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Medical marijuana advocates are applauding a new memorandum issued today by the U.S. Departments of Treasury (DOT) and Justice (DOJ) giving long-awaited guidance to financial institutions, such as banks and credit unions, to provide services to marijuana-related businesses in states where it's legal. A refusal to engage in these services has plagued medical marijuana businesses for years, dating back to the Bush Administration. Due to an aggressive accelerated policy under Obama Administration, States like California, Colorado, Washington, Michigan and others have been forced to deal in large amounts of cash.
The memo issued today by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and the DOJ "clarifies customer due diligence expectations and reporting requirements for financial institutions seeking to provide services to marijuana businesses," said a press release issued by FinCEN. The memo also includes clarity for credit card service companies, such as VISA and MasterCard, whose services for medical marijuana-related businesses had also been suspended for years.
Nearly all of the more than 1,000 licensed dispensaries in California and Colorado have for years been forced to operate on a cash-only basis, considerably increasing the risk not just for the affected medical marijuana businesses, but also for the tens of thousands of patients who have had to use cash to obtain their medication. To make matters worse, due to apparent pressure from the Obama Administration, armored car companies began refusing to service licensed medical marijuana businesses last year.
"We have been pushing the federal government for years to make these commonsense concessions and we're pleased that the Obama Administration is finally doing so," said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which successfully lobbied members of Congress in 2010 to change the administration's errant policy. "At the same time, a piecemeal approach to medical marijuana policy is shortsighted and is an issue that deserves a comprehensive public health solution."
Although the federal government has issued guidance memoranda concerning discrete marijuana policy for a number of executive departments, such as DOJ, Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Veterans Affairs (VA), the Obama Administration has so far failed to address medical marijuana in a comprehensive policy framework. For example, the reclassification of marijuana from its current status as a Schedule I substance, a dangerous drug with no medical value, has been long sought by advocates like ASA but strenuously resisted by the federal government.
Americans for Safe Access is the nation's largest organization of patients, medical professionals, scientists and concerned citizens promoting safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research.
"The GOP claims doing so is necessary in the interest of $11 billion in deficit reduction. But at the same time, they have doubled down on tax cuts skewed to the rich and special interests."
The Biden White House late Friday accused Republicans of attempting to "take food out of the mouths of hungry Americans" by imposing new work requirements on recipients of federal nutrition assistance, a public rebuke of the GOP that came as negotiators worked to finalize a debt ceiling agreement.
Additional work requirements appear to be among the final sticking points in the time-sensitive talks, with the GOP insisting on their inclusion in any agreement to raise the debt limit.
In a statement Friday night, White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said the GOP's proposed work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are "designed to tie the most vulnerable up in bureaucratic paperwork" and "have shown no benefit for bringing more people into the workforce."
"The GOP claims doing so is necessary in the interest of $11 billion in deficit reduction," said Bates. "But at the same time, they have doubled down on tax cuts skewed to the rich and special interests that would add $3.5 trillion to our debt."
House Republicans have demanded new work requirements for recipients of SNAP, Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)—many of whom already work.
Asked Friday whether the GOP would be willing to drop its push for work requirements, Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.)—the party's lead negotiator—said, "Hell no."
"Hell no," he repeated. "Not a chance."
The White House has spoken out against new work requirements for SNAP and Medicaid, but it's unclear whether it opposes fresh work mandates for TANF, which replaced the more generous Aid to Families With Dependent Children program under the Clinton welfare reform law that Biden supported as a senator.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, welcomed the White House's statement against SNAP work requirements, which analysts say could strip food aid from millions of people amid a worsening hunger crisis.
"The president is calling out MAGA GOP hypocrisy of refusing to raise the debt ceiling so the economy doesn't crash simply to take food from hungry people," Jayapal tweeted Saturday. "When you count admin[istrative] costs of bureaucratic red tape, this would produce ZERO savings. Isn't and has never been about saving money."
The White House issued its statement amid growing progressive concerns over the concessions the Biden administration has reportedly granted to GOP hostage-takers.
On Friday, watchdogs, Democratic lawmakers, and policy analysts responded with outrage to reports that the Biden White House is leaning toward accepting Republicans' demand for IRS funding cuts—a giveaway to rich tax cheats.
Progressives have also voiced alarm over reports that the emerging debt ceiling deal includes a two-year cap on non-military federal spending, which would result in cuts to key domestic programs.
"Any deal is a disaster since most government departments and agencies are currently severely underfunded," warned Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project.
"We knew this was coming," wrote one policy expert. "But we still treat these burdens like they're unavoidable natural disasters."
With a green light from the federal government, states across the U.S. have thrown hundreds of thousands of low-income people off Medicaid in recent weeks—and many have lost coverage because they failed to navigate bureaucratic mazes, not because they were no longer eligible.
More than a dozen states, including Florida and other Republican-led states that have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, have begun removing people from Medicaid as part of the "unwinding" of a pandemic-era federal policy that temporarily barred governments from kicking people off the program.
In a bipartisan deal late last year, Congress agreed to cut off the pandemic protections, giving states 12 months to redetermine who is eligible for the healthcare program that covers tens of millions of Americans.
The process differs in each state, but Medicaid enrollees are typically required to complete paperwork verifying their income, address, disability status, and other factors used to determine eligibility for the program.
While some states have undertaken public outreach campaigns to ensure Medicaid recipients understand what they need to do to continue receiving benefits, most enrollees across the country "were not aware that states are now permitted to resume disenrolling people from the Medicaid program," according to new survey data from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF).
As a result, The New York Timesreported Friday, "many people lost coverage for procedural reasons, such as when Medicaid recipients did not return paperwork to verify their eligibility or could not be located."
"The large number of terminations on procedural grounds suggests that many people may be losing their coverage even though they are still qualified for it," the newspaper added. "Many of those who have been dropped have been children."
Early data released by the state of Florida, for example, shows that more than 205,000 people in the state lost coverage for procedural reasons after April eligibility checks.
"We knew this was coming. But we still treat these burdens like they're unavoidable natural disasters," said Pamela Herd, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University. "We need to be much more explicit about these failures because we're making a choice to allow this."
Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown Center for Children and Families, said she is "very worried about Florida."
"We've heard the call center's overwhelmed, the notices are very confusing in Florida—they're very hard to understand," said Alker.
In a recent letter to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, a 2024 presidential candidate, more than 50 advocacy groups demanded a Medicaid redetermination pause, pointing to "reports of Floridians being disenrolled from Medicaid without having received notice" from the state's Department of Children and Families (DCF).
"One of these individuals is a 7-year-old boy in remission from Leukemia who is now unable to access follow-up—and potentially lifesaving—treatments," the groups wrote. "Families with children have been erroneously terminated, and parents are having trouble reaching the DCF call center for help with this process. Additionally, unclear notices and lack of information on how to appeal contribute to more confusion."
"We are deeply concerned about those with serious, acute, and chronic conditions who will continue to lose access to their lifesaving treatments during this time, along with people who risk substantial medical debt, or even bankruptcy, as a result of coverage loss," the groups added.
\u201cWhat if instead we just gave everyone health insurance coverage??!! \nhttps://t.co/hSOQKYU7JY\u201d— Ady Barkan (@Ady Barkan) 1685130002
The Times highlighted the situation in Arkansas, which is led by Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders—a supporter of Medicaid work requirements and other attacks on the program. (Work requirements were briefly tried in Arkansas in 2018 and 2019, with disastrous consequences.)
"In Arkansas, more than 1.1 million people—over a third of the state's residents—were on Medicaid at the end of March ," the Times noted Friday. "In April, the first month that states could begin removing people from the program, about 73,000 people lost coverage, including about 27,000 children 17 and under."
An Arkansas law requires the state to complete its Medicaid eligibility reviews in six months instead of 12.
In a Wall Street Journalop-ed earlier this month, Sanders wrote that her state is booting people from Medicaid at "the fastest pace in the nation" and claimed those being removed are "ineligible participants"—ignoring evidence that many being stripped of coverage were technically still eligible.
The U.S. Health and Human Services Department has estimated that upwards of 15 million people nationwide could lose Medicaid coverage during the redetermination process.
"This is such an enormous policy failure—profoundly cruel and will contribute to furthering inequities," Dr. Cecília Tomori, a public health scholar at Johns Hopkins University, wrote Friday.
While some who lose Medicaid will be able to access insurance through an employer or the Affordable Care Act marketplaces, KFF found that more than four in ten people with Medicaid as their only source of healthcare "say they wouldn't know where to look for other coverage or would be uninsured" if they were removed from the program.
"This is about to happen to a lot of people," warned Larry Levitt, KFF's executive vice president for health policy.
The Times pointed to the case of 54-year-old Arizona resident Debra Miller, who "lost Medicaid coverage in April after her roughly $25,000 annual salary as a Burger King cook left her ineligible."
"Ms. Miller, a single mother with diabetes and hypothyroidism, worked with an insurance counselor at North Country HealthCare, a network of federally funded health clinics, to enroll in a marketplace plan with a roughly $70 monthly premium," the Times reported.
Miller told the newspaper that the new plan is a "struggle" both because of the new monthly payment and because it doesn't include the vision coverage she needs and now may not be able to afford.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated earlier this week that states' Medicaid eligibility checks will likely leave 6.2 million people without any insurance at all.
"The American people deserve to understand why you are supporting even more deficit-busting tax giveaways for giant corporations, while also cheerleading Republican demands to inflict painful, job-killing austerity on everyone else."
The Republican Party's debt-ceiling hostage scheme has benefited from the support of the United States' largest corporate lobbying organization, which has given its stamp of approval to the GOP's push for major federal spending cuts, punitive new work requirements for aid programs, and permitting changes sought by the fossil fuel industry.
While House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) office has reportedly not met with representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce during the debt ceiling standoff, a representative of the powerful business group said earlier this week that such a meeting would be pointless given that the Chamber and the GOP are so closely aligned.
Neil Bradley, the Chamber's chief policy officer, toldPolitico earlier this week that a meeting with McCarthy would be a "cheerleading session."
"I see the relationship as respectful, so I'm not worried about wasting his time to come in and say, 'Look how much I agree with you,'" said Bradley, who previously served as McCarthy's deputy chief of staff.
In a letter to the Chamber's chief executive on Friday, a trio of Democratic senators led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) slammed Bradley's remarks and demanded to know "how the Chamber justifies supporting the Republican agenda of continued tax cuts for the wealthy, while cheerleading for threats to impose a default and austerity for everyone else."
"Instead of pressing the speaker to drop his radical demands and pass a clean debt limit increase, Bradley noted that the Chamber has pressed the White House to come to a bipartisan agreement with McCarthy," the letter reads. "Indeed, Bradley noted that the Chamber is aligned with House Republicans on their debt ceiling demands, including on spending caps, work requirements, and energy permitting."
Warren, joined by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.), accused the Chamber of fully backing the GOP's "shameless hypocrisy" by lobbying for tax breaks that Republicans are expected to include in a tax cut package coming sometime next month.
"The American people deserve to understand why you are supporting even more deficit-busting tax giveaways for giant corporations, while also cheerleading Republican demands to inflict painful, job-killing austerity on everyone else in a pretense of 'fiscal responsibility,'" the senators wrote, demanding to know how much the Chamber has spent on tax-related lobbying this year and what discussions the group has had with Republicans on the House's tax-writing committee.
According to OpenSecrets, the Chamber has spent more than $19 million total on federal lobbying so far this year—the most of any organization. The Chamber says it has met with more than 150 Republican and Democratic lawmakers throughout the debt ceiling fight, which GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) publicly described as a hostage situation.
The Democratic senators' letter came as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that the federal government will run out of money to meet its obligations by June 5 if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling.
The Washington Postreported Friday that White House and GOP negotiators are "closing in on an agreement that would raise the debt ceiling by two years—a key priority of the Biden administration—while also essentially freezing government spending on domestic programs and slightly increasing funding for the military and veterans affairs."
When accounting for inflation, keeping non-military spending flat would mean potentially significant real-term cuts to key aid programs, from nutrition assistance to housing.
The Chamber has openly endorsed the GOP push for spending caps and warned President Joe Biden against using his 14th Amendment authority to unilaterally prevent a default, claiming such a move would be "as economically calamitous as a default."
On Friday, a top Treasury Department official said the White House will not invoke its 14th Amendment authority to continue paying the nation's bills if talks with the GOP collapse.