As mayor of Livingston for the past six years, I have done my best to meet with all members of the community to learn about what’s going well and what we can do better. Though I did not always support health care for all people, my opinion has changed.
My job is to serve my city and county as a whole to the best of my ability. This means I need to listen and learn.
My stand on health care for all changed as I began to listen and learn from residents of this county and from community meetings aimed to shine a light on this issue. I have come to realize everyone needs and deserves health care coverage – regardless of their immigration status.
During my participation in many community events this past April, I heard a story at a press conference that challenged my assumptions about health care eligibility. In a group of about 50 residents who chanted and shared their personal testimonies, I heard and felt the passion of Arlette Flores – an undocumented individual who is not afraid to speak up and fight for what is fair.
Arlette opened her heart, which made me open my eyes to an unfair reality.
Arlette told those at the press conference that the reason she couldn’t find quality health care in Merced is because she is undocumented and lacks health insurance. Arlette is a mother of four children who lives in fear that she might get severely ill again and not be able to care for her children. This is a very real possibility as Merced County lacks many health care options for our undocumented adult residents.
Thanks to state officials, children ages 0-19 are eligible for full-scope MediCal. Soon, the federal government will consider a waiver to allow all families access to Covered California, the state’s Health Benefit Exchange. But the premiums are still unaffordable for many.
This is progress, but as local leaders we can play a key role in making sure that no one falls through the cracks.
Meanwhile, as a peach and almond farmer, I see firsthand that the work agricultural laborers do in the fields absolutely demands them to be and stay healthy. Professor Manuel Pastor, an expert on immigration from the University of Southern California, states in his 2014 report “Unauthorized and Uninsured” that 43 percent of the undocumented population in Merced County works in agriculture; however, 9 percent work in construction, 7 percent in food service and smaller numbers in many other jobs.
I have witnessed the intense toll agricultural work can take on workers’ health. At the same time, our county’s economy is thriving because of the hard labor of our undocumented workforce. Our county needs to ensure that all people, especially those who are the backbone of our economy, can thrive by providing them with access to preventative health care. When our workers get sick, our entire economic output suffers.
Over the past months that I have been closely involved with the community and learning about how people are being affected due to lack of health care coverage, I have changed my stance to fully supporting the health-for-all movement.
For people to come together to make changes, we all have to know the facts and truly understand the issue. Health care coverage for undocumented individuals is important for our economy and it will save us money. Let’s continue this conversation so that health care coverage in Merced County can become a reality for all.
Rodrigo Espinoza is supervisor-elect for District 1 on the Merced County Board of Supervisors.