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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Blue Re Florida Blue

Under our almost totally Republican officialdom, Florida government becomes more and more arbitrary, inefficient, and chaotic.  I hope that voters who put such unwarranted faith in buzz words – especially Jeb's "People First!" and Rick Scott's "Let's Get to Work!"– will rewind to the days of Lawton Chiles and Bob Graham, when accountability and transparency meant something.  It's not just that today's Tallahassee folks are inefficient:  it seems they deliberately aim their poor service at poor people.


You've been reading for months now how the computer system for unemployment insurance repeatedly has broken down.  Journalists have filed story after story about hundreds of thousands of people (and small businesses) who can't get the money they have paid into this fund.  Ron DeSantis' troops make excuses and promises, but progress?  Not so much.  Meanwhile even middle-class families have to line up for free food, and there's no income at all for the already poor.


In contrast to the slowness of that division of state government, the Florida Retirement System and its contracted insurance company, Florida Blue, were extremely fast.  They managed to cut off my prescription insurance within days of Hubby's death.  My daughter went to CVS to pick up my routine prescriptions, and they wanted more than $300 for the three items.  She knew this couldn't be right, so I put on a facemask and talked with the head pharmacist.  He looked in his computer, said that I was no longer covered by Florida Blue, and then kindly responded to my request for over-the-counter equivalents.  He went into the store with me and picked them out; they cost $30.


I was especially infuriated because Hubby and I paid this insurance entirely for me; the policy covered our family, and I was not dead.  Although Hubby was entitled to its benefits, he never used them because he preferred the VA.  I would have, too, if that option had been available, which is why I support Medicare for All.  And yes, being the ancient person that I am, I am a Medicare recipient, too, and I see on my bills that it always pays first; if Florida Blue pays at all, it is only to pick up what Medicare didn't.


This is even more maddening because I was the first in our family to pay into what then was Blue Cross/Blue Shield.  That was in 1968, when I was teaching in Massachusetts and the insurance came with the job – even though I didn't use it because Hubby and I both were entitled to free medical care through the Army.  So I have paid tens of thousands of dollars to "Blue Whatever" during more than a half-century and used very little of it, yet they cut me off as soon as I became a widow. 


We will have a chance to right this kind of wrong in November.  Hubby's lifelong slogan was that health care should be like police, fire departments, schools, and libraries – simply there when you need it.  Please think about that and vote against profit-minded people who illegitimately rob widows of their mites.




Please also remember in November to be cautious about candidates who promise low taxes.  This is another way in which the selfish in government – and especially the selfish who lobby them – target poor people for the heaviest part of our mutual burden.  I was reminded of that when I went to the tax collector's office to transfer the title of Hubby's vehicle to me so that I can sell it


To their credit, the office was following facemask and social distancing rules.  Indeed, two armed guards stood at the door and joked with each other while another checked my temperature.  But then I had to stand for most of an hour, and because the bone spurs in my back were radiating pain, I did as much as I could to keep the transaction short. 


Although pleasant, the clerk was less than bright:  she ignored the paperwork that my daughter, a lawyer, had filled out and started all over again.  I had come in person because of a letter from the office, which said I owed another $40-something more than the $80-something already paid. The letter didn't explain why – bur by the time that the clerk finished fiddling around and told me to write a check for $238, I my back hurt so much that I didn't argue.


The point, though, is broader than mere inefficiency and inexplicability.  It is that we pay a whole lot of money to state and local governments in the form of fees, not taxes.  Those of us who are middle-class would be a lot better off if Florida instead adopted a state income tax.  Then people who declare themselves to be Florida residents so that they can avoid state income taxes Up North would have to pay a fairer share here.  And yes, I am thinking of someone who recently moved his official residency to Palm Beach.


Beyond that, we real Floridians could deduct our state income tax from the federal tax.  And beyond that, with this added revenue stream, the legislature could allow state and local governments to reduce fees.  You can look around the county tax collector's office and see who is paying for government now.  No one is there in a suit and tie; instead, they are people in jeans and t-shirts, trying to figure out what they owe and (perhaps) why. 


I suspect most are renters and are not there to pay property taxes; they are there to get the drivers' licenses and car plates that are essential to working in Hillsborough County, where public transportation is a joke.  Please remember, too, that buses aren't free.  I saw lots of minimum-wage employees at the VA counting out their bus fare before boarding. 


And also remind yourself that the entire judicial system runs on fees and fines – fines for everything from running a red light to serious crime, and fees from everything to getting a marriage license to filing for probate.  Please think about that:  We have a judicial system that depends on petitioners paying money for the entirety of justice.   Most of all, though, think about taxes vs. fees.  Many of our poorest people are paying a disproportionate share of their income in fees – so beware of those who speak only to taxes.




         A little change of style, with little beginning thoughts:

·      Anyone remember that Martin Luther King's last cause was "The Poor People's March?"  He wanted more attention to class, and not so much to color.  He wanted, in the words of "We Shall Overcome," to bring "black and white together."

·       There's a recruiting billboard on I-75 North that says "Marines:  Fight to Win."  How about "Marines:  Fight for Justice?"  Or "Marines:  Fight to End Fighting?"

·      I give great credit, however, to the Marine Corps for being the first military branch to ban Confederate images.  It's finally beginning to dawn on some people that Rebels rebelled, and treason is not to be encouraged by military leadership.

·      I'm glad that some school boards and law enforcement agencies are having second thoughts about the value of school resource officers.  It was always an unthoughtful response to Parkland, as if one guard could stop mass murders on big campuses.  So here's a new slogan:  "Counselors, Not Cops."

·      "Defund Police" is another overly simplistic slogan.  No (sane) person is saying that we should abolish police departments, but there is a strong argument for lessening their budgets, especially in capital equipment.  When profit-making corporations encourage armored tanks and riot gear, is it truly surprising that this results in riots?  As Tampa Bay officials recently showed, bicycles are better.  Certainly cheaper.

·      The last voter in line in Clark County, Nevada – home to Las Vegas and 75% of the state's population – cast his ballot in last week's primary there at 3:09 in the morning.  First thought:  November may be awful, as some people (usually Republican) try to prevent others from participating in democracy.  Second thought:  thank you, dear voters, for reelecting our Elections Supervisor Craig Latimer without opposition.

·      As they said on old-time radio, "keep those cards and letters coming."  Almost two months after Hubby left this earth, I'm humbled to still be getting sympathy cards and sympathetic e-mails.  I miss him terribly, and with COVID cases rising, I continue to isolate.  Day after day, there's no companion except my cat, who isn't a very good conversationalist.  Please don't hesitate to connect.



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