By Julianne Malveaux
For all of this Administration’s efforts to kill (as in “repeal and replace”) the Affordable Care Act, it is still the law of the land, and still available (and required). However, since 45 and his team have declared it all but dead, they have shortened the enrollment period from three months to a mere six weeks, from November 1-December 15, 2017. Additionally, the department of Health and Human Services has drastically cut the budget for outreach. This time last year, there were television and radio announcements, billboards on buses, and other reminders that people should enroll for health care if they don’t get health care from their job.
This Administration hopes that, without outreach, people will not enroll for care, so that they can then crow that people “don’t want” health care. But some faith leaders have pledged to use their pulpits to remind their congregations to get enrolled for health care. Rev. Dr. Barbara Williams Skinner, the first Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus, an activist who melds faith with public policy, and a spiritual advisor to many Black leaders, has developed a toolkit for communities of faith to help them do the work that our government won’t in encouraging people to enroll for affordable health care.
The effort has a title, #SOULSTOENROLL, or #SOULS2EN- ROLL, a Facebook Page, a toolkit adopted from the government page, a weekend campaign that will begin November 12, suggestions for faith leaders, a sample bulletin announcement, PSA, and social media tips. In other words, the faith community is being encouraged to treat health care enrollment like any other grassroots organizing campaign and get involved in it.
Back in the day, before social media, we used to talk about “the drum,” or the ways we shared information in the Black community. Lots of our radio stations, or programs, were called “the drum” because they were our ways of sharing information. Now faith leaders are taking the drum viral to ensure that people who don’t get the word because of lack of government outreach, will get it through churches and through the Internet.
We will rely on these methods of communicating more and more, as this administration attempts to contract, not expand, the information people need to get essential health care (and other services). The toolkit and other resources are proof that our community has the ability to out organize the evil that is seeping out of Washington. “Woke” members of Congress are working with Rev. Skinner and others to get the word out – Congressman Jim Clyburn (D-SC) had his PSA up BEFORE the enrollment period opened on November 1, and some members of Congress have PSAs posted on their webpages. But everyone won’t log on to a Congressional website to get access to the PSA. That’s where the churches and community organizations come in.
Once upon a time we could mobilize. Without any Internet, 250,000 people managed to get to Washington, DC for the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. Mimicking that effort, and using both word of mouth and the Internet, more than a million women made it to Washington DC for the post-inaugural Women’s March. Now we have the opportunity to rally millions to participate in benefits of the Affordable Care Act.
There are consequences to not enrolling. If you haven’t enrolled by December 15, you may have to wait a whole year before getting access to affordable health care and the subsidies available under ACA, and you may have to pay a fine for not enrolling. Some states (California, Washington, Minnesota, DC, Colorado and Massachusetts) will allow enrollment until January, but most will close enrollment on December 15. Even with a longer enrollment period, the best thing to do is to ensure that those you know who need ACA benefits enroll early.
Helping people enroll for ACA benefits is not only a public service, but it is also an act of resistance to 45’s pernicious attempts to undermine President Obama’s signature piece of legislation. To be sure, ACA is not perfect, but it is responsible for expanding the base of people who can get affordable health insurance.
This example of Faith in Action may be a template for other ways to use the church to organize resistance. The novelist Dr. Daniel Black (author of Perfect Peace) recently gave a talk in which he described our churches as the backbone of the Black community. Disagree with your pastor, or with the sermon if you will, he said, but still get to church for the sense of community that can only be found there. While the Black church is less impactful than it was in 1963 when most of us could be reached through church announcements, it is still a place where we gather and share information. If you don’t usually go to church on November 12, when the #SOULS2ENROLL weekend campaign kicks off, consider making your way there to check this campaign out (or encourage your pastor to participate).
Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist. Her latest book “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy” is available via www.amazon.com. For booking, wholesale inquiries or for more info visit www.julianemalveaux.com.