Something happened this week in Minnesota that hasn’t happened in many other states lately.
Minnesota budget officials announced that the state will have a surplus of about $1.1 billion. By law, the state must pay back $246 million to the public school system and $15 million to the state airports fund, leaving the state with a surplus of roughly $825 million.
This is great news, and it’s vindication of the progressive path taken by Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL lawmakers, who took control of both the House and Senate in 2012 after a disastrous, short-lived shutdown-ridden Republican reign.
But something Gov. Dayton and the legislature failed to do this year was raise the minimum wage — Minnesota’s minimum wage is $6.25, one of the few states where the wage is lower than the federal level.
With the budget announcement, Minnesota AFL-CIO Preisdent Shar Knutson made this announcement:
“Under the leadership of Governor Mark Dayton and the DFL Legislature, Minnesota is now investing in schools and job creation, making taxes fair, and growing the economy. Today’s news shows how honest budgeting, progressive taxes, and targeted investments lead to prosperity.
“Now, it’s time to keep the momentum going. All Minnesotans should be included in our state’s growing economy. There are still hundreds of thousands of working people making poverty wages. Nobody who works full time should have to live in poverty, especially when Minnesota’s economy is growing.
“When lawmakers return to the Capitol in February, they should continue their work and raise Minnesota’s minimum wage to $9.50 per hour, tie future increases to inflation, and preserve the prohibition on the tip penalty.
“Union members, along with our faith, non-profit, and community partners, will continue to have conversations with Minnesotans and lawmakers about raising the minimum wage.”
To get involved with Working America in Minnesota, contact Chase Brandau at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: Mark Dayton, minimum wage, Minnesota
It’s not every day you see a credit card company making a decision that benefits consumers.
Visa, one of the world’s largest credit card companies, has dropped its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This decision comes just one year after ALEC awarded its “Private Sector Member of the Year Award” to Paul Russinoff, Visa’s Vice President of State Relations.
What is ALEC? This will help get you started, and here’s all our past ALEC coverage. ALEC is an organization that brings corporations and elected officials together to vote — as equals — on corporate-friendly “model bills.” The model bills are then distributed to various state lawmakers who introduce them in state legislatures. ALEC develops about 1,000 bills a year, and approximately 20 percent become law.
Some of ALEC’s greatest hits: Arizona’s anti-immigration “papers please” law (SB 1070), Wisconsin’s union-busting 2011 budget, multiple so-called “right to work” laws, Pennsylvania and North Carolina’s voter suppression laws, and Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” gun law.
Visa is one of 50 companies to publicly cut ties with ALEC in the last two years. However, a recent expose in The Guardian shows that ALEC has lost closer to 60 corporate members, losing a third of its projected income.
As more and more people find out about ALEC’s record of restricting voting rights, stomping on the rights of workers, creating barriers in the court system, blocking transparency, preempting local democracy, and privatizing our schools, the less desirable it is for both corporations and lawmakers to associate with them.
Photo by @phillipcantor on Twitter
Tags: ALEC, Corporate Accountability, credit cards
At your Thanksgiving dinner this year, the new health care law is bound to come up in conversation. You’ll hear a lot of myths about the Affordable Care Act, and Working America wants you to be prepared with the facts.
“Obamacare will make my premiums go up.”
The vast majority of people are expected to pay lower health insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act, and many will also be eligible for financial assistance. In fact, premiums in some states are higher because of politicians blocking parts of the new law.
Remember before health reform? Even if you had insurance, you were paying a ton out of pocket for services your plan didn’t cover, sometimes even simple services like blood tests. But now that there are rules about what plans have to cover, we’ll all save money in the long run by paying less out of pocket, even if premiums for some folks are higher.
Under Obamacare, overall costs are rising slower than they have in previous years: more people are getting coverage, which means more people are accessing preventive care instead of expensive emergency care, which lowers costs for everyone.
In fact, premiums are higher in some states because of politicians who refuse to implement parts of the law. For example, the average Wisconsinite is paying $1,800 more annually for health care than the average Minnesotan, partly because Minnesota expanded Medicaid and does a better job reviewing their rates. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other Republican governors have refused to expand Medicaid
“Obama lied about me being able to keep my health care plan under Obamacare.”
The rollout of the Affordable Care Act hasn’t been perfect, but President Obama didn’t lie. Health insurance companies, not any elected official, are responsible for plans being canceled.
Before Obamacare, there were few rules about what health plans had to cover. Millions of Americans had plans that were so shoddy, they ended up paying out of pocket for a lot of their medical costs. Too often, having insurance was a lot like not having insurance.
Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance plans must cover at least 60% of the total cost of medical services for a standard population. Plans must also cover at least ten essential services, including lab services and hospitalization. Just like how there are rules about selling lead toys, bad meat, and moldy produce, the new law established rules about the quality of health insurance plans. These rules kick in on January 1, 2014.
The problem is that even after the law was passed, insurance companies kept pushing plans that didn’t meet these minimum standards. The insurance companies knew these plans would have to be canceled when the new law kicked in, but they kept selling them anyway.
Given the lack of warning from their insurance company, many customers were shocked to discover that their plans would soon be canceled. What’s worse, many companies are taking advantage of this situation by trying to push those customers onto more expensive plans.
If your plan was canceled, there are solutions. You can purchase insurance on the Health Insurance Marketplace, where you’ll have more options. Depending on your income and the size of your family, you may be eligible for financial assistance that will make coverage even more affordable.
“Obamacare steals from Medicare.”
The Affordable Care Act actually helps Medicare by eliminating waste and inefficiency. Medicare benefits are not affected by the health reform law — but they would be affected if we turned it into a voucher system.
You may have heard someone say “Obamacare takes $716 billion from Medicare.” That’s a lie. That statement has been proven false by Politifact and almost every news organization that has covered the issue.
But where does that number come from? The Affordable Care Act seeks to reduce future Medicare spending, and the savings are estimated at $716 billion over 10 years. The savings come from reducing subsidies to private Medicare Advantage plans (saving taxpayer money!) and from taxes on drug companies, device makers, and insurers. Luckily, those companies will be able to afford those new fees because of all the new customers they’ll get as a result of the law.
So, Medicare benefits will not be affected by Obamacare — but they would be affected by the budgets proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan and passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which replaces Medicare with “vouchers” to use on the private market.
“Obamacare is forcing me to buy health care.”
Let’s face it: everyone will need health care at some point in their lives. Under the new law, you can either purchase health insurance or pay a small fee. Regardless, prices are lower for everyone.
Before Obamacare, many people who could not afford insurance got their medical care from the emergency room. Emergency care is more expensive than preventive care and free of charge for those who use it but cannot afford to pay for services, so when more people wait until an emergency to access care (because they couldn’t see a doctor beforehand) that increases overall health care costs and leads to higher premiums for everyone.
Essentially, Americans were already paying for “universal health care” through the emergency room, which made health care more expensive, less efficient, and more dangerous for patients.
The Affordable Care Act takes that burden off our shoulders by asking every individual to buy insurance — the “individual mandate.” Every American has to have some sort of health insurance or pay a fee; because of subsidies and other assistance having coverage is almost always the easier choice.
“Obamacare isn’t working because the federal government can’t do anything right.”
A bumpy start for a massive and complex law doesn’t mean Obamacare “isn’t’t working.” And Medicaid expansion, which is a program of the federal government, is already helping millions of people under the new law.
Yes, there have been some problems with the federal health exchange, especially the website. By comparison, the expansion of the public Medicaid program — insurance for low-income and disabled Americans — has been going very well. Oregon, for instance, has cut its number of uninsured citizens nearly in half thanks to Medicaid expansion.
Plus, millions of Americans have already been helped by Obamacare’s provisions: allowing kids to stay on their parents’ insurance until 26, scrapping lifetime caps, rebates from insurance companies, and ending to the shameful practice of denying insurance because of preexisting conditions.
Unfortunately, governors and legislators in 24 states are refusing to accept Medicaid expansion, even though it would cost their states almost nothing until 2020. About 5 million Americans who would be eligible for Medicaid can’t access it because of these politicians. The more uninsured, the more people using the emergency room for care, which drives up costs for everyone.
It’s been about 8 weeks since the website was launched, and glitches are being fixed every day. Remember: Social Security and Medicare took several years to get up and running. That doesn’t mean they are failures.
“Obamacare is a government takeover of health care. I don’t want socialized medicine!”
Every plan offered through the Health Insurance Marketplace is offered by a private company. Far from “socialized medicine,” the Affordable Care Act is based on free market ideas.
The government is not in the business of selling insurance. Every plan available on the health exchange is offered by a private company, co-op, or other health related organization.
Obamacare is in fact based on free market principles: that competition between private insurance companies will bring down prices. Some of the central ideas behind Obamacare come from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and were first proposed by Republicans in Congress during the 1990’s.
This is very different from a single-payer system like in Canada, where the government pays for all health care costs. It’s also different from the National Health Service in Great Britain, where all doctors are employees of the state.
“We can’t afford Obamacare.”
The Affordable Care Act pays for itself and cuts the federal deficit at the same time.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the Affordable Care Act will cut the federal budget deficit by a whopping $210 billion dollars by 2021.
How? A combination of fees on insurers and device-makers, ending subsidies to expensive Medicare Advantage plans, and reducing Medicare payments to hospitals and insurers by eliminating waste and fraud.
And you know what else? Like we’ve said, when more people have health insurance and fewer people are using the emergency room for care, that saves money for all of us.
Want to learn more? Sign up for health care tips and info at Working America Health Care.
Tags: Affordable Care Act, Health Care, Medicaid, Medicare, obamacare, Turkey Talk, Working America Health Care
Something had to give.
Amid one of the most turbulent periods in Walmart’s history and ahead of thousands of Black Friday protests against the company’s treatment of workers, CEO Mike Duke has stepped down.
“Walmart has been heading in the wrong direction, and it’s a testament to the pressure the company is feeling that they’re changing leadership at this moment,” said OUR Walmart member Tiffany Beroid, an associate at Walmart #1985 in Laurel, Maryland.
This move comes after an enormously embarrassing week for Walmart.
Over 400 news outlets reported on a photo of food drive bins set out for associates to donate to other associates. The revelation sparked criticism from all quarters, including actor and businessman Ashton Kutcher, who tweeted his barbs to more than 15 million followers. Late night talk shows like Stephen Colbert lampooned the store’s actions: “Anyone can afford food at Walmart, except people who work at Walmart.”
In addition, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), fully staffed after years of Republican-lead obstruction, announced a decision to prosecute Walmart for illegal firings and threats against striking workers. More than 117 Walmart associates were unfairly fired or disciplined after multi-city strikes last June, according to OUR Walmart.
To top it off, Walmart associates and allies are building momentum toward nationwide protests of the company’s low pay and disrespect toward workers on November 29, Black Friday. In the past month, workers have walked off the job in Chicago, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Miami, Cincinnati, and Seattle, Los Angeles, and Sacramento. Port drivers at trucking companies that are part of Walmart’s supply chain also went on strike last week.
CEO Mike Duke will be fine, however. In 2012, he was paid $23.2 million, or about 1,034 times more than the company’s average worker.
Duke’s successor will be Michael McMillon who was previously CEO of Walmart International. McMillon ran the company’s international division during a period the New York Times reported that Walmart was making illegal bribes to Mexican officials.
Tiffany Beroid issued a challenge to the incoming CEO: “We sincerely hope that Mr. McMillon will answer the country’s calls for Walmart to publicly commit to paying $25,000 a year, providing full-time work and ending its illegal retaliation against its own employees.”
Let’s keep up the pressure. Join us and stand up for Walmart workers at a Black Friday event near you.
Photo by @unitehere on Twitter
Tags: CEO Pay, Corporate Accountability, Walmart