This Cringe Worthy Email From A Recruiter Shows The Daily Nightmare Faced By Women In IT

These type of comments are creepy, sexist and occur in all fields of occupation, particularly in non-traditional work. Cat calls are the most blatant. Ones like these that put down women for their brains that are also be accompanied by what she looks like are just as demeaning and are a from of sexual harassment, imho.  They create a hostile work environment based on gender.

Central Oregon Coast NOW

AUTHOR: KERRY-ANNESEPTEMBER 1, 2014 6:10 AM

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This is not a come-on between two users of an internet dating site, but a genuine first approach by a male IT recruitment consultant, to a female software developer.  It neatly sums up the daily nightmare of sexism faced by women in the world of IT.

The recruiter opens his email,  entitled “are you for real???” as follows:

“I want to start by asking if you are a real developer? Lol, sorry if that rubs you the wrong way but you are a beautiful well educated young woman whose professional career is in software development.”

Because of course, how could a pretty little thing like her possibly know her Java from her SPARK (programming languages, keep up people)?

The cringe worthy approach was made through professional networking site LinkedIn.  Rather than fuming silently, the woman in question  posted a screenshot of the…

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picture of an empty seat at the table for Dr. Jones

An Empty Seat at the Table: In Memory of W. Terrell Jones

On Tuesday, August 19, I received a forwarded email from PSU Executive Vice President and Provost Nicholas P. Jones:

It is with deep sorrow that I’m writing to inform you that our colleague and friend, Dr. Terrell Jones, Vice Provost for Educational Equity passed away this morning.  Terrell had been on medical leave the last few months.  He will be greatly missed across the University not only for the impact of his contributions to Penn State, but also for simply the wonderful person that he was.  We will share with you the details regarding funeral arrangements as they become available.  Please keep Carla [Roser-Jones] and Terrell’s children in your thoughts and prayers.

This short note brought tears to my eyes and a great sense of loss. W. Terrell Jones was a civil rights advocate par excellence both in and out of work. He brought humor and caring to everything he did.

picture of Terrell Jones & Carla Roser-Jones

W. Terrell Jones (pictured with his wife Carla Roser-Jones). A Civil Rights advocate in and out of work.

I first met Terrell in the early 1990’s when I attended a meeting of the Centre County Advisory Council to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC). Soon after that, I was appointed to this Council and served with Terrell up until his death. Until March of 2013, Terrell chaired the monthly meeting of the Advisory Council. His passion for low-income students of color, concern for community diversity and acceptance, and a love of knowledge was quite apparent.

He was a teacher, a counselor, a fountain of trivia on people and ethnicities across the country and around the world. And did his work—both paid and unpaid with a sense of humor and dignity. Here’s a sampling of his ability to teach with humor in the classroom; this is one of the many classes on race relations and cultural diversity that he taught over his 35 years of work at the Pennsylvania State University and one year at Lock Haven University.

On Thursday, August 21, I attended the bimonthly meeting of the Inter Agency Task Force on Community Activities and Relations in Harrisburg. According to the PHRC,

The task force is made up of [the] PHRC, the PA Attorney General’s Office and the PA State Police, working in conjunction with other state and federal agencies, community organizations, advocacy groups, local government and law enforcement agencies.  The primary function of the group is to quickly and appropriately address civil tension when conflicts occur, and to promote positive community relations among various groups in order to prevent tension.

The meeting was opened at 10:30 am by Tameka Hatcher, Program Analyst for the PHRC. We usually open these meetings by going around the table and introducing ourselves. This morning was slightly different. Tameka held up Terrell’s name plate and announced that he had passed after a four-month battle with cancer. She asked for a moment of silence and then asked Martin Kearney, Investigative Supervisor at the PHRC and me to say a few words about Terrell. We then placed the name plate at the table to honor our missing comrade.

picture of an empty seat at the table for Dr. Jones

An Empty Seat at the Table: In Memory of Dr. W. Terrell Jones

Here’s some of the accomplishments we talked about:

Local Ordinances

Terrell helped organize a community public forum on discrimination in housing and employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity about 8-9 years ago. Based on the feedback from that forum, the State College Borough decided to review their Fair Housing Ordinance that had passed in 1994 and decided to expand it as well as create an employment anti-discrimination ordinance in 2008. Working with the Centre County Advisory Council, Terrell and I worked with the town council to help craft the new ordinances that now contain the broadest anti-discrimination protections in the state. The employment ordinance includes marital status, familial status, family responsibilities, gender identity, and sexual orientation in addition to the state-level protections found in the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. The public accommodations and fair housing ordinance includes marital status, familial status, gender identity, sexual orientation, and source of income in addition to the state-level protections of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

Tension and Hate

Calming down communities when tensions rise due to religious, racial, gender, or LGBTQIA intolerance, vandalism, and/or hate speech was a forte for Terrell. He created trainings on racial equality, worked with groups to figure out how structurally and organically they could improve their communities to be more accepting and tolerant. He did this for the entire Penn State University community at all of the campuses, within Centre County and across the state. Working with Unity groups, the PHRC, and coalitions, he helped bring together people.

Statewide Leadership

At Penn State University

Seen as an expert on race relations and diversity, Terrell was often called upon to lead programs and organizations dealing with these types of issues. When he started his position as Vice Provost of Educational Equity in 1998, he created “A Framework to Foster Diversity.” According to the Centre Daily Times, this document is a regularly updated plan outlining Penn State University’s diversity and equity goals. As part of his leadership in this position, Terrell oversaw many different offices and commissions to achieve his vision of “an inclusive and welcoming environment for all.” These offices and commissions include:

Units and Programs

College Assistance Migrant Program
Educational Opportunity Center (Philadelphia)
Multicultural Resource Center
Office for Disability Services
Office of Veterans Programs
Student Support Services Program
Talent Search
Talent Search York
Upward Bound
Upward Bound Math and Science Program
Upward Bound Migrant

Commissions and Committees

Equal Opportunity Planning Committee
President’s Equity Commissions
Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Equity
Commission on Racial/Ethnic Diversity
Commission for Women

And according to the PSU Office of the President, Terrell led other programs and events throughout his tenure at the University: “He served on the University’s Forum on Black Affairs for many years, and was its president from 1986-87. He also was chair of the Equal Opportunity Planning Committee from 1989-96 and Penn State’s Representative for the Global Sullivan Principles from 2000-2005.”

Community Leadership

As I previously stated, Terrell was appointed to and later led the Centre County Advisory Council to the PA Human Relations Commission for over 20 years. We met 10 out of the 12 months of each year and then held a family picnic for members every August. Our meetings brought together members of the community who act as the “eyes and ears” of diversity in the community. We gathered each month to discuss concerns about injustice and joys of acceptance of people of all backgrounds within Centre County.

Both of us also handled the Blue Pages phone hot line answering questions about unfair treatment and potential discrimination.  As appropriate we gave these individuals information on how to contact the PHRC to file a complaint and/or provided on other resources to assist them in resolving their issues.

Over the years, several different representatives from the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission would attend these meetings so that we could pass on the news – both good and bad – to help the state monitor issues of inclusion and tension throughout the state.

We also had a good time, always looking forward to Terrell’s “main dish” offerings at our picnics. He fed us with fried turkeys, roasted pork, and tons of catfish over the years – all his own handiwork!

Terrell was also active in his local church – the Jacob Albright-Mary McLeod Bethune United Methodist Church. I understand that he was one of the leaders of this church, having served from 1990 until his death as a member of its Administrative Council. At the funeral, Reverend Kathleen Danley described his leadership by telling about her arrival at the church this past January. She said that members of the church seemed very tense or sad about their former preacher’s departure. Until Terrell arrived. She said with his arrival, the tension left the room and everyone felt better and got to work. Having that kind of presence is rare.

Leadership across the Commonwealth

Terrell also brought his wisdom and expertise to all corners of the Commonwealth. I asked Martin Kearney, the Investigative Supervisor for the Harrisburg Regional Office of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to put this part of Terrell’s leadership into perspective. Here’s the email he wrote in response:

You asked me about Terrell’s work with PHRC.  I have had the pleasure to have worked with Terrell for nearly a decade when he was Chair of the PHRC Advisory Council for Centre County.  Other colleagues, such as Homer Floyd, Kaaba Brunson, and Ann Van Dyke have known and worked with Dr. Jones for three decades or more.  I am grateful I had the opportunity to learn from him and his work.

Essentially, from the state standpoint, Terrell was key in helping make PSU a more welcoming place for persons of all protected classes, particularly but not exclusively students of color, in his career.  He kept the PHRC apprised of these efforts, especially in regard to academic achievement and safe learning environment for these students.  His work in the vineyard has borne fruit, but as we know, more labors need to be made to make education more accessible and affordable for students in need.

Terrell was active with the Pennsylvania Black Conference on Higher Education (PBCOHE) [he served as its President from 2008-2010], which attempted to get all universities in the Commonwealth, public as well as private, achieve equal education opportunity for students of color.  Our Commission was very active in this initiative as well and Terrell’s work helped to increase the numbers of students of color going to college and successfully graduate.  He was also key in helping to investigate and resolve tension situations related to race and ethnicity not only at PSU but on other campuses as well.  For instance, he led an investigation in 2007 at Bloomsburg University campus involving allegations of excessive force and misconduct by campus police toward African American students.  He conducted this investigation with skill, transparency and thoroughness, recommending better communication between students and police and cultural competency training for campus police.

Terrell’s presence in Centre County was well known, especially in his and the Advisory Council’s efforts in State College Borough’s consideration and passage of the Fair Housing (1994) and Human Relations Ordinances (in 2008), efforts of which you know so well (since you were so key in both of these), which had expansive protections beyond Commonwealth law for sexual orientation, marital status and family responsibilities.  Through the work of Terrell and the Council, relationships were built, to create a constituency that supported these ordinances.  It is notable that when the Fair Housing Ordinance was passed, there was [a large and very] vocal opposition to it.  The opposition to the expanded Human Relations Ordinance over a decade later was not only much smaller but much less vocal.  It was consciousness raising of our growing notions of equality, led by Terrell and the Council, that helped to foster this change.

Finally, Terrell not only knew issues of diversity and equality, he knew this state very well.  He pored over the bias reports that the Commission created, reported incidents of which he knew, but also added a historical perspective of these incidents for our state and nation.  In my dealings with him, I always walked away having learned something of value, lessons I carry in my work to this day and which our Commission carries on as well.

A place at the table for our Commission’s Inter-Agency Task Force is missing.  While none of us can fill this space that he leaves, his spirit and the knowledge he passed on will continue for decades to come.

The Farewell Tribute

At Terrell’s funeral on Saturday, August 23, the love for Terrell showed throughout the church. It was overflowing with people. The vestry was full. The room across the hall from the vestry was full. And those who couldn’t find seats in either of these rooms went downstairs to the reception hall. Fortunately all of us got to see the service since the church provided video access to the full service. I think the “Affirmation of Faith” affirms Terrell’s life-long passion for equity and justice. In part, here’s what was proclaimed

Affirmation of Faith by Canaan Banana (edited by Rev. Grey)

I believe in an almighty God

Maker of all people of every color and hue,

Who does not rank people according to their color or gender,…

Who provide[s] abundant resources for

Equitable distribution among all people….

[Who] overturns the iron rule of injustice.

From henceforth He shall continue to judge hatred, racism, sexism,

And every manner of dehumanizing exclusiveness and arrogance.

I believe in the properly placed spirit of reconciliation,…

The Power that overcomes the poverty, abject ghetto life,

Abject rural life, drug and alcohol addiction,

women and children abuse, and pimping, prostitution, and pushing in all of their forms.

And I believe in the … Resurrection of personhood

And equalizing justice, and equality…

Amen

 

Terrell, we’ll miss you at the table of equality and justice for all. You will be missed greatly. Rest in peace my friend.

 

Addendum: According to the obituary that appeared in the Centre Daily Times on August 21, the family has requested that in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Albright-Bethune United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 153, State College, PA 16804 or to the Dr. W. Terrell Jones Scholarship Memorial Fund at the Pennsylvania State University, by visiting www.GIveNow.psu.edu/TerrellJonesMemorial.

Pennsylvania for Women’s Health Agenda Update

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

Last September, a bicameral, bipartisan caucus was created in the Pennsylvania General Assembly to review, discuss, and propose legislation to improve the health of women in the Commonwealth by addressing the genuine needs and concerns of women in the state. The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health was created as a comprehensive plan to address the real-life stories and concerns of women in terms of protecting and expanding women’s reproductive health, improving women’s economic security, and improving safety in their lives.

The First Set of Bills

On December 11, the first five bills were presented and introduced into both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The first set of bills addressed a variety of concerns for women by:

  • Making sure that women receive pregnancy accommodations in their workplace;
  • Creating a 15-foot buffer zone around entrances to health to make sure women seeking reproductive healthcare are able to access it in an orderly and safe manner;
  • Addressing “pay secrecy” and the “factor other than sex” loophole will help to end practices that have enabled employers to pay women less than men for the same work;
  • Expanding access to cervical cancer treatment. This bill is a state Pay Equity bill similar to the federal Paycheck Fairness Act;
  • Eliminating local ordinances that penalize landlords and/or tenants who call the police or emergency services “too frequently;” and
  • Outlawing “revenge porn,” a form of digital intimate-partner violence.

Of the first six set of bills, four have had some movement since my first detailed look at the bills on January 22.

Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act

The House version of the Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act (HB 1892) was formally introduced and referred to the House Labor and Industry Committee where it is still awaiting a hearing. The companion Senate bill (SB 1209) was introduced on March 31 and was referred to the Senate Labor and Industry Committee; it too is awaiting its first hearing.

Pay Equity

The Pay Equity Bill basically hasn’t moved since being introduced. The House version (HB 1890) was introduced and referred to House Labor and Industry Committee on February 19. The Senate version (SB 1209) was introduced and referred to Senate Labor and Industry Committee on March 31; it has not moved since its introduction. However, the House sponsors of HB 1890 have filed a “Resolution to discharge committee from further consideration.” This was filed on April 7. This type of resolution is a rarely used tactic to force debate on a bill when the chair of the committee the bill is assigned to refuses to hold hearings on the bill. We are now waiting to see how the full House will respond to this resolution.

Victims of Crime

The bill protecting victims of crime by eliminating local ordinances that penalize landlords and/or tenants who call the police or emergency services “too frequently” (HB 1796) was introduced on October 22. After its introduction, the House Local Government Committee amended the bill to clarify that bill only applies to cases that involve victims of violence, abuse, or “individuals in an emergency” if the person making the call had a reasonable belief that police intervention or emergency assistance was needed. It unanimously passed House January 14, 2014. It was then referred to Senate Local Government Committee. January 21, 2014. Unfortunately, on March 11 the Senate Local Government Committee was tacked on an ALEC bill as an amendment, turning this good bill into a bad bill. This local ordinance sick-leave preemption bill undermines the safety of domestic violence victims. Under the amendment, local governments would lose their authority to require employers to offer paid or unpaid leave to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Leave from employment is often critical to a victim’s survival in both the short- and long-term. This amendment adds another purpose and intent to HB 1796 that conflicts with its original commitment to protect victims. Advocates, including but not limited to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Women’s Law Project, and Pennsylvania NOW, are urging the legislature to support the version of HB 1796 that was passed by the House of Representatives and to remove the problematic language that was adopted in Senate Local Government Committee. We still support the portion of HB 1796 that would eliminate local nuisance ordinances that penalize a victim for seeking help from emergency services. As a result of our subsequent lobbying to remove this amendment, the Senate has temporarily tabled the bill.

Revenge Porn Prohibition

The “Revenge Porn” bill is the most successful of this first round of bills. The Senate version (SB 1167) was amended in Senate Judiciary Committee January 14, 2014 and sent to the floor for 1st consideration. It unanimously passed the Senate on January 28, 2014 and is now residing in the House Judiciary Committee alongside HB 1901.

The Second Set of Bills

Today, the Women’s Health Agenda Caucus announced the second package of bills to be introduced. They include five bills intended to:

  • Curb political interference in providers’ medical decisions. This bill protects the doctor-patient relationship from directives to practice care in a manner that is not in accordance with standards of care;
  • Identify gaps in health care for women veterans by establishing the Task Force on Women Veterans’ Health Care to study health issues facing women veterans;
  • Fight deep poverty among women with children. This bill Includes a study of family work support programs in the Commonwealth, increases the monthly Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits for women in need; and increases in the TANF Earned Income Disregard;
  • Ensure that widows of state and municipal employees get fair pensions by requiring public employees to obtain spousal consent for benefit payment structures that do not provide at least a 50% survivor benefit; and
  • Protect all employees against sexual harassment by extending the prohibition on sexual harassment to all employers in the state.

Pennsylvania NOW is one of the organizations supporting this full agenda to improve women’s health. I am their lobbyist. At the press conference this morning, I handed out our statement of support. In that statement, I supported each of these bills, saying, “It’s high time that doctors were supported in their right to refuse to provide medically inaccurate information. The increases to TANF cash assistance grant levels and the eligibility asset limit will encourage saving and financial independence. We’re also glad to see sexual harassment protections extended to all workers, and see that female veteran’s health concerns finally get the attention it deserves.”

As advocates for women’s health and equity we are pleased to see the legislature taking a pro-active stance to help improve the lives of women here in Pennsylvania. As Caryn Hunt said in the Pennsylvania NOW press release, ““The women of Pennsylvania need – and now finally have – champions in the legislature who recognize that government must work for all of the people, women included.” We are pleased and “strongly support this Agenda that puts the health and well-being of women and their families first.”

(note: The bill numbers associated with each of these bills will be announced on this blog as soon as I know what they are or will be.)

 

Sample Letter Opposing Sick Leave Preemption Bill

Help Stop ALEC

Help Stop ALEC

Yesterday afternoon, the Pennsylvania House Labor and Industry Committee forwarded a sick leave preemption bill — HB 1960 — to the floor of the Pennsylvania House of Representative without amendment.  I have previously written about this ALEC-initiated bill and a similar one on this blog.

The vote on the amendments and on referral of the bill “as committed” was completely along party lines.  All 15 Republicans voted to limit local control and disallow exceptions to the bill for pregnant women and victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking; all 10 Democrats voted for the amendments and against the bill.

Now the bill goes to the full floor for debate.  In Pennsylvania, bills can be amended from the floor ONLY on “Second Consideration.”  And that is expected as early as tomorrow, Wednesday, January 29.

Every legislator—Republican and Democrat—needs to know our concerns about this type of  bill.

So in an effort to assist my readers on contacting their representatives about a preemption bill such as this one, I decided to post my letter to Representative Kerry Benninghoff (R-171, Centre & Mifflin Counties) on this blog. FYI, he is a conservative Republican, but is not a member of ALEC.

If you live in Pennsylvania, now is the time for you to write a similar letter OR call your state Representative(click here to find your Representative).

This bill is also being “shopped” around the country by ALEC. So… if you live elsewhere in the country, keep this in mind, as a sick leave preemption bill is likely to show up in your state.

Hi Kerry,

I’m writing to strongly urge that you oppose and vote NO on  HB 1960 when it comes up for second consideration as well as on final consideration.  Voting and debate on several amendments is expected on the House floor tomorrow, January 29 under the rules for Second Consideration.

I want you to vote NO on HB 1960 because:

  1. Laws that preempt local decision-making strip cities and counties of their right to adopt policies that will benefit their communities, in violation of core conservative and democratic principles;
  2. It represents attempts by national businesses to circumvent policy at its most basic level; and
  3. Local innovation is the lifeblood of progress. Preemption efforts, driven by special interests, should not stand in the way of local innovation or self-rule. Bills like this represent an ominous attempt to remove power from locally elected officials and make the voters mere bystanders in the democratic processes that define the character of their communities.

I’m particularly concerned about its effect on victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.  This proposed law will threaten the lives of victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking who need this form of leave to receive critical services to protect their and their families’ lives – like medical treatment, counseling, and dealing with all court and law enforcement related business.  If local communities can’t make laws that allow victims who work for employers with less than 50 employees, you will be potentially sending these victims back into the hands of their violent perpetrators because they will be unable to financially stand on their own two feet.

Even if preemption bills seem to have a narrow focus, passage of this type of legislation could result in preemption of a wide range of local ordinances in municipalities throughout the state. These include efforts to expand protections for those who have experienced domestic violence, laws prohibiting wage theft, consumer protection initiatives, and many more.

Based on all of these concerns, I am therefore also requesting that you vote for any amendment that makes this bill less onerous.  I understand that several such amendments will be offered, including ones that

  • Allow municipalities to have paid or unpaid leave programs with respect to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
  • Allow municipalities to have paid or unpaid leave programs with respect to maternity leave.
  • That grandfather in any existing local ordinance.

Please vote for all of these life-protecting amendments.  And when the bill comes up for a final vote, VOTE NO!  on HB 1960.

Please let me know what you will do regarding this bill. Thank you.

Roe v Wade Anniversary: Pro-Active Legislative Agendas

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

Today is the 41st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by the US Supreme Court that says that women have a constitutional right of access to safe abortion services throughout the country.  Since 1973, the right-wing has been pushing back and chipping away at this right. These attacks over the decades have expanded beyond access to abortion and now include all areas of family planning and access to women’s health care. As a result, women’s rights and reproductive justice advocates have been on the defense in an attempt to ensure that all women of reproductive age have full access to all forms of reproductive health.

For a very long time, conservatively controlled legislatures have narrowly focused on restricting women’s access to abortion and reproductive health services. We need a pro-active legislative agenda at the national and state levels to counter this chipping away of our basic rights.  And this is starting to occur.

It’s something we need to focus on, spread the word about, and celebrate on this 41st anniversary of the Roe decision.

Advocates for reproductive justice have had some success in 2013 in their pushback on our back reproductive and healthcare rights.  For example, Texas Senator Wendy Davis, with the assistance of thousands of advocates crowding the capital successfully delayed the passage of an onerous anti-abortion law. And the city of Albuquerque voted down an anti-abortion referendum.

Legislatures too have started to pushback.  And that’s what I’d like to focus on today. Two states so far have decided to take a pro-active stance – New York and Pennsylvania.

New York

Last year, New York State decided to fight back with their “9 Point Plan for Women’s Equality.”  This plan, known as the Women’s Equality Act covers nine broad areas of concern:

  1. Safeguarding Reproductive Health by a) codifying the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, b) ensuring that women can obtain a safe, legal abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy; c) ensuring that physicians won’t be prosecuted for providing this care; and d) retaining the provisions in current law that would prosecute those who harm women;
  2. Ending Pregnancy Discrimination by requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women in the workplace;
  3. Fighting Human Trafficking by a) creating an “affirmative” defense of being trafficked when a person is charged with prostitution, b) increasing penalties for both sex and labor trafficking, c) creating the ability for victims of trafficking to take civil action against their perpetrator, and d) creating some new criminal offenses in increasing level of severity for some forms of trafficking;
  4. Supporting Domestic Violence Victims by creating a pilot program to allow victims of domestic violence to testify remotely against the alleged perpetrator of violence when requesting a protection from abuse order;
  5. Creating Fair Access to Housing by adding source of income and status as a domestic violence victim to the state’s anti-discrimination law;
  6. Ending Familial Status Discrimination in Employment by adding protections in the state’s anti-discrimination law for employees who have children 18 years or younger residing in the home;
  7. Allowing Payment of Attorney Fees by granting litigants who win a sex discrimination case the ability to receive attorney fees as part of the settlement;
  8. Improving the Sexual Harassment Law by expanding the prohibition on sexual harassment in the workplace to employers with fewer than four employees so that all places of employment are covered; and
  9. Securing Equal Pay by a) closing a loophole in New York’s law that allows employers to justify lower wages for women, b) outlawing wage secrecy policies, and c) increasing damages to prevailing litigants for up to 300% of unpaid wages.

In June 2013, Governor Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act was blocked in the NY State Senate because there were enough right-wing legislators who decided to quash the bill due to a provision in the package bolstering access to abortions. However, advocates have not given up. Governor Cuomo has renewed his commitment to passage of the Women’s Equality Act and advocates in New York State are gearing up for another run for successful passage of this bill.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania legislators recognized this positive effort from our sister state to the north.  In September 2013, a group of Senators and Representatives from both sides of the aisle formed a new legislative caucus to proactively focus on women’s health and equity.  It is called the Women’s Health Caucus. This bi-partisan caucus is co-chaired by Representative Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny and Senators Judy Schwank, D-Berks and Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks.

Rather than the narrow efforts commonly seen in Pennsylvania General Assembly to restrict women’s access to reproductive health programs, the Women’s Health Caucus was formed to redirect legislation towards a woman’s health equity agenda. This broad, proactive agenda covers reproductive health, women’s economic security, and women’s safety.

To celebrate the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I decided to summarize the bills that have both been introduced and those that are in the works for introduction later this year that focus on some portion of women’s reproductive health and focus on some of the other bills at a later date. This is a work in progress by the Women’s Health Caucus and as such, there may be more bills in process that I don’t yet know about.  The ones discussed here are the health-related bills that have been introduced or have been discussed as potential bills by the Caucus.

Bills in Pennsylvania Legislature to Honestly Address Women’s Needs

As I stated in a blog in September reporting on the first meeting of the Caucus, the Women’s Health Agenda package of bills can be divided into three groups—reproductive health issues, women’s safety, and economic sustainability.  The focus here today is on the bills associated with reproductive health.

On December 11, 2013, the Women’s Health Caucus introduced the first seven bills in the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health.  Four of the seven bills announced that day focus on some aspect of women and children’s health.  Three of these bills have been introduced and are currently in committee in at least one, if not both, Houses.  The fourth bill is still being circulated for co-sponsors in both the House and Senate.

Healthcare-Related Bills that Have Been Introduced and are in Committee

Sanitary conditions for nursing mothers

This legislation requires employers to provide a private, sanitary space for employees who need to express breast milk. It fixes two main loopholes that are present in federal law under the Affordable Care Act. It would apply to all employees, including those that are exempt from federal overtime provisions. It also requires employers to provide a private, sanitary space for mothers to express milk beyond one year after birth. This legislation mirrors the federal provision that exempts small employers from these requirements if these requirements present an undue hardship on the employer. Representative Mary Jo Daley is the prime sponsor of this bill in the House of Representatives.  It was officially introduced H.B. 1895 on December 12, 2013 with 22 co-sponsors and is awaiting first review in the House Labor and Industry Committee.  There is not a companion Senate bill yet.

Representative Daley describes this workplace need for nursing mothers:

“Study after study makes it abundantly clear – both mothers and children benefit from breast milk. For most babies, especially premature babies, breast milk is easier to digest than formula and helps fight against disease. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the cells, hormones, and antibodies in breast milk help protect babies from illness. For mothers, breastfeeding is linked to a lower risk of health problems such as diabetes, breast and ovarian cancers, and postpartum depression. Moreover, breastfeeding mothers miss fewer days from work because their infants are sick less often.

Currently, approximately two dozen states have laws on the books relating to expressing milk in the workplace. Sadly, Pennsylvania does not. The only applicable law on breastfeeding that applies to employers in the Commonwealth is the Affordable Care Act’s amendment to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. This federal law requires employers to provide a private, sanitary space for non-exempt employees to express milk for up to one year after the birth of a child. However, exempt employees include those that are on salary (exempt from federal overtime provisions), often in managerial positions.”

Ensuring access to health care facilities:

This legislation creates a 15-foot buffer zone around health care facilities where picketing, patrolling or demonstrating that blocks patients’ access to the facilities would be banned. H.B. 1891, sponsored by Representative Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery, was introduced into the House with 23 co-sponsors on December 12, 2013 and is currently awaiting review in the House Health Committee.  S.B. 1208, sponsored by Senator Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, was introduced into the Senate with 8 co-sponsors on January 16, 2014 and is currently awaiting review in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee.

Representative Bradford describes his bill this way:

“Safe and unfettered access to health care facilities should be the right of all Pennsylvania women seeking medical counseling and treatment.  Accordingly, I plan to introduce a bill prohibiting a person from interfering with a person’s right to seek medical services by knowingly patrolling, picketing, or demonstrating in a very limited zone extending fifteen feet from a health care facility, or driveway or parking facility.

Please know this legislation is not intended to limit the free speech rights of any individual.  Other states including Colorado and Massachusetts, and some municipalities such as Pittsburgh have instituted “buffer zone laws.”  These laws were not imposed on a whim; they were a response to increasing threats, confrontation and even deadly violence. It is important to note that buffer zones have been credited, in part, with toning down volatile instances and confrontations.”

Senator Farnese, using his own experience as a clinic escort, describes the legislation he has introduced:

“This legislation will provide safe access to essential health care services when patients are seeking family planning and reproductive health services.  Often, patients seeking services at a healthcare facility are verbally and physically harassed and intimidated.  Having had experience as an escort for women into health care facilities, I have seen first-hand the potential for violent confrontations between patients and demonstrators.

This legislation will be carefully crafted to ensure that patients have unimpeded access to medical services while still protecting First Amendment rights to communicate a message.  In order to ensure both parties’ rights and safety are maintained, this legislation will provide clear guidance regarding restricted entry zones around entrances and driveways of medical facilities.

Currently, Pennsylvania has no such statewide buffer zone.  Two municipalities, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, have enacted buffer zone ordinances.  Providing for a content-neutral buffer zone at all medical facilities in Pennsylvania will promote the health and welfare of those who visit those facilities for services while maintaining protection for those individuals who would voice their constitutionally protected speech outside such a facility.”

Increased eligibility for breast and cervical cancer screenings:

This legislation allows women between ages of 30 and 65 to apply and qualify for the state Healthy Woman Program. H.B. 1900, sponsored by Rep. Maria Donatucci, D-Philadelphia/Delaware, was introduced on January 2, 2014 and is awaiting review in the House Human Services Committee.  There is not a companion Senate bill yet.

Representative Donatucci describes the need for greater access to breast and cervical cancer screening:

“The statistics surrounding breast and cervical cancers are truly alarming. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2010, 206,966 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States, and 40,996 women died from the disease.  Except for skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women and is one of the most deadly. While the risk of contracting breast cancer increases with age, large numbers of young women face the reality of this disease every year. With regards to cervical cancer, the disease is often not diagnosed because of missed opportunities for screening, early diagnosis, and treatment. All women are at risk for the disease, but it is most common in women over the age of 30. Each year, about 12,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer.

Act 74 established a program to support breast and cervical cancer screening services to low-income, underinsured, and uninsured women 40 to 49 years of age through DoH’s Healthy Woman Program. Before the implementation of Act 74, the program only had sufficient federal funding to provide these screening services to women ages 50 to 64. Today, the program is funded through a combination of department funds and through a grant DoH receives from CDC. My legislation will increase access to these important health screenings [by lowering the age of initial access to women.  This would] allow women between the ages of 30 and 65 to qualify for the Healthy Woman Program if they meet all other applicable requirements. The statistics show that these types of cancer are not confined to women of a particular age. As such, screening qualifications should be expanded in this state to reflect this reality. The money we spend on screening today saves thousands in treatment costs down the road.”

Co-Sponsorship Memo Being Circulated

Workplace accommodations for pregnant women:

This legislation requires an employer to make reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions unless those accommodations would prove an undue hardship on the employer’s operations. Two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate were announced on December 11, 2013.  H.B. 1892 is sponsored by Representative Mark Painter, D-Montgomery; and S.B. 1209 is sponsored by Senator Matt Smith, D-Allegheny. Both bills are currently being circulated for co-sponsors.

Senator Smith’s co-sponsorship memo summarizes his bill (S.B. 1209) this way:

“Currently, federal law protects women from being fired or otherwise discriminated against due to pregnancy; however it does not require employers to provide pregnant women with certain necessary and temporary accommodations to ensure their health and safety during pregnancy. My legislation would bridge this gap.

Three-quarters of women entering the workforce will be pregnant and employed at the same time during their careers, and my legislation would ensure that they can balance each part of their life in a way that is safe and practical for all parties involved.”

Representative Painter has named his version of this legislation The Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.  His co-sponsorship memo describes HB 1892 this way:

“This year marks the 35th anniversary of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).  The PDA amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit employment discrimination due to childbirth, pregnancy, or similar related medical conditions.

Today, unfortunately, pregnancy discrimination remains a persistent and growing problem.

In the majority of cases, the accommodations women need are minor, such as permission to sit periodically, the ability to carry a water bottle, or help lifting heavy objects.  Those women who continue working without having these medically-advised accommodations risk their health and increase the likelihood of pregnancy complications.

Pregnancy discrimination causes significant and long-term harm to women and their families well beyond pregnancy, to include the loss of health benefits, job seniority, and wages.  These losses also contribute to measurable long-term gender-based pay differences.

The Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would make it unlawful for a covered entity to refuse reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions unless those accommodations would prove an undue hardship on the entity’s operations.”

Other Women’s Healthcare Bills in Pennsylvania that Are Being Discussed but Have Not Yet Been Introduced

As I mentioned in my blog at the end of September when the Women’s Health Agenda Caucus first met, there are a total of at least 24 bills that are/will be part of the “Agenda for Women’s Health.”  At least two of these bills are directly related to Reproductive Justice and Health. They were not part of the original roll-out, but are somewhere in the process of being written and/or circulated for co-sponsorship. I do not know when these bills will be introduced.

  • Inmate Shackling: Strengthen pregnant inmate shackling law (Act 45 of 2010) to cover the entire pregnancy and a reasonable postpartum period for mother-child bonding and to eliminate the tasering of any incarcerated woman known to be pregnant.
  • Medical Professional Conscientious Right to Refuse to Deliver Medically Inaccurate Information: Protect physician-patient relationships from political intrusion.

So on this 41st anniversary of Roe, I will celebrate this day by reiterating a statement I made on December 11, 2013:

“The ideas for change in this package of bills come from real-life stories of women. They include calls to service agencies, cries for help on hot lines, requests for advocacy, and lots of research to back up the anecdotal stories. As advocates, we realize there are other areas of concern, but believe the Women’s Health Caucuses’ agenda items are a great start.”

Thanks to everyone who is working for these two pro-active women’s health agendas. Thanks to the advocates across the country who have taken the momentum to stand up for our lives. And have a great Roe v. Wade Day as we go on the offense for women’s health and lives.

Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health Initial Roll-Out

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

On December 11, the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s Health Agenda Caucuses rolled out the first set of bills that are part of the Pennsylvania Women’s Health Agenda.  The Agenda was spearheaded by Representative Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), Senator Judy Schwank (D-Berks) and Senator Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks and Montgomery). These legislators were assisted by several of their colleagues, including  Representatives Mary Jo Daley (D-Montgomery), Tina Davis (D-Bucks), Maria Donatucci (D-Delaware and Philadelphia), Erin Molchany (D-Allegheny), Mark Painter (D-Montgomery), and Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) made the announcement of the roll-out. They announced that this first set of bills would soon be going to committee.

Video Statements

During the media advisory session, several of the Representatives were videotaped by the Pennsylvania House.  Here are those videos:

Representative Dan Frankel Announcing the Roll-Out of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

Representative Brian Sims and Erin Molchany Introducing the Pay Equity Bill

Representative Sims spoke first:

Then Representative Molchany followed up with additional information:

Representative Tina Davis Introducing Digital Intimate Partner Violence Bill.

This bill would “make revenge acts that include pictures of partners who are naked or involved in sexual acts illegal.”

Representative Mark Painter Introducing Employment Discrimination Protections for Pregnant Women Bill

Representative Mary Jo Daley Introducing Bill to Require Sanitary Conditions in the Workplace for Breastfeeding Women

Representative Maria Donatucci Introducing Bill to Expand Access to Cervical Cancer Screenings

Advocates Support the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

Standing next to the legislators were representatives of many different advocacy groups who stood in support of this agenda.  The Women’s Law Project was the lead organization in working with the legislators to help create this agenda.  Pennsylvania NOW was also there.  None of the organizations present spoke at the press conference but did deliver their Statements of Support to the media.  Here are the statements from these two organizations.

Women’s Law Project

This statement is currently posted on the Women’s Law Project Legislative Action page and is repeated here just in case the URL is moved:

Women’s Law Project Commends Groundbreaking State Legislative Initiative
To Improve Women’s Health

Harrisburg, PA – The Women’s Law Project and its civic engagement action arm, WomenVote PA, commend the Women’s Health Caucus, a bipartisan, bicameral caucus of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, as it unveils the first phase of a comprehensive Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health. Led by Representative Dan Frankel and Senators Judy Schwank and Chuck McIlhinney, the Caucus is taking a proactive, positive approach to helping women by addressing a wide range of legal and policy barriers to women’s health and equality.

Each component of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health arises out of the struggles of real women in Pennsylvania. The first phase of the agenda includes legislation protecting pregnant women in the workplace, filling gaps in protection for nursing mothers at work, ensuring that women’s health centers are safe and accessible, prohibiting wage secrecy, extending health screenings to more women, stopping intimate partner harassment, and ensuring that domestic violence victims are not punished for contacting law enforcement.

“Although we’ve made progress over the years, it’s a well-documented fact that women’s health and well-being are still not a priority in Pennsylvania,” said Carol Tracy, Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project. “This legislation will address real problems that real women have every day, solutions as simple as enabling a pregnant woman to carry a water bottle during her shift and ensuring that women earn the same amount as a man doing the same job. This legislation is the beginning of a full-scale effort by the Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus focused on leveling that playing field for good.”

“This new legislative focus on real women’s real health needs is long overdue,” said Sue Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney with the Women’s Law Project’s Western Pennsylvania office. “For far too long, the Pennsylvania legislature has obsessively focused on restricting women’s access to reproductive health care. That is not what women want or need. We want sensible laws that improve the lives of women, not more roadblocks to women’s health.”

Kate Michelman, renowned feminist and co-chair of WomenVote PA, stated, “Rather than helping women achieve the equality they deserve, the Pennsylvania legislature has spent unprecedented time and energy on creating barriers to contraception and abortion.” She continued, “We can’t afford to continue to be one of the worst states in the nation for women,” citing a recent report assigning Pennsylvania a “C-” grade, and ranking the Commonwealth 28th out of the 50 states in its treatment of women. “The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health has the potential to change that, and it deserves the support of every person in this state.”

For more details on the proposed legislation, please visit our web site in the coming weeks for updates, as well as visiting the WomenVote PA web site.

WomenVote PA is the non-partisan action arm of the Women’s Law Project. For more information go to www.womenvotepa.org

Pennsylvania NOW

This statement was crafted by Caryn Hunt, President-Elect; Susan Woodland, Secretary-Elect and current  At-Large Member of the Executive Committee, and myself.

Pennsylvania NOW Supports the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

HARRISBURG, December 11, 2013—The Pennsylvania state chapter of the National Organization for Women (PA NOW) applauds the work of the House and Senate Women’s Health Caucuses as they roll out a comprehensive plan to address the real issues affecting Pennsylvania women today. Spearheaded by Representative Dan Frankel, Senator Judy Schwank and Senator Chuck McIlhinney in conjunction with the Women’s Law Project, and then developed by a broad coalition of Pennsylvania advocacy organizations that work on behalf of women every day, it is based on years of experience about what women want and need to stay healthy. This Agenda goes a long way to redressing entrenched inequities for women in Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania Republicans, like their counterparts in other state legislatures, have obsessed about women’s reproductive rights and have waged a non-stop campaign to control them from the capital, rolling back not just access to safe, legal abortion, but also the sense that women are full citizens entitled to a government and society that also works for them,” said Pennsylvania NOW President-Elect Caryn Hunt. “This agenda provides an antidote to the shallow, rhetorical policy-making of those in the General Assembly who have led the calls for women’s restrictions and called it concern for women’s health. It’s refreshing to see so many bills introduced that will genuinely help women, and that together provide a much truer portrait of the needs women want their representatives to address.”

These first bills address a variety of concerns for women: pregnancy accommodation is a common sense step to ensure that pregnant women are treated not as liabilities, but as persons with a temporary need for reasonable accommodations in the workplace; the bill to provide at 15-foot buffer zone around entrances to health clinics is a necessity in our state to make sure women seeking reproductive healthcare are able to access it in an orderly and safe manner; bills targeting “pay secrecy” and the “factor other than sex” loophole will help to end practices that for too long have enabled employers to pay women less than men for the same work. Other bills fill gaps in existing protections for nursing mothers, victims of intimate partner harassment and of domestic violence.

“The ideas for change in this package of bills come from real-life stories of women,” added Joanne Tosti-Vasey, President Emerita and Lobbyist for Pennsylvania NOW. “They include calls to service agencies, cries for help on hot lines, requests for advocacy, and lots of research to back up the anecdotal stories. As advocates, we realize there are other areas of concern, but believe the Women’s Health Caucuses’ agenda items are a great start.”

Pennsylvania NOW has high hopes for the Women’s Health Agenda. Finally, the concerns and needs of Pennsylvania are being honestly addressed by their representatives, rather than attacked and abridged.

I will report on more of these bills as they are announced.

ALEC and Preemption in Pennsylvania

Help Stop ALEC

Help Stop ALEC (Graphic courtesy of and permission to use by Keystone Progress)

Two days ago, the Guardian released some papers that were leaked from the August 2013 ALEC – American Legislative Exchange Council.  The initial papers that were leaked shows that ALEC is in financial trouble due to some of the mega-corporations having let their memberships lapse due to concerns over ALEC’s lobbying for “stand-your-ground” or “shoot-to-kill” laws and for suppressing voting rights, environmental protections.  Despite this run with the money, ALEC is continuing to push this right-wing agenda throughout the country and here in Pennsylvania.

ALEC’s Funding, Task Forces, and Agenda

Ninety-eight percent of ALEC’s funds come from corporations, corporate trade groups, and corporate foundations.  The remaining funds come from dues paid by conservative Republican legislators.  These funds are then used by the organization to craft so-called model legislation that the corporations believe will positively affect their bottom line.  This legislation is crafted within one of nine task forces.  According to ALEC-Exposed, “The organization boasts 2,000 legislative members and 300 or more corporate members. The unelected corporate representatives (often registered lobbyists) sit as equals with elected representatives on nine task forces where they have a “voice and a vote” on model legislation.” 

These task forces create state-level one-size fits all model bills that are designed to remove regulations on corporations.  Corporations have veto power over any bill that is crafted.  Legislator members are then indoctrinated at regular meetings of the organization (often paid for by ALEC “scholarships” or by the state travel budget for legislators). These legislators then return home and introduce these bills as their own.  Among the types of bills crafted within the task forces are bills to privatize education, limiting access to the voting booth through voter id laws, union-busting bills, and an anti-green agenda that, for example, penalizes homeowners who install solar energy.  One of ALEC’s newest targets is preempting local communities from adopting and enforcing their own laws on paid and unpaid sick days, a higher minimum wage and other workplace standards.

Pennsylvania Legislative Involvement in ALEC

Preemption and Who in the PA Legislature is a Member of ALEC

In Pennsylvania, there are currently 39 Republican state Representatives who are members of ALEC.  One of them is Representative Seth Grove (R-York).  He is a member of ALEC’s Telecommunications and Information Technology Task Force, one of the committees that focuses on limiting local control through preemption bills.  Using ALEC and his membership, Representative Grove introduced a new preemption bill – HB 1807 – that preempts or prohibits county and municipal governments from adopting and enforcing their own laws on paid and unpaid sick days.  The bill specifically prohibits any local control over paid or unpaid leave of any type; it states:

A political subdivision in this Commonwealth may not enact or administer a mandate requiring an employer to provide an employee or class of employees with vacation or other forms of leave from employment, paid or unpaid, that is not required by Federal or State law, and may not require an employer to compensate an employee for any vacation or other forms of leave for which Federal or State law does not require the employee to be compensated.

The other co-sponsors include Representatives R. Lee James (R-Butler & Venango), Ryan P. Aument (R-Lancaster), Tina Pickett (R-Bradford, Sullivan, & Susquehanna), Garth Everett (R-Lycoming), Mindy Fee (R-Lancaster), RoseMarie Swanger (R-Lebanon), Stephen Barrar (R-Chester & Delaware), Ron Miller (R-York), Susan Helm (R-Dauphin), Will Tallman (R-Adams & York), Kurt Masser (R-Columbia, Montour, and Northumberland), Marguerite Quinn (R-Bucks), Duane Milne (R-Chester), Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland), Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin) and Gordon Denlinger (R-Lancaster).  Five—Barrer, Helm, Marsico, Pickett, and  Ron Miller—of  these sixteen co-sponsors are also members of ALEC.

Status of this Preemption Bill

The bill was introduced into the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and referred to the House Labor and Industry Committee on October 23, 2013 on which Representatives Grove and Aument  sit.    It immediately became one of the fastest moving bills in the legislature. On November 18, this committee amended the bill to grandfather local communities that have already passed a preemption ordinance prior to January 1, 2014 and then passed the bill out of committee along party lines (15-9).  It immediately came up and passed under first consideration and is now set for second consideration where amendments may be offered.

As of today, the House has announced that they are at least temporarily tabling the bill.  Supporters however are saying that they will pass the bill out of the house by the end of the year.    So we need to keep up the pressure and tell our legislators to vote NO on HB 1807.  The following are some talking points you can use when writing or calling your Representative.

Talking Points

The following talking points were created by a coalition of organizations in Pennsylvania concerned about this preemption bill.

  • Across the country, grassroots efforts to enact paid sick days, higher minimum wages and other common sense workplace reforms are gaining momentum. These policies improve the lives of working men and women, their families, communities and local economies.
  •  To stop this progress, corporate lobbyists and the state legislators they control have quietly begun to enact dangerous and undemocratic “preemption” laws.
  •  Preemption” laws passed at the state level prohibit cities and counties within that state from adopting their own laws on paid sick days, a higher minimum wage and other workplace standards.
  •  Laws that preempt local decision-making strip cities and counties of their right to adopt policies that will benefit their communities, in violation of core conservative and democratic principles.
  •  Preemption has been a nationally coordinated, go-to strategy of special interest lobbyists for years, used to undermine and eviscerate smoking bans, nutrition labeling laws and other food safety measures, and gun violence prevention measures. Now this strategy is being used by the National Restaurant Association and the corporate group ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, to target modern economic policies that help working people and their families.
  •  ALEC is the industry-backed organization responsible for “stand-your-ground” or “shoot-to-kill” laws and for suppressing voting rights, environmental protections and more. It is comprised of both lobbyists for multi-million dollar corporations and legislators who are aligned with and take contributions from those corporations.
  •  Preemption is yet another way that ALEC is attempting to “steal” democracy from voters. In addition to trying to control who gets to vote, ALEC also wants to control what citizens can vote on.
  •  Instead of fighting grassroots paid sick days and minimum wage efforts city by city, corporate lobbyists are working with their legislator allies in the state capitals, where they have more influence, to keep local governments from doing what’s best for their people and communities. In fact, they’re pushing paid sick days preemption law in states that don’t even have any municipal efforts to pass the measure – just to head off grassroots momentum before it starts.
  •  Nine states have already passed paid sick days preemption laws – Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia and Wisconsin. And the opposition is getting more aggressive: Six of these nine laws were passed in 2013. A tenth state – North Carolina – has passed a narrower preemption bill that affects state contractors. Bills are pending in at least six other states – with more expected in 2014. It’s obvious that they’re being coordinated on a national level.
  •  Local innovation is the lifeblood of progress. Preemption efforts, driven by special interests, should not stand in the way of local innovation or self-rule, which historically has paved the way for meaningful statewide and then federal action on minimum wage, family leave and other issues. Bills like this represent an ominous attempt to remove power from locally elected officials and make the voters mere bystanders in the democratic processes that define the character of their communities.
  •  Strong statewide earned sick days and minimum wage standards are preferable, but in the absence of statewide policies, localities must have the freedom to do what’s best for their people and communities. Millions of workers without paid sick days are too often forced into going to work sick, sending sick kids to school, putting off needed health care, or losing pay and even their jobs if they stay home. Local lawmakers are increasingly recognizing that paid sick days policies are both an economic and a public health imperative, and are learning from the positive experiences with paid sick days standards in San Francisco, Seattle and Connecticut.
  •  Even if preemption bills seem to have a narrow focus, passage of this type of legislation could result in preemption of a wide range of local ordinances, whether passed through voter referendum or by city councils, in municipalities throughout the state. These include efforts to expand protections for those who have experienced domestic violence, laws prohibiting wage theft, consumer protection initiatives, and many more. Corporate lobbyists don’t want any regulations standing in the way of their profits.

What You Can Do to Stop This Bill

We need to have members of the House of Representatives called to tell them to vote NO on this bill.  Keystone Progress has set up a call-in page for us to use. Let’s start getting calls in to legislators right now! Once you make your call, please forward this email to your constituents, members, friends, family – anyone who can make a call. Here’s the contact call page:

You can also tweet about this – here are a few Sample Tweets:

  • PA’s House Labor Cmmte just passed a bill taking local control from YOUR local officials. Tell them what you think: http://bit.ly/1aNdZLe
  • Stop corporate vetoes on our local laws: call your legislators now! http://bit.ly/1aNdZLe #paidsickdays
  • ALEC attempting to preempt local control of paid and unpaid sick leave in PA. Tell #PALegis what you think: http://bit.ly/1aNdZLe
  • ALEC attempting to preempt local control of paid and unpaid sick leave in PA. Tell @PAGOP what you think: http://bit.ly/1aNdZLe
  • #Preemption is another way that ALEC is attempting to “steal” democracy from voters. Tell @PAGOP what you think: http://bit.ly/1aNdZLe
  • #Preemption is another way that ALEC is attempting to “steal” democracy from voters. Tell #PALegis what you think: http://bit.ly/1aNdZLe
  • #Preemption bill threatens local efforts to assist Domestic Violence survivors. Call your legislators now! http://bit.ly/1aNdZLe

You can also let your friends, family, and neighbors know about this corporate threat to local control by talking, emailing, using social media, and/or forwarding this blog on to them. There are several links at the bottom of this blog: choose what works for you.

And thanks!

Pennsylvania’s Proposed Women’s Health Agenda

Kate Michelman

Kate Michelman discussing strategy with women’s health care advocates and members of the General Assembly Health Care Agenda Caucus.

Yesterday (Monday, September 30, 2013), I attended a two-hour meeting with Pennsylvania’s House and Senate members of the joint Women’s Health Agenda Caucus led by Representative Dan Frankel of Pittsburgh. Some of the advocacy groups attending the meeting included the Women’s Law Project (WLP), Women Vote PA, and members of the Pennsylvanians for Choice coalition including Pennsylvania NOW whom I represented.

For a very long time Pennsylvania has focused on restricting women’s access to abortion services – currently accounting for over 1270 pages of legislation and regulations in the state.  This wrong-headed approach to health assumes that women’s sole need is to protect them from safe, legal access to decent abortion care services.  In other words, the state has wrong-headedly been crafting laws and regulations to deny access to abortion, sending more and more women to the back alleys similar to the Gosnell clinic and ignoring the broader issues of women’s health equity.

Women’s concerns about their health are broadly based in bias based on gender. Terry L. Fromson, Amal Bass, Carol E. Tracy, Susan Frietsche of the Women’s Law Project  created a report entitled Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women in 2012.  The WLP is Pennsylvania’s feminist legal organization that engages in litigation, advocacy, and education to ensure women’s equality and treatment in Pennsylvania. This report set the context for yesterday’s meeting.  The WLP framed the health care agenda as follows in this report and in the meeting this morning:

The legal and social status of American women has changed dramatically in the last fifty years. Half a century ago, it was legal to segregate jobs by sex, to refuse to hire or promote on the basis of a person’s sex, to fire women who became pregnant, and to limit the number of women admitted to professional schools such as law and medicine. Sexual and domestic violence were hidden from public view and public policy. Abortion was illegal and the birth control pill was not yet on the market. Today, women have taken their place in the working world and educational opportunities for women have expanded exponentially. Sexual and domestic violence are recognized as crimes and some resources are available to its victims. Abortion is legal and birth control is available.

Despite these advances, deeply embedded cultural biases and stereotypes about women’s place in society continue to impede women’s equal participation in society. In our homes and communities women are subjected to violence, poverty, and the burden of care taking responsibilities. In the workplace, women are paid less than men for the same work, remain concentrated in stereotypically female low-paying occupations, are subjected to sexual harassment and discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and care giving, and are denied advancement to managerial and higher paying positions. In school, young women are denied their fair share of sports opportunities and are sexually harassed and violated. Women are denied essential reproductive health care and subjected to discrimination in access to insurance coverage. Women pay more than men for the same coverage, and pregnancy is a preexisting condition that often denies pregnant women access to insurance coverage and therefore maternity care.  Access to abortion has been limited by burdensome legislative requirements, and providers and patients have been terrorized by an increasingly violent opposition. Attacks on access to contraceptive services have grown.

While many laws have been adopted to eliminate sex discrimination at work and at school, gaps persist that must be filled and enforcement needs to be strengthened. This is particularly true in Pennsylvania. While some Pennsylvania cities have outlawed employment discrimination on the basis of care-giving responsibilities and provide other accommodations for women who work, the Pennsylvania legislature has failed to adopt a statewide prohibition on discrimination on the basis of caregiver status or to provide family leave for caregivers. In Pennsylvania, the law permits insurers to price the cost of health insurance higher for women than for men, resulting in women paying more for individual health insurance policies and small employers paying more for health insurance for a predominantly female workforce. Pennsylvania’s sexual assault laws have for the most part eliminated discriminatory provisions, but the myths and stereotypes that continue to infect the criminal justice system hinder the investigation and prosecution of these crimes. The health care perspective on domestic violence and sexual assault is far too limited. Sexual assault is treated as a health care matter primarily in the immediate aftermath of a rape, even though the physical and emotional health consequences can be long lasting. Although a number of health care providers recognize that domestic violence is also a health issue, screening for domestic violence in health care settings is not universal. Poverty, which disproportionately impacts women, exacerbates the impact of sex bias in all of these realms….

Pennsylvania, with 6.5 million women, has consistently been found deficient in national studies on women’s health care measures. In their 2010 health report card, the National Women’s Law Center and Oregon Health & Science University placed Pennsylvania 32 among the 50 states and graded it unsatisfactory with respect to the status of women’s health….

To alleviate women’s health problems, it is necessary to eliminate adverse experiences — discrimination and bias — early in life and throughout life — and to improve access to health care, with an emphasis on care essential to women (pp. x-xii).

Representative Frankel heard this call to refocus the legislature from attacking women’s reproductive health to focusing — just like New York state’s “10 Point Plan for Women’s Equality” — on redirecting legislation in the General Assembly towards a women’s health equity agenda. So yesterday, almost 20 legislators from both houses attended a meeting with advocates seeking to improve women’s lives and health through a broad review and revision of Pennsylvania law.  The agenda covers reproductive health, women’s economic security, and women’s safety.

The ideas for change come from real-life stories of women in the state.  Calls to service agencies. Cries for help on hot lines. Requests for advocacy. And of course lots of research to back up the anecdotal stories.  The 24 suggested changes to Pennsylvania law that were presented are in areas where either no legislation has been introduced or where legislation to improve the bias are lagging or need to be revisited.  We, as advocates, understand that there are other areas of concern, but believe these health care agenda items are a good start.

Some of these ideas are conceptual at this point. Some have some preliminary model wording for new legislation, and some are already in the works.  Here’s the agenda:

Protect and Expand Women’s Reproductive Health Rights

  1. Pregnancy Accommodations:  Require employers to provide accommodations to pregnant employees with temporary pregnancy-related conditions to allow workers to remain employed throughout their pregnancies while imposing minimal burdens on employers.
  2. Support for Breastfeeding Mothers in the Workplace: Require all employers to provide compensated break time and a private, sanitary (not a bathroom) for all employees who need to express milk.
  3. Buffer Zones:  Enact a statewide reproductive health care clinic buffer zone statute to protect safe access to essential health care.
  4. Inmate Shackling: Strengthen pregnant inmate shackling law (Act 45 of 2010) to cover the entire pregnancy and a reasonable post-partum period for mother-child bonding and to eliminate the tasering of any woman known to be pregnant.
  5. Medical Professional Conscientious Right to Refuse to Deliver Medically Inaccurate Information: Protect physician-patient relationships from political intrusion.

    Improve Women’s Economic Security

  6. TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) Grant Amount: Increase TANF cash assistance grant levels.
  7. TANF Asset Limit: Increase the TANF eligibility asset limit to encourage saving and financial independence.
  8. Earned Income Disregard: Increase the earned income disregard and apply it to applicants as well as recipients.  FYI, the earned income disregard allows very-low income workers to continue receiving TANF, food stamps, and Medicaid if they make 50% or less of the poverty level.  This proposed legislation would raise this “disregard” level to 75% and would apply to applicants as well as recipients.
  9. Childcare Works Waiting List: Eliminate the childcare works waiting list.
  10. TANF Pre-Application Job Search: Eliminate or modify the TANF pre-application job search requirements.
  11. Minimum Wage: Increase Pennsylvania’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00/hour.
  12. Gender Wage Gap: Strengthen Pennsylvania law to eliminate the 24% gender wage gap by prohibiting retaliation against employees for discussing wages (“pay secrecy”) and closing the “factor other than sex” defense to apply only to bona fide business-related factors.
  13. Family Responsibilities Employment Discrimination: Prohibit family responsibilities discrimination in employment by amending the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act to prohibit family status discrimination in employment pursuant to an expanded definition of familial status to encompass the true scope of familial responsibilities shouldered by employees.
  14. Paid Family and Sick Leave: Require all employers to provide employees with paid family and sick leave
  15. Spousal Pension Benefits: Require spousal consent when a retiring state employee chooses how his or her pension benefits should be paid consistent with federal law protecting each spouse from his or her spouse’s selection of a pension benefit in all privately-sponsored pension plans and laws adopted by other states.
  16. Domestic Worker Protection: Amend Pennsylvania anti-discrimination laws to provide domestic workers protection from employment discrimination
  17. Sexual Harassment: Extend the prohibition on sexual harassment in employment to all employers, even small employers.

    Protect Women’s Personal Safety

  18. Paid Leave for Domestic Violence, Sexual Violence, and Stalking Victims: Require employers to provide paid leave to obtain assistance for and pursue legal protection against domestic and sexual violence and stalking.
  19. Housing Discrimination: Prohibit private and public housing discrimination against domestic violence victims.
  20. Civil Orders of Protection for Sexual Violence and Stalking Victims: Authorize courts to issue civil orders of protection for sex crime and stalking victims.
  21. Absolute Privilege for Student Victims: Protect victims/witnesses of sexual assault who testify in school grievance proceedings from being sued by their harassers.
  22. Human Trafficking: Strengthen Pennsylvania’s criminal statute on human trafficking.
  23. Veterans’ Real Estate Tax Exemption: Amend Pennsylvania law to provide veterans real estate tax exemption for veterans suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) due to sexual victimization during service and appoint women representatives to the House and Senate Committees on Veteran Affairs and to the Pennsylvania State Veterans Commission.
  24. Voting Reform: Reform voting rules to provide online registration, same day in person registration, early voting, including early in person voting on weekends.

These ideas will be discussed in continuing meetings between members of the General Assembly’s Health Care Agenda Caucus and advocates for women’s equality.  I’ll post more on these issues as this legislative program becomes better defined.

Let’s Strengthen, Not Weaken Social Security

Social Security.  It’s been around for 78 years.  It’s a benefit that everyone (and their family members) who has worked in the United States is eligible to receive. You pay into the system when you are working and then when you retire or become disabled, you, your spouse, and your dependent children receive monthly benefits based on you earned income history.  Currently almost 58 million Americans receive $816 billion annually in Social Security benefits.  Most (70%) are retirees and their family members.  The rest are either disabled (19%) or are survivors (11%) of a deceased spouse or parent who would have otherwise qualified for Social Security.  We all like, expect, and will, if not already, depend upon Social Security to sustain our financial well-being and independence.

Dwight D. Eisenhower Supported Social Security

Yet it is under attack.  And has been for almost a decade.  Until 2005, both political parties fully supported Social Security.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower in a letter to his brother Edgar on November 8, 1954 said:

Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

This was right after he responded to a letter to a constituent shortly after signing a bill into law expanding Social Security.  In that letter dated September 30, 1954, President Eisenhower said:

The actual fact is that by and large the productivity of a national economy must [emphasis added], at any given time, support the people then living in the nation. This means that, roughly, the people from twenty to sixty bear the burden of supporting themselves, and in addition, support those from birth to twenty years of age, and those from sixty to eighty.

The Three-Legged Stool

At that point in our history, both sides of the aisle fully supported the idea of Social Security as the third leg of the financial stool (the other two legs being pensions and savings).

Over the years fewer and fewer people have had employment that contained a defined benefit pension.  And fewer people have retirement savings. People need all three legs.  With the other two legs being cut or chipped away at, Social Security remains potentially their only source of income should they retire or become disabled.

The Bush Administration Starts the Attacks on Social Security

The attacks on Social Security really started hard and heavy in 2005 when then President George W. Bush called for the privatization of Social Security and a redesign of Medicare that created the so-called “doughnut hole.”  I first started working on this issue that year, organizing a protest rally on the Penn State University-University Park Campus when Bush came to town to try to tell the Future Farmers of America that Social Security was a lost cause.

Over 500 people were at that protest.  Holding up signs like:

 

 2005 Rally at Penn State University Protesting the Privatization of Social Security

Bush is Wrong! Ike was Right! Hands Off My Social Security: 2005 Rally at Penn State University Protesting the Privatization of Social Security

  • Hands Off My Social Security
  • Bush is WRONG!
  • Ike was RIGHT!
Sign at Protest that says: "No! No! No Social Security Privatization Fiddle"

2005 Rally at Penn State University Protesting the Privatization of Social Security

  •  No! No! No Social Security Privatization Fiddle and

 

Banner at 2005 PSU Protest saying: "Social Security: Don't Gamble with Our Future"

Don’t Gamble with Our Future: 2005 Rally at Penn State University Protesting the Privatization of Social Security

  • Social Security: Don’t Gamble with OUR Future (referring to privatizing and placing Social Security payments in the volatile stock market).

Organizations and individuals fought back and Social Security was not privatized but Medicare was compromised when the prescription drug benefits (Part D) were written into law in 2006. This hole forces individuals on Medicare in 2013 to pay 100% of their drug costs once  you reach their Medicare Part D plan’s initial coverage limit of $2,970 and ends when you spend a total of $4,750.

This was the opening gambit to destroy Social Security. These attacks are continuing to this day.  Now it is the Tea Party Republicans who are doing the attacking.  And if they succeed, women and people of color in particular will pay the penalty.

The Seven Principals to Strengthen Social Security

Rather than decimate our safety net that we all paid for and for which we are due, we should be strengthening rather than weakening Social Security. According to StrengthenSocialSecurity.org – a coalition of over 300 national and state organizations representing over 50 million Americans, there are seven principles to fully support and strengthen our Social Security system:

  1. Social Security did not cause the federal deficit; its benefits should not be cut to reduce the deficit.  And anyone who tells you Social Security is going broke is either misinformed or deliberately trying to mislead. The Social Security Trust Fund is viable through 2033.
  2. Social Security should not be privatized in whole or in part.  Unlike Wall St. and the stock market, Social Security is a reliable, risk free source of income. These benefits are guaranteed every month and are adjusted to the rise in the cost of living.
  3. Social Security should not be means-tested.
  4. Congress should act in the coming few years to close Social Security’s funding gap by requiring those who are most able to afford it to pay somewhat more. This means that the cap on payment into Social Security should be lifted for higher income individuals.
  5. Social Security’s retirement age, already scheduled to increase from 65 to 67, should not be raised further. Increasing the retirement age disproportionately affects low-income women. The life expectancy for low-income women has decreased over the last 25 years and they are more likely to have jobs that compromise their health. Increasing the retirement age would amount to a 15% benefit cut for low-income women workers.
  6. Social Security’s benefits should not be reduced, including [benefit-reducing] changes to the COLA or the benefit formula. Republican leaders want to impose a less accurate COLA formula – the chained-CPI. The current COLA (Cost of Living Alliance) formula is based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) which estimates the price of stuff we need (like food) changes over time.  The chained-CPI assumes that when the prices of something goes up, people will automatically replace it for something cheaper (e.g., beef would be substituted with chicken and maybe even eventually with dog food); therefore the COLA can be calculated at a lower rising level.  That con only work for the short-term since in some cases (e.g., health care) there are no substitutes and for others (e.g., the food example), people either can’t or won’t go that far without compromising their lives. Over a 30-year retirement, that means that a person would be losing a full month’s worth of Social Security every year. For senior women who often don’t have extra savings or a pension, the gap between their regular expenses and what would be covered over time under a chained-CPI would be disastrous.
  7. Social Security’s benefits should be increased for those who are most disadvantaged. This would include low-income workers, LGBTQ families in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriages, college students whose working parent has died, and people who have to drop out of the workforce to provide caregiving to their family members.

Increasing the Benefits for the Most Disadvantaged

I’d like to look at this last principle in more depth by focusing on women and Social Security because women make up the combined majority of people in these four groups.  So, why should benefits for these four groups be increased?

Low Income Workers

Low Income workers are disproportionately made up of women and people of color. Living hand to mouth, this group of working-age people have little ability to build up any retirement savings.  So one leg of the stool is cut very short.  And unlike high-income workers who worked at a company with full benefits, they are less likely to have any retirement pension at all.  The second leg is also cut very short. As a result, nearly 80% of a low-income worker’s retirement income is made up entirely of Social Security benefits.  And because of the cutbacks in Medicare with the aforementioned doughnut hole, this group of retired people – mostly women who live longer – are further squeezed.  This group of retirees, rather than having their livelihood threatened by a chained-CPI reduction should, instead have and enhanced benefit by creating a Special Minimum amount of Social Security benefits for lifetime low-income earners.

In 2012, the National Organization for Women Foundation, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research released a report called “Breaking the Social Security Glass Ceiling: A Proposal on How to Modernize Women’s Benefits.”  This report presents a proposal to enhance this baseline level of Social Security benefits for low-income workers. They suggest improving the Special Minimum Benefit by:

  • Increasing the benefit to equal 150 percent of the aged poverty level for workers with 30 years of credit;
  • Reducing the wages required to receive a year of credit toward the minimum benefit to the amount required for four Social Security credits;
  • Indexing future increases in the minimum benefit to growth in wages rather than the CPI;
  • Providing up to ten family service years of credit toward the computation of the benefit; and
  • Increasing the Supplemental Security Income (aka SSI) general income exclusion to $100 and adjust it in future years for inflation.

LGBTQ Families

In June, the US Supreme Court, in a case known as United States v. Windsor, overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act. They declared that committed same-sex couples who have had their relationships legally recognized as marriage must receive all of the federal benefits, including Social Security, associated with legally-recognized marriages.

Same-sex couples, who live in states that don’t recognize their marriages, however are currently out of luck.  In the 37 states without marriage equality, same-sex couples and their families are considered legal strangers. A same-sex household with one wage earner forfeits $675 monthly, the equivalent of two months’ worth of groceries for two people.

The Glass Ceiling report makes the following proposal to address continuing discrimination in these 37 states that don’t recognize same-sex marriages:

  • Amend the Social Security Act to define “wife,” and “husband” so that they no longer rely on gender-specific pronouns;
  • Provide eligibility to spousal benefits to individuals who are members of same-sex marriages, domestic partnerships, civil unions, or any other such relationship as the states, by law, may prescribe;
  • Extend to the children of these relationships, benefits under the same terms and conditions as children of heterosexual couples; and
  • Directly address the issue of disparate state-based DOMA laws by declaring that all federal family eligibility determinations under Social Security be exempted from the provisions of state-based Defense of Marriage Acts.

College Students and their Parents

Up until 1981, students attending college whose working parent had died, become disabled, or retired were eligible for Social Security benefits under their parent’s Social Security until they reached the age of 22.  That year, all post-secondary benefits were eliminated.  Most of the recipients of this benefit were disproportionately children of parents in blue-collar jobs, African-Americans, and those with lower incomes than other college students.  As a result of this change in the law, single parents—again most often women—would often defer saving funds for their own retirement in order to assist their kids through college. This decision results either in a a lower level of retirement funds for his/her parent(s) and/or a reduced likelihood of the student attending college if the parent and child are unable to fund the student’s post-secondary education.

The Glass Ceiling report makes the following proposal to address this issue:

  • Reinstate benefits for children of disabled or deceased workers until age 22 when the child is attending a college or vocational school on a full-time basis.

Caregivers

In addition to the disparity in pay between men and women, one of the main reasons women’s Social Security benefits are lower on average than that of men is that they are more likely to take time off from work to care for children or elderly and sick adult family members (spouses, parents, in-laws, and other family members).  The Social Security Administration uses a calculation known as the “average Indexed Monthly earnings primary insurance amount” (aIMe PIa) to calculate the benefit levels of all beneficiaries. Because of the way that the Social Security Administration calculates the benefit level, any temporary interruption in one’s income can significantly reduce how much Social Security a person can receive.

This affects single women as well as married women since both can and do have children and do have other family members that may need some care. Currently the only way to compensate for this care-giving duty is to provide the caregiver a spousal add-on benefit. This unfair treatment of caregivers in the Social Security formula needs to be changed so that we can continue to care for our family members without jeopardizing the financial security of the caregiver.  The Glass Ceiling report also addresses this issue by recommending a change in the way the aIMe PIa is calculated:

  • Compute the AIME PIA by imputing an annual wage for each family service year so that total earnings for the year would equal 50 percent of that year’s average annual wage index. Family service years would be those in which an individual provides care to children under the age of six or to elderly or disabled family members. Up to five family service years could be granted to any worker.

These Improvements are Affordable: With Some Changes

We can pay for these improvements, and simultaneously ensure the solvency of our Social Security system for 75 years or more. Changes to how Social Security could be funded are well-known. We just need to do it!  The funds for these changes are available IF we:

  • Remove the cap on wages subject to the Social Security payroll tax.  Rather than capping employee, employers, and the self-employed person’s payroll taxes on the first  $113,700 of income, the law should be changed to entirely remove this cap and require millionaires and billionaires to pay the same rate as the rest of us.  This one change would provide most of the needed resources.  According to Virginia Reno and Joni Lavery of the National Academy of Social Insurance, this option [by itself] would eliminate much of Social Security’s current actuarial deficit by producing revenue equal to about 2.17 percent of taxable payroll.”
  • Slowly increase the Social Security contribution rate by 1/20 of one percent over the next 20 years.  This option, according to Reno and Lavery “would provide revenue equal to 1.34 percent of taxable payroll.”
  • Treat all salary deductions like 401(K) plans.  Currently we pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on any retirement plan, such as a 401(K), a 403(b), or a 527 plan.  We do not pay these taxes on that portion of our salary we put aside to pay for any flexible spending account, such as a medical savings account.  If we were to  treat and tax flexible spending accounts just like our retirement plans, Reno and Lavery report that we would provide an about  an additional 0.48 percent of taxable payroll.

These three changes amount to 3.99% of payroll taxes and would fully close the current actuarial deficit (2.67 percent of payroll) according to Reno and Lavery.  The additional 1.32% would fund the proposals to strengthen Social Security as recommended in the Glass Ceiling report without hurting women, people of color, LGBTQ people, caregivers, college student, and low-income families.

The funds are there.  Let’s make it happen. Let’s strengthen, not weaken Social Security for everyone.

 

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.