Why the Virginia Governor’s Race Matters Across the Entire U.S.

Americans are slowly realizing the governor’s race in Virginia is the election with the most significant national ramifications above any other ballot cast this year.

The special elections for Congress in 2017 have been exciting and closer than some Republicans care to admit, but even if Democrats had prevailed in those contests the outcome would not have changed the political landscape now and for years to come.

However, if Republican Ed Gillespie were to defeat Democrat Ralph Northam on Nov. 7 in the Virginia governor’s race the consequences would be stark and potentially irreversible outside of the boundaries of that state and well into the next decade.

Virginia may only be one state, but it is firmly part of the presidential election strategy that Democrats deploy to reach the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House. Along with Ohio and Florida, Virginia and its 13 electoral votes for decades has been part of Democrats strategy of winning two out of those three states to prevail in a presidential election. At the moment, that equation no longer favors a victory for Democrats. The Trump campaign disrupted the “two out of three” strategy when it burned through the Democrats Big 10 Firewall States, winning in one contiguous line from Pennsylvania to Iowa. The 2016 election results makes winning Virginia so much more important for Democrats.

Gillespie would have several unscrupulous options at his disposal to affect the national political landscape by making it nearly impossible for Democrats to prevail in Virginia in the 2018 and 2020 elections for Congress and the presidency. Here are four prime examples of why Democratic and allied independent voters outside Virginia have a lot riding on the governor’s race:

  1. Gillespie Would Sign Legislation Allowing Voter Suppression Laws in Virginia

The Republicans currently control both chambers of the Virginia state legislature, and that is not likely to change in the 2017 elections. So everyone should expect massive voter suppression legislation to come out of the GOP-controlled legislature, which Gillespie immediately would sign. We know this for sure because the Republican-dominated state legislature passed a discriminatory bill earlier this year (and last) that would have suppressed absentee ballot voting. Fortunately Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, was there to veto the effort from becoming law. Expect even more far-reaching voter suppression laws if Gillespie is elected.

  1. Gillespie Would Gerrymander Congressional Districts to Favor GOP Candidates

Thanks to Gerrymandered redistricting in states all around the country, Democrats have suffered a rigged Congress since the aftermath of the U.S. Census and Tea Party wave election of 2010. Virginia was no exception, with a Republican governor taking office back then. So Republicans are frothing at the mouth to gerrymander those congressional seats again, backed by a group that has already disclosed it is raising $35 million to assist the GOP in redistricting after the 2020 U.S. Census. 

  1. Gillespie Would Sign GOP Legislation that Would Rig How Virginia’s 13 Electoral Votes are Partitioned

The state legislature’s House Privileges and Elections Committee passed a bill this year that would have ended Virginia’s “winner take all” system of awarding Electoral College votes. Had it become law, the measure would have required electoral votes to be handed out to presidential candidates based on how many of Virginia’s 11 already gerrymandered congressional districts they had won. GOP sponsors are not shy about admitting publicly they remain committed to trying to rig the electoral votes in their favor.

  1. Gillespie Would Move the GOP a Step Closer to a Constitutional Convention to Rewrite the U.S. Constitution

Republicans, bankrolled by billionaire anti-government, fossil-fuel oligarchs Charles and David Koch, are anxious to alter the Constitution to enforce their extreme agenda. It only takes two-thirds (currently 34) of the state legislatures under Article Five of the Constitution of the United States to call a convention to rewrite the document that is the bedrock of America’s laws. Republicans already own a majority in 32 state legislatures and occupy 33 governor’s seats, so they are getting dangerously close to imposing their will on the majority of the country (it would be reminiscent of Democrats winning the majority vote, but losing the Electoral College). As legal scholar A.H. Neff writes, “…we could face a wholesale reduction or outright destruction of constitutional rights and duties at the hands of a convention of states directed and dominated by advocates for the Koch brothers and their ilk.”

Democrats and independents opposed to the direction the GOP is headed need to consider how the Virginia governor’s race will affect them, no matter if they live in Richmond, VA. or Richmond, CA.



Red States are Hit the Hard by Trumpcare Cuts to Insurance Pools

Graphic: Center for Rural Affairs

You know Trumpcare goes too far when even Republicans and Red States start complaining that it hurts their voters most of all. Such is the case with Trump’s decision to end payments that help working Americans offset out-of-pocket medical costs.

Now don’t be confused by who gets hurt by Trumpcare removing insurance subsidies from the marketplace. Trumpcare will surely mean low-income Rural Americans lose healthcare, but just about everyone else will have to pay higher premiums, too, because the federal government is no longer contributing to the coverage pools.

So far 18 states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia) are suing to block the move.

“The number of uninsured Americans will increase once again, hurting vulnerable individuals and directly burdening the states,” according to the lawsuit. “The unlawful refusal to make (federal cost-sharing reduction) reimbursement payments will also substantially complicate the States’ efforts to administer their healthcare markets and in some instances leave consumers with no health plan to access despite their federal entitlements under the ACA.”

Expect the federal court based in California to act swiftly since the next monthly federal reimbursement is due Oct. 18. Trump’s failure to make the payment would almost immediately disrupt insurance markets.

“Indeed, across the nation, there are 1,472 counties with only one insurer. The Administration’s refusal to make (federal cost-sharing reduction) reimbursement payments will cause some insurers to pull out of the market, leaving many counties vulnerable and without health insurance coverage,” the lawsuit states.

Not surprisingly, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a powerful voice for Rural America, became the first Republican to outright oppose the new Trumpcare measure. Expect to see more join the opposition as folks discover how unnecessarily dangerous Trumpcare is to Americans’ well being and the overall economy, too.

(Note: Item was updated with latest links and graphic)

Trump Healthcare Executive Order A Slap in the Face of Rural Americans

Remember when candidate Trump ridiculed President Obama for his use of executive orders to set policy rather than laws? How about all that Trump talk of providing lower cost healthcare for every American and leaving Medicare alone?

Look, we all know politicians go back on the word, but Trump is turning out to be the king of the whopper. There is only a very short list of promises kept by Trump, who is on track to become the president with the least amount of agenda accomplishments in his first year in office.

First off, let’s not play Trump’s game and attack a president for taking actions he entitled to engage in, even though we may not like what it is his executive orders seek to accomplish. However, we can shake our heads and smirk in disbelief at the fact Trump mainly has had to use executive orders in his first year in office to pursue his agenda, even though his divided party controls both chambers of Congress. Obama signed quite a few executive orders, too, but the vast majority came after his party no longer controlled Congress and he faced GOP obstruction.

Now lets consider Trump’s most recent broken promise on affordable healthcare for all. He didn’t just lie about a providing bigger, better healthcare plan, he signed an executive order that essentially spits in the face of a big chunk of his base: Rural Americans who depend on the existing healthcare marketplace for their medical needs.

Sen.. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia), who knows quite a bit more about the needs of Rural Americans than the city boy president ever will, explained in plain language how Trump’s latest executive order will only make health insurance cost more and hurt more.

“President Trump’s health care executive order may seem a little complicated so let me break it down: It’s sabotage,” Kaine posted on Twitter.

“It aims to push healthy people onto junk plans, leaving only the sick or at-risk on ACA plans—essentially destroying the insurance market,” he wrote.

“It would allow cheap low-quality plans onto the market that could discriminate against people with preexisting conditions, seniors, women,” Kaine added.

“What’s the end product? Families could pay even higher premiums to get care. More discrimination of those who need care most. More chaos,” the senator explained.

How bad is this latest Trumpcare scheme? Some legal experts believe it is so wretched that it won’t even stand up to anticipated court challenges.

This executive order is really nothing more than a monument to Trump’s penchant for petty politics. Trump believes that every time he messes with healthcare he is scoring points in his self-indulgent feud with Obama, but the truth is every action he has taken only ends up hurting Americans, many of whom were his own voters in Rural America.

Time to Stabilize Insurance Markets and Give Rural States Their Fair Share

Americans have been hurt from every direction by the Republican’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but now that the skunk has been shooed from the garden, maybe for good, it’s time to get serious about a plan to shore up health insurance markets nationwide, and give Rural States that missed out on federal funds the money they deserve.

It’s the epitome of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t nightmare scenario. Had the GOP’s repeal plans succeeded, it would have left millions without health care, or forced them to pay more money for less coverage. However, by doing nothing, the party that now controls every branch of the federal government is still forcing Americans to pay more for healthcare and prompting insurers to abandon coverage markets in the states.

The GOP leadership needs to pay attention to an overwhelming majority of Americans who want to see ACA fixed not finished. It’s time to turn a corner now and find ways to mutual accords that will make America stronger, healthier and more secure. Swift action is necessary.

The White House needs to make the first move in order to take a real step toward a bipartisan solution to ensure consumers have dependable and affordable health care coverage. Trump needs to immediately halt his quest to drive up the cost of healthcare and he must resume the campaign to inform people when they can enroll in the ACA. Extending the sign-up period would be a smart move Trump could make on behalf of Americans.

The second step would require Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), to quickly return to the negotiating table and come up with a bipartisan plan to stabilize 2018 premiums for consumers in health insurance markets. Given the accusations that the GOP leadership had plotted to sink the temporary fix ahead of the vote on Cassidy-Graham bill, it would be helpful for the ruling Republican leadership give its blessing to the repair effort for the good of America.

It’s equally important to get federal funds to Rural Americans who are missing out. Nineteen states failed to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid coverage offered under the Affordable Care Act, leaving millions of Americans stuck inside what is known as a coverage gap. Essentially those Americans have been told by their state leaders they will have to get their healthcare in emergency rooms, leaving them without reliable insurance while raising the cost of health care for the rest of us.

Mainly Republican governors and legislatures in those 19 states argued against Medicaid expansion, claiming they feared the federal government would eventually cut payments and leave states paying the bill. However, it was clearly petty politics that motivated the GOP state lawmakers to decline the funds, not wanting to appear to be showing support for the ACA or the Democratic president who signed it into law.

Ironically, the scheme the to cut off the federal funding for Medicaid expansion it was a Republican president and Republican-led Congress that was trying to do the dirty deed. Many of the state officials who denied their residents affordable health care cheered on the Republican effort before it failed. That’s crazy politics. Rural Americans deserve a better deal.










Cassidy-Graham is Hazardous to America’s Health and Bank Account

The Senate Republican leadership is at it again, filling a sewer pipe with perfume to convince us it’s pretty, and doesn’t stink. Rural Americans are too smart to be fooled by the latest attempt to repeal, but not replace, the Affordable Care Act. The question is will a few Republicans be smart enough to see through the scam and do the right thing by voting no?

The Cassidy-Graham bill in the Senate will see unaccountable billions of dollars pour into states like Florida and Pennsylvania, at the cost of states like Alaska, Arizona, Kentucky, Maine (and most of the Deep South, Midwest and Far West). These states wouldn’t even have to spend the federal block grant money on health insurance for its residents under the scheme cooked up by Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), with the help of Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV), and Ron Johnson (R-WI).

This bill is so wretched that protections for people with pre-existing conditions will be gutted, and coverage will be whittled down to the point where Americans would have limited benefits at a much higher cost. Rural Americans who finally had affordable health care thanks to Medicaid expansion under Obamacare will be left with little choice but to have no health coverage at all.

Even Wall Street analysts conclude Cassidy-Graham will disrupt the marketplace and leave states without necessary financial resources. That means states will either have to slash more than just health care services, or raise taxes to make up for the federal shortfall.

The Congressional Budget Office is currently analyzing the impact of Cassidy-Graham, but indications are that its scorecard will show the bill is in the neighborhood of the previous repeal-without-replace estimates: 32 million Americans left without health insurance, including 15 million next year alone; and a 20 percent hike in premiums for less health coverage.

Why the rush to beat the Sept. 30 deadline for passing the bill with so much opposition to the repeal effort, including from a majority of Americans? Because once again this bill contains within it the means for a nearly $1 trillion tax cut for the rich, with Rural States being left out in the cold without a blanket. That is really all the GOP leadership cares about: repaying the lobbyists and fat-cat donors who finance their campaigns.

It’s no surprise then that Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is trying to steamroll a repeal-without-replace bill though the Senate without proper procedure and review in the public eye. That doesn’t sit well with maverick Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who thinks that if the bill is so good then why try to hide from the American people?

The GOP is scrambling to avoid another “thumbs down” from McCain. In an attempt to kiss up to McCain, Republicans came up with a stunt hearing for the bill in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. This committee doesn’t even have jurisdiction over the bill, but since it’s chaired by one of the sponsors of the measure, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), it’s a safe place to ram it through. It’s like holding a hearing for a farm bill in the Senate Intelligence Committee. There’s a clear stench rising from that move.

Trump is suddenly onboard with Cassidy-Graham, after he urged Republicans to move on from repeal and replace earlier this month. Let this be a warning to anyone who thinks Trump has had a real change of heart just because he reached a deal with Democrats to keep the government open; avoid Washington defaulting on its loans; and making a small down payment on hurricane relief.

Trump is simply looking for another win, and if he can get it this time with Republicans — almost immediately after making a bargain with Democrats, he and his message machine will trumpet far and wide his “bipartisan administration.” Any Democrat or Republican who believes that, probably thinks a sewer pipe filled with perfume smells just fine.

Congress Must Fund Harvey Recovery Ahead of Petty Partisan Priorities

Post has been updated (see bold insert below)

Not even this Congress can avoid the reality that its game plan for an end-of-the-year home stretch has been severely altered. America’s appetite for petty politics has been washed away by a merciless tempest.

Providing federal aid to rural and urban areas shattered by Hurricane Harvey is pressing for communities drowning in need. Floodwaters, high winds and storm surge are now estimated to have wreaked a whopping $190 billion in destruction. Ensuring help is on the way sits atop the House and Senate agenda for lawmakers returning to Washington today.

With the $19.9 trillion federal debt limit nearly reached and only four weeks until the next federal fiscal year begins, it would be unseemly to engage in the political theatrics of a fiscal showdown in Washington amid all the horror stories and tears shed by and for those whose lives were nearly destroyed by Harvey. Perhaps the stark projection that Harvey eclipsed the cost of Hurricane Katrina and Super Storm Sandy combined will curtail the usual grandstanding in Congress that adorns Capitol Hill whenever the federal debt ceiling must be raised to avoid default, or a budget must be passed to ensure the government does not shutter its doors.

Washington should be careful not to ignore or forget all the victims, a great many unseen by most of us. While devastation mainly in Houston unfolded for the cameras, Harvey cut an equally violent and unrelenting swath through countless small towns and rural communities. Farmland, roadside businesses, drinking water supplies and countless homes in towns that most Americans outside of the region never heard of were destroyed or damaged by Harvey’s wrath. Those rural Americans whose lives are spun upside down will need to make sure their plight is known and ultimately their needs met, too.

Clearly Congress must act to fund the Harvey recovery immediately, preferably before it raises the debt ceiling or passes next year’s budget. If Harvey assistance must be attached to debt ceiling legislation, as the Trump administration is advocating, then let it be done quickly and without rancor. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said he will fund Harvey relief on an installment plan, which is acceptable only if it is does not amount to a scheme to short-change the people of Texas and Louisiana dependent on federal assistance.

UPDATE: Almost shockingly, the curtain came down on the usual Washington theatrics when Trump agreed to a deal proposed by the Democratic congressional leadership that included disaster aid for Harvey; emergency money in anticipation of Hurricane Irma; and an extension on the debt ceiling and funds to keep the government operating for three months. Whatever the motives, Trump’s unpredictable move is good for the country, but it is being described as conservatives’ worst nightmare. The GOP backlash nonetheless did not keep Trump from sharing a victory lap over the deal with his newfound partners on the Democratic side of the aisle.

As for the tone-deaf politicians one bead short of an abacus, they dare not insult Americans with talk at this moment of how jobs can only be created by allowing corporations and the wealthy to pay less taxes. Rural, urban and suburban Americans are suffering because of Harvey, and the victims are the priority. Congress should take care of those Americans in need before it focuses on feeding corporate greed.

Optimistically, Harvey could end up a complete wake up call for many lawmakers in Washington who misinterpret the results of a controversial election as a mandate for their self-serving political ambitions. One example of a course change was scant attention given to a budget provision pre-dating the horrific storm that would have shifted nearly $1 billion in federal disaster relief for other priorities, including the building of Donald Trump’s controversial border wall. The GOP-led House was set to vote this month on the little noticed proposal to slash FEMA funds, but that’s all changed now.

Fortunately for the targets of the ruthless Harvey, priorities are already shifting away from campaign promises and partisan political agendas. The two dozen or so GOP lawmakers from Texas who voted against disaster relief after Super Storm Sandy struck the Northeast in 2012 have seen the light and appear ready to press for the funds needed to rebuild their state. It is a welcome about-face.

Unfortunately, some of those Texas lawmakers, like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), have made it worse for themselves by trying to wiggle away from criticism by feebly claiming their vote against Sandy funding came because the $50 billion aid package included non-storm related “pork.” They should have just admitted they had made a mistake with their errant votes instead of having to face even more scorn for offering up a fraudulent excuse.

With another potentially deadly storm on the way, Congress can’t play politics with a Harvey relief package. If Category 5 Hurricane Irma hits the United States it may well make Harvey look like a piker.

Want to help those in need? Links to lists of reputable charities assisting victims of Harvey are here, here, and here.


Vilsack says U.S. doesn’t appreciate its rural areas, which could draw more value-added manufacturing

Americans don’t appreciate rural America, and small towns could attract many more manufacturing jobs, former agriculture secretary and Iowa governor Tom Vilsack said at the Iowa State Fair Aug. 19.

Vilsack (pictured speaking), a Democrat, is president of the U.S. Dairy Export Council. He said the U.S. can create more jobs by putting processing and manufacturing facilities near where natural resources are harvested or extracted, instead of shipping raw materials elsewhere. The rhetoric could resonate with Iowa cattle ranchers reeling from the loss of a promised meat processing plant, after the U.S. withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Angela Ufheil reports for The Des Moines Register, which sponsored Vilsack’s appearance as part of its Political Soapbox at the fair.

“Another challenge facing Iowa, Vilsack said, is the lack of appreciation for rural America. He noted almost all food produced in the U.S. comes from rural areas. Yet those living in cities and benefiting from inexpensive food are so far removed from its production that they don’t understand the challenges farmers face,” Ufheil reports. He suggested that state and federal regulators use incentives that would lighten the financial burden on farmers, saying that they can’t easily absorb increased costs due to regulation.

The Political Soapbox is an extension of the paper’s Changing Iowa series, which explores the “demographic, cultural and economic changes taking place across the state, including the pressure being put on mid-sized farmshow automation is reshaping Iowa’s workforce, and how Iowa’s smaller cities have been left behind,” Ufheil reports.

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. Photo credit: Des Moines Register by Angela Ufheil

A Better Deal to Protect U.S. Jobs and Ensure Free Trade is Fair Trade

Donald Trump made a lot of promises about killing lousy free trade agreements, promoting American made products and keeping U.S. jobs from moving overseas, but so far his idea of fair trade is more like his Yankees getting an all-star pitcher without having to give up a blue chip player in return. That would be a great deal for New York sports fans, but we’re not talking about a game here. These broken promises are a bum deal for American agriculture and manufacturing.

It’s long been pretty clear that we haven’t had much luck trusting top elected officials to wrangle a really good international deal for American workers and businesses, because they are just too darn beholden to special interests. Circling the federal trade negotiators constantly are the deep-pocketed lobbyists for shareholder-driven Wall Street and multinational corporations that have mastered the dark art of finding cheep labor and blind-eye regulations in foreign countries.

Finally a plan was unveiled this week by the Democrats to inject a referee into the trade and multinational business world that could take political favors out of the games Washington plays with the American economy. The proposal calls for creating an “independent trade prosecutor” to investigate unfair trade practices and recommend how the U.S. should respond in kind. That’s A Better Deal for American workers, farmers and entrepreneurs than the one we have now.

The new strategy additionally calls for the creation of an “American Jobs Security Council” to keep a watchful eye on countries like China and Russia that use state-owned and allied companies to acquire U.S. businesses with the intent of cornering a market and ultimately shipping jobs overseas. Consequently there are few reciprocal opportunities for U.S. companies, especially in China where there are enormous obstacles that prevent mutual business opportunities for American entrepreneurs.

We also heard a lot of promises on the campaign trail last year about penalizing companies that move overseas, but the truth is American businesses still get to write-off expenses incurred from offshoring their factories overseas. This new deal would wipe out the tax deductions and tax profits on businesses that move their headquarters overseas at a 35% rate.

Of course penalties alone aren’t going to bring U.S. jobs back home, so there are incentives that would create a tax credit of up to 20% of the cost of returning factories to the U.S. There are even added tax breaks for companies that relocate to Rural America and other hard hit areas. That’s A Better Deal for all of us.

There are also some simple steps in the proposal, like sanctioning countries that manipulate their currency to pay less for for U.S. goods and crops; penalizing government contractors that outsource jobs overseas; and making sure the government buys from American suppliers and service providers. You would think those ideas are a no-brainer and are already on the books as law. They aren’t, but they should be.

We’re going to hear a lot about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement in the next year or so. That’s a big deal, but if we stay on the course we’re on right now it will mostly likely be just another bait-and-switch raw deal negotiated on a golf course at a private country club by those same lobbyists that get paid to ignore the American worker and farmer. We need to send people to Washington who want us to have A Better Deal, and slowly but surely we’re seeing a blueprint drawn that says Grown in America and Made in America comes first.

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 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 try to 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 right now. It 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 to ship American jobs overseas.  It sure isn’t doing that under the current government.
The next thing Rural America 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 also 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 out 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.