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[whitespace] Tobacco Money

Willow Glen--Mayor Ron Gonzales thought millions of dollars from a tobacco settlement would pay for anti-tobacco, educational and senior services. Now there's a new plan brewing.

Children's health care advocates last week asked City Council members to consider a proposal that would fund health insurance for the estimated 36,000 uninsured children in the city.

For an initial $1.8 million and annual cost of $6 million, San Jose could set a national precedent by becoming the first city in the country to provide all of its children with health insurance, advocates said.

For the next 10 years, the City of San Jose expects to get about $10 million per year as part of the state's settlement in its lawsuit against the tobacco industry. Santa Clara county expects to receive $18 to $20 million per year for 10 years.

The plan to provide children's health care was written by Working Partners, an affiliate of the South Bay Labor Council, and community activists from People Acting in Community Together.

Council members voted to postpone action on the mayor's proposal until they can gather more information about the plan. Councilwomen Linda LeZotte and Margie Matthews suggested open study sessions and forums to air residents' suggestions to city officials.

Seniors and anti-tobacco health advocates who spoke at the meeting encouraged the council to keep the mayor's original plan intact.

Bob Jaffee, a senator for the California Senior Legislation, told council members that senior programs and services were the first to be axed by the city during the lean budget years. Now, with the tobacco windfall on its way to the city, officials will have a chance to restore what seniors have lost, he said.

Children's health advocates also asked council members to delay voting.

Bob Brownstein of Working Partners pushed council members to consider using the money for the children's health insurance plan but also to use it to increase senior services and affordable housing.

Brownstein said the council should take the challenge and serve as a model to pressure state and federal leaders to follow the City of San Jose's plan. Brownstein said if others follow, everyone will remember that the idea started in San Jose.

While some pushed lending portions of the settlement to children, Cliff Eppard, who called himself an advocate for seniors, told the council that the money should be used for something that is in keeping with the intent of the settlement, such as helping the millions of seniors who suffer from the side effects of smoking.

Senior citizen committee chair Patricia Moriarty urged council members to provide seniors with 25 percent of the settlement. She said that many seniors are living on fixed incomes near or below the poverty line.

"We must continue to reach out to them," Moriarty said. "Older people are tobacco's forgotten victims," she said.

The council will resume its discussion on the tobacco settlement revenue at its June 13 meeting, at 1:30 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall.
Chantal Lamers

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Web extra to the June 8-14, 2000 issue of Metro.

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