Improving community health, job opportunities

Moderated by Rick Badie

Too often, health and wellness issues fall below the radar as they relate to metro Atlanta’s burgeoning South Asian communities. One of today’s writers advocates for the creation of holistic health programs that can combat illnesses as well as treatment costs. Elsewhere, an official with the Rainbow PUSH Coalition previews a local economic summit to feature U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.

South Asian health dialogue needed

By Nazeera Dawood

South Asian Americans, whose metro Atlanta population has tripled since 2004 to more than 100,000, are mainly natives of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The general belief in the U.S. about this community is the “model minority” myth — that it achieves a higher degree of success than others. Unfortunately, this is not universally true. Access to quality health care and financial stability is not easy for many in this community.

Little research has been done to promote effective prevention efforts that address its members’ health and well-being. Most federal and state studies aggregate this community with other Asian Pacific Islander groups – Chinese and Korean, for example. Language and cultural barriers, difficulty navigating the health care system, lack of health and financial literacy, poverty, and lack of access to health insurance and information are among the possible causes for health disparities between South Asians and mainstream Americans.

For example, the total estimated cost of diagnosed diabetes in 2012 was $245 billion, including $176 billion in direct medical costs and $69 billion in decreased productivity. There is a pressing need to conduct assessments of chronic disease, its economic impact on public dollars, and the economic challenges it poses in South Asian communities. This information is the foundation for creating holistic health programs.

I realized the need for a holistic approach to public health in 2011. My career as a Georgia public health professional and as a practicing physician in India was limited to delivering health-related messages.

In 2011, a resident’s comment transformed my approach to public health delivery. I was giving training on ways to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables. One resident said, “My neighbors and I do not have the means to pay for our next meal. How can you expect us to purchase apples that cost more than what we eat now? Do you have a job for us?” His comment struck me like a sword! I realized I must bring clients holistic messages that address health, food, financial security and other issues. In the South Asian community, we must break cultural barriers and begin a dialogue that makes health care more acceptable. Last year, I met Fahad, a diabetic who had developed a wound on his right foot that became inflamed. Within weeks, he was unable to walk comfortably. He had no health insurance, so did not visit the doctor and shrugged at going to a clinic. He ultimately ended up in the emergency room, creating a taxpayer-funded bill twice what it would have been if he had been educated on effective diabetes management.

The few South Asian resident health studies/surveys conducted in metro Atlanta show that almost 75 percent of respondents have health insurance. Prevalent health concerns included diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and heart disease. Weight-related issues, arthritis and increased stress level were also named. Overall personal health ranged from good to excellent, yet only 40 percent said they exercise at least 30 minutes one to three times per week.

We were impressed by the overwhelmingly positive response to learning more about eating better, getting involved in physical activities and reducing stress. Targeted health data will reveal appropriate roles for government and the private sector to prevent disease. It should guide us to better policies that improve the quality of life worldwide.

Empowering individuals with prevention knowledge, early screening and diagnosis are equally important. They result in successful treatment or delay of chronic diseases. Education about healthy eating and physical activity is essential and should begin with children.

Yet given the barriers South Asians face, we must create a support structure that shows options for reducing the financial burden of chronic diseases; develops culturally specific training materials; engages faith institutions, and teaches methods to navigate and identify health care resources.

Delivering the health message is not enough. We must create access to job training and economic possibility. We must support societal changes that result in better health and food justice for all.

Dr. Nazeera Dawood is health promotion program manager for the Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness.

Transportation investments create jobs

By Janice L. Mathis

Georgia is hurting.

Despite new construction downtown and feverish campaign rhetoric, we need jobs, and we need them now. The U.S. Department of Labor recently reported that Georgia leads the nation in unemployment. The state’s unemployment rate barely moved over the past year — from 8.2 percent in August 2013 to 8.1 percent one year later.

The South fared better overall. The regional unemployment rate dropped from 7 percent to 6.3 percent over the same period. Miami, Birmingham, Charlotte and Greenville, S.C., have jobless rates significantly lower than metro Atlanta’s 8 percent.

Before we blame Georgia’s malaise on Atlanta, it is important to understand that Columbus, Albany, Brunswick and Rome had unemployment rates of 9 percent or more in August. Only two of the state’s 14metropolitan areas experienced unemployment lower than the state as a whole — Athens and Gainesville. Yet low-wage work and high rates of poverty predominate in both cities.

As we attempt to create opportunity for all, from aging baby boomers to millennials, Georgia must carefully examine its transportation options as part of the mix of a healthy economy. Georgia has many elements needed for a strong economy. As Gov. Nathan Deal pointed out, “Georgia boasts a strategic location as the gateway to the American Southeast as well as a strong collection of competitive assets, including two Class 1 rail lines, the most capable airport in the world along with an extensive network of regional airports, and the fastest-growing ports in the nation.”

The challenge is translating Georgia’s abundant assets into shared economic prosperity. In 2012, the TSPLOST went nowhere in metro Atlanta because many feared the benefits would not be equitably distributed. Despite last-minute assertions to the contrary, large segments of the powerful African-American voting constituency rejected the idea that jobs and contracts generated by TSPLOST would be felt in under-served pockets of metro Atlanta.There was good reason for skepticism. A 2012 disparity study found that Georgia Department of Transportation projects persistently under-utilize firms owned by African-Americans and other minorities. And Georgia’s 8.1 percent unemployment rate translates to 25 percent for young African-Americans.

Meanwhile, TSPLOST funding projects are underway in Savannah, Columbus and Augusta. During the first 18 months of the program, 114 construction projects valued in excess of $140 million have been let. GDOT forecasts letting an additional 79 projects through December.

According to a recent report, in the first 18 months through June, TSPLOST tax collections brought in nearly $200 million extra dollars for transportation projects. Local governments received $50 million as discretionary funds for transportation needs in their communities. These funds are helping GDOT provide work for 17 Georgia construction companies and 29 consulting firms.

To its credit, GDOT is studying its pre-qualification criteria to determine what reasonable approaches might bring improvement. We must dispel the persistent myth that inclusion requires lowering quality.

Georgia has a robust supply of experienced and highly qualified construction contractors and service providers. Every proponent of a more democratic contracting process understands that compromising quality is the death knell for inclusion. Opponents should stop to consider that capturing Georgia’s abundant economic potential is more likely if all qualified participants are at the table.

The 2014 Regional Transportation Plan contains many useful goals. Friday afternoon, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx is to visit the 15th annual Rainbow PUSH Coalition Creating Opportunity Conference in Atlanta. We expect the secretary to address the U.S. Department of Transportation’s efforts to enforce Titles VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, guaranteeing fair employment and contracting. We also hope the secretary’s visit will help to galvanize broad-based support for future transportation infrastructure investments in Georgia as a proven means of job creation.

Janice L. Mathis is vice president of the Citizenship Education Fund.

Late tax interest is out of line

By Allen Buckley

For many decades, Georgia has been charging 1 percent per month on tax underpayments. That’s more than 12 percent per year. The IRS charges a variable rate that for years has been 3 percent per year.

Virtually all other states have an interest rate drastically lower than Georgia’s. Many, perhaps most, use the IRS rate. Utah currently uses a 2 percent annual rate. North Carolina uses a 5 percent annual rate.

The interest is in addition to penalties. When a taxpayer is late in paying a tax liability, penalties apply to the failure to (timely) pay the tax. Thus, the interest rate is punitive.

The Department of Revenue takes the position that it must recover tax plus interest to make the state “whole.” Last year, I tried to settle a tax matter on behalf of a client with the revenue department. The client owed approximately $500,000 in taxes. However, after two years, the interest had grown to more than $100,000. The state refused to negotiate with respect to the interest. Had reasonable interest been charged, the interest amount would have been approximately $30,000, and the matter very likely could have been settled through an installment agreement.

While the state does pay 1 percent interest on tax overpayments, it only does so beginning 90 days after a return, including an amended return, is filed. Thus, if a taxpayer received notice from his broker in July that the Form 1099 he had been issued for 2012 erroneously reported an excessive dividend amount — which was reported by the taxpayer to the state on his 2012 tax return — and the taxpayer filed an amended return in August to request a refund of the overpayment, the state would not need to begin paying interest on the overpayment until November.

Last year, I asked my state legislator, Rep. Rich Golick, to sponsor a bill to reduce the state interest rate to the IRS rate. After some email discussion, he agreed to do so. He took it to higher-ups in the Republican Party. The bill went nowhere.At a 2013 legal seminar at the State Bar of Georgia, state Revenue Commissioner Doug MacGinnitie acknowledged the rate was excessive. He also said the state would lose a lot of revenue if it changed to a more reasonable rate.

Laws are supposed to be just, and it is clearly unjust for the state to be penalizing taxpayers through outrageous interest charges. If our Republican government stands for justice and smaller government, the law will be changed to be just.



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