In Sacramento, Hope and Zumba for the Uninsured

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SACRAMENTO -- Trina Meza lost her job almost a year ago, in April of last year. Her story is like that of so many others – along with her income, she abruptly lost her medical and dental coverage, as well as coverage for her son, Simon, who is 11.

Meza had applied for Medi-Cal for Simon, but the application status had been listed as “pending” for weeks, and when she called to ask about it, she couldn’t get any answers about the delay.

“I thought, ‘I need to talk to someone,’” she said.

Meza was one of thousands who lined up for the WeConnect Community Resource Fair and Highway to Health Festival at Hiram Johnson High School here on March 16. Sponsored by The California Endowment (TCE), a private health foundation that provides grants to community-based organizations in the state, the fair and others like it are meant to increase enrollment in health care programs under the Affordable Care Act.

At these events, uninsured Californians can be screened for eligibility for a variety of public health programs, and volunteers are available to help them enroll. The fairs also offer free tax preparation for lower-income individuals, as well as health and dental screenings with resources for finding low-cost providers. The day is punctuated with free entertainment, like a Zumba class and a performance by the Sacramento Kings Dancers.

Meza and her son live in Sacramento, and she learned about the event at the Teichert Branch of the Boys and Girls Club.

Meza, who formerly worked in records management, has been constantly applying for jobs since last April. With help from CalWORKs, California’s welfare-to-work program, she has been able to start going to school to become a pharmacy technician, but until Saturday her son still lacked medical coverage.

Volunteers at the fair screened her for eligibility and were ultimately able to enroll Simon in Medi-Cal.

“They filled out all the paperwork and got him signed up,” she said.

Thousands of low-income people filed through the high school gym throughout the day, demonstrating the widespread lack of medical coverage and the need for help finding the necessary information to access public health programs.

“People like me who used to be self-sustaining, it feels like we’re taking steps backward these days,” Meza says. “I’ve become very good at finding resources like this.”

TCE will be holding three more such events in the state over the next few months – in San Diego, Kern County and Oakland.

New America Media's ongoing coverage of the Affordable Care Act is supported by a grant from The California Endowment.