How Much Pay has Congress Made Since They Shut Down the Government?

While over 800,000 federal employees were sent home without pay on October 1 when Congress failed to pass a Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government, members of Congress still continue to receive their salary.  I just came across a graphic that shows, in real-time, how much all 535 members of Congress – the 435 members of the House of Representatives and the 100 members of the Senate – have earned since the day Congress shut down most of the federal government programs.

Take a look via CongressStillGetsPaid.com.

Congress, this is outrageous.  Get the federal government back to work.  Rather than attempting to end Obamacare and/or cutting Social Security – both detrimental to a huge swath of the American public – JUST PASS A CLEAN CONTINUING RESOLUTION!

Save Centre Crest: A Public Nursing Home and Long-Term Care Facility

Here in Centre County, we have a county-run nursing home facility.  It is located in the county seat of Bellefonte, PA.  Centre Crest Nursing Home in Bellefonte has been county-owned and operated for 73 years. On June 18, Commissioners Steve Dershem (R) and Chris Exarchos (R) called for a surprise and unannounced vote (which may have violated Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Law) to transfer the facility to a private organization to be run as a non-profit.  If the transfer goes through:

  • We, citizens of Centre Co., will lose our say in the operation and funding of Centre Crest;
  • Our tax investments could be subsidizing a private company through a rent-free agreement, yet we’d have no say in how Centre Crest would be run;
  • Current Centre Crest employees will have their benefits and pensions cut;
  • The Bellefonte community would lose over $1 million when employees lose benefits and when jobs involving payroll, purchasing, and benefit administration services are outsourced to a private company based in outside of Centre County; and
  • We expect that costs will rise for the residents, most of who are lower-income and cannot afford any of the very expensive private nursing home care that is elsewhere available in the county.

Most of the citizens in the county are opposed to this transfer.  Some oppose the transfer because of the inability for citizens to have a continued say in how the nursing home should be run.  Some oppose the transfer for fear that their loved ones will no longer be able to afford the care and will be forced to move.  Some oppose the transfer because of the expected loss of benefits, including a defined pension plan, should the nursing home be turned into either a non-profit or for-profit nursing home. And some oppose the transfer due to the costs involved.

In 2012, the cost to the average household (not taxpayer, but household) to operate Centre Crest was $25 (5.6% of the county taxes) and it was less than that in each of the four years before that.  The third commissioner, Commissioner Michael Pipe (D) spent several months doing a cost-benefit analysis of either keeping Centre Crest as a fully county-run facility or selling it off.  The cost of Commissioners Pipe’s proposal to upgrade facilities at Centre Crest is less than $11.50 for the average household.  The cost of a suggested subsidy to the county to turn it into a nonprofit is $3 million.  In addition, the proposed plan involves this non-profit receiving the current and proposed new site rent free.  Should the facility be moved, the county could incur an additional cost of $700,000 to $900,000 to acquire the suggested new location (Bellefonte Armory) with no reimbursement from the non-profit.

The current set up, according to Commissioner Pike is a win-win for the county and for seniors.  As he argued before the vote, keeping Centre Crest as an upgraded county-run facility is both an “excellent use of our investments (taxes)” and “provides a home and medical care to our most vulnerable citizens–our seniors.”

The transfer is NOT A DONE DEAL.  Although the initial vote was taken to transfer the home, none of the legal paperwork has yet to be signed and there are some legal actions that are being considered to stop what has happened so far.

There is a better alternative.  Commissioner Pipe presented a plan to keep Centre Crest county owned and upgrade the facility for only $11.50 per year for the average household.

Together we can make this alternative happen.

If you live in Centre County, PA; have family in Centre County; or are concerned about the idea of profit over compassionate care for vulnerable seniors, then you can help stop this decision from coming to fruition.

  1. If you live in Centre County, attend the County Commissioners’ meetings.  They occur at 10:00 am every Tuesday morning. Voice your objection to the transfer during the public comment session at the beginning of each meeting;
  2. No matter where you live, you can donate $5 or $50 to “Centre County Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility.” Mail to: 148 Thornton Rd., State College. PA  16801;
  3. Write a letter to the editor. The local papers include the Centre Daily Times, Voices of Central PA, the Lock Haven Express, the Progress News, and the Centre County Gazette;
  4. Contact the Commissioners directly:
    • Via Letter*: Commissioners Steve Dershem, Chris Exarchos, and Michael Pipe, 420 Holmes St., Bellefonte, PA  16823
    • Email*:  BOC@centrecountypa.gov
    • Phone*:  814-355-6700
  5. Go to http://saveCentreCrest.org, click on “petition,” download, print and then sign it.  You can then, if you desire, you can gather more signatures.  Once your petition is complete, mail it to: Save Centre Crest, P.O. Box 262, Bellefonte, PA  16823

You can also obtain more information and background on Centre Crest, what’s happening, and what you can do by visiting the Save Centre Crest website.

War on Women in Pennsylvania: At Least a 20-Year Happening

Last week, Governor Tom “Just Close Your Eyes” Corbett signed into law Act 13 of 2013, also known as HB 818.  This newest attack in the War on Women denies women the ability to use THEIR OWN FUNDS to purchase coverage for an abortion within the new healthcare exchange that Corbett decided to fob off onto the federal government.  Although the state couldn’t be “bothered” with running this exchange, they have no problem in denying women the ability to purchase coverage for an abortion even in cases in which her life is endangered.

At the time of final passage of the bill I sent out an email to several friends listservs. Here are some of the comments I received back:

What is going on in PA?  It’s beginning to sound more & more like a North Dakota or a Kansas [or a Mississippi or an Arizona or a Wisconsin or a Texas or any other state that’s been taken over by misogynists and racists].  Terrible!!

If women aren’t allowed to spend money on their healthcare the way they deem medically necessary, then it’s time to face the fact that we’re not even citizens in our own states.

I agree with all of these sentiments.  Yet, these types of legislative actions have been going on in Pennsylvania for a long time, despite Pennsylvania having an ERA in our state Constitution and having already ratified the national ERA.

Bit of history of the War on Women in Pennsylvania.  We’ve been battling this War for over two decades in our legislature.  The battles started with attacks on reproductive justice and have now spread to other areas of women’s lives.

Reproductive Justice Battles

The Pennsylvania General Assembly has basically been co-opted by the radical right-wing on both sides of the aisle.  The Democrats do have more pro-choice people than the Republicans.  The Senate is a bit better than the House of Representatives.  And this has basically been true since the late 1980’s.

  1. Which is why Governor Bob Casey, Sr. (D) pushed through Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act that initially mandated parental consent, spousal consent, a 24-hour waiting period, and a state-mandated script about the “detriments” to health in abortion procedures.  Planned Parenthood contested the law that went all the way to the US Supreme Court in a case called Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. Decided on June 29, 1992, the Court threw out spousal consent as an “undue burden,” but upheld the rest of the law. This was one of the first battles partially won by the emerging War on women.  That was 21 years ago this week.
  2. Which is why Title X and state Family Planning monies are split 50/50 each year in the state budget between crisis pregnancy centers and legitimate family planning clinics.  And this has been happening for over a decade now. And in 2012, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R) proposed eliminating ALL funding for family planning for Planned Parenthood or any other clinic that provides abortion services.
  3. Which is why we are losing stand-alone abortion providers due to the TRAP (Targeted Regulations on Abortion Providers) law passed in December 2011 following “Dr.” Gosnell’s arrest and guilty verdict for murdering 9 live-born infants and one woman in a filthy, rat-infested facility that the state had not inspected despite complaints from legitimate providers for about 10 years.
  4. Which is why we almost had a transvaginal ultrasound law last year.  And for Governor Corbett’s “Just close your eyes” statement (Corbett’s comments on the ultrasound bill start at 14:28).  The main reasons I think it ultimately died in committee is thanks to the activists in VA who created the uproar there and because so many people, including doctors were outraged by the invasiveness of this bill and for Corbett’s insensitive statement (of which he is becoming more or more well-known for – he’s his own worst enemy).

Other Battles in the War on Women in Pennsylvania

And on other issues – similar actions have occurred.

Increasing Conservatism in the Legislature and Governorship

In 2010, the Tea Party and the radical right swept into office an even more anti-woman legislature and governor here in Pennsylvania.  The War on Women went into full swing.  Both houses of the General Assembly became even more heavily conservative, with the House switching from a Democratic- to a Republican-controlled majority and the state elected an anti-choice, anti-woman, and in my opinion, racist governor – Governor Tom Corbett (R).

To highlight how conservative the Pennsylvania General Assembly has become, just look at the 2012 ratings of legislators by the American Conservative Union.  They indicated that 51% of members in the combined Assembly are solid conservatives; 105 or 42% are given a score of 100 and an additional 22 or 9% are rated at 63 or higher.  The entire leadership of the majority party in both houses and thus those with the power to deny women, people of color, people with disabilities and people living in poverty their basic rights are listed in their report as so-called “Defenders of Liberty” or “Conservatives” because of their rating of, respectively, either 100 (13 of the 16 leaders) or 80 (the remaining 3 leaders).

Attack on Hate Crimes Protections

An updated hate crimes bill was initially passed in 2002 that added gender, gender identity, national origin, disability, and sexual orientation.  Because the radical right didn’t want to vote against adding sexual orientation coupled with disability and gender and thereby anger multiple constituencies within their district, a member of the House, proposed a late-night, end of session amendment in the 2001-2002 legislative session that substituted the hate crimes bill for an agricultural crimes bill.  The vote was overwhelmingly in favor, mostly because the legislators didn’t want to appear to be supporting hate crimes via a no vote (prior to this the then Republican majority had refused to bring up the bill for a committee vote). The radical right-wing appealed saying that this substitution violated the state’s constitutional mandate that any amendment has to be germane to the original intent of the bill.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed in July 23, 2008 that this procedure (but not the underlying intent) was unconstitutional and threw out the law.  It has been reintroduced every session since then with no hearing or vote in any committee in either house.

Attacks on Marriage Equality

In addition to having a state-based mini-DOMA (a state-level Defense of Marriage Act) on the books, Pennsylvania has had several attempts at adding this form of discrimination to our state constitution introduced every session for the last decade.  The major reasons they have not passed is that the House is even more conservative than the Senate and the two houses can’t agree on how extreme to make it.  There is another one that has been introduced in the General Assembly this year, but due to increasing support by the public for civil unions and marriage equality (almost 2/3 support throughout the state), they haven’t yet held any hearings.

Budgetary Attacks

One of the spears attacking women, families, and people of color since the takeover of our legislative and executive branches of government here in the state is the budget.

We have had severe cutbacks in state funding for education, health care, and human services since 2011.  According to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, spending on these three areas in the final budget for 2012-2013 that ends this week was either flat-lined (“welfare” programs) or reduced by 0.3% (for public school education), 15.9% (for higher education), and 37% to 45% (for Medical Assistance inpatient and outpatient care).

The proposed budget plan for 2013-2014 continues these cuts. Here are a couple of examples of this budgetary war:

Attacks to Eliminate Equality for All

In the very first budget introduced by Governor Corbett, every advocacy Commission in the Executive branch was eliminated in the 2011-2012 budget – this includes the Pennsylvania Commission for Women (which I served on until it was abolished), Latino Affairs, Asian-American Affairs, and African-American Affairs.  As you will see from the links to these commissions, there is no public information on who the commissioners are nor is the any information on the services any of these commissions provide.  Prior to the elimination of these commissions in 2011, the Commission for Women, for example, had an extensive web presence which included our mission (the only thing that now remains), hotline contact information, copies of reports written by the Commission, information on the advocacy being conducted by the Commission, and links to programs and services to broadly assist women.  Transparency has disappeared; this is another spear in the attacks with the War on Women here in Pennsylvania.

Like every other state, Pennsylvania has a commission that monitors, reviews and adjudicates alleged acts of discrimination; here in Pennsylvania that is the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC). Severe budgetary cut-backs have occurred in the funding for the PHRC in every budgetary cycle since 2011.  An individual who works within the PHRC told me last month that as a result of these cuts, they are down 50% in staffing and that long-time civil rights advocates in the agency have either retired (some early) or left for other work.  And it’s not getting any better. The PHRC is flat-lined in this year’s budget.  We don’t yet know if this will still be true once the budget is passed, which theoretically must be done this week since our state constitution requires passage by June 30 of each year.

Gerrymandering

Gerrymandering is part of the War on Women due to its impact on legislation directly affecting women’s lives. Gerrymandering here in Pennsylvania, aka the “Gerrymander of the Decade,” has entrenched the right-wing Republicans in both the General Assembly and the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation.  This, despite the fact that there are many more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state.

Being a Democratic legislator, as we all know doesn’t guarantee concern for women’s rights (think Senator Bob Casey, Jr. and his father, former Governor Bob Casey, Sr.). But in these days and times, it’s less likely to cause a problem for us than do the Tea-Party dominated Republicans.

The most recent vote in the General Assembly is a clear example of what gerrymandering has done to the legislature.

Gerrymandering, combined with the elections resulted in the passage of HB 818/Act 13 this month. Tea Party Republican conservatives won many of their races in 2010 and 2012, taking control and leadership of both houses in 2011.  In the House there are 111 Republicans and 92 Democrats.  On April 24, 2013, all but 2 Republicans (98%) voted against and all but 32 Democrats (65%) voted for women’s reproductive justice. In the Senate there are 28 Republicans and 22 Democrats. On June 5, 2013, all but 2 Republicans (93%) voted against and all but 5 Democrats (77%) voted for women’s reproductive justice.

State and Federal ERA

Another comment that was made when I sent out my email was about passing the federal Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The person said,

This is the reason we need to be included in the Constitution of the United States!  One of main ways to stop bills like this is to pass the ERA and thus be admitted as full-fledged citizens of the US.

Before the War on Women started, Pennsylvania passed a state-based ERA that was voted on by the electorate and placed into Section I of the Pennsylvania Constitution in 1971.

Yet even with this state-based ERA, the War on Women is being raged here in Pennsylvania.  Sometimes the state ERA works and sometimes it doesn’t.  It worked back in the 1980’s when Pat and Twiss Butler worked with Pennsylvania NOW to get gender-based auto insurance rates eliminated.  But it didn’t work in 2008 when a woman sued her employer using the state ERA based on sexually offensive comments made by her supervisor but not stopped by the company.

Many people, in frustration have made statements or created nicknames to replace the official monikers of “City or State of Brotherly Love” and the “Cradle of Independence.”  A couple of the pejoratives include “Pennsyltuky” and “Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with Alabama in the middle” (this latter one is attributed to James Carville)  The progressive parts of the state (for the citizenry, but not necessarily the full legislature) are currently Philadelphia and SE PA, the capital Harrisburg (to some minor extent) and Centre County where I live.  Pittsburgh is still itself progressive, but Allegheny County (where Pittsburgh is located) has become very, very conservative and thus more like the “T” (the term used to describe the rural part of the state outside of the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia regions).

Yes, it is frustrating.  But as a “cock-eyed optimist” (something I’ve often been called), I continue to push back and sometimes we get things that are a bit better than they would have been otherwise.  Much of our work is being done in coalition these days.  I won’t stop my push-back against this War on Women.  I will continue my multi-decade work and will continue to shout from the mountain top whenever and wherever needed.  As will others (see for example, an article in Politico about the War on Women battle for the Pennsylvania governorship gearing up here in Pennsylvania).

Be a “cock-eyed” optimist.  Get the ERA passed and stop this state and national War on Women. As Margaret Mead said,

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.