Q&A: Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley is prioritizing maternal health bills and affordable housing this session

Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley (D – Tucson) has represented Arizona’s 9th Legislative District since 2016. She currently sits on the House Health & Human Services, Regulatory Affairs, and Ways & Means Committees.

In this Q&A, Powers Hannley discusses her focus on maternal and child health legislation for this session, as well as her continued advocacy for affordable housing in the state. She also gives us her thoughts on substance use bills introduced in the Health & Human Services Committee this year.

 

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State of Reform: What are your health policy priorities for this session?

Powers Hannley: “I’m continuing my push for maternal and child health. This is something I’ve been doing for a few years now because Arizona has stingy policies that are forcing moms and babies to live in poverty. We have a high maternal death rate in the state of Arizona, and so one of the bills that I co-sponsored with Senator Pace, Senator Rios, and also Representative Osborne is SB 1272

This included increasing postpartum care to one year for Medicaid patients. This is a big deal because one of the reasons that women are dying after childbirth in the state of Arizona was that our window of care after childbirth for Medicaid patients was very small. And so after that window, they had to either pay for it themselves or not get the checkups that they needed after childbirth … That’s something I’ve been pushing for for a long time, and it appears to be moving forward.

Another thing that I’ve always also been pushing for that’s been adopted by the Republicans now is in Governor Ducey’s budget, which is very exciting. It’s the extension of the Healthy Families Program. And that’s also for pre-and-postnatal care and it helps women [by providing them with] home visits. It’s primarily for at-risk moms or young moms … This is a program that can go up to four years, and it’s voluntary, it’s at home visits, they talk to the mom, they look for issues, but they also teach them things.

Another one that I’ve really been pushing for for a very long time is expansion of [Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)]. Senator Rios and I teamed up to have newer bills on that issue because again, Arizona has been featured in the media for being a stingy state on cash assistance to the poor. 

This particular bill brings TANF up to the full five years allowed by the federal government and brings the amount of funding per month into the current day. Our funding for TANF was based on 36% of 1992 poverty rates, so it was ridiculously low. This feeds into our eviction problems and affordable housing problems because people just don’t have the money to stay housed in the state.

The last one, which has been picked up by the Republicans, is medical workforce development, particularly in rural Arizona because we have maternal and child health deserts in the state of Arizona and some of them are actually even in urban areas, but mostly rural areas. 

There’s a bill proposed by Representative Osborne, which is an expansion of one that I’ve been pushing, which trains people in nursing at different levels and also offers a grant program so community hospitals and rural clinics can hire these people. It’s trying to get more medical workforce people out there across the state to help with multiple health issues, including maternal and child health, my signature issue.”

SOR: You’ve been a strong advocate for substance use treatment–how will you continue advocating for this issue this year?

PH: “We had a bill on addiction yesterday in the health committee, and it was interesting, because apparently we have many providers for addiction services, but we don’t have any evaluation [for these providers] in the state of Arizona, which I was shocked about. When I started asking [the legislators who introduced the bill] questions, I realized that this was just kind of a witch hunt. Basically, [the bill] was for people who were on Medicaid, who are getting addiction services through the state, and then it looks at drug testing after the program [to measure success]. 

Anybody who’s been in addiction services knows that addicts try to quit multiple times before they’re successful, and sometimes they’re never successful. So just stressing whether or not they have a clean test is not enough … Criminalizing these Medicaid patients is not a good thing. I started asking about the quit rate and how they were going to measure this and basically they’re clueless on it. 

Although [addiction services are] something we need evaluation on in the state, I voted no on this bill, because it’s all about testing. It’s not really about helping people overcome addiction, and it’s definitely not about anything that would lead people to addiction. There was no discussion of the role of poverty or homelessness or eviction or employment stress as something that triggers people to relapse. 

I do think that we need this–they’re saying that out of our Medicaid fund, we’re spending $8.9 million on Drug Abuse Treatment, and we have no evaluation of it, which is shocking. So we absolutely need evaluation, but not just something that looks at drug testing everybody.”

SOR: Looking forward, where do you see the state of Arizona health care in the coming years?

PH: “We really need to continue to push for maternal and child health. We still have way too many women who don’t have access to prenatal care at all, especially the first trimester. This really hurts Native American women, Black women, and Latina women more than white women. But we have women who are dying, we have premature birth, [and] that could be prevented if we had good prenatal care up front for everybody. 

[Also], Arizona has a big homeless problem. We’ve been building far too many luxury apartments and not enough affordable housing. What’s interesting is that I really stepped back at the housing problem and I looked at prevention, because we’re a cheapskate state. We don’t like to invest in things, we like to just give our taxes away. We’re not, in my opinion, going to build our way out of affordable housing. 

I found out when I started looking at this that the state has passed so many preemption laws on local housing control that they’ve basically taken all the innovation out of what the local people could do. They can’t do rent control, they can’t say this percentage of a development has to be affordable. So, I’m looking at eliminating preemption and also bringing more transparency to leasing. 

People are getting knocked out of their houses because of fees and different tricks that are in the leases that they can’t get out of. To me, that’s part of public health, is making sure people stay in their houses because once they’re homeless, and they’re out on the street, their lives fall apart.”

This Q&A was edited for clarity and length.