Putting People First

The Republican-controlled Assembly finally passed a budget on time! And during the last few weeks, the collective backslapping has made for ringing applause among Republican legislators for simply doing their jobs. Big election years can do that.

My name is Judith Higgins, and as a candidate for the State Senate in the 28th District, I have been reading all of the follow-up talking points, particularly from my opponent Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill, who currently serves in the House (PA 93rd).

In a June 28th post on her official House page, she called Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf the outlier for the bipartisan budget that passed on time—never mind Republicans, who’ve opposed the Governor every step of the way, bearing any responsibility for past late budgets.

In fact, the three years Rep. Phillips-Hill has been in office the budget has been late. And this year, the Representative did not vote for the 2018-2019 budget that she’s cheering passed on time and without tax increases. In the House, she was one of few “no” votes for funding and implementing the budget (House Bills 2121 and 1929, respectively).

While she cheers the budget’s record “investment” in K-12 education, the new school funding she speaks of fulfills one of Gov. Wolf’s first term goals, resolving a billion-dollar cut in state aid dealt to public schools and universities in 2011 by then Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and the Republican-controlled legislature!

You can thank Gov. Wolf for ensuring education funding becomes more equitable for all students, including students of York County, who have suffered during the Republicans’ domination of the legislature.

York County schools are fourth in the top 10 most underfunded schools in the Commonwealth for basic and special education funding. York City is the most underfunded school district in the state per student spending. Rep Phillips-Hill, who has sat on the Education Committee since 2015, has not championed any meaningful legislation to improve the situation for York County.

Despite being one of the few growing counties, funding has been diminishing and local property taxes continue to climb, unabated, because of the unwillingness of the legislature to really address this issue. Due to the financial supports given by natural gas and other related corporations to primarily Republican candidates, including Phillips-Hill Pennsylvania remains the largest natural gas producing state without a severance tax. States like Texas, Ohio, and West Virginia have severance taxes and are thriving because of market demand for the fuels.

The Republicans continued reliance on one-time fund transfers to solve long-term funding issues simply ignores options, offering no long-term vision. Refusing to implement additional revenue sources actually fails to save hard-working Pennsylvanians money!   

Really Fight For Families

Among several points Rep. Phillips-Hill raised in her post, her ending sentence stood out in her declaration that we “must keep fighting for a future that provides economic opportunity and security for our families and generations to come.”

Yet Rep. Phillips-Hill plans to grow the economy with regulatory reform and adding more red tape to the bureaucracy for folks who need assistance, as she highlights in her post. A signature legislation she’s promoting is House Bill 209 that she touts would “address Pennsylvania’s excessive amount of over regulation” by requiring the repeal of two state regulations for each one added.

She likens the one in, two out plan to regulatory reform on the federal level, instituted under executive order, which many experts believe is far more likely to create confusion, bog down work and slow the regulatory process in the long run. Many rules are legally required by statute. This tack will force decisions to be made based on numbers and not best practices and smart policy development.

While there’s nothing wrong with evaluating regulations and opportunities to encourage more business, our tax dollars need to be working for all of us. Most people are trying to figure out how to pay for housing, food and healthcare. Childcare for a family with an infant and 4-year-old averages $21,000 a year, or more than one-third the median income for a family with children in this state, according to a 2016 report by the Center for American Progress. Families aren’t sitting around their kitchen tables discussing deregulation, unless their effects endanger their own backyard.

Bottom Up, Not Top Down

Promoting and sponsoring relevant legislation that empowers everyone benefits all of us, including affordable quality health, child and elder care; a livable wage and pay equity; effective job training, in place re-training, and affordable post-secondary educational opportunities; and most importantly equitably funded quality public education for all students. Investments in a healthy, smart, well-trained populace will bring new, higher paying industries to Pennsylvania.

While Rep. Phillips-Hill wants to remove red tape for business, she’s okay to add to the bureaucracy for people who need assistance. She champions the establishment of Medicaid work requirements (House Bill 2138) and repeal of work requirement waivers for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (House Bill 1659) to make sure assistance goes to those who really need it, as reported in the York Dispatch April 20, 2018. Rep. Stan Saylor, R-York Township said in the article, “sometimes people need a little bit of kick to keep moving.”

The people I talk to say they’re tired of being kicked down, working harder for less. Here’s the reality. Most Medicaid recipients in Pennsylvania are children and the disabled. Women are more likely than men to qualify for Medicaid due to poverty and family care responsibilities. In fact, women make up a disproportionate share, nearly two thirds, of low-wage workers in this state, outnumbering men earning minimum wage by 2 to 1. And because low-wage or part-time jobs do not typically offer employer-sponsored health benefits, Medicaid may be their only source of coverage.

Rep. Phillips-Hill’s key bills on Medicaid and SNAP will likely hurt women the most. And, women in Pennsylvania are already behind the eight ball. In nearly 65 percent of families in this state, women are the primary or co-breadwinners, according to the Center for American Progress. Yet women continue to earn 79 cents for every dollar men earn. The wage gap is larger for black women and Latinas, who earn 68 cents and 56 cents per dollar that white men earn, respectively. Where has Rep. Phillips-Hill, a woman with a seat at the table the past three years, been to remedy that roadblock to success?

The reality of minimum wage ($15,080, annualized income before taxes for full time work) is that 89 percent of low-wage workers in Pennsylvania are on average 36 years old, with 37 percent over 40, and nearly 60 percent are working full time, and are women. I’d like to see the minimum wage raised from $7.25 to $9 by the end of this year, and $1 each year until we hit $15. This will make us a more competitive with our neighboring states.

Legislatively, we need to do more to empower families, to encourage corporations who are gaining wealth from their employee’s labor, to pay livable wages to all their employees. Some discussions I’ve had include addressing corporate greed, as industries keep their profits rather than provide a livable wage, forcing employees to take public support. Taxpayers are paying these bills, while business and industry game the system.

Rep. Phillips-Hill isn’t talking about that. She said her support of HB2138 reflects her desire to do more with less. But Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller estimates the added bureaucracy will not only be difficult to navigate, resulting in people losing their health care, it will end up costing the Commonwealth about $800 million to implement the first year. This was attempted before under the Healthy PA Plan, resulting in loss of access to care as the state struggled with a huge administrative backlog.

The Representative teased that 14 bills related to “safety net programs” are headed to House committees. I wonder how they will impact women and working families in Pennsylvania. In a historic year, where for the first time the seat of the PA Senate 28 is going to a woman, I believe it should go to a woman with a strong voice for ALL women and working families in York County and Pennsylvania.

My advocacy for struggling families is shaped by my own experiences. At 15, I lost my dad and started working to help my family make ends meet. For 40 years, I helped to care for my older sister—who was blind and suffered from intellectual disabilities—until she died from grand mal seizures, complicated by cancer. I am a two-time breast cancer survivor, first diagnosed while on Medicaid when I was 29, single and a graduate student. Graduate insurance does not cover pregnancy, and I chose to have my son. Issues I had identified while pregnant were dismissed, I believe because I was on Medicaid. I was persistent and after the birth of my first son, Josh, was finally diagnosed with cancer. My second bout came 15 years later, with employer-sponsored insurance that created very different personal outcomes.

I believe in the people of York County. My commitment to serving my community is life-long. I served my country in the Air National Guard for 13+ years. I served our community as a fundraiser for Craley Fire Company for a decade, and a School Board Director for Eastern York School District for 17 years. I understand budgeting in real time, and the need to invest in our community to ensure the success of all stakeholders while being reasonable with public resources. I’ve developed a business, lead educational boards, and listened to our community ask for change. I am running for the 28th Senate seat to fight for policies that put people first and work for all.

%d bloggers like this: