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COVID-19 legislation provides a $12 billion boost to alternatives to nursing homes.



COVID-19 legislation provides a $12 billion boost to alternatives to nursing homes.
COVID-19 legislation provides a $12 billion boost to alternatives to nursing homes.

COVID-19 legislation provides a $12 billion boost to alternatives to nursing homes.


The COVID-19 relief law is providing states with a generous funding boost for home- and community-based care as an alternative to institutionalizing disabled people, with the memory of the pandemic’s toll in nursing homes still fresh.

Advocates hope that the projected $12.7 billion will drive a gradual move toward helping elderly and disabled people, as well as their overburdened families, in daily situations. However, the money for state Medicaid programs, which has been in the works for a long time, will only be available for four quarters this year and next. This has raised fears that it would only have a temporary effect, sparking calls for permanent legislation.

“What we really want is to be able to reach out and get help for our loved ones without having to go through another battle,” said Maura Sullivan of Lexington, Massachusetts, who has two sons with autism. “We don’t want our children to be separated from us only because potholes need to be filled in the United States.”

Neil, Sullivan’s older son with more extreme autism who is in a rehabilitation facility, is an advocate for the disabled in her state. Tyler, her younger son, now 17, could hold down a job if he had help, she claims. Autism is a developmental disorder that causes difficulties in social interaction, communication, and actions. Although some people with autism need a great deal of assistance with everyday activities, others are mentally gifted.

Medicaid was established as a joint federal-state health-care program for the poor and disabled. It has also become the nation’s default long-term care program, despite the fact that qualifying is often a difficult process. It now covers about 1 in 5 Americans.

Although the federal government ensures that state Medicaid systems provide nursing home care for low-income individuals, the same cannot be said for home and community-based support services. All states provide these programs on a voluntary basis, but the variety varies greatly. Although there is debate over whether home and community care prevents or merely delays people from entering a nursing home, it usually costs less than half as much as institutional care.

The coronavirus pandemic brought the vulnerability of nursing home residents to the forefront. According to the COVID Monitoring Initiative, only about 1% of the US population lives in long-term care facilities, but they accounted for nearly one-third of COVID-19 deaths as of early March.

“Clearly, COVID showed that living in an institution increases the risk of infection and death,” said Martha Roherty, executive director of Advancing States, a group that represents state aging and disability agencies. “A care home is not the place to be if we want seniors and people with disabilities to have a better quality of life.”

According to a poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research last year, 60% of Americans would be extremely concerned if an elderly friend or family member needed long-term care in a nursing home during a pandemic, while another 27% would be moderately concerned.

According to MaryBeth Musumeci of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, the billions in the COVID-19 legislation was the first new federal funding for home- and community-based programs since the Obama-era Affordable Care Act more than ten years ago.

“I expect this to be the first step toward a greater emphasis on Medicaid home and community-based programs, as well as finding out how to help states reach more people in the community,” said Musumeci, a Medicaid and disabled specialist.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., and other Democratic lawmakers recently introduced legislation in Congress that would make such programs a mandatory Medicaid benefit and establish basic standards and conditions.

“There are too many people who are forced to go into institutions when they get older,” Dingell said. “People should not be forced to enter a long-term care facility, where they are more likely to develop illness and are more isolated.”

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., the chairman of the House committee that governs Medicaid, says that improving long-term care, and expanding access to home and community-based care services, is one of his top priorities.

Any federal attempt to develop a new mandatory Medicaid benefit is likely to face stiff opposition from states. There’s also some skepticism about the money in the COVID-19 relief law, especially if accepting it means states will be left holding the bag once the temporary federal funding runs out.

In response to Dingell’s proposed legislation, Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, said, “This country requires and deserves a thoughtful, compassionate long-term care program, and the backbone of that must be access to these programs from anywhere but Medicaid.”

For the time being, states and disability advocates are waiting for clarification from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on how the COVID-19 law’s funds should be spent. That is expected to happen soon, according to the department. Reducing wait lists, increasing support worker compensation, and investing in technology to increase service quality are all examples of possible uses.

Sullivan, a Massachusetts mother with two autistic sons, said they spent most of the pandemic year at home. She works for The Arc, a non-profit that campaigns for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, in her state.

Sullivan said that although her older son, Neil, has since returned to his residential facility, her younger son Tyler was harmed by being cut off from other people.

“He was at a stage in his development where social relations were becoming increasingly important,” she explained. “To be honest, we’ve seen regression this year, and we’re hoping to get him back to where he was before with more services and supports.”

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Dolphins lose receiver Kirk Merritt to New Orleans Saints



Dolphins lose receiver Kirk Merritt to New Orleans Saints

One of the Miami Dolphins’ top practice squad performers has signed with his hometown team.

Kirk Merritt, who spent two years blossoming on the Dolphins’ developmental unit, has signed a futures contract with the New Orleans Saints, joining the NFL franchise he grew up rooting for as a Louisiana native.

The Dolphins, who are searching for a new head coach after firing Brian Flores last week, have been in the process of re-signing some of the team’s practice squad players.

Tailback Gerrid Doaks, receiver Cody Core, cornerback Javaris Davis, offensive tackles Adam Pankey and Kion Smith. and defensive back Quincy Wilson have signed with the Dolphins to futures contracts.

Merritt was one of Miami’s top performers during training camp, and he contributed in three games his first two seasons.

Practice squad players become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, and signing futures contracts, which are minimum-salary-based deals, virtually allows them to train with an organization in the offseason. However, it doesn’t guarantee a training camp spot.

Regardless of who is named Miami’s next coach, it is likely the team will infuse an arsenal of new receivers.

Jaylen Waddle, the Dolphins’ 2021 first-round pick who led the team with 104 receptions for 1,015 yards and seven touchdowns, DeVante Parker, a seven-year starter, Allen Hurns, Lynn Bowden Jr., who spent all of 2021 on injured reserve, and Core are the only receivers under contract in 2022.

And considering Parker and Hurns’ contracts are voidable, it is possible that they could be released to create more cap space. Parker is slated to earn $5.75 million, and another $500,000 in per-games-played bonuses. Hurns, who spent all last season on injured reserve because of a hand injury he suffered in training camp, could earn $2,575,000 if he makes the 53-man roster, with another $600,000 in per-games-played bonuses.

If the Dolphins released Parker, who has started 64 of 93 games, it would potentially clear $3.55 million in cap space. Releasing Hurns would create nearly $3.2 million in cap space.

The Dolphins already have a league-high $74 million in cap space to work with this offseason, but the franchise has numerous avenues available to create another $20 million-plus of cap space to spend on free agents and re-sign their own free agents.

Will Fuller, a free agent added last offseason who only played in two games, Albert Wilson, who started five games last season, Isaiah Ford, Mack Hollins and Preston Williams are the receivers expected to become unrestricted free agents.

Williams is a restricted free agent, but it’s questionable whether the Dolphins will place a right of first refusal tender on him, which is worth nearly $2.5 million, because of his struggles last season.

Fuller, who started 17 games during his three seasons in Miami, caught six passes for 71 yards in eight games.

Tight ends Mike Gesicki, who primarily served as a slot receiver last season, and Durham Smythe, who started 41 games in his four-year career with the Dolphins, are also set to become free agents on March 16.

It is possible that the Dolphins could use the franchise or transition tag to retain Gesicki, who finished second on the team with 73 receptions for 780 yards and two touchdowns. The last day to use the franchise or transition tag is March 8.

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Why they walked out: King Soopers workers on life on the margins



Guest commentary: Support the King Soopers strikers

Talk to the men and women who walked the King Soopers picket lines and you’d hear why they were out there, in the cold and freezing rain, striking for a better life.

They started as high school kids looking for some extra cash to pay for that senior trip. Or they heard about the decent wages and upward mobility. Others lost their jobs during the pandemic and desperately needed work.

They stay because they’re scared to lose insurance for their children. Or they don’t want to let down their co-workers they view more as family.

These are the workers of King Soopers. More than 8,000 of them — encompassing 68 stores across metro Denver — walked off the job on Jan. 12, striking for livable wages, better benefits and more security at their stores.

Friday morning, on the 10th day of a walkout that included bitter public posturing and a temporary restraining order, the two sides announced they had reached a tentative agreement to end the labor dispute and bring union workers back into stores.

Details of the agreement were not immediately released, but the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, Kim Cordova, said in a statement that the agreement “addresses the company’s unfair labor practices and ensures that our members will receive the respect, pay and protection they warrant.”

Joe Kelley, president of King Soopers and City Market, said in a statement that the deal would “put more money in our associates’ paychecks and secures health care and pension plans.”

Throughout the strike, the union argued that its workers were being left behind as Colorado’s rising cost of living far outpaced wages, while the company said the union was rejecting millions in wage increases.

A recent Economic Roundtable report, titled “Hungry at the Table,” found more than three-quarters of workers at grocery stores owned by Kroger — the parent company that owns King Soopers and City Market stores in Colorado — are food insecure, with a rate seven times greater than the national average.

“The data demonstrate that workers’ financial distress, housing insecurity and food insecurity are not resulting from their personal failures but rather, from Kroger’s companywide policies for cutting costs and increasing profits,” the report’s authors noted.

Here are some of King Soopers workers’ stories:

RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

Brandy Ruiz walks the picket line outside the King Soopers where she works in Denver on Jan. 19, 2022.

“You have have to take action”

Single mother Brandy Ruiz sees her 16-year-old son working diligently at school. He gets good grades, studies hard and has college in his sights.

She wants to be able to pay for that schooling, to reward him for his strong work ethic — but it’s hard.

“I just don’t have the finances,” Ruiz 38, said Wednesday outside the King Soopers on Speer Boulevard in Denver, where she’s worked for six years. “It hurts.”

Ruiz hasn’t gotten a raise from the grocery store chain in four years, she says. Meanwhile, her son, now 6 feet tall, constantly needs new clothes and eats like a full family. She knows he needs braces but she can’t afford them right now.

The 38-year-old has thought about getting a second job to make ends meet. But she believes in commitment, in progressing and growing with a company.

“It feels a bit unfair,” Ruiz said as she tried to stay warm on the sidewalk, a sign around her neck pleading with customers not to shop at King Soopers. “I’ve shown my half; I’m just looking for a little incentive from their half.”

Over the past few weeks, she’s had to explain to her son and nieces and nephews why she was standing outside her workplace with a sign. Ruiz pointed to Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday as a fitting example.

“When you believe in something big,” Ruiz said, “you have to take action.”

1642792942 639 Why they walked out King Soopers workers on life on

RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

Josie Penley walks the picket line outside the King Soopers where she works in Denver on Jan. 19, 2022.

“Colorado is very exepensive”

Every Friday night, Josie Penley’s 9-year-old grows excited.

It’s ramen night.

A lot of nights have turned into ramen nights in Penley’s house, as the single mother of two tries to make the numbers work every month on $20 an hour.

When the 30-year-old started at King Soopers a dozen years ago, the $9.14 an hour wasn’t bad. But that’s when rent cost $600 a month, not the $1,150 she pays now, and before she had two other mouths to feed.

“I’m not asking for $30 an hour,” she said Wednesday outside the Speer Boulevard store. “But Colorado is very expensive.”

Her boyfriend moved in after three months — more out of financial necessity than anything, Penley said. She relies heavily on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, which provides food and health care referrals to low-income families with young kids.

“I make too much for food stamps,” Penley said, “but not enough to live.”

She sticks with the job because she feels she can’t just leave the insurance benefits, and she recently got sick with COVID-19. So did most of the deli staff, Penley said. Her job in optimum wellness requires her to touch everything the customers touch.

“We want and deserve hazard pay,” Penley said.

“Everybody deserves a livable wage”

Michelle Kissinger’s day begins at 4 a.m., hurrying to make her 5 a.m. shift at the King Soopers store just east of Green Mountain Park in Lakewood.

The 52-year-old mother and grandmother works a full shift as a pick-up shopper, then embarks on her second job, driving for Door Dash food delivery. After 12 hours of work, she hurries home to make her daughter dinner, then does it all again the next day.

“My daughter told me, ‘You love this job more than you love me,’” Kissinger said as frozen rain blew sideways Wednesday morning while she picketed outside the Lakewood grocery store. “That just about broke my heart.”

She yearns to work a 40-hour week, but needs the second job to actually buy food and clothes for her daughter.

Kissinger used to sing and dance at work, a bright and cheery presence among staff. But as workers leave, the remaining staff is being worked ragged, she said. COVID got her and has run through many of her co-workers.

“Everybody deserves a livable wage,” Kissing said, donning her union sign. “Nobody should fear not being able to feed their families.”

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RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

King Soopers employee Moses Carrasco stands on the picket line outside the store where he works in Wheat Ridge on Jan. 19, 2022.

“Cost of living keeps going up”

When Moses Carrasco’s kids were born, he knew he needed good benefits. So he started working at King Soopers — a place he heard had decent pay and the chance at upward mobility.

Within six months, he earned a promotion and took home $16.49 per hour.

That was 14 years ago. Now Carrasco, 43 with grown kids, is making just $3.30 more per hour than he did when he first started — not even enough to keep up with inflation. And everything else about the job is deteriorating, he said.

“The benefits keep getting worse, cost of living keeps going up and raises don’t follow suit,” Carrasco said outside the Wheat Ridge grocery store at 38th Street and Sheridan Boulevard.

As more and more workers leave for better-paying jobs, he said, employees are being asked to do more with less. Six year ago, the deli employed 16 people, Carrasco said. Now it’s down to six.

He worries about employee safety, from COVID precautions and operating heavy machinery to robberies.

“There’s security now that we’re on strike,” he said. “But not when we asked for it.”

1642792942 308 Why they walked out King Soopers workers on life on

RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

King Soopers employee Candace Arellano walks the picket line outside the store where she works in Wheat Ridge on Jan. 19, 2022.

“Only job I’ve ever known”

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Nuggets Mailbag: Who should Denver front office target at NBA trade deadline?



Nuggets searching for upgrades on the wing, backup center before trade deadline, sources say

Beat writer Mike Singer opens up the Nuggets Mailbag periodically during the season. Pose a Nuggets — or NBA — related question here.

What position (guard/wing/big) are the Nuggets most likely to trade for at the deadline? The Nuggets front office makes a move at most deadlines, but it seems like the bench has more needs than years past.
— @JokicWonMVP21 via Twitter

The Nuggets need help, and are looking, on the wing. If a player can shoot and defend and doesn’t cost an inordinate amount, the Nuggets have probably considered him. Given that they’ve cornered the market on smaller guards, any upgrade probably needs to be a bigger wing, too.

In terms of expected sellers, keep an eye on Orlando, Indiana, Portland and Sacramento. Within that, there are some names to monitor. Justin Holiday (wing with good size), Robert Covington (Blazers are going nowhere, fast, and he could help a contender) and Terrence Ross (appears on at least one trade wish-list every season). I also think Utah’s Joe Ingles might be available (though out of the Nuggets’ price range), or even Philadelphia’s Danny Green. Or, deep breath, what if Gary Harris became available in a buy-out situation? I think there’s a relatively deep pool of available reserve wings.

Mike, I got two questions. The first is do you see Matt Ryan getting a call-up from the Nuggets as he has shown that he can light it up from 3? And the second: Is Markus Howard’s return to the G-league a rehab assignment or has he fallen out of the rotation now that he’s playing in the G-league?
— Uday Chaudhary, Cypress Texas

First off, appreciate you asking about the G-Leaguers. Matt Ryan is a sniper. He’s shooting 40% from 3-point range on over 11 attempts a night. A few games ago, he set a career-high with 39 points. Is his production blossoming because other Gold players (Lance Stephenson, Nik Stauskas) haven’t been there? Perhaps, but his quick trigger looks like an NBA skill. The Nuggets might need outside shooting more than any other skill, hence the Bryn Forbes trade. I haven’t heard his name yet, but I’ll ask around.

Howard has already been recalled from Grand Rapids after returning from his leg injury. Michael Malone sees Howard as a valuable floor spacer, especially with how depleted their backcourt has become. That said, it’s hard to see Howard supplanting Forbes in the rotation.

RELATED: 🔊 Nuggets Podcast: Nikola Jokic’s MVP moment, Bryn Forbes’ addition, potential trade targets and All-Star starters

Any chance the Nuggets give Marc Gasol a ring if the Boogie experiment doesn’t pan out?
— @j_middles via Twitter

I don’t have a feel for their opinion of late-stage Marc Gasol, but I’m answering this one because of this: When you watch Nikola Jokic defend, think of Gasol. Neither are elite athletes but both process and anticipate the game at an elite level. I was once told the Nuggets envisioned turning Jokic into their own version of Gasol. With Jokic’s leaps defensively, it’s not that crazy.

With so many guys like Bones Hyland, Zeke Nnaji and Davon Reed getting meaningful minutes with all our injuries, how does coach Michael Malone get them minutes when we get healthy? They are too good to not be on the floor, but you can’t not play Murray, Porter, etc. either.
— Brad Bonesteel, Westminster

It’s a great question. While the above inquiry asked about trade targets, no one’s asked what it might cost. In my opinion, Nnaji might be a player to dangle in trade talks. He’s young, promising and needs time to develop. Once Porter returns, that development will be inhibited. I just wonder if he’s completely on the team’s timeline. I could be wrong, but there aren’t many obvious choices for trade bait.

I realize that’s not the question you asked. Of the three, I think Hyland stands the best chance of cementing a role in the team’s optimal version. He’s like a Will Barton-lite, capable of igniting and creating offense in the second unit. That’s a significant component. Reed, in my opinion, will turn into more of a Torrey Craig-type and likely play spot minutes in certain matchups. Assuming he’s not traded, it’s tough to know what Nnaji’s minutes look like when Porter and Jokic are the starting frontcourt, and JaMychal Green and Jeff Green make up the reserve frontcourt. He’s not going to get much better playing sparingly.

Given the disparity between starters and bench, why don’t the Nuggets try Monte Morris off the bench for the cohesiveness of that squad. He could still play 30 minutes, just a different rotation.
–Jim Clawson, Denver 

I like the idea, and I have a theory why it hasn’t happened. Have you seen what happens when Facu Campazzo or Austin Rivers play alongside Nikola Jokic? Teams aren’t honoring their outside shot and therefore devoting even more attention to Jokic.

Monte is a career 39% 3-point shooter. This season, he’s at 37%. The Nuggets are already asking Jokic to carry so much that taking away one of the team’s best 3-point shooters probably adds more work for Jokic in the long-term. Adding Morris to the second unit, no doubt, would help stabilize their wild swings. I just wonder about the cost.

Mike, I am sick and tired of these Nuggets second-half collapses. They blew a 25-point lead to the Clippers and lost (Jan. 11). The game before that they blew another big lead against OKC, but hung on to win. It’s become nearly a nightly occurrence from these Nuggets — no lead is safe. The reason this bothers me is because it smacks of 1 of 2 things: either poor coaching (being out-adjusted at halftime) or poor effort. Mike Malone certainly seems to think effort is a problem — he publicly blasts the team often enough. Why can’t he get more out of them?
— Sam, Seattle

The Nuggets are 29th in the NBA in second-half plus/minus at -3.1, sandwiched in between the Pistons and the Kings. That drops to last when you account strictly for fourth quarters. The Nuggets tend to build big leads and then get complacent. The ball stops moving, with their fluid offense deteriorating into isolation plays, and the turnovers start mounting. Couple that with their inconsistent 3-point shooting, and no lead is safe.

Some of this falls on the players. If you can’t take care of the ball, or start relying on early shot-clock 3-pointers, you’re doing the opponent a favor. The 3-point shooting is also something Malone can’t control. In general, they’ve been pleased with the looks that they’ve generated. In terms of motivation, though, he needs to impress on his team that double-digit leads mean less and less in today’s game. It’s about consistency and bringing the requisite respect to an opponent for four quarters. It’s also an indication of how tenuous a lead is for those hold-your-breath stretches when Jokic rests.

I was really glad to see Aaron Gordon speak about the lack of respect from refs that Jokic gets. I know you mentioned in a previous column that the team has been in communication with the league about this, but are there are plans for more public outreach either via TC or Malone?
via @saintmiles_

That was about as honest an answer from Aaron Gordon as you’ll ever hear on the topic. Michael Malone alluded to the free throw discrepancy but went nowhere near as far as Gordon did. The Nuggets, generally, keep their dirty laundry out of the public sphere. There’s no doubt they’ve reached out to the NBA regarding Jokic’s whistle but we’re unlikely to hear more about it. Malone has been wary in the past about it becoming a talking point. My guess is they don’t want it to come off as pandering or pleading, but when it comes from Gordon, in an organic, impassioned manner like that, I’m sure they didn’t mind.

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