It took a court order, but the Chester Upland School District in Pennsylvania has enough funding to last through February 23. The unionized teachers who committed to work without pay have been granted a brief reprieve. But as we wrote, this is far from sufficient; not only will that funding run out soon, but other Pennsylvania school districts may soon be facing similar financial catastrophe.
Governor Tom Corbett’s office made public a draft plan to address the crisis in Chester Upland, located in Delaware County. It calls for the state to take over both the Chester Upland and Duquense City districts and run them through a three-person oversight board, similar to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission. Like Michigan’s “Emergency Financial Managers,” this board would have the authority to cancel or alter union contracts.
While the draft takeover plan is “intended to be a starting point for discussions,” according to the state Education Department, it has already drawn heavy criticism.
First of all, the Chester Upland School District was already under state control from 1994 to 2010. A return to this kind of administration is hardly a long-term solution. “We’ve had 16 years of [state control] in Chester Upland and have very little to show for it, academically and financially,” remarked Wanda Mann, Chester Upland’s Republican school board president, adding that they have “a mountain of unpaid bills, among a host of other troublesome financial conditions that we inherited.”
She’s right to be frustrated. What good would it do the students of Chester Upland to go back to the policies of the last decade, when the financial management was no better than it is now?
Second, Corbett’s draft plan ignores the sole reason why Chester Upland and the other school districts are having this problem in the first place: last year’s budget, which slashed almost $900 million from Pennsylvania’s education spending.
Last year around June, we stood behind the podium on the House floor and we pleaded with the members on the other side and we pleaded with them, “Please, please do not support a budget that would cut the Chester Upland school budget in half…and even told them that if this happens that teachers would be laid off, programs would be cut, schools would be consolidated, children would be left behind. It fell on deaf ears. And we said that we would be at this point at this time, and here we are. Programs cut, educators gone, students walking around hopeless.
What on earth did Gov. Corbett and the Republican legislature think was going to happen? That they would get something for nothing? That they could balance the budget on the backs of students and teachers, while leaving the breaks for oil drillers and for-profit charter schools in place, and nothing would go wrong?
In December, after being battered in the arena of public opinion, House Republicans reluctantly agreed to a short extension of unemployment insurance (UI) for the nation’s jobless workers. That reprieve runs out Feb. 29 and House Republicans are set to relaunch their attack on UI.
A conference is now underway between the Senate and House over two very different one-year extensions of the UI program passed late last year and the Republican bill would “slash federal benefits, impose harsh new restrictions and move to dismantle the essential lifeline of unemployment insurance,” writes Mitchell Hirsch of the National Employment Law Project (NELP).
Among other things the Republican UI bill would:
Slash federal UI by more than half in the highest unemployment states;
Allow mandatory drug testing of unemployment insurance claimants, stigmatizing jobless workers;
Make jobless workers pay for their reemployment services;
Deny benefits to those not fortunate enough to finish high school or GED; and
Let states reduce benefits and divert unemployment benefit funds to other uses.
Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee says House Republicans:
are threatening another round of brinksmanship by insisting on starting with a rerun of the approaches within the House Republican bill… Department of Labor data shows that 2.8 million Americans would lose unemployment benefits under the House Republican proposal compared to current law… Democrats won’t start from the premise that the unemployed are to blame for unemployment, that weeks can be slashed without harming workers in the hardest hit states.
NELP has published a detailed legislative analysis of the Republican bill, click here and you can click here to send a message to your member of Congress to reject the drastic cuts and restrictions in the Republican UI bill.
In the United States, 27 percent of all households are “asset poor,” meaning they lack the savings or other assets to cover basic expenses for just three months if a layoff or other emergency leads to loss of income, according to the 2012 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, released today by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED). Since the release of the 2009-2010 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, the number of asset poor families has increased by 21 percent from one in five families to one in four families. The asset poverty rate is now nearly twice as high as the Census Bureau’s official income poverty rate of 15.1 percent.
An increase of 21% is certainly significant.
“Growing numbers of families have almost no savings or other assets to see them through if they lose their jobs or face a medical crisis,” said Andrea Levere, president of CFED. “Without savings, few will be able to build a more economically secure future, including buying a home, saving for their children’s college educations or building a retirement nest egg.”
Levere added that the Scorecard findings are “particularly disturbing in the context of precipitous drops in incomes for many Americans and widening of the wealth gap between the richest and poorest households.”
Last year Business Insider provided us with fifteen graphs looking at income inequality and wealth in the US. Graph #5 above illustrates the flat wages many of us have experienced since at least 1990.
A look at key findings from the report shows something of crucial importance:
One in five jobs (22 percent) is low wage and nearly half of employers (46 percent) do not offer health insurance. Most workers (55 percent) do not have or participate in retirement plans. These low- quality jobs make it harder for families to both meet their needs today and create a reserve for tomorrow.
As wages continue to stagnate, good paying jobs are replaced with low wage jobs, and the costs of housing, food, transportation, heating oil, and everything else continue to rise, how will people save for the future, when they can’t even make ends meet in the present?
And why aren’t the presidential candidates talking about this?
Our neighbors in Wisconsin recently turned in an astonishing one million signatures to recall Governor Walker. My fellow Minnesotans and I praise what our brothers and sisters have accomplished in Wisconsin. We are thankful that we are not dealing with the same blatant assault on workers’ rights in Minnesota–but we are careful not to forget why that is. It’s only because of 8,770 votes that Minnesota prevented its public workers from sharing the same fate as the ones in Wisconsin.
Had our new Governor Mark Dayton not won by that small 8,770 vote margin, we likely would have suffered the same attack on collective bargaining here in Minnesota. But it would have been harder to fight back, since we Minnesotans only have the right to recall state officials under very specific circumstances, which make it much harder to trigger a recall election than in Wisconsin. We would have had to prove that our Governor committed “Malfeasance, Nonfeasance or a Serious Crime,” which doesn’t apply to new laws passed by the anti-worker politicians who now control our legislature.
Our hard work in 2010 made a difference. Our Governor has vowed to never support such legislation. However, now we face a different problem. The GOP controlled state legislature has decided to pursue their agenda through constitutional amendment ballot initiatives. This would bypass our Governor’s veto power and put the decisions to the general electorate in November–after millions are spent on misleading ad campaigns, of course.
The house and senate majorities are expected to strongly push the following three amendments: a so-called ‘Right To Work’ amendment, which would undermine workers’ rights and drive down wages and benefits in Minnesota; a voter ID amendment which would disenfranchise students, seniors, and minority voters; and a ‘Supermajority’ budget amendment which would require a 3/5 majority to raise any form of state taxes – ever. These three amendments stand a very real chance of getting on the ballot and would cause catastrophic damage to our state. They have already put an amendment on the ballot in November, to define marriage as only the union of a man and woman. None of these amendments address the primary concern that we hear from our members every day: the need for good jobs in Minnesota.
Working America is currently mobilizing our members to get informed about these constitutional amendments in their community, in the media and at the capitol. We are doing this now in order to educate as many Minnesotans as possible about the issues rather than waiting until November. Members are getting informed, energized and active, which is exactly what we need to stop this anti-worker, anti-social justice agenda.
Last year, we stopped so-called ‘Right To Work’ and the budget supermajority bill before it could even get out of committee. We need to make sure to do even more this year, because Minnesota won’t be able to reverse these amendments, or recall their authors, even with 1 million signatures.
Now, the Working for America Institute has set up a new, user-friendly website to help workers apply for the TAA program. TAAHelps.org gives clear direction on when and how applications must be filed, even providing a printable checklist for needed tasks and video testimonials of successful applicants.
Winkie Brown was laid off from an assembly line at Johnson Controls in Ohio in 2009. In a web video on TAAHelps.org, she says, “As far as the chance and the opportunity to go back to school – if it weren’t for TAA I wouldn’t have been able to afford it…so that’s the blessed part of this.” Another Ohioan featured on the site, Jeannine Pummill, used TAA resources to become a certified Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) after 31 years in manufacturing.
While we’re glad these new resources are available for transitioning workers, we’re still keeping the pressure on Congress and the President to make good on their talk of keeping jobs in the United States. First, we’re keeping everyone up to date on the off-shoring practiced by companies in their area by maintaining and updating our Job Tracker tool. Second, our 9 Demands for the 99 Percent petition, signed by over 26,000 people and counting, demands that corporations “stop sitting on their profits and start hiring again in America.”
Luckily, it seems like they are starting to listen. Rep. Tim Bishop (R-NY) introduced a bill earlier this year to crack down on overseas outsourcing in call centers; President Obama made manufacturing, clean energy jobs, and “insourcing” key parts of last week’s State of the Union speech, proposing tax incentives for companies that bring jobs back from abroad. The Administration has also proposed a “manufacturing communities tax credit” to encourage businesses to move into areas where there has been a mass layoff.
Having narrowly averted cutting off unemployment insurance to millions of Americans right before the holidays, Congress now returns to take up what should be a relatively simple task even for this Congress — a full reauthorization of federal unemployment insurance (UI), the payroll tax reduction and other provisions through 2012. But, as they did in December, some lawmakers are looking to revive House efforts to slash federal benefits, impose onerous new restrictions and move to dismantle the essential lifeline of unemployment insurance.
The stopgap two-month extension of the federal UI program will expire February 29th unless Congress acts on a full-year renewal. This week, the Joint Economic Committee issued a report on the benefits of continuing unemployment insurance and the payroll tax cut. The report estimated that more than 3.3 million unemployed workers would be cut off of their UI benefits by June 2 without a renewal of the program (see page 4 for state-by-state estimates).
A 20-member Conference Committee of the House and Senate convened for the first time this week to begin work on a full year extension. The Committee is chaired by Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), the lead sponsor of H.R. 3630, the House Republican bill that’s designed to drastically slash federal UI benefits while erecting harmful new barriers to benefits, making it harder for ordinary Americans to access their unemployment insurance.
The House H.R. 3630 proposals would:
* Slash federal UI by more than half in the highest unemployment states
* Allow mandatory drug testing of unemployment insurance claimants, stigmatizing jobless workers
* Make jobless workers pay for their reemployment services
* Deny benefits to those not fortunate enough to finish high school or GED
* Let states reduce benefits and divert unemployment benefit funds to other uses
The National Employment Law Project has published a detailed legislative analysis of these and other provisions being sought by House Republicans in H.R. 3630.
Public outcry, meanwhile, has been growing in support of a full renewal of unemployment insurance and against both the reckless cuts and the proposed new barriers to benefits. An Unemployedworkers.org action page has already generated a combined 96,000 email and fax messages to the members of the Congressional Conference Committee, and another 34,000 to Congressional leaders and other Members of Congress.
Tens of thousands of calls have been made to Congress through our dedicated toll-free line 888-245-3381.
House leaders had to, finally, accede to public pressure and drop their obstruction when Senate Republicans refused to take up the House version of H.R. 3630 back in December. Now, only strong public pressure will keep the Conference Committee from doing real damage to jobless workers, their families and the unemployment insurance system.
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) gets it and is fighting for unemployed workers in the Conference Committee. Watch what Sen. Reed had to say about the unemployment extension issues during the Committee’s first meeting this week:
President Obama has talked about our tax code through the prism of billionaire Warren Buffett and his secretary for years. Last summer, he started talking about a “Buffett Rule” that would keep millionaires from paying a lower tax rate than middle class families. He renewed that call in the State of the Union last week.
In two days, at long last, the Buffett Rule will get its first vote in the U.S. Senate.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has wasted no time in getting his “Pay A Fair Share Act” to the floor. As he told the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, the bill won’t change existing tax rates. It just requires those making more than $1 million annually to recalculate their tax rate, “taking into account all their income and what they pay in taxes.” In other words, include dividends from stocks, which are currently taxed at a much lower rate. “If that amount adds up to less than 30 percent,” writes Sargent, “they would be required to make up the difference.”
Or as Senator Whitehouse put it: “If your income is over 1 million, multiply it by 0.3, and if that number is bigger than you’d otherwise be paying, pay that.”
The bill is currently being scored by the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, so we’ll soon find out how much revenue, officially, the bill would raise if passed. But Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) predicts the Pay A Fair Share Act would raise $50 billion every year while only affecting 0.08 percent of taxpayers.
(Next Sunday, about 63,000 people will fill Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to watch Super Bown XLVI. For context, if the CTJ is right, and those 63,000 were a representative sample of Americans, the Pay A Fair Share Act would affect a mere 50 of them.)
We’re all for this legislation, and we all know our country needs the revenue. There are two things not addressed by this bill, however. First, the bill does not address the many loopholes that make our tax code a playground for corporations seeking shelters and exemptions. Second, it does nothing about the Bush tax cuts, which might not even be addressed until after the election; without action from Congress, they will expire on January 1, 2013.
Still, who could have imagined a high-profile vote in the U.S. Senate addressing income inequality even just six months ago? Like with the minimum wage increase in New York, we can certainly give partial credit the Occupy movement for bringing tax fairness and economic inequality to Washington’s front burner.
Sheldon Silver, the Assembly Speaker who introduced the proposal, rightly noted that the increase would affect 14 percent of the workforce, or 1.2 million people. “Frankly,” he said earlier this month, “it is absurd to expect anyone – let alone a working family, to afford the cost of living today and be able to invest in their future on a salary of $7.25 an hour, or $15,000 a year.”
It goes without saying that those 14 percent of New York workers who earn minimum wage are barely scraping by. However, with 17 percent more money in their pockets, those workers will be putting that income right back into the economy, buying necessities like gas and groceries and paying their bills. They are the people least likely to pocket those savings, or invest that money out of state or out of the country.
“They have no choice but to spend that money in their local economy,” says Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute, “That’s the stimulus you get.” Translation: Raising the minimum wage means giving extra cash to the people most likely to spend it immediately, in their own communities. It’s a win-win.
Assembly Speaker Silver knows this. So does New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who also supports the measure. But being politicians, they also must have their eye on another positive affect of raising the minimum wage – rising poll numbers. “When we’ve done public polls, anywhere from 86 to 67 percent say they support an increase in the minimum wage,” said Celinda Lake of the polling firm Lake Research Partners.
New York Senate Republican spokesman Scott Reif must also be aware of the political implications. Instead of opposing the proposal outright, he didn’t take a position. But corporate-interest groups that traditionally support Republicans, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have long opposed minimum wage increases and “cost of living adjustments” that tie wages to inflation.
There’s one more part of this story to keep in mind as this develops: we may not be talking about this issue at all if it weren’t for the brave men and women of the Occupy movement. As the New York Times puts it: