medicaid and accept the federal dollars that otherwise will go to subsidize the health care of other states, would do nothing to close the health gap between Florida Latinos and other groups. In fact, along with other cuts to social services, education and job-training programs that aid Latino families, it poses a real threat to the well-being of Latino lives.

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that Florida is tied with Louisiana, Alabama and two other states for having the fifth-highest rate (39 percent) of nonelderly uninsured Hispanics in the nation. The state ranks 37th in the rate of Medicaid coverage for non-elderly Hispanics (17 percent).

Florida's ranking along these measures will not improve if the Legislature cannot come to an agreement to accept the benefits that the Affordable Care Act has to offer. Refusing to expand Medicaid under Obamacare would axe the expansion of eligibility for insurance coverage to 9 million Latinos and would cut off $6.3 billion in new Medicaid funding for U.S. territories and Puerto Rico.

If Republicans are serious about winning over the Latino vote, those opposing accepting what Obamacare has to offer should consider that 61 percent of Florida Latinos feel like government should ensure that everyone has access to health care while only 22 percent believe it should be an individual responsibility.

Most registered Latino voters in Florida support expanding health care even if it means raising taxes on the wealthy, or a combination of raising taxes and cutting programs.

Focus groups are not needed to know that Republican state legislators are not listening to Latino voters. If they were, they would not still be debating how to solve the health care access problem for Latinos and the rest of the state's uninsured population.

[ Elizabeth Aranda, Ph.D., is an associate professor and associate chair in Department of Sociology at the University of South Florida, Tampa. ]

Re-posted from http://www.theledger.com/article/20130416/COLUMNISTS03/130419651?p=3&tc=pg.