Fighting For Pittsburgh: We Need A Fair Budget And Medicaid Expansion

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On Saturday, June 28th, Working America Pittsburgh’s Community Action Team (CAT) held their campaign’s culminating event.  The CAT wants to move Gov. Corbett and the PA State Legislature to pass an economically just state budget that would strengthen funding for public education, higher education, and social services by expanding Medicaid and requiring corporations to finally pay their fair share of taxes.  As a part of the team’s strategy to raise community awareness, build public support, and speak up to decision-makers, the team organized a press conference followed by a site canvass.

During the press conference, community members spoke up about the importance of an economically just budget to Pennsylvania and to everyday community members.  Emcee Sarelm Brooks – who is a student at the Community College of Allegheny County, Eagle Scout, and a Working America member – expressed:

“I don’t know you, but I know your story. I know exactly who you are. You’re the teacher spending your next forty years teaching children, 12- and 13-year-olds basic algebra, geography, English, Spanish, only to be robbed of a chunk of your pension when you’re 70 years old. You’re the student on your own for the first time in college, but you can’t afford it, so you’re going for student loans, but you can’t afford your groceries, so you’re using your student loans to pay for those, and it goes on and on and on in circles. You’re the mother of four who can’t pay your electric bill, who can barely afford your rent. So you spend your time praying that you find a way to scrounge for the money that you need, to get by another day, another month. What do you have in common with her, with him, with each other? You all have those stories. None of those stories are fair.

We avoid those stories by having an economically just state budget. We avoid those stories with a budget that strengthens public education, so students do not have to rely on crushing student loans. We avoid those stories by expanding Medicaid in Pennsylvania, by demanding that corporations pay their fair share of taxes. That is what we are here for: to make certain that Gov. Corbett knows that he can’t ignore Pennsylvanians, that he and every politician in Pennsylvania is there to represent everyday Pennsylvanians, not corporate lobbyists. We are here to demand a fair state budget.”

 

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Jasmine Collington, a member of the United States Army National Guard, student, and  Working America Member, stood up against a gross economic injustice – the lack of Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania – which is harming her and half a million other Pennsylvanians by leaving them without access to healthcare.  As Jasmine explained:

Growing up my mother always made sure I had proper health coverage. When I turned twenty-one my healthcare was discontinued.  I am now still uninsured because Gov. Tom Corbett has not expanded Medicaid.   I cannot get proper medical attention when I need it.  I suffer from ovarian cysts, which are very painful.  When I had an ovarian cyst rupture recently, causing alarming pain in my abdomen, I was charged $1200 for a 20-minute hospital visit for it.  That visit didn’t even include treatment, because there was nothing that could be done.

Because Gov. Corbett has not expanded Medicaid, hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians are suffering.  The majority of them are working, like I am, but they’re uninsured and unable to see a doctor without getting a hefty bill.  That is not what the American Dream is about.”

For many residents, Gov. Corbett’s refusal to expand Medicaid restricts access to the American Dream by blocking Pennsylvania from receiving the savings and revenue that expansion would generate.  That funding could help vulnerable Pennsylvanians by strengthening the struggling public schools and social services.

Speaker Reverend John Welch, who serves as the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s Vice President for Student Services and Dean of Students, also delivered powerful remarks at the event, highlighting the moral necessity of an economically just state budget.

After the press conference, team members gave local community members the opportunity to speak up through vivid petitions about their desire for an economically just state budget.  Those petitions were addressed to a key budget decision-maker, Gov. Corbett, and they were delivered to Gov. Corbett’s Pittsburgh office on Monday.

The deadline for our elected officials to pass a state budget was yesterday, but our elected officials still haven’t finalized a budget.  In effect, the fight for an economically just state budget is not yet over.  We can still make a difference if we act now.  Check out this short but urgent budget update from the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, and take the enclosed opportunity speak up now for an economically just state budget.

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Working America Members Support Workers’ Memorial Day

MEMORIAL

On April 28th Working America members gathered in Pittsburgh for the city’s Workers’ Memorial Day event . Traditionally, April 28th is a day to remember workers who have lost their lives on the job, and recommit ourselves to fighting for a future in which families won’t have to grieve because they’ve lost a loved one due to workplace hazards.

One member who attended the event wrote a beautiful letter to the Workers’ Memorial Day event organizers:

Dear Organizers,

Just a note to say how simply wonderful the Workers Memorial event was and to thank you for the hard work and time it must of taken all of you. This was the first time I attended this event. I loved the band, I loved meeting Father Jack once again. I loved the speeches, especially the words of the Fire Fighter, words that took me to the corner of 44th and Davidson Street where the firefighters did everything they could to save my brother’s life. I loved the ringing of the bell as the fallen heroes’ names were called out. I loved the bag pipes and the playing of the taps. Last but not least, I loved standing amongst workers who stand up for fairness and justice not just for themselves but for all of us.

Thank you so much,
Georgeanne Koehler

Take action alongside fellow Working America members as they continue to stand up for fairness, justice, safe workplaces, and an economy that works for all of us.  Visit our Pennsylvania state page for more information.

Working America Demands an Economically Fair Budget in Pennsylvania

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Working America’s mission is rooted in economic justice.  We fight for family-sustaining jobs, quality public education, affordable and accessible healthcare, retirement security, and corporate accountability.

But despite our efforts, in most areas, public and higher education funding levels in the proposed budget are below where they were in the 2008-2009 fiscal year.  Meanwhile, local corporations continue to enjoy a gaping tax loophole and the continued evaporation of the capital stock and franchise tax.

In Western Pennsylvania, Working America members are organizing to get Gov. Tom Corbett to prioritize economic justice when he influences the state budget. We’re raising community awareness about the state budget and its impacts, building public support for an economically just state budget, and providing community members with the opportunity to speak to decision-makers.

Countless community members have been negatively affected by Gov. Corbett’s economically unjust budgets.  A college student’s mother lost her teaching job, and adjunct professors make poverty-level wages, with no healthcare.

Should our elected officials continue to short-change students and vulnerable Pennsylvanians to support corporate tax breaks?  No. Overwhelmingly, the community members I speak with demand an economically just state budget that strengthens funding for public education, higher education, and social services through revenue gained and saved by expanding Medicaid and requiring corporations to pay their fair share of taxes.

As part of our mission to positively influence the budget, Working America members will meet face-to-face with decisions makers like state representatives and senators.  Members will also gather petitions, etc., from community members to demonstrate to decision-makers the extensive community support for a state budget that strengthens funding for schools and social services through demanding corporate accountability and expanding Medicaid.  Finally,  members will engage the media to educate and inspire community members throughout the region.

To find out how to connect with Working America Pittsburgh, or to participate in a campaign for economic justice happening near you, click here.

Photo courtesy of the Pennsylvania Film Industry Association via Flickr.

Call Me Radical, But I Think A Good Budget Requires More Than “Spirit”

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The following is a guest post from Pittsburgh Working America member Kayleigh Metviner

I participated in a press conference on Tuesday with the local chapter of Working America,  a national economic justice organization, to call for a Pennsylvania state budget that favors education and social services over corporate tax cuts.

A few hours later, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett presented his vision for the state budget, which was not expected to be anything to cheer about. Now, I am a newcomer to Pennsylvania, and I am not going to write in-depth about Pennsylvania-specific politicians and issues. What I am more interested in here is the disconnect between legislation that is both feasible and favored by a majority of citizens, and the legislation that is proposed by Corbett.

Why politicians who face abysmal approval ratings (23 percent for Corbett last week) still try to get reelected is beyond me, but Corbett’s budget proposal is clearly aimed at garnering support this year. And even though most self-identified progressives would rather drink West Virginia’s water than see Corbett reelected, his attempts to pass legislation that appeals to the majority could still be a good thing. Unfortunately, his actual budget proposal makes that very unlikely.

In his speech, Corbett said that his budget sets the agenda in the “spirit” of expanding public education, which…niceBut the state budget doesn’t have a column for spirit, and very few of us have managed to exchange spirit for goods and services.  So where is the money for education coming from?

Mainly from a highly unlikely projected increase in state revenues.  Despite having predicted a budget deficit by the end of the 2014-2015 fiscal year just a couple months ago, and despite revenue having come in short even of that projection in January, Corbett’s spending plan is dependent on a 4 percent increase in revenue this year.

In contrast, the budget that Working America and community members across the state support would see education and social services funded mainly by closing corporate tax loopholes, like the well-known Delaware tax loophole that deprives many states (except Delaware) of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

We presented this proposal before the release of Corbett’s plan because we wanted to make it clear that there is a viable alternative to empty, feel-good promises and more of the same political floundering that leaves the majority of us, in Pennsylvania and around the country, in a perpetual state of disadvantage. Crafting a state budget is undoubtedly a complex matter, but in the face of complexity, let’s turn to logical and equitable solutions, not “spirit.”

Text JOBS to 30644 to join Working America’s movement for economic justice in Pennsylvania.

Photo by onepittsburgh on Instagram

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Dear Governor Corbett: Here’s How You Fully Fund Pennsylvania Schools. It’s Actually Pretty SImple.

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The following is a guest post from Working America member Kayleigh Metviner

Volunteers, supporters, and media gathered at Working America’s Pittsburgh office on Tuesday morning to call for an economically just and fiscally responsible state budget, in contrast to the budget proposal anticipated from Governor Tom Corbett (R-PA) later in the day.

With over 500,000 members in Pennsylvania, Working America is a formidable force in the state, and we are overwhelmingly in support of a state budget that focuses more resources on public education, higher education, and social services.

Our members know that money doesn’t materialize out of thin air, so their calls for well-funded education and social services are accompanied by practical and equitable solutions: closing the Delaware tax loophole that deprives Pennsylvanians of hundreds of millions of dollars a year and expanding Medicaid.

Expanding Medicaid will not only allow more Pennsylvanians to access health care, it also has the potential to lower overall health care costs. On top of this, it will be 100 percent funded by the federal government for the first three years, and that rate would modestly and gradually decrease to 90 percent during years after that. Lowered costs from expanded Medicaid, combined with increased revenues from corporations paying their fair share of taxes will enable our state to fulfill its commitment to our public schools.

Several Working America volunteers read community member comments aloud at the press conference. One member urged Governor Corbett to “budget with greater consideration for education support instead of corporate tax breaks/”  Another wrote: “Please, stop the practice of subsidizing large corporations with taxpayer money when programs and research to help the vulnerable are so needed.”

We want to thank those who shared their stories and urge all Pennsylvanians to continue spreading the word about the real possibilities for economic justice right here, right now.

Text JOBS to 30644 to join Working America’s movement for economic justice in Pennsylvania.

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Gov. Corbett, Give Pennsylvanians a Reason to Be Thankful

Thanksgiving is coming up!  As I reflect on what I’m thankful for, one of the many things is the healthcare that my family and I had while I was growing up. My dad, a waiter, is in a union, and unionized workers at his restaurant collectively bargained for the healthcare that kept my family secure.

But not all workers and their families can give thanks for their healthcare this Thanksgiving, because some workers don’t have healthcare.

As of January 1st, 613,000 uninsured low-income Pennsylvanians—the majority of whom are working—could gain access to healthcare if Gov. Tom Corbett embraces the opportunity to expand Medicaid in Pennsylvania.

Thus far, Gov. Corbett has been playing politics instead of taking effective action.  Instead of simply welcoming federal Medicaid expansion funds, Gov. Corbett is pushing a cumbersome and cost-inefficient plan that may take an alarmingly long time to implement.

It’s easy to be distraught, frustrated, or flat-out furious about Gov. Corbett’s current approach.  But the process of getting involved and holding Gov. Corbett accountable can be genuinely uplifting, as Working America member Georgeanne Koehler’s experience shows.

Georgeanne personally knows the weight of Gov. Corbett’s decisions about Medicaid expansion, as her brother passed away at the age of 57 because he couldn’t access the healthcare he needed.  Georgeanne has since fought to ensure that no one has to go through what her brother or her family went through.

On Halloween, Georgeanne participated in Working America and One Pittsburgh’s Medicaid expansion event in front of Gov. Corbett’s office.   She highlighted what’s truly scary: being uninsured.  After the event, Georgeanne wrote about her experience at the event:

On October 31st, 2013, I got up and headed to downtown Pittsburgh to attend a Working America rally to Expand Medicaid. Although I was early, soon I was joined by Working America members, One Pittsburgh members and a few PHAN members.

There were handshakes and hugs, “How are you?” and “What’s been going on with you?”, and smiles all around. I knew most of the folks that came to the rally. These are folks that struggle every day to get through their day, and when the sun sets on that day, they are able to pat themselves on the back because they found a way to made it through another day. Some grieve, just like me, for a family member who was lost because of our broken healthcare system. They know that nothing they do will bring their loved one back, but everything they do will be done to keep another American from knowing that grief.

The folks at the rally have one goal: to make America the best she can be. They know that to meet that goal they have to stand up for fairness and justice, and they do it so well. When the rally ended and the last “See you soon” was said, I found myself filled with overwhelming pride. On Oct. 31, 2013, for a few hours, which seemed like a minute, I stood with true-blue red, white and blue heroes. Oct. 31, 2013 I was the luckiest girl in the world!

You’re invited to join us as we continue to stand up together for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians and their loved ones.  Contact me, Catherine Balsamo, at cbalsamo@workingamerica.org or 412-456-2985 to get involved.

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What You Can Do to Celebrate This July 4th

The 4th of July is coming up! Along with the cook-outs and fireworks, it’s a time to reflect upon and celebrate our country. Undoubtedly, one of the greatest qualities of the USA that Americans celebrate is our democracy.

But considering the strain Americans are under, keeping up on current issues and participating in the political process can be a challenge.  We’re juggling multiple jobs.  We’re caring for children, and sometimes parents.  We’re rearranging our lives to try to make ends meet as everything gets more expensive. We’re helping out family members who are looking for work. Or we’re scrambling to find work ourselves. And some politicians make participation in our democracy even more challenging with misleading rhetoric and voter suppression laws.

If we’re squeezed out of our democracy, how much will the American government be “of the people, by the people, for the people”?

This is where Working America comes in.  We help folks have a say in our democracy.  Our teams of neighborhood organizers talk with people at their doors, update them on issues and policies that impact their lives, and engage them in quick and meaningful actions to improve things. Becoming a member of Working America is an opportunity to make a difference.

Through our member program, folks can choose from an incredible array of opportunities to participate in our democracy:

-          Get updated on policies our politicians are considering that will impact our economy, schools, jobs, health care, etc. Our Pittsburgh Community Action Team members have learned about concrete solutions we can promote that will ease the widely-felt pain caused by Gov. Corbett’s recent state budgets.

-          Learn how to write letters to the editor that can educate the community. One of our Pittsburgh members – a former Head Start teacher – had his letter published in our local major paper today.  Another Pittsburgh member – a local restaurant employee – got word this week that his letter will be published soon.   It’s estimated that letters to the editor in our major local paper can reach hundreds of thousands of people (yes, hundreds of thousands).  They’re an excellent way to educate community members about issues that our elected officials will be making decisions about.

-          Sit down and talk with your elected officials about what they should do to best represent you, your family, or your community.  Really. Here in Pennsylvania, Working America has about half a million members, and when we tell an elected official how many members we have in his or her district, he or she is often willing to sit down with us and hear what our members have to say.  Recently, Working America members in the Pittsburgh area met with 4 state legislators (and the staffers of another) to highlight how their families and communities would benefit from better public schools, more affordable higher education, stronger social services, and greater corporate accountability.

This 4th of July, along with enjoying the fireworks, celebrate our country by taking a step to strengthen our democracy.  Connect with your local Working America office , and bolster our country’s ability to be “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

 

Want to Join Us in Fighting the Corbett Agenda? We’re Getting Pretty Good At It

As readers of the Main Street Blog probably know, the foundation of Working America’s work is the pursuit of economic justice. We encourage lawmakers to focus on funding quality public education, affordable healthcare, corporate accountability, family-sustaining jobs, and retirement security.

State budgets can impact all of those issues – some profoundly – and so Working America members have organized for an economically just state budget every spring since I’ve been a Member Coordinator.   As this is the third budget campaign that Working America members in the Pittsburgh area have participated in, and engaged Working America members have developed noteworthy skills, savvy, and vision. We’re dedicating those assets to driving a campaign to provide Pennsylvanians with a much brighter vision for our state, and to help fellow Pennsylvanians speak up to our state legislature in support of that economically just vision.

“We the People” may not be interested in wining and dining politicians to win their support for our vision for the Commonwealth (nor can we afford it). But don’t worry: we don’t need to schmooze. We’ve got strength in numbers and constituent leverage, and last year’s budget battle demonstrated just how powerful our strength in numbers can be when we use it.

Because of the public outcry from innumerable Pennsylvanians against the horrendous budgetary proposals Gov. Corbett has been making, our state representatives and senators refused to pass some of the massive cuts to education and social services that Gov. Corbett wanted last year. In fact, our state representatives added over $500 million back into Pennsylvania education and social services compared to Gov. Corbett’s proposal.

We know that when many of us constituents speak up to our state representatives and senators for a better budget, we can make gains in what we want for our families and communities.  And so, this year, we’re doing it again.

Our vision: Instead of balancing the budget on the backs of workers, our state legislature should have corporations pay their fair share of state taxes so we can increase funding for critical social services and education.

Our strategy: We’ll broadly share our vision with community members, and we’ll help folks speak up to their state representatives and senators in support of that vision.

Working America member Connie Cavara explains why an economically just budget matters to her:

In response to Gov. Corbett’s state budget proposal, I’d like to offer a working parent’s state budget vision.

I pay a healthy amount of state income taxes, but I’m extremely concerned to find that the educational opportunities that Pennsylvania provides in return are getting weaker and weaker.

During Gov. Corbett’s first year in office, he slashed a shocking amount of funding from our public schools, contributing to class sizes in local schools being simply too large for kids to get the education they deserve.  Gov. Corbett also axed funding for higher education, which certainly isn’t helping to keep college financially within reach for families like mine.

Why are we working families doing our parts, but losing opportunities and services that are basic for accessing the American Dream?

Probably because there are very wealthy “people” who dodge paying their fair share of state income taxes, while benefiting from Pennsylvania’s infrastructure, schools, and other services.   One of those people is named Wal-Mart.  Unlike everyday working folks, people like Wal-Mart can and do exploit corporate tax loopholes like the Delaware Tax Loophole.

If corporations are people too, why aren’t they paying their fair share of state income taxes like working families are?

We need to close the Delaware Tax Loophole, so that corporations finally pay their fair share, helping our children to have the quality public schools and affordable college opportunities they deserve.  And we need to close the Delaware Tax Loophole so that Gov. Corbett no longer utilizes the consequential funding shortage as an excuse to balance the budget on the backs of our state workers.

Use your constituent power to help us progress towards economic justice for Pennsylvania: sync up with the Working America Pittsburgh Community Action Team. Feel free to contact me, the Member Coordinator, at cbalsamo@workingamerica.org to get involved.

We Want the Same Healthcare They Got at Alcatraz


Julie Parker, the creator of the sign above, is among several Working America members and staffers who came out for the economic justice street theatre organized by the Pennsylvania Health Access Network (PHAN) this week. PHAN’s skit called on Congress to protect funding for critical programs – like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security – by eliminating the costly sweetheart deals and loopholes set up to benefit corporations and pharmaceutical companies.

Over the course of PHAN’s street theatre, Larry the Lobbyist and his costly Loophole smugly sucked up a mother’s purse, a college student’s backpack, and a senior’s medication money, revealing the costliness of corporate tax loopholes and deals to the American People.

Not only do these corporate breaks suck up our money, they strain our country’s resources. The desperate situation caused by such loopholes and deals gives rightwing politicians fuel to attack critical social insurance programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

The Working America members at PHAN’s event know that we cannot allow the slashing of such programs: programs that keep our seniors and low-income folks afloat and able to take care of their health.

Julie Parker (seen above holding her sign) explained what inspired her to create her sign:

“I remember visiting Alcatraz prison and seeing a sign stating that the prisoners were entitled to medical care along with food, clothing, and shelter….I thought that if our convicted felons were entitled to health care, shouldn’t our citizens also be entitled to the same? After all, the only ‘crime’ [of recipients of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security] is being old or poor.”

How a Group of Pittsburgh Strangers Became a Team of Dedicated Activists Against the Corbett Agenda

Wish our Pittsburgh Community Action Team a happy belated first birthday! In December 2011, Working America members from throughout Western Pennsylvania came together at our Pittsburgh office to meet one another and to develop community awareness-raising skills.

Being Working America members, the folks around the meeting table were united in their support for economic fairness for working families and “the 99%.” They were team players who wanted to stand up for that mission.

Since its formation, our Pittsburgh Community Action Team has accomplished a tremendous amount to help our communities, our state, and our country become more economically just.

Last year, in support of a decent state budget that adequately funds education and social services by requiring corporate accountability, the team:

  • Developed a strategy, set goals, and received trainings;
  • Met with 6 elected officials’ offices, presenting personal statements highlighting personal connections to education, social services, and corporate accountability to speak up for a decent state budget;
  • Gathered dozens of post cards;
  • Held a press conference and post card delivery outside of Gov. Corbett’s office;
  • Had 5 letters to the editor published in local papers;
  • Got some friends and family to take action; and
  • Even earned a few TV and print media clips.

Thanks to their work and the work of innumerable Pennsylvanians across the state, our state legislature restored over $500 million to higher education, basic education, and social services in our current state budget.

Once we had completed our fight for a decent state budget last year, we began our civil rights mission: helping our communities understand Pennsylvania’s recently-altered and very convoluted voting laws.

Again, we developed a thoughtful strategy, set goals, and thought about how we could each effectively and feasibly contribute. Through person-to-person conversations, flyering, tabling, writing letters to the editor, calling into a local talk show, and being featured as guest speakers about voter suppression on the Chris Moore Show, Working America members educated approximately 642,038 people across the state on their voting rights.

Our work was critical, especially at a time when folks didn’t know that their rights had changed, or didn’t realize what was actually behind the new law and the misleading ads that promoted it. We motivated folks to vote and kept them updated on what they had to do in order to ensure that their votes would count.

At the close of 2012, as education and social services faced the looming possibility of national gutting, and as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security were vulnerable to the ax of “Grand Bargainers,” the Pittsburgh Community Action Team got involved. We rallied and held press conferences outside of our Senator Bob Casey’s district office, calling on him to take the lead in the fight to protect education, retirement security and healthcare programs by demanding that the Bush Tax Cuts for the top 2 percent are allowed to expire.

Although that fight isn’t quite over, education, social services, health programs, and retirement security programs were spared from the so-called “Fiscal Cliff,” and the unjust Bush Tax Cuts expired on many of the nation’s top earners.

Currently, the team is applying the skills and experience they’ve been cultivating to this year’s fight for a decent state budget.

Over the course of the team’s first 14 months, new folks have joined, members have developed an array of skills, and folks have learned tremendously from one another. The team members have found kindred spirits in one another, formed friendships, and developed a sense of belonging.

Working America teams like the Pittsburgh Community Action Team are getting together and taking action for economic justice all across the country. Become a part of a refreshing, dynamic group of thoughtful, committed citizens: get involved with your local Working America Community Action Team!

(Or to get involved right here in the Pittsburgh area, email me at cbalsamo@workingamerica.org.)