Dallas—Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins gave the State of Dallas County Address on Thursday, Aug. 26. The Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce hosted the address as it has for the past 12 years.
The address discussed myriad topics that affect every resident of Dallas County. One of those topics was Medicaid expansion.
“The biggest thing we could do for public health long term is Medicaid expansion,” Jenkins said. “We have a lot of employees out there who work for $13, $15, and $16 an hour who don’t have any health benefits.
“Basically, it should be an accepted moral fact that if you work full-time, you should be able to pay for life’s necessities, that includes health care, and pass on some sense of optimism for a better future to your kids.
“Texas is one of the few states that doesn’t have Medicaid expansion at this point. The federal government has been very lenient on how states figure out how to do this. It’s not a one size fits all thing. If we would do it, then anywhere between three quarters of a million and a million and a half Texans who currently don’t have insurance would have insurance. That’s pretty important in a public health emergency: when people don’t have access to health care.
“We have a high Hispanic population in Dallas County. It’s well above 40 percent,” Jenkins said. “The people that would be most helped in Texas by Medicaid expansion would be all people. But 57 percent of those would be Hispanic. Sadly, it’s disproportionately people of color who are without insurance and who need this.
“We could bring in $10 billion a year in new federal money for our economy for these people. That would be very, very good for public health and business. 97 percent of the people nationwide who are eligible for Medicaid and don’t have it are in the South. Texas makes up 35 percent of the people who are eligible, but uncovered.
“First and foremost I care about their health and their quality of life. But if we think about this from a competitiveness standpoint, if all of our competitor states have Medicaid expansion for low wage workers, and we don’t, we have higher absenteeism. Higher health care costs for all the insured people at the hospital, because somebody’s paying for all those uninsured people, and it’s you on your insurance bill. That then puts us at a competitive disadvantage, beyond just being a dumb thing to do money-wise, because you’re giving back $10 billion dollars.
“It puts business at a competitive disadvantage. It’s another example of how we’re seeing the shift with our leaders at the state level, away from what’s best for business, and into culture wars, based on the makeup of who a likely voter is.
“Our total labor force right now in Dallas County is as big as it’s ever been; that is people who are able to work and ready to work. The number of people who are employed right now in Dallas County, and this is unusual for the rest of the country, is only 7,000 people below where we were the day before COVID hit,” Jenkins said. “Your unemployment rate is two percentage points higher than where it was the day before COVID hit, but it’s because we have so many more people who are eligible for work, and we have so many more businesses that have opened that are seeking employees. That’s some good news.
“This shows we’ve recovered, better than [basically] anybody. Of the big places, by far we’ve had the best recovery and that’s a good thing and that’s a testament to everybody working together.
“Our home values have gone up again, the housing market’s out of control.
“We’re lowering the tax rate, down to where we were 10 years ago. I’m proud we’re doing that,” Jenkins said. “I hear all the time from elected leaders it doesn’t make that much difference to cost people $37 for our taxes or $100 for our taxes, but when you add it all together at a time of economic hardship for people. It’s a big number.”
Dallas County was recently awarded a $511 million grant from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) with the money coming in two equal installments of $255.5 million. Jenkins discussed plans to spend the first half.
“We want to spend $111 million on mental health care and addiction,” Jenkins said. “People have suffered greatly during COVID. People who had pre-existing conditions had them exacerbated. There are a lot of people, and I talk to them all the time, who sadly are in the throes of having a tough time. Things are tough for them and so getting and building that capacity to get people help is really important to us.
“We’re going to invest in our 501(c)(3)s in your community.They’re food banks, they’re after-school programs, whatnot.We’re going to invest in those. We’re going to deal with the root cause of poverty and crime by investing in the people and organizations that make our community stronger.
“About $20 million will go to what we call negative economic impacts.The number’s actually going to be higher, because remember, we’re only talking about the first half of that money. Negative economic impact is direct payments to people who have suffered through this.
“We are doing a seventy-five million dollar partnership on homelessness. This is going to be Dallas Real Time Rapid Rehousing (DRTRR). Ten milliondollars from philanthropy,” Jenkins said. $Ten milliondollars in housing vouchers; Dallas housing authorities are taking in $10 millionin vouchers, and then we use those to pay landlords to entice them to take people in.
“Homelessness is bad here, but it’s worse in other places. We have to get a handle on homelessness. It’s the right thing to do for our homeless brothers and sisters, but it’s also the right thing to do for all of us. We can’t have that spin out of control, worse than it already has, like in some other states.
“We’re going to spend $35 million apiece, to start, from DISD, county, and city on broadband. Not to compete with AT&T, but to help businesses like Verizon and AT&T fund broadband infrastructure.”
AT&T has invested $7 billion in Texas, $3.5 billion in the DFW area, and has pledged $2 billion more nationwide over the next three years. They’ve invested in the United States more than any other public company. Per the company, their primary goal in working with the government is to close the digital divide, which is the gap between those who have ready access to the internet and computers, and those who do not.