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AM News Brief: Utah health disparities, Child Tax Credit & Curtis’ telehealth bill for substance abuse disorders

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Rep. John Curtis, R-UT, has co-sponsored a bill to extend telehealth options to people with substance use disorders. This story and more in Tuesday morning's news brief.

Tuesday morning, Nov. 16, 2021

State

Racial and ethnic health disparities in Utah

A recently released report from the Utah Department of Health found racial and ethnic minority communities in the state are still experiencing significant health disparities. The department looked at several different measures of health, including rates of chronic disease and injury. It found minority communities experienced worse health outcomes in 71% of those categories. The report uses data from 2015 through 2019, so it does not include COVID-19 data. Still, people of color have been disproportionately impacted for much of the pandemic. — Martha Harris

Expiration date on Utah coal storage in California

A private California port terminal that handles and stores coal from Utah before it's shipped overseas to Asia must halt those operations by the end of 2026. That's per a settlement signed Friday by the city of Richmond and the Levin-Richmond Terminal Corporation. Utah-based coal company Wolverine Fuel Sales, the state of Utah and Phillips 66 are also part of the settlement. Phillips 66 transports petroleum coke through the terminal. “Petcoke” is a byproduct of oil refining. The companies sued after the Richmond City Council passed an ordinance banning the handling and storage of coal and petcoke due to concerns about the health impacts of coal dust. — Associated Press

Bill to extend telehealth options for substance abuse patients

Rep. John Curtis, R-UT, has co-sponsored a bill to extend telehealth options to people with substance use disorders. He joined Rep. Scott Peters, D-CA, on the bipartisan legislation. It would allow people with Medicare to receive virtual treatment without an initial in-person visit. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has waived their restrictions on telehealthcare due to the pandemic. Curtis's bill would make those changes permanent. — Martha Harris

Finding a safe space for gender diverse students

The Utah State Board of Education held a special meeting Monday night to discuss their evolving guidance for schools and gender identity. The Standards and Assessment Committee has spent months working towards a document that it hopes will help teachers and school staff ensure transgender, non-binary and gender diverse students have the accommodations and protections they need to feel safe in school. Committee chair Scott Hansen said it’s an issue schools across the state are asking for help with, though it’s a daunting task. The core challenge is how schools protect students’ rights to privacy and accommodations, particularly if those requests are not known by parents or other students, who may object to those accommodations if discovered. Read the full story. — Jon Reed

Region/Nation

Expanding the Child Tax Credit

Recent federal data show how impactful the expanded Child Tax Credit is for rural families in the Mountain West, but an expansion of the program hangs in the balance. Unlike the bipartisan infrastructure bill President Joe Biden just signed into law, his Build Back Better plan lacks Republican support. That worries advocates because it expands and extends the Child Tax Credit, a key anti-poverty measure. The program was expanded earlier this year as part of a pandemic relief package. Before that, roughly half of children living in rural areas received less than the full credit. In Utah, an estimated 92% of children under 18 would benefit from the expansion of the Child Tax Credit. — Robyn Vincent, Mountain West News Bureau

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