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JEDI WOMEN URGE UNIVERSAL COVERAGE

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Talk of welfare reform is pointless until Congress agrees on a health-care reform plan, according to a group of advocates composed largely of low-income women.

JEDI Women - which stands for Justice, Economic Dignity and Independence - held a protest at the Federal Building in Salt Lake City Tuesday. At the same time, they released a report called "Health Care for All: Low-Income Women Speak Out on Health Care Reform.""Universal health-care coverage that is affordable for everyone is the keystone" of reform, said Tamera Baggett.

Unfortunately, she said, people who earn low wages have little access to insurance.

"Of those earning $5 an hour, 20 percent have access to health care. Sixty percent of those making $7.50 an hour don't have access. (Parents of) children who need regular medication or access to health care are totally bound to welfare to meet the needs of their children."

Juliesue Westwood has two disabled children. Although she recently received a degree from the University of Utah, she said she is afraid to look for work.

One of her children has severe arthritis; the other was hit by a car and continues to require care, she said. Unless she can get a job that offers affordable health insurance, Medicaid is the only link her children have.

"We're seeing this as a bipartisan issue. It's not. We need to see it as a national issue," Westwood said. "We're not asking for free health care. But we need access to affordable care."

Terra Jordan said she wanted to go to work, but her medically fragile daughter was in intensive care several times. She has asked officials to take away the welfare grant, food stamps and other assistance but let her keep Medicaid until she can provide insurance. But policy doesn't allow that. Instead, Jordan says she must stay on welfare and the public must pay for all of the services.

JEDI Women interviewed 140 women of different backgrounds - of those, 69 percent were single parents and 31 percent were part of a two-parent family.

Of the 56 women surveyed who were employed, only 14 had access to health insurance through their employers.

"Since many of these women will lose Medicaid benefits because they are working, this is a real issue that needs to be addressed," the report concluded.