Kalena Thomhave

Kalena Thomhave is a writing fellow at The American Prospect. Her email is kthomhave@prospect.org.

Recent Articles

How the Prison Phone Industry Further Isolates Prisoners

The high profits of expensive phone calls and video visits are often too lucrative for prisons—which can get a share of those profits—to pass up.

trickle-downers.jpg When inmates are able to speak to friends and family while incarcerated, it not only improves their lives, but also, studies have shown, reduces recidivism after they leave prison. But to fill in budget holes or to make a profit, many state and local governments work with companies that put a high price tag on this basic need for the incarcerated. A handful of companies monopolize the prison phone industry, and their control of the market allows them to charge exorbitant rates for inmate calls to their homes. States that contract with these providers tend to choose the contractor that provides not the lowest price, but the highest commission rate for the state. As a result, prisoners and their families may pay up to $1 per minute on a call. In addition to the lucrative phone call industry, prison phone companies have begun to dabble in providing video visitation services, mostly to jails. Instead of meeting a prisoner in person, friends and families can chat with...

Welfare Hypocrisy at Work in Washington

Republicans say that work trumps welfare. So why didn’t Trump’s Health and Human Services Department approve an Ohio plan to help welfare recipients get jobs?

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
In 2015, Ohio officials contacted the Department of Health and Human Services with a request to change state work requirements for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the program commonly known as welfare. Federal TANF requirements prioritize work over education and training, and Ohio officials wanted to make it easier for low-income parents to access training programs that could help them secure better jobs. Ohio based its proposal on a 2012 Obama administration memo , which invited states to submit proposals to modify TANF work requirements to “[help] parents successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment.” Under federal rules, there are strict time limits on job-hunting and education and training programs. Ohio wanted to secure permission for TANF recipients to “engage in activities that make sense based on their individual circumstances.” State officials sought to max out the vocational training time limit from 12 months to 36 months, since many...

Kentucky Sends an Ominous Signal About The Future of Medicaid

The Bluegrass State aims to become the first state to implement Medicaid work requirements. But it’s not the only one moving in that direction.

Bac Totrong/Daily News via AP
/*--> */ The Trump administration recently announced that states could implement work requirements for Medicaid recipients. On January 12, Kentucky’s request to introduce those work requirements, as well as other changes such as premium payments and removing retroactive coverage, was approved. Kentucky becomes the first state to tie work requirements to Medicaid coverage. Due to the approval of work requirements and other changes, nearly 100,000 Kentuckians are estimated to lose Medicaid benefits. In September, The American Prospect explored the Kentucky case and how the changes its Medicaid officials want to make will affect vulnerable Kentuckians. While congressional Republicans may have given up on their latest attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Kentucky is moving ahead with other ways to pare back Medicaid, the 50-year-old program that provides health insurance for poor and low-income Americans. Last year, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin submitted a waiver request to...

Senator Cassidy’s Home State of Louisiana Gets Hit Hard by the Doctor’s Bill

The Graham-Cassidy bill is atrocious. “Shifting of responsibility” for health care to states simply means fewer federal dollars for most states—but that’s not unexpected. Many Republicans have made it clear that their main focus is to get rid of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act by any means necessary. Unfortunately, this particular proposal doesn’t just repeal the ACA (and with it, its marketplace subsidies and many protections for those with pre-existing conditions), it also includes massive cuts to Medicaid. For the thousands of people that gained health-care coverage through the Medicaid expansion, it’s going to hurt.

And it’s going to particularly hurt people in Senator Bill Cassidy’s home state of Louisiana.

The poverty in Louisiana, as it is across the South, is devastating—and Louisiana consistently ranks at the bottom in just about every measure related to economic hardship and its effects—it has the second highest poverty rate, second highest income inequality, third highest infant mortality rate, and the fourth lowest median household income. The rates are even starker for African Americans and other people of color. (The expression “Thank God for Mississippi,” is mean-spirited, but it does speak to a sad reality: If it weren’t for Mississippi, Louisiana and some other southern states would often be dead last in such rankings.)

When Louisiana voters elected Democrat John Bel Edwards as governor last year, the first thing he did was to expand Medicaid to thousands of Louisianans. Not only does Graham-Cassidy end the Medicaid expansion by 2020, but it also caps and cuts Medicaid funding for vulnerable populations like families with children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

The proposed block grants are structured so that states that expanded Medicaid are effectively punished. Louisiana stands to lose $7.2 billion in federal funding by 2027—when the block grants dry up completely.

But Medicaid expansion was a lifeline to many in Louisiana. By June 2017, one year after coverage began for the expansion population, more than 433,000 Louisianans gained health insurance. The uninsured population, which was a staggering 21.7 percent in 2013, dropped to 12.1 percent. Thousands were able to access preventative care and screenings.

Senator Cassidy, a physician who treated poor people in the state’s charity hospital system, will not only vote to ruin the health and well-being of Louisiana residents—he helped write the prescription.

Rebekah Gee, Louisiana’s health secretary, sent a letter to Cassidy (which she shared on Twitter) decrying the proposed bill, noting that it “gravely threatens health care access and coverage for our state and its people.” She said that ending Medicaid expansion is “a detrimental step backwards for Louisiana.” The New Orleans Times-Picayune editorial board also criticized the bill, noting that a doctor like Cassidy shouldn’t be party to such “a dramatic erosion of coverage.”

In 1935, Huey Long, the legendary Louisiana governor and U.S. senator, told his critics, “All I care is what the boys at the forks of the creek think of me.” Today it seems that Senator Cassidy just wants to send his constituents down that creek without a paddle.

Fewer on Food Stamps, But Hunger Persists

An economy in recovery means some families and individuals no longer need as much help. But hungry people who do are being pushed off the program.

AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews
Although some regions of the country are still reeling from the Great Recession, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participation has been steadily falling. And recently, the decline in SNAP recipients has been particularly dramatic—the number of individuals reliant on SNAP (also known as food stamps) fell by more than two million people between June 2016 and June 2017. The best explanation for this drop-off is that the economy is finally improving , and former SNAP recipients have found jobs that push their incomes over the SNAP income eligibility limits. But a recovering economy may not be the only factor contributing to this decline. There are two others to consider. The strict time limit on benefits that targets the unemployed has forced people off the program. The recent immigration crackdown also has heightened fears that even documented people may be detained and deported—which persuades many individuals and families to avoid interacting with the...