Rural America Deserves A Better Deal Than The One We Have Now

Refilling the Swamp wasn’t the deal many of us in Rural America signed up for last November. The shady back room deals, the fat cat financial people lining their pockets with taxpayer treasure, the government cuddling up with leaders of countries that suck up American jobs, and running the family business out of the White House wasn’t what we agreed to, but that’s clearly the lousy deal we’re stuck with right now.
First off, we don’t speak Russian in Rural America, so let’s say this plainly so those slick big city folks back at the White House can understand us: America has always been great and it always will be. Rural Americans want something better than mounting broken promises to keep America great.
So now that we’ve seen what the bum deal the ruling party in Washington is trying to sucker Rural America into accepting, let’s think about A Better Deal and then shape it into something that works in our towns, counties and states — and most of all, something that works at our kitchen tables, where our biggest policy decisions are made each day. One size doesn’t fit all is something you learn the deeper you get into the heart of America, but a few sound baseline ideas can make all the difference when you’re trying to make a good life for you and your family.
One thing we know for sure, we’ve seen a lot of jobs created in this country since the turn-around began from the The Great Recession of 2008. The problem is, too many of these jobs aren’t paying enough of us a fair wage for a hard days work.  When you factor in inflation, wage growth is basically zero right now. So we need A Better Deal  than the one we’ve got that will mean investing in a real public infrastructure repair plan and creating incentives for Rural Innovation and small business expansion. We won’t see growth in “Made in America” products or “Harvested in America” produce, meats and fish until Washington really cracks down on unfair foreign trade and makes it more expensive for corporations from shipping American jobs overseas. It sure isn’t doing that under the current government.
The next thing Rural America sure could use is A Better Deal when it comes to the cost of raising our family and providing the security we need for a good future. The costs are just too damn high, whether its our prescription drugs, providing our family with a valuable education, or childcare that allows parents to go to work knowing their kids are safe and being looked after. Washington needs to ensure there is more competition in Rural America so we have choices in how we light and heat our homes and businesses, and can pick more affordable telephone, Internet and cable services, too. Busting up the monopolies that limit choices in Rural America would send a solid signal that Small Town America isn’t going to have to play second fiddle to Wall Street anymore.
Finally, investing wisely in the tools and resources Rural America needs in the 21st Century is A Better Deal all around. We need new tax incentives for businesses that invest in workforce training and education, rewarding those that commit to long-term growth. It’s time for programs to invest in apprenticeships for new workers in all kinds of businesses that can move to Rural America, where the streets are safe, the air and water are clean and in many cases a handshake is still a contract that doesn’t need a high-priced lawyer to make it work.  Innovation, smart start-ups and creative small business need Washington to provide tax credits, grants and low-interest loans to compete and prosper. For starters, Rural Connectivity sure needs to be upgraded to compete with urban and suburban America. We can create a lot of jobs, directly and indirectly, by erecting the towers and stringing up or burying the fiber optic cable needed to bring broadband and high speed internet to the estimated 40% of Rural America that is without reliable connectivity right now.
There are others ways to ensure Rural Americans are protected from the greed and short-term, profit-driven world that surrounds The Heartland, like not only preserving Social Security, but increasing its benefits, too. Along those lines, since every Trumpcare plan that the GOP has concocted in the House or Senate sticks it to Americans between the ages of 50 and 65, isn’t it time to start talking about lowering the age that Americans become eligible for Medicare? Expanding Medicaid to include family farmers and working Americans struggling to make ends meet makes a lot of sense, too. It sure has helped a lot of Rural Americans to see Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. It’s opened up a lot of eyes to the fact that Medicare and Medicaid are single-payer systems that work better than most private insurance policies, allowing more Americans to have access to the best healthcare providers in the world. Doctors like those programs too, because they mean less paperwork and red tape than dealing with the haggling, slow-to-pay insurance companies.
Yes indeed, it is time for A Better Deal.

Health insurance is a big worry for farmers

A new study funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that lack of access to affordable health care is one of the biggest problems facing American farmers, affecting their risk management, productivity, health, retirement, the need for a secondary source of income, and land access for new farmers.

“The rising cost of healthcare and the availability of affordable health insurance have joined more traditional risk factors like access to capital, credit and land as a major source of worry for farmers,” principal investigator Shoshana Inwood of the University of Vermont said in a press release. She conducted the study with researchers from the Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis, part of the research organization Norc at the University of Chicago.

The researchers interviewed farmers in 10 states, and sent 1,062 of them a mail survey in March 2017. In the interviews, many farmers said they knew someone who had lost a farm because of an uninsured illness or injury. Nearly three-quarters of the survey respondents said affordable health care was important to reducing their business risk, and half said they are not confident they could pay for a major illness without going into debt. “With an average age of 58, farmers and ranchers are also vulnerable to higher insurance premiums due to age-rating bands,” the release said.

Farmers are also likely to have pre-existing conditions (64 percent in the survey), so many of them took off-farm jobs in order to qualify for group insurance policies, which must cover such conditions. With passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, “A number of farmers in their 50s we spoke with said they had left off-farm employment in the last five years to commit to full-time farming because they and their families would not be denied health insurance in the individual market due to pre-existing conditions,” said Alana Knudson, co-director of the NORC Walsh Center.

Most states’ expansion of Medicaid under the ACA was a boon to younger farmers, who said it allowed them to get health care for their children without having to take an off-farm job. There’s another possible factor for young farmers: Almost half the farmers surveyed said they’re worried they’ll have to sell some or all of their farm if they need to pay for long-term medical expenses such as nursing-home care, and selling off land to the highest bidder could make it less likely that land is sold to young farmers who lack capital, said Inwood.

Farmers are looking to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to represent their concerns in national health-policy discussions, said Inwood. “We have a shrinking and aging farm population,” she said. “The next Farm Bill is an opportunity to start thinking about how health insurance affects the trajectory of farms in the United States.” The bill is up for renewal next year.

Reprinted with permission from The Rural Blog.  Published on June 21, 2017. Article written by Heather Chapman. Al Cross,  former Courier-Journal political writer, is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and The Rural Blog.

Rural States Lead in Opposing Administration’s Bid to Get Our Private Data and Voting Records Amid Fears It Could End Up in Wrong Hands

It’s completely understandable that Rural States have taken the lead in opposing the Trump administration’s inquisition to try to prove widespread voter fraud exists in America. The whole effort reeks of politics, like a dark quixotic quest to prove an absurd accusation of widespread election chicanery, or a poorly disguised attempt to wage a wholesale voter suppression campaign.

More so than politics, however, protecting their privacy is one thing Rural Americans hold dearly, and the potential for that information to be abused and misused is a legitimate fear all across the country.

It’s well known government databases are not the most secure chambers in cyberspace, having been hacked before. The idea of their private data in the hands of the government scares the heck out of Americans, especially with the Russians and other unsavory identity thieves lurking in the dark reaches of the Internet.

So far at least 45 states have refused to hand over to the panel sensitive information, especially names combined with Social Security numbers. None, however, has mocked the request for information as colorfully as Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, who told Trump’s voter fraud commission to “go jump in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the latter notorious for his heavy-handed voter suppression tactics in his home state, head the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. Kobach has even been fined in a lawsuit charging he violated the National Voter Registration Act, but in perhaps the most baffling revelation in the process, he refused to comply with his own directive to hand over some of the information he requested for the commission.

According to the commission’s letter, the panel astonishingly is seeking “full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.”

The suspect effort on the part of the Trump administration may have already been rendered null and void, between the nearly unanimous opposition to the commission’s demand for private voter information by the states, and a wave of anticipated lawsuits, some of which have already been filed. There is a pretty sound case that’s being made that the Voter fraud commission violated the law, so hopefully the witch hunt ends before some innocent American gets burned.

A Rural Voters Bill of Rights and Responsibility

A Rural Voters Bill of Rights and Responsibility

On this, Independence Day 2017, we hereby declare these rights and responsibilities for public consumption, comment and dissemination:

The Constitution

We respect and abide by the rules, liberties and protections granted in the U.S. Constitution of the United States in its entirety. We reject any attempt at cherry-picking or omitting clauses and passages to suppress the rights and freedoms bestowed upon Americans by the Founders.

Live and Let Live

We respect our right to choose how we live and we respect the rights of others to choose how they live, all within the rule of law and under the protections granted by the Constitution of the United States. We do not seek to impose our lifestyle on others and we expect the same in return.

Local Jurisdiction

We believe in regional and local control of decisions regarding the application of these rights, within the rule of law, and afforded under the protections granted by the Constitution of the United States.

Privacy

We believe in our right to privacy and the quiet enjoyment of our homes and property. We demand that right be respected and in return, we do the same for others.

Quality of Life

We believe Rural Americans are entitled to necessary services, including (among others) public safety, adequately maintained roads, bridges, waterways, airports, railroads, schools, power grids, and communications networks; affordable quality health care; and common recreational and gathering places, including (among others) parks, forests, beaches and trails.

Free Enterprise and Collective Opportunity

We respect traditional enterprise, and welcome technology and innovation that offers new opportunities, provides sustenance, and contributes to rural quality of life and the betterment of our communities. We believe in the right to employment, which results in fair compensation that provides for a reasonable standard of living. We believe that “Made in America” means excellence above all else.

Farming, Ranching, Fishing and Natural Resources

We protect the land to ensure clean water, good soil and fresh air in order for our own, and our neighbor’s crops to grow, and livestock to graze. We hold in highest regard the family farmer, fisher, and rancher whose labors put food on all our tables. We expect no government, non-government or corporate entity to unduly interfere with our productivity, or that of our workers, who sow our seeds, harvest our crops, and are lawfully employed to the best of our knowledge. We believe that growing and raising food in America for Americans is of vital importance to national security.

Free and Fair Agri-Business

We believe that providing high quality, American grown crops and other food products enhances trade and profitability for America’s farmers, fishers, and ranchers. We support country-of-origin labeling. We believe it is the right of every American to know where the food we purchase for our families comes from. We believe “Produced in America” means excellence above all else.

Free and Fair Elections

We demand clean, fair and legitimate elections that allow for all who are legally entitled to vote to cast a ballot without intimidation or dishonest attempts to prevent the franchise. We demand that voter records remain private and personal, unless cast in a public fashion, such as at town meeting or other collectively agreed upon forum. We adamantly refuse to allow any foreign or domestic government, non-government or corporate entity to have access to our personal information in order to compromise or suppress our right to cast a ballot in free and fair elections.

If You Think Wealthcare Bills in Congress are Bad for Rural Americans, Wait Until You See the Kind of Devastation Repeal Alone Would Cause

Remember when President Trump promised he wouldn’t repeal Obamacare without replacing it with something immediately? Well, we can add that whopper to his growing list of broken promises made to Americans. Yep, he apparently bamboozled us again.

Now make no mistake about it, the House and Senate bills that would replace Obamacare would cripple Rural America, leaving at least 22 million Americans without health insurance and forcing millions more to pay higher deductibles for less less coverage. The only thing worse would be to repeal Obamacare without even trying to protect at least a few working and middle class Americans from losing their health care. Yet that’s just what Trump proposed today, much to the delight of some defiant GOP lawmakers from Rural States.

Some 18 million people would lose health insurance within the first year of a straight up repeal, and almost twice as many would lose coverage in the next 10 years, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the official referee that determines impact of legislative action in Congress.

Once again, it’s Rural America that would be among hardest hit by such action.

So why would anyone be mean enough to hurt some of the very people who voted for them in the last election? That’s simple: as a lot of us have come to realize, it’s to give the wealthiest Americans a tax cut at the expense of working and middle class Americans.

There are two things that repeal alone and repeal and replace have in common: they both cripple Rural America, and they both give the rich a nearly $1 trillion tax cut.

What are they thinking? Well, who knows? So when your congressmen and senators go home for recess this summer, let them know they need to start thinking about Rural Americans, not just the rich, fat-cat, city-slickers they want to take care at our expense.

CBO: Secretive Senate McConnellcare Health Insurance Bill Whacks Rural and Small Town Americans Among the Hardest of All — Sad

The Senate Trumpcare/McConnellcare bill doesn’t do anything to reassure Americans they will have access to affordable comprehensive healthcare coverage, coming close to mirroring the hazardous-to-your-health House-passed rewrite of the Trumpcare/Ryancare bill that we’ve already told you about here.  Once again, rural and small town Americans can expect sticker shock and less coverage when they get their health insurance policies under the Senate bill.

Here are the most significant new points from the independent Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Senate healthcare coverage bill released today:

  • Some 15 million Americans will lose health insurance next year under the Senate bill
  • Some 22 million Americans will lose health insurance by 2026 under the Senate bill
  • Older Americans will be hit the hardest under the Senate bill
  • Premiums come down but provide less coverage than Obamacare, forcing Americans to pay more out pocket under the Senate bill
  • Overall there are fewer tax credits for middle class American under the Senate bill
  • The Senate bill would make little noticeable difference in balancing the budget and reducing the federal debt, despite all the promises
  • The bill is a poorly disguised set up for a nearly $1 trillion tax cut for the wealthiest Americans

The takeaway? All of this is why:

Our lawmakers need to serve the needs of Americans instead of simply carrying the water for small special interests and an extreme minority of Washington lobbyists and partisan political operatives. Americans deserve a better deal.

 

 

 

 

 

Poll suggests rural-urban divide is more cultural, racial and ethnic than political or economic

For the second time in three weeks, a major national newspaper has taken a long look at the disparities between rural America and urban America. First, The Wall Street Journal showed how rural measures of well-being resemble those of inner cities 20 years ago. Today, The Washington Post reports in a multi-story package, “The political divide between rural and urban America is more cultural than it is economic, rooted in rural residents’ deep misgivings about the nation’s rapidly changing demographics, their sense that Christianity is under siege and their perception that the federal government caters most to the needs of people in big cities.” And, “On few issues are they more at odds than immigration.”

The main story and 10-minute video by Jose DelReal and Scott Clement are based mainly on a poll that the Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation did of nearly 1,700 Americans, including an over-sample of more than 1,000 in rural areas and small towns so that population could be analyzed with reasonable error margins. The Post used a very broad definition of small, including “counties near population centers with up to 250,000 residents such as Augusta, Va. (population 74,997), close to Charlottesville.” In the poll’s terminology, “Urban residents live in counties that are part of major cities with populations of at least 1 million, while suburban counties include all those in between.”

The poll found a strong rural-urban disconnect: “Nearly 7 in 10 rural residents say their values differ from people who live in big cities, including about 4 in 10 who say their values are ‘very different.’ That divide is felt more extensively in rural America than in cities: About half of urban residents say their values differ from rural people, with about 20 percent of urbanites saying rural values are ‘very different.’ . . . Nearly 6 in 10 people in rural areas say Christian values are under attack, compared with just over half of suburbanites and fewer than half of urbanites.”

It also found a rural resentment: “Disagreements between rural and urban America ultimately center on fairness: Who wins and loses in the new American economy, who deserves the most help in society and whether the federal government shows preferential treatment to certain types of people. President Trump’s contentious, anti-immigrant rhetoric, for example, touched on many of the frustrations felt most acutely by rural Americans. . . . Rural residents are nearly three times as likely (42 percent) as people in cities (16 percent) to say that immigrants are a burden on the country.” Among suburbanites, as defined by the Post, it’s 31 percent. But those views “are more closely tied to respondents’ party affiliations than to where they lived.”

Trump won the rural vote in exit polls by 61 percent to 34 percent. The Post reports, “While urban counties favored Hillary Clinton by 32 percentage points in the 2016 election, rural and small-town voters backed Trump by a 26-point margin, significantly wider than GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s 16 points four years earlier.” However, “Rural Americans overall have mixed views on whether Trump respects them, with 50 percent saying he does and 48 percent saying he doesn’t, a finding that goes against a common theory that Trump won by providing a relatable alternative to political elites.”

What about economics? “Rural Americans express far more concern about jobs in their communities, but the poll finds that those concerns have little connection to support for Trump, a frequent theory to explain his rise in 2016. Economic troubles also show little relation to the feeling that urban residents have different values. Rural voters who lament their community’s job prospects report supporting Trump by 14 percentage points more than Clinton, but Trump’s support was about twice that margin — 30 points — among voters who say their community’s job opportunities are excellent or good.”

The package includes stories exploring rural America’s politics, immigration, race, and one about the finding that “Rural and urban Americans are equally likely to say grace.”

UPDATE, June 18: Kevin Drum of Mother Jones sees an interesting incongruity in the poll: “The perceptions of rural folks about their communities are out of step with what they report about their personal lives. . . . When unemployment rises in a city, it’s a diffuse problem that doesn’t necessarily seem related to living in a city. Conversely, when the same thing happens in a small town, it’s probably because a factory laid off 10 percent of its workforce. That’s a punch in the gut that makes you lose faith in your town. Similarly, when someone in a small town decides to move away to look for employment elsewhere, there’s a good chance it’s someone you know. In a city it’s just the guy down the hall that you nodded to every once in a while.” Drum also notes that when asked what government can do to improve their economy, 93 percent of rural people in the poll said infrastructure, while 63 percent said cracking down on immigrants.

Reprinted with permission from The Rural Blog.  Published on June 17, 2017. Article written by Al Cross,  former Courier-Journal political writer, and director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and The Rural Blog. Post photo credit: Michael S. Williamson.

Rural Americans, Older Americans and Women Fear Secret Senate Health Insurance Bill is a Replay of House Bill and Hit Them the Hardest

Rural America took a real hard kick in the seat of the pants when the GOP House leadership went behind closed doors a couple of months ago to concoct a tax cut plan for the wealthiest Americans disguised as “health insurance reform.” Under that scheme millions of Americans would lose coverage altogether, most of us would pay more every time we see a doctor or undergo treatment and older Americans would be hit with a de facto health tax levied by the insurance industry.

Now the Senate GOP is at it, working behind doors to try to sugar-coat the House bill that made America sick. Expectations are it will be watered-down, but it will still lead to the same results: Americans losing their insurance; less coverage for consumers and older Americans are going to get hit the hardest in the wallet.

There is little hope that the lobbyists who are working out the details of the secret Senate health insurance bill have the best intentions of Rural America in mind. Rural woman in particular expect to pay more and will still get less coverage to protect their health before, during and after pregnancy. That is a cruel way to behave for a party that likes to market itself as one that celebrates life.

The GOP priority shouldn’t be to repeal Obamacare just because Republicans don’t like the guy it’s named after. Reform should be undertaken to improve the product and services for the betterment of the Americans consumers. It says a lot when even Donald Trump says the GOP health insurance plan is too “mean.”

The Broken Promises of Trumpenomics and Ryanomics

From manufacturing jobs to agribusiness to affordable health care made available to more Americans, the GOP leadership is in the midst of pulling off one of the biggest bait and switch schemes in the history of campaign trail whoppers. Fortunately, the reality of market forces and economic fundamentals has a choke hold on some of the empty promises of the new administration and same old Congress in Washington. Unfortunately, however, there is still a path of pain that the current leadership is able to force Americans to walk.

Many people are counting on a Trumpian promise of seeing their factory jobs (yes, there are factories in rural America, too) return from cheap labor markets short on health and safety requirements, like China and Vietnam. Instead the administration rolls out the red carpet for the leaders of those very same countries, along with Saudi Arabia and a growing list of others. The GOP leadership in Congress refuses to allow even this GOP White House to penalize corporations, individuals and investors who move U.S. jobs overseas, choosing excessive greed over a profitable greater good of America. Off-shoring American jobs is a big part of why the manufacturing sector is on unstable ground for U.S. workers.

The promise of jobs returning from overseas is deceptive. No matter how much happy talk comes out of the White House, the truth is despite facing slower growth, China will continue to outpace the industrialized world in creating new manufacturing jobs, and tiny Vietnam enjoys a $32 billion trade surplus with the U.S. that will never be balanced.  It’s the difference between sound economic fundamentals and the Trumpenomics era of broken promises and a fictional pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Even the most optimistic projections forecast only minimal growth for those coveted U.S. factory jobs that are essential to rural, suburban and urban workers alike. Very few jobs that moved overseas are likely to return to the U.S., do we must be innovative and ensure existing and new jobs remain here.

The fact is economics of global trade is not something the White House or Congress should pretend they can alter with a few meaningless words (like “We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be tired of winning.”), but how the government invests tax dollars is something the leadership has complete control over. Sadly, that isn’t working out very well for most Americans, either. It’s no less than shocking the amount of anguish the Republican bean counters plan to dish out to Americans with their budgetary politics, especially to older voters and the most vulnerable citizens.

Trump backers are not immune to the suffering. Washington insider Ronald Brownstein details the callousness the administration shows its own supporters in The Atlantic, explaining “because Trump extends his budget cuts so deeply and broadly through income-support programs, the reductions still inevitably reach many of the lower-income and less-educated whites that have emerged as the cornerstone of the modern Republican coalition. Brownstein cites several powerful examples of how white Americans are targeted to lose coverage under the Ryancare/Trumpcare swindle, pointing to one study that paints a bullseye on millions of white Americans in the rural Midwest, the largest sub-group to receive health insurance under Obamacare.

The Trump budget specifically takes a chainsaw to programs that support farmers, ranchers and related agribusiness, clear cutting through insurance, loans and subsidies that put food on America’s table and money in the pockets of American voters. It is a strange way of saying “thank you” to the rural residents that played such an integral role in electing the GOP leadership in the White House and Congress.

It’s worth citing one pledge the White House recently announced it’s keeping: the withdrawal from the nearly universal global membership of the Paris Climate Accord. However, even that stunt is part of a larger broken promise: the return of jobs in the coal industry. Just as the Trump administration was announcing a gradual exit from that deal to limit the role mankind has in the earth’s changing climate, New England’s last big coal-fired plant and two others were being shut down — and there was not a thing anyone in elected office could do about it. It’s all about market forces. Natural gas is cheaper and cleaner than coal. Period. The promise of a new life for coal country is a bad joke played on good Americans who deserved to hear the truth, not a pack of lies that give them and their families false hope.

Quitting the Paris Accord is also putting in jeopardy the growth of the U.S. renewable energy sector, a vast job creator for Americans that is significantly outpacing the mature fossil fuels industry. What is truly amazing about the decision to give up the leadership position the U.S. enjoyed atop the Paris Climate Accord (ceding that role to China, of all places) is the economic impact that move will have on Americans. As one very smart analysis shows, the U.S. is going to lose jobs, wealth and economic clout with that decision to dump the Paris Accord. The current leadership in the White House and Congress is putting the future of the U.S. at risk with such thoughtless moves, and for no good reason other than petty politics.

The partisans and pundits in Washington will tell us “don’t worry, the White House budget will never see the light of day once Speaker Ryan takes over the process,” but there is plenty of evidence that Ryanomics will be just as painful as the blistering budget and short-sighted policies that the White House concocted. It’s all supposed to make the GOP base feel good, yet other than the trillions in tax cuts promised for the wealthiest among us, the never-ending broken promises hurt most of the voters that elected this Republican administration and Congress in the first place. Like all Americans, they deserve better.

CBO: Lower Premiums Would be a Result of Providing Less Coverage; Latest GOP Bill Would Raise Cost of Health Care for Many Americans

The rewrite of Trumpcare/Ryancare did very little at all to cure the earlier version of GOP health care reform, killing coverage for 23 million Americans, according to the Congressional Budget Office analysis released today.

Here are the most significant points from the CBO scorecard:

  • Lower premiums would be a result of offering Americans less coverage
  • Latest GOP bill would raise overall cost of health care for many Americans
  • Premiums for low-income elderly would rise 800%
  • The bill is a very poorly disguised tax cut for the wealthiest Americans and corporations
  • Rural States would be among the hardest hit

The takeaway? All of this is why:

Our lawmakers need to serve the needs of Americans instead of simply carrying the water for special interests and an extreme minority of Washington lobbyists. Americans deserve a better deal.