Affordable Care Act: One Young Cancer Patient in Maryland

Presents sat unopened in her family’s Davidsonville house in April, while at Johns Hopkins Hospital her parents told her she had Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancerous tumor growing in her stomach. The disease is so rare that only about 225 children in the United States are diagnosed each year.

Ella Edwards, 9, holds the opening page of a story she is writing about her fight with cancer. Ella was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma on her birthday. Capital News Service photo by Aaron Rosa.

The Edwards family entered a new reality of oncologists and treatments.

“It was crazy fast,” Jen Edwards said. “We were taken up to oncology, and I was thinking, what are we doing here? There are kids with cancer here.

“At that point we weren’t even thinking of insurance.”

The Edwards family hadn’t been following the congressional debates over the repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” But now they, like millions of other Americans, would have to deal with a pre-existing condition — which before the Affordable Care Act meant companies could refuse insurance.

Though Congress and the Trump Administration have tried — and failed — to repeal President Barack Obama’s healthcare law, these patients remain worried about their future.

“The ACA was something I never paid attention to,” Jen Edwards said. “You just assume your child is never going to get sick and be healthy all their lives.”

Brian Edwards runs Hague Quality Water, a water treatment company, owned by his father, that has been in his family over 20 years. He purchased health insurance for his children, which, he said, cost less than what he would have to pay through work.

A week before Ella’s birthday, a stomach flu hit the family, but Ella did not respond to the usual medications.

Ella Edwards walks into the room where she will receive the third of six proton radiotherapy treatments. Capital News Service photo by Aaron Rosa.

Doctors at Anne Arundel Medical Center found a grapefruit-sized tumor pressing against her bladder and transferred her immediately to Johns Hopkins University for further testing.

There, the doctors diagnosed the cancer. And two days after her parents took her to the hospital for what they thought was a stomach bug, Ella began receiving chemotherapy.

At Hopkins, Jen Edwards recalls, hospital administrators made a crucial discovery: Ella had been admitted through the emergency room. If Ella was discharged, Johns Hopkins would not readmit her because, though the emergency visit was covered, Hopkins did not accept her insurance for continuing treatment, a staff member confirmed.

They stopped the family from leaving. The administrators recommended that Brian Edwards purchase a new plan, under “Obamacare,” that would cover Ella’s future treatment — avoiding a bill of $80,000.

In a stroke of luck, Hague Quality Water was in a two-week period where the business could choose a new insurance provider for their employees. Brian Edwards switched his company’s coverage to Evergreen Health, a plan on the state health exchange that offered in-state health insurance for Ella’s condition.

Ella’s newly diagnosed cancer is included on a list of declinable conditions that would have caused her application for insurance to be automatically denied in all but five states before the health care law, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Evergreen Health’s monthly premium is $1,900, nearly 30 times the $66 premium he previously paid for insurance covering all his children — the policy from a company that Johns Hopkins would not accept.

“Even if you can’t pay the bills in that moment, you’re still going to do the treatment,” Jen Edwards said.

She leafed through a thick, worn binder filled with letters from doctors, scraps of paper with hastily jotted notes, and bills — dozens of bills.

Ella’s initial seven-day hospitalization topped $41,000, including $17,000 for room and board, and $20,000 for her first round of chemotherapy.

Four months of cancer treatments, visits with specialists, and hospitalizations racked up over $200,000. All but their $1,500 deductible was paid by their insurance company.

Before the Obama health care law, those costs led many families to bankruptcy.

A study conducted by Harvard University and published in the American Journal of Medicine in 2007 found that from 2001 to 2007, bankruptcies attributable to medical problems increased by 50 percent and comprised 67 percent of all bankruptcies in the United States.

Cost of life, a metric used to quantify one year of life with cancer treatment, rose from $54,100 in 1995, to $207,000 in 2013. This statistic does not include expenses like surgery or home care, nor does it account for the loss of income resulting from a chronic illness.

Brian and Jen Edwards held a different view of the health care law before Ella’s diagnosis. Back then, they viewed “Obamacare” as socialization of health care.

“For me, Ella’s cancer changed my perspective about the Affordable Care Act,” Jen Edwards said.

“Knowing some of these children that are also at Hopkins, I know their families can’t afford it,” she trails off. “Every child should get care.”

Jen Edwards has quit her job at a local church to care for Ella.

Brian Edwards supplements his work-provided policy with an additional policy to cover the more expensive drugs not covered by Evergreen.

The additional policy is income-based. With five children and a single income, the Edwards family qualifies for its insurance. But if Jen Edwards were to resume working and the family income increased, they would be ineligible.

But even with government subsidies, the Edwards family’s health insurance policies cost him over $2,500 a month.

“It’s overwhelming,” Brian Edwards said. “I don’t know how people do it without insurance.”

Ewing’s sarcoma has a good prognosis if it has not spread. Ella’s has spread to her lungs.

Ella has completed nine of 14 rounds of chemotherapy and is undergoing an eight-week proton radiotherapy treatment plan in lieu of a surgery that would have removed two of her vertebrae.

The family’s life is now shaped by cancer.

Ella and her siblings manned a lemonade stand on the side of a nearby road this summer to raise money for Ewing’s sarcoma research. The family visited Hershey Park. And Ella attended a special week-long camp sponsored by Johns Hopkins University Hospital and staffed by medical personnel.

What they did not do this summer was watch the healthcare debate on television.

Brian Edwards canceled their cable TV subscription. The Edwards children watch cartoons on Netflix.

“Nothing good comes from watching the news,” Brian Edwards said.
But the next wave of bad news didn’t come through the television. It came in the mail.

As a non-profit, Evergreen could no longer cover the costs of its clients, and in a final desperate measure, converted to a for-profit model and sought an outside investor.

Investors dropped out of the Evergreen acquisition deal this summer. In August, the Edwards family received a letter from Evergreen Health announcing that it would be going out of business, honoring existing contracts but closing its doors for good in 2018.

“We’ve been lucky to have coverage so far,” Brian Edwards said softly. “But with Evergreen going out of business, next year is going to be very different.”

Brian Edwards again switched his company’s insurance from Evergreen to Maryland Blue Cross Blue Shield.

His monthly premium increased by $400.

By Aaron Rosa

Maryland Oyster Season Opens with Bad News – Harvest Last Season down 42 Percent

The public oyster harvest season began Monday, with Chesapeake Bay watermen no doubt hoping for a better haul this fall and winter than last. For Maryland watermen, though, there isn’t a lot of room for optimism.

Despite mild weather last winter, Maryland’s 2016-2017 harvest from public oyster bars was off nearly 42 percent from the year before, a steep drop from the modest decline seen the previous two years. Last season, 1,086 licensed watermen harvested 224,609 bushels of bivalves, down from a 384,000-bushel catch in 2015-2016, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Chris Judy, DNR’s shellfish division manager, attributed the harvest decline last season to lower “spat sets” of juvenile oysters since 2012, the last year in which there was good recruitment or reproduction. Spat sets since then have been poor to middling.

Disease made a dent as well last season, at least in some areas. Intensity of Dermo, one of two parasitic diseases afflicting oysters, rose last year above the long-term average for the first time in 9 years and was the highest since the last major outbreak during a drought in 2002. The survey found elevated intensities from Pocomoke Sound north to the Wye and Miles rivers. Dermo-related mortalities also increased in some areas.

MSX, the other parasitic oyster disease, increased in prevalence on bars where it had been found previously, reaching a level 20-fold higher than what it was three years ago.

The DNR team that conducts annual surveys thought that the state’s oyster population last year had reached a crossroads, either pausing briefly before continuing to recover or on the cusp of another major decline. “Only time — and weather — will determine which direction Maryland’s oyster population will take,” the 2016 fall oyster survey concluded.

In Virginia, by comparison, harvest from public bars slipped 5 percent last season over the previous season’s take. The Virginia Marine Resources Commission tallied the harvest from public oyster bars at 246,000 bushels in 2016-2017, down from 259,000 bushels in 2015-16, according to Laurie Naismith, spokeswoman for the commission. The higher salinity of Bay water in Virginia tends to yield better oyster reproduction.

Maryland’s public oyster harvest season runs through March 31, 2018, while Virginia’s extends into April. The busiest portion of the oyster season will kick off Nov. 1, when harvest methods in Maryland expand from hand and patent tonging and diving to include power and sail dredging in designated areas of Calvert, Dorchester, Somerset, St. Mary’s, Talbot and Wicomico counties. Virginia’s public harvest is limited in early fall to the use of hand tongs and “hand scrapes,” a rake-like device; the fishery expands in November to include patent tonging and in December to power dredging.

Of course, for many consumers, the concept of an oyster “season” has blurred, if not faded altogether, as aquaculture has gained strength in the Bay. The output of Virginia’s private oyster farmers, who harvest bivalves year-round, has matched or exceeded the public oyster harvest most years. In Maryland, the growing but still fledgling industry produced 64,609 bushels last year, up from around 50,000 bushels in 2015.

Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets.

Marylanders collect Donations to Help Puerto Rico

Organizing aid collections is one way that many Puerto Ricans on the mainland have begun to shake off the “impotencia,” or powerlessness, they feel since Hurricane Maria slammed into their home island almost two weeks ago.

While Gov. Larry Hogan announced Friday that he was sending a 26-member team of the Maryland National Guard to assist on the ground in Puerto Rico, many people from the territory believe that more work needs to be done. As a result, donation sites, many set up by former residents of Puerto Rico, have sprouted across the state.

A sign on the front door of the Tabernacle Church lists items it is collecting in its lobby for relief efforts in Puerto Rico. (Photo by Helen Parshall / Capital News Service)

“The fact is that our families being alive is not enough,” said Carolyn Faría, of Gaithersburg, Maryland. “It is a blessing and we are happy that they are alive, but it is not enough. We need them being okay day-to-day.”

Faría, originally from Ponce, Puerto Rico, was one of several people in neon vests directing cars through the drop-off lines at Dynamite Gymnastics Center on Saturday. The Rockville site served as a centralized hub for some of Maryland’s suburbs to send donations to be shipped to the island through the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA).

“Everyone here today has been touched by a family member who is suffering in one way or another,” Faría said, speaking both for herself and other volunteers, many of whom have family on the island. “We are voters, we are citizens and we are part of the United States. We are here and we need help.”

There were more than sixty volunteers on site Saturday, Faría told Capital News Service. On Sunday, the number had almost doubled with more than 100 people lending support.

Over the course of the two days, Faría said that volunteers filled a dozen 26-foot trucks with the donations bound for Puerto Rico.

“We’re a big community of Puerto Ricans in this area,” Faría said. “When bad things like this happen, although I pray they never do again, it doesn’t matter what town you’re from. We’re all working together because our families need us.”

Hyattsville was another of several sites in Maryland that sent shipments to the Dynamite Gymnastics Center. Candace Hollingsworth, Hyattsville’s mayor, was outside the municipal building with several volunteers to “stuff the van” for Puerto Rico on Saturday morning.

Hollingsworth has been critical of the federal government’s actions since the storm, saying in a tweet that President Donald Trump should “work harder” at relief efforts in the Caribbean. She drove the van to Rockville herself on Saturday afternoon.

“I’m here because I have friends from Puerto Rico, and I think it’s important that we help since the federal government isn’t doing anything in a timely fashion,” said Justine Christianson, one of the Hyattsville volunteers.

In the days after the storm, friends Waleska Cruz, Tanya Malpica and Eileen Romero channeled their heartbreak into working across almost two dozen local collection sites to gather supplies to send through PRFAA to communities on the devastated island.

“Being in the United States, you never think you’re going to get the call from your family that they need food and water,” Romero said. “The tedious work of these donations is almost therapeutic when you’re stripped of the ability to be there and help them.”

All three women are from Carolina, a northeastern town in Puerto Rico. While Malpica and Cruz were friends growing up, they did not meet Romero until they were living in and around Laurel, Maryland.

“Most of my family is on the island,” Malpica said. “I’m blessed that even though I can’t be there yet, I have amazing friends checking in, and I know people are taking care of my family.”

“I want to be there and help,” added Cruz. “From food, water, gas – there are so many concerns, and we want take a flight down there to do anything we can.”

Tabernacle Church and Loving Arms Christian Center are two of the main collection sites the women are working with in Laurel, Maryland. The churches’ involvement means a lot because it is the “home churches” opening their doors, Romero said.

Vernice and Roberto Gonzalez, the pastors of Loving Arms Christian Center, canceled the usual Thursday Bible study to be able to organize donations and fill trucks with supplies.

“We are joining forces with everyone willing to sow a seed to Puerto Rico,” Roberto Gonzalez said as he led the community in a closing prayer. “In this difficult and trying moment, this is where the Bible becomes reality.”

“This is us putting our love for one another into action,” said Vernice Gonzalez. “We’re praying for God to help them, and we will be continuing to do this as long as there is need.”

For Cruz, Malpica and Romero, it also important to plan for the future.

“In the longer term, things will stabilize and get better, but right now we don’t want to deplete resources from people who need them on the island,” Romero said.

The three are brainstorming ideas – from 5K races to dance parties – to keep communities on the mainland engaged once the immediacy of the storm damage begins to fade from public consciousness. They hope to be able to fly down by the end of October to be able to help rebuild and clean up their homes.

“The hardest part is the waiting game,” Romero said. “It feels like it’s been a month since Maria but it’s not even been two weeks.”

“We have to understand that this is not a three-, six-, or even one-year situation,” Malpica added. “This will take years to recover from. When the hype dies down, people on the island will still be suffering. That’s when our support matters even more.”

by Helen Parshall

Hogan Sues EPA over Power Plant Pollution from Neighboring States

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced a lawsuit Wednesday against the federal Environmental Protection Agency for failing to enforce limits on air-pollution control at 19 mostly coal-fired power plants in five states upwind of Maryland.

“We want the EPA to step in and make sure provisions of the Clean Air Act are followed,” said Ben Grumbles, Maryland’s secretary of the environment. “This is necessary to protect air quality and the Chesapeake Bay.”

The 19 plants have installed “smog controls,” according to the Maryland Department of the Environment. “But they’re not always running them when they should be,” Grumbles said.

About one-third of the nitrogen that ends up in bay waters comes from “air sources,” according to the EPA, which did not respond to multiple requests for comments by press time.

The original petition to the EPA requesting that the agency regulate the plants — in Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Indiana and West Virginia — was filed by the MDE in November. The EPA granted itself a six-month extension on the original 60-day deadline. By July, the agency still had not responded to the petition.

The Hogan administration and MDE contend the power plants in question have not “effectively” operated their pollution control systems during the summer months, also known as “ozone season,” and some have not used their pollution control systems at all.

Although most parent companies of the power plants cited in the Maryland petition did not respond to requests for comment by deadline, the Tennessee Valley Authority, which operates Paradise, a coal-fired plant in Kentucky, challenged Maryland officials’ claims.

“We do have emissions controls. They run when the plant is operating,” said Jim Hopson,TVA’s manager of public relations, who said he was not aware of the Maryland lawsuit. “They reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrous dioxide levels in excess of 90 percent and they eliminate particulate matter…All of our plants have those.”

The EPA defines the ozone season for Maryland and all the states named in the EPA petition as April through October, with the exception of Indiana, whose ozone season is April through September. Ozone levels are believed to be at their worst during the summer on sunny, hot days, particularly in urban environments, according to the EPA.

“Pollution from out-of-state power plants also harms our in-state streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay,” said Jon Mueller, vice president of litigation at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which plans to file a similar lawsuit with partners in the coming weeks. “Studies show nitrogen oxides from coal plant emissions degrade our water, and harm our fish and other aquatic life.”

In its original petition to the EPA, MDE expressed concern that nitrogen oxide emissions from the offending plants could prevent the state from achieving the required air-quality standards mandated by the Clean Air Act.

According to estimates in the Maryland petition, about 39,000 tons of nitrous oxide emissions could have been prevented in 2015 had the 19 power plants in question “run their control technologies efficiently.” In 2014, MDE said those same power plants had profited to the tune of $24 million by either not using their pollution controls or not using them effectively.

A request for comment from the American Coal Council as to why or why not a coal-fired power plant would employ pollution controls was not returned by press time.

“Maryland has made significant progress in improving our air quality in recent years, and that progress is in jeopardy due to a lack of action by the EPA that dates back to the previous administration,” said Hogan, a Republican, in a statement. “We strongly urge the EPA to approve the petition and enforce the air pollution controls…”

By J.F. Meils and Julie Depenbrock

US House Moves to Keep EPA from Enforcing Bay Pollution Diet

In a move that environmentalists charged would undermine the Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort, the U.S. House of Representatives voted earlier this month to bar the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from taking action against any state in the Bay watershed that fails to meet pollution reduction goals set by the EPA six years ago.

The measure, an amendment to an EPA and Interior Department spending bill put forward by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-VA, passed Sept. 7 by a largely party line vote of 214 to 197. On Sept. 14 the House passed the omnibus spending bill by a similar margin.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R–VA)

Three GOP House members from Pennsylvania — G.T. Thompson, Bill Shuster and Scott Perry — joined Goodlatte in introducing the amendments. Goodlatte, whose district includes most of the Shenandoah Valley, has pushed unsuccessfully before to block the EPA from enforcing its Bay “pollution diet.”

The 40 House members whose districts include a portion of the Bay watershed split nearly evenly on the controversial issue – 19 voted for it, 18 against, the latter including six Republicans. The Bay watershed delegations in Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia overwhelmingly supported curbing the EPA’s authority, while those from Maryland, Virginia and Delaware did not. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-MD, who would have opposed the amendment, was on medical leave and missed the vote. Rep. Tom Garrett, R-VA, also missed the vote. And Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-District, does not have a vote.

In a statement issued after the House vote, Goodlatte said his amendment was needed to prevent a “federal power grab” over the Bay cleanup effort. “My amendment stops the EPA from hijacking states’ water quality strategies,” he said. “It removes the ability of the EPA to take retaliatory or ‘backstop’ actions against the six states . . . if they do not meet EPA-mandated goals.”

Goodlatte said that Congress had intended for states and the EPA to work collaboratively to carry out the federal Clean Water Act. But in the Obama administration, he added, “every state in the watershed has basically been given an ultimatum — either the state does exactly what the EPA says, or it faces the threat of an EPA takeover of its water quality programs.”

But Kim Coble, vice president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said Goodlatte’s amendment would strip the federal-state restoration effort of needed accountability just as water quality is improving. She pointed out that the states had all agreed, after failing to meet earlier voluntary cleanup goals, to work toward the pollution reduction targets the agency set in 2010.

“However, only EPA has the ability to enforce the agreement in the event that a state fails to meet its commitments,” Coble said. “By suspending this backup enforcement authority, the Goodlatte Amendment threatens the viability of the [cleanup plan].”

The EPA annually reviews each of the six Bay watershed states’ efforts to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution as called for in the 2010 plan. If any state fails to meet its milestones and hasn’t done enough to get on track, agency officials have warned they’ll take “backstop” actions. Those can range from withholding federal funds to imposing regulations on smaller livestock operations or tightening discharge limits for wastewater treatment plants.

The EPA briefly withheld nearly $3 million in grant money from Pennsylvania in 2015 after finding the state lagging badly in curbing farm runoff and stormwater pollution. The money was restored, but the agency has since warned the state it may take additional actions if it doesn’t do more to meet its pollution reduction goals.

The EPA’s authority to enforce its “total maximum daily load,” or pollution diet, for the Bay, was challenged in federal court by farming and building groups. They were joined by attorneys general for 22 states — including Oklahoma’s Scott Pruitt, now the EPA administrator — who feared that the Bay pollution diet might inspire similar federal pressure on states to deal with nagging water quality problems elsewhere, particularly in the massive Mississippi River watershed. District and appellate courts upheld the agency’s authority in the Chesapeake case, though, and the U.S. Supreme Court last year refused to review those decisions.

The House has yet to take a final vote on the spending bill, which would provide $31.4 billion in fiscal 2018 to fund the Interior Department, EPA and several other agencies — restoring many, but not all, of the sharp cuts proposed by the Trump White House. The Senate also is still mulling its version of the bill, which could differ markedly from the House’s.

Environmental groups have said they will urge senators not to go along with the Bay amendment. It’s far from clear if the two chambers will be able to agree on the overall budget, a standoff that would effectively kill this restriction on EPA.

Maryland’s Undocumented Immigrants: In Their Own Words

While reports circulate that the Trump administration is closer to resolving questions left after last week’s immigration announcement, Maryland’s undocumented residents are uncertain of what comes next.

Cindy Kolade, 24, originally from Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, West Africa, came to Baltimore with her mother when she was 12 years old.

In conversations following the White House announcement, three of Maryland’s “dreamers,” as they are often called, told Capital News Service they are worried about their future without the legal protections of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.

“When you’re undocumented, the only thing you can rely on is your community,” said Nathaly Uribe Robledo, 22, of Glen Burnie, Maryland. “For a lot of us, this will be the first time that we will be living undocumented as adults with adult responsibilities.”

Robledo arrived with her mother from Chile 20 years ago on tourist visas, she told Capital News Service.

“I’ve been here since I was 2 years old, and I have very little memory – if any – of Chile,” she said. “All of my life and my memories, all of my special life events, have occurred here in the U.S.”

“The main reason my parents decided to come to the U.S. was the lack of opportunity in Chile,” Robledo continued. “There was so much economic instability in Chile, and coming to the U.S. meant a better opportunity for a better life.”

DACA was created in 2012 under an executive order issued by President Barack Obama shielding young undocumented immigrants from deportation and granting them two-year renewable work permits.

Jose Aguiluz, 28, was one of several hundred people gathered outside the White House awaiting the administration’s decision on Tuesday, Sept. 5th

Since the program began, almost 800,000 people have been approved. To be eligible, immigrants had to be between the ages of 16 and 31 as of June 25, 2012. They also had to have lived in the United States since 2007, according to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Robledo applied for her first permit in 2012 and again when the program was briefly expanded to three-year stays in 2014. She applied most recently in July.

President Donald Trump on Sept. 5 gave Congress six months to find a legislative solution to address the program. New DACA applications will no longer be accepted but undocumented immigrants who are already covered can still apply for renewal, as long it is by Oct. 5.

“I can personally say that (with DACA) I finally felt like an average, normal American teenager,” Robledo said.

She attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, until financial struggles forced her to withdraw in 2014. Robledo was pursuing a double major in biology and political science with dreams of becoming a representative in Congress. She now works at an insurance agency in Baltimore.

“I’m very lucky, in a way, and privileged – which is kind of an oxymoron – to be in a situation where my friends are very supportive of me and my employer is very supportive,” Robledo said.

The decision, while anticipated, felt “devastating” for Robledo.

“I know my parents have made it 20 years undocumented, and I know that I can make it if I try, but it will be hard,” she said.

“I’m just so scared of the unknown because my whole life being undocumented so far has been while I was in school,” she added. “It’s already scary enough knowing that these are the years where you’re supposed to set everything in motion for the rest of your life.”

A coalition of leaders across the country has signed a pledge supporting the DACA recipients. Among those are many Maryland politicians, including 12 state senators and four mayors.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a joint statement Wednesday that Trump “agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides.”

Trump disputed the account on Twitter, saying that “no deal was made last night on DACA.”

“We cannot let the Trump Administration get away with tearing apart innocent families and wreaking havoc on our economy in Maryland,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, said in a Sept. 5 statement.

As of March, there were roughly 9,700 Marylanders enrolled in the DACA program, according to data from USCIS.

In Maryland, DACA-eligible dreamers are mainly found in three counties, based on 2016 data released by the Migration Policy Institute: Montgomery (roughly 8,000), Prince George’s (6,000) and Baltimore (3,000).

The DACA-eligible population in Maryland accounts for about 9.5 percent of the state’s total unauthorized population, said Jeanne Batalova, senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.

The majority of DACA applicants in Maryland come from four countries: El Salvador (about 7,000 recipients), Mexico (5,000), Guatemala (4,000) and South Korea (2,000), per data from the institute.

‘More than just Latinos’

Cindy Kolade, 24, arrived in Baltimore shortly after her twelfth birthday with her mother from the Ivory Coast. Kolade said she will remain covered by DACA through February 2019.

“DACA gave me a little bit of the American dream because I was able to provide for myself and provide for my family,” Kolade said. “With DACA, I’m able to help my mom with the bills.”

She and her mother came straight to Maryland because “it’s the only place I have family.”

“Baltimore shaped me into the person I am today,” she said. “I’m able to survive on my own and take care of myself.”

Kolade works as a clinical lab assistant at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. In 2014, she transferred to Towson University from Baltimore Community College. She is still in school, majoring in molecular biology.

Kolade is registered under Maryland’s DREAM Act and also under DACA, and received her first DACA work permit in October 2012.

In 2012, Maryland passed its own DREAM Act to make in-state tuition accessible for its undocumented residents, provided they attended previous schooling in Maryland.

“With DACA, I really thought I had it all for a minute,” Kolade said. “But even though DACA doesn’t give us the whole American dream…, at least it gave us a chance to go to school, work, and be part of the American society.”

Trump’s announcement has changed Kolade’s thinking.

“You’ve given us something and you’ve taken it away from us,” she said. “You still have to worry about what happens next. It doesn’t matter if it’s going to stop in March or two or three years from now. It’s really devastating because you don’t know how you’re going to survive for yourself.”

Kolade believes the administration’s decision to rescind DACA is a sign that Trump doesn’t understand that communities other than Latinos depend on the legal protections.

“Although (African populations) are a small minority, we still depend on DACA and still feel protected by it,” Kolade said.

Brian Frosh, Maryland’s attorney general, announced Monday that Maryland will join Minnesota, California and Maine in a lawsuit against the decision to end DACA.

“The callous and cavalier action taken by the Trump Administration will destroy the lives of many immigrants who were brought here as infants and toddlers, who love the United States of America, who pay taxes and abide by the law,” Frosh said in a statement. “Ending the program would constitute a $509.4 million loss to the state’s annual GDP.”

Strength in Community

“When I graduated from community college in Maryland in 2011, there was no DACA,” said Jose Aguiluz, 28, a registered nurse from Silver Spring, Maryland, who arrived from Honduras when he was 15.

“I had an associate’s degree in nursing, but I was working as an electrician to pay my bills because it was the only job I could get,” Aguiluz said. “Then DACA came along and changed my life completely within the span of four months.”

Upon receiving his Social Security number and work permit, Aguiluz told Capital News Service, he found work in his field almost immediately.

“I went from being an electrician to having a job as an RN,” he said. “After being able to work legally, I went back to school and got my bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Maryland University College.”

Aguiluz had plans to continue his education, but is now at a loss because “pretty much everything has been placed on hold.”

“I was looking at my work permit this morning, and I have a stay here until November of next year when my permit expires,” he said.

In 2012, Aguiluz worked with advocates to pass Maryland’s DREAM Act.

“It’s really heartbreaking,” he said. “I brought dreamers to the table to register, and now all that information is in the hands of the government. The Department of Homeland Security knows the phone numbers and addresses of all of us.”

Since Trump’s Sept. 5 decision, CASA, a local immigrants rights organization, is focused on helping dreamers get legal assistance before the final deadline.

“We are holding several DACA renewal clinics,” said Fernanda Durand, CASA communications manager. The clinics “help the DACA recipients renew their DACA applications.”

CASA will be holding three Maryland clinics before Oct. 5, said Durand: Sept. 16 and 30 in Langley Park and Sept. 23 in Baltimore.

Aguiluz is afraid of what so much rumor and confusion means for himself and other undocumented immigrants.

“We are in a particularly unsafe position,” Aguiluz said. “They can just go through my door and get me. It’s very stressful.”

However, Aguiluz was smiling while talking to Capital News Service.

“I don’t want to say that this is a sad occasion,” he said. “From all the indications, we knew that this was going to happen. I’m here because of my community, the community that I built when we started fighting for the DREAM Act in 2012.”

“Community is what keeps us in this fight together.”

By Helene Parshall and Chris Miller

Chesapeake College Announces Timeline for New Presidential Search

Chesapeake College’s Board of Trustees has announced the formation of a search committee to select the college’s sixth president and a process to involve members of the campus and Mid-Shore communities in identifying the qualifications, characteristics and values sought for the school’s new leader.

The 14-member Presidential Search Advisory Committee (PSAC) will be chaired by L. Nash McMahan, Vice Chair of Chesapeake’s Board of Trustees and President of Tri-Gas and Oil Co., and include four additional trustees from the Mid-Shore: Christopher Garvey, President & CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors Chesapeake Shores Chapter; Robert Grace, President & COO of Dixon Valve & Coupling Company; Mike Mulligan, retired Colonel U.S. Marine Corps and Senior Account Manager for Battelle; and Brenda Shorter, retired Kent County Schools educator.

“Nash McMahan’s experience as a CEO, civic leader and collaborator will be catalytic in helping the search committee identify qualifications and characteristics for the president that are based on widespread community input,” Chesapeake College Board of Trustees Chair Blenda Armistead said. “In particular, we felt it was important to get broad participation from the business community since the college plays such a critical role in educating and training our region’s current and future workforce.”

Additional members of the search committee include representatives from the Upper Shore Workforce Investment Board, the college’s Foundation Board and Business Council; and Chesapeake’s administration, faculty and staff.

Residents and employers in Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties are invited to participate in the search process by completing a brief online survey on the campus website through Sept. 20 at noon. Results will be used to help develop a job description to recruit the new president.

“We have already completed individual interviews and focus groups on campus and in the community with elected officials and business leaders,” McMahan said. “The online survey gives others throughout the region the opportunity to share their ideas and priorities and the characteristics they would like to see in the new president.”

Based on this input, recruitment advertisements will be posted in October with applications accepted through the end of the year, according to McMahan.

The search committee will evaluate applicants in January and February and a list of three to four candidates will be submitted to the Board of Trustees in March. Campus and community engagement will be sought during the final interview process.

“We hope to announce our choice in the spring with the new president on campus by the start of the fiscal year on July 1,” Armistead said.

Chesapeake College Interim President Dr. Stuart Bounds is assisting the Board of Trustees in the search.

“Chesapeake College has had a deep commitment to the values and aspirations of the Mid-Shore community throughout our 50 year history,” he said. “The Board and the Presidential Search Advisory Committee will be seeking a candidate for the sixth president of the college who will build on that commitment and expand educational opportunity for all the citizens of our five-county community.”

To participate in the survey please go here

Is Maryland and the Eastern Shore Ready for the Next Big Storm?

In Maryland, which historically has ducked many of the worst storms of the last 50 years, the question is increasingly not if, but when the next big one will strike. And while some believe the state has often been spared from big hits by dint of location and the buffer of the Chesapeake, what the bay giveth it can also wash away.

Maryland has done extensive planning, including infrastructure improvements that focus on bolstering natural storm defenses to better absorb tidal surges and rainfall runoff, but there is widespread consensus among state officials and meteorologists that a massive hurricane like Harvey or Irma could overwhelm emergency services.

“None of us are exempt,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, during comments to reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday before he voted in support of the $7.85 billion Harvey relief bill in the House on Wednesday. “Every part of the country floods…we’re all subject to the vagaries of natural disasters.”

Among the storms that have not missed Maryland is Agnes in 1972, a tropical deluge widely considered among the worst to hit the state, causing 19 deaths and $110 million in damages, according to the National Weather Service. In 2003, Hurricane Isabel made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 2 storm, creating a tidal surge in the Chesapeake of more than 6 feet and flooding Maryland communities including Annapolis, Fells Point in Baltimore and Cambridge, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration records.

“It’s certainly not impossible that something like (superstorm) Sandy would happen here,” said Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and one of the state’s leading climate experts.

Boesch noted that a scientific concept called stationarity, the idea that many patterns operate within a fixed range, is no longer true when applied to climate-related events like big storms.

“Terms like ‘once in 100 years’ don’t have much meaning anymore,” he explained, while cautioning that the cooler ocean waters off the nation’s mid-Atlantic coast make a Harvey-scale storm unlikely.

For coastal states like Maryland, there are two types of storms that have the most potential to create damage: those that bring tidal surges (sea water pushed inland by a tropical storm or hurricane) and those that feature much more rain than wind, which create problems with water run-off.

Both storm varieties cause flooding, but for most of Maryland it’s the latter that can wreak havoc, particularly in low-lying areas like Annapolis and parts of Baltimore around the Inner Harbor, which flood regularly under heavy rain.

“Generally, we have increasing precipitation because the atmosphere is getting warmer and this will continue,” said Konstantin Vinnikov, a research scientist at University of Maryland and the state climatologist for Maryland. “Sea level rise in the next couple of decades will make everything much more catastrophic. In Maryland, our islands are suffering with sea level rise even now.”

So it’s fair to wonder what will happen if Maryland gets pounded with a Harvey- or Katrina-level storm that dumped water on the state for days.

“Clearly, the Eastern Shore could get hit as hard as the Gulf Coast could get hit,” said Ed McDonough, spokesman for the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, which is charged with coordinating the state-level response to natural or man-made disasters. “The difference is most of the people who are in harm’s way are there in summer vacationing.”

MEMA’s basic action plan in the event of a direct storm hit or deluge of rain on the Eastern Shore is to order an evacuation of residents to areas north or west. It’s something the agency did on a small scale in 2011, moving about 3,000 seasonal workers from Ocean City when Hurricane Irene swept through the mid-Atlantic region.

MEMA recently updated one of its key emergency operation plans, although its main strategic emergency blueprint, the Emergency Preparedness Program Strategic Plan, has not been updated since 2013. “Plans are kind of living documents,” said McDonough, referring to the latter. “As things happen, you modify them.”

Loss of life and property are not the only concerns in a major storm. Given the economic importance of the Chesapeake Bay, environmental damage is also a worry.

“Big storms in general are bad for the bay because they bring a lot of pollution,” said Beth McGee, senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

The best defense against pollution from water runoff is what are called “living shorelines,” or those that remain in their natural state, something that is on the decline in Maryland, according to McGee.

“Flooding is made worse when you have a lot of paved surfaces and rooftops,” said McGee, who also said that Maryland was “making progress” at mitigating development in sensitive shore areas, but “not fast enough.”

“There’s a fair amount of land that’s converting from agriculture and forest to developed land,” she added.

Maryland’s Coast Smart Council, a group of state and local environmental and planning groups formed in 2014, is charged with making regulations for construction and land use with this in mind. In 2016, Coast Smart’s efforts included grant assistance to help restore floodplains, reinforce beaches and protect marsh lands that can serve as a flood buffer during storms.

But will it be enough? “Until you have a storm, it’s hard to gauge,” said Matt Fleming, director of Maryland’s Chesapeake and Coastal Service, an agency that coordinates among regional, state and local governments and private organizations to protect the state’s shoreline. “I hope we’re more prepared than we were five years ago. We’ve taken steps to put us in that direction.”

Timing also matters in Maryland. Spring or early summer storms are particularly lethal to the bay’s underwater sea grasses, which are still immature at the time but serve as spawning grounds and protection for young fish and crab populations.

Although Maryland has only a short ocean-facing shoreline, its needs differ from those areas directly on the Chesapeake.

“We’ve been lucky in a lot of ways, but you know we can be on the national news with the satellite trucks here at any given time,” said Ocean City Councilman Dennis Dare, a former member of the Coast Smart Council. “That’s why we’ve spent 30 years preparing.”

For Ocean City, it is storm surge, not wind or rain, that holds the greatest potential for mayhem—or, ironically, a storm that misses that city and hits the Chesapeake directly.

“If it (a storm) goes up the Chesapeake Bay, that means the metro areas—Annapolis, Prince George’s, Howard County, Baltimore—will have severe damage,” added Dare. “The resources of the state are gonna go in those areas and the Eastern Shore…we may be left to fend for ourselves.”

If Maryland absorbs a massive drubbing like Harvey or Irma, more than the Eastern Shore will likely go begging.

“No one is going to have everything they need for a catastrophic event like Harvey,” said McDonough.

On this, there is widespread agreement.

“If we get a ginormous (sic) storm like they had in Houston,” McGee said, “that’s going to overwhelm the entire system.”

By J.F. Meils

Maryland Immigrant Rights Supporters attack Trump Move as Cruel

Maryland’s congressional Democrats and various immigrant rights groups condemned the Trump administration’s decision Tuesday to rescind an order protecting immigrant children who were brought to the United States illegally.

Lawmakers said removing protections for such immigrants would disrupt families and be cruel to those who were not to blame for their illegal status.

As Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the decision only blocks away, a crowd of a couple hundred protesters backing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program assembled at LaFayette Park and yelled “Shame!” in the direction of the White House while beating drums.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said the announcement signaled a “dark day in our nation’s history” and implored Congress to pass legislation to make DACA permanent sometime this month.

“I know DACA kids, I’ve actually volunteered to do applications for them,” said Priscilla Labovitz, a Takoma Park, Maryland, resident. “I was an immigration lawyer, but I retired, so I know them as human beings, as nice kids, not in some lumped up way of ‘illegals’ because nobody is illegal.”

Rev. Jennifer Butler, the CEO of Faith and Public Life, a network of 40,000 religious leaders across the country, said the decision to revoke DACA goes against the major principles she believes in as a Christian.

“It’s morally despicable. I stood out there today with young people who are mourning, who are weeping,” Butler said.

“We’re going to keep fighting,” she added. “Clergy are planning even now to take these folks into their houses and into their sanctuaries. We don’t believe in this, and we are going to oppose it every step of the way.”

Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, was the lone congressional voice from Maryland who came out in favor of the DACA wind-down. “I strongly support President (Donald) Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy,” he said in a statement. “The Obama-era policy is a gross overreach of executive power and undermined the authority of the legislative branch. President Trump is returning that power to Congress.”

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, had the opposite reaction. “Clearly written with little thought of the human consequences, this latest action by the Trump Administration will harm our economic and national security,” Cardin said. “It will break families and drive many underground, out of work and into poverty.”

Maryland’s other Democratic senator, Chris Van Hollen, warned of the economic impact of repealing DACA.

“Over its five-year history, DACA has helped nearly 800,000 young people pursue higher education and grow our economy,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “Ending this program will cost our economy over $460.3 billion over ten years and displace over 685,000 workers vital to businesses in Maryland and across the nation.”

Roughly 9,000 Marylanders are beneficiaries of DACA, and according to Sessions’ announcement, they will remain so for the next six months, as the administration plans to use an interim period to usher out the order’s recipients.

However, any DACA requests filed after Tuesday will be rejected, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Filings for renewal for current recipients will be accepted until Oct. 5.

Sessions announced the administration’s decision to a roomful of reporters but took no questions. Trump issued a statement following the announcement.

Ending the DACA program would leave roughly 800,000 illegal immigrants subject to deportation.

A 2012 executive order by President Obama allowed people who came to the United States as children to apply for deferred action for two years at a time. Once the deferred action expired, recipients could apply for renewal.

Recipients had to have been at least 15 and under 31 as of June 15, 2012. An applicant convicted of a felony or at least three misdemeanors was ineligible.

Trump has advocated for DACA’s end since his presidential campaign and, after the seeming inevitability of its termination came to a head this weekend, urged Congress via Twitter to “get ready to do (its) job.”

“Enforcing the law saves lives, protects communities and taxpayers and prevents human suffering,” said Sessions, who three times referred to DACA recipients as “illegal aliens.”

“Failure to enforce the laws in the past has put our nation at risk of crime, violence and terrorism,” the attorney general said.

But a wide array organizations and individuals across the political spectrum, from Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and the United States Chamber of Commerce to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and California Gov. Jerry Brown, decried the administration’s move. Some pledged court challenges.

In Lafayette Park across from the White House, protesters said they were dismayed at what felt like a betrayal.

“I served in the United States military, and this is not the type of freedom I served for,” said Jaime Contreras, a vice president at 32BJ SEIU, the Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, told Capital News Service.

“It doesn’t make any sense economically or socially in any form.”

Additional protesters marched along Pennsylvania Avenue, sitting down and blocking traffic just outside the Trump International Hotel.

Sheridan Aguirre, a DACA beneficiary, called the decision to strike down the executive order “cruel.”

“We have had five years now being able to live authentically as ourselves, and it’s been a cornerstone of safety for our immediate families,” he said in an interview with CNS. “We need to heal, we need to come together to talk about what’s happening, and in the long term be able to fight for a permanent solution.”

Aguirre is a 23-year-old undocumented immigrant from Austin, Texas, who said his life’s direction was uncertain before DACA. He graduated high school in Texas in June of 2012, days before DACA was announced.

After DACA was implemented, Aguirre, then 19, became the first person in his family to get a driver’s license.

Bobbie Monahan came into the city from Baltimore with other members of her Catholic parish, St. Gabriel, Woodlawn, to support the work of CASA.

“It is a great injustice, and my faith tells me to be here,” said Monahan. “If the heads of my church aren’t moving fast enough, then we’ll get out there and show them.”

Hoyer said he would like to see DACA passed and take effect permanently.

“We will see whether or not the statements of both sympathy and support for Dreamers (by Republicans) are in fact carried out legislatively or whether or not the most strident voices within the Republican Party fomenting anger and ire directing (sic) at these young people are followed,” he said. “Hopefully they will not be.”

Hoyer would not commit to the idea of using would-be Democratic votes for upcoming bills on Hurricane Harvey relief, the debt ceiling, or a continuing budget resolution as leverage to force passage of DACA legislation.

In the meantime, Hoyer believes that DACA would pass right now if it was introduced in the House.

“I frankly think the votes are there,” he said. ‘Will there be controversy? There will because there are some people who don’t want to see anybody admitted to the U.S. and particularly anybody who came here unauthorized.”

In 2015, Hoyer signed an amicus brief along with 180 other House members including Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Reps. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Timonium, John Delaney, D-Potomac, and Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, supporting Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and DACA.

“President Trump is breaking his promise to hundreds of thousands of DREAMers who were brought here as children – through no fault of their own – and today know only America as their home,” Cummings said in a statement. “Our children are the living messages we send to a future we will never see and eliminating DACA sends a terrible message.”

By Conner Hoyt, Angela Jacob, J.F. Meils, Johnny Moseman, Helen Parshall, Ashley Clarke And Changez Ali

Consumer Advocacy Group Protests CareFirst Rate Hikes

Many Marylanders face sharp rate increases for health insurance after the Maryland Insurance Agency (MIA) approved requests by CareFirst, the state’s largest insurer.

The MIA on Aug. 29 approved increases averaging 34.5 percent for CareFirst’s HMO plans and 49.9 percent for its Preferred Provider plans for the individual market for 2018. The increases granted were pared back from CareFirst’s original request for more than 50 percent increases in its rates.

Other insurance companies also requested increases. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, which accounts for nearly a third of the statewide market, requested increases averaging 25.1 percent across its plans. Uncertainty over what Congress may do to reform or possibly repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was largely to blame for the requested rate increases, according to a July report in the Baltimore Sun.

Leaders of Consumer Health First, the statewide consumer policy and advocacy organization, expressed deep concern about the effects of such a high rate increase on Marylanders and the stability of the state’s insurance marketplace.

The state’s decision will have devastating consequences for consumers and the long-term sustainability of the individual market,” said Leni Preston, president of Consumer Health First. “These rate increases are inconsistent with CareFirst’s statutorily mandated mission to provide affordable and accessible health insurance to its members.”

The premium hikes will especially harm Marylanders who do not qualify for a federal subsidy and could further destabilize the marketplace as healthier CareFirst customers either find a different carrier or drop coverage completely, Consumer Health First said in a news release Tuesday.

Beth Sammis, former acting commissioner of the MIA and a Consumer Health First board member, said, “It is time to hold CareFirst accountable for its performance in the individual market. CareFirst needs to demonstrate it is doing all it can to build a partnership with health care providers and consumers in the individual market to improve health and lower costs.”

Sammis called on the president and Congress “to take the steps necessary to guarantee the federal government will pay insurers the amount due for subsidies.” She said, “Failure to make these payments will result in even higher rate increases.” 

We also urge Governor Hogan and our elected officials to move forward with state programs to stabilize the individual market, such as a state reinsurance program, and to require the Commissioner to consider CareFirst’s statutory mission when reviewing rate filings in the future,” added Sammis.  

A previous analysis by Consumer Health First raised a number of concerns about CareFirst’s justification for its proposed hikes to premiums. It said that CareFirst remains on solid financial footing, with a surplus far exceeding what is required by law for a health insurer, despite its losses on the individual market since 2014.