Palin, Protector of Children vs. Her Record

Lindsay Beyerstein

Republican vice presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin styles herself as a fierce protector of children and families, but her record on health insurance for children and pregnant women raises doubts about her priorities.

Republican vice presidential nominee Gov. Sarah Palin styles
herself as a fierce protector of children and families, but her record on
health insurance for children and pregnant women raises doubts about her
priorities.

In her acceptance speech at the Republican National
Convention, Palin had a special message for the parents of children with
special needs: "I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend
and advocate in the White House."

During last night’s vice presidential debate, Palin promised
to make special needs children one of her top three priorities, if she is
elected. She also told the audience that she and her husband know what it’s
like to raise children without health insurance.

"[There were times] in our marriage in our past where we
didn’t have health insurance and we know what other Americans are going through
as they sit around the kitchen table and try to figure out how are they going
to pay out-of-pocket for health care? We’ve been there also so that connection
was important," Palin said.

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Yet for all her folksy winks and jokes about hockey moms,
Palin’s record as governor suggests that she may not remember the bad old days
as clearly as she claims.

As governor of Alaska,
Palin could have restored health insurance to 1200 Alaskan children and 530
pregnant women for less than one million dollars at a time when her state had a
$1.3 billion surplus. She did not do so.

Republican presidential nominee John McCain has a similar
record of hostility towards government run health insurance for low income
children. When Democrats proposed in 2007 to expand the State Child Health
Insurance Program (SCHIP) to cover 10 million more children, McCain voted
against the plan and praised President Bush for vetoing the bill.

By contrast, Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack
Obama and Sen. Joe Biden supported attempts to renew and expand insurance
through SCHIP, the federal program that pays 70% of the cost of state-run child
health insurance programs across the country.

SCHIP is credited with reducing the number of uninsured
children in the United
States by 2.7 million from its inception in
1997, despite rising unemployment and poverty levels.

In 2008, Palin had the opportunity to increase access to Alaska’s SCHIP program,
known as Denali KidCare, a program for families who make too much to qualify
for Medicaid but cannot afford private insurance.

Gov. Palin has been in office for less than two years. Her
track record on children’s healthcare is short; however, her failure to act on
child health insurance is very revealing. Despite significant public pressure,
Palin declined to support the bill that would have extended medical coverage to
an additional 1200 children and 530 pregnant women for a mere $875,000.

Palin claims to be an advocate for children with special
needs. Poor children are at heightened risk of disability and chronic illness.
So, any policy that pushes healthcare out of reach of low income families is a
double whammy for those with special needs.

The fight over Denali KidCare is about how poor you have to
be to qualify. The program originally covered children whose families made up
to 200% of the federal poverty level.

Under Gov. Frank Murkowski, the threshold was cut back to
175% percent of the federal poverty level. Eligibility was frozen at the dollar
figure that constituted 175% of the federal poverty line at the time the law
was signed with no adjustments for subsequent inflation.

These changes, spearheaded by Republicans in the state
legislature, took health insurance away from many lower middle class families.

By the time Palin took office, the effective cutoff was
about 150% of the current federal poverty guideline. During her first year in
office, the governor quietly signed a bill to unfreeze the eligibility
threshold, which meant that the the maximum income in 2008 would be 175% of the
federal poverty guideline for 2008, not 175% of what the poverty line was in
2003. In 2003 the federal poverty guideline was $23,000 for a family of four,
which meant the family could earn up to $40,250 and still qualify for benefits. Five
years later, the FPG had risen to $26,500, but the maximum income was still $40,250,
a mere 151% of the FPG.

Palin had little choice but sign the bill, because Alaska stood to lose SCHIP
funding for the entire program if the threshold fell below 150% of the 2008 poverty
line.

Children’s healthcare advocates welcomed the measure as a
small step forward. But even after unfreezing, Alaska’s SCHIP rules are among the most
restrictive in the nation.

In the second year of the Palin administration, State Sen.
Betty Davis introduced S.B. 212, a bill to restore the original 200% threshold
for Denali KidCare.

The bill had the support of a broad coalition of health and
social services groups. Planned Parenthood, Catholic charities, faith based
organizations, and the AARP found themselves on the same side of the Denali KidCare
issue.

Two hundred people rallied in Anchorage in support of the bill, a massive
turnout by local standards.

The bill passed the Senate and cleared all but the final
committee in the House.

Palin had a golden opportunity to restore health insurance
to 1200 Alaskans for less than a million dollars. All
she had to do was pick up the phone and convey her support, or even her
acquiescence to undecided state legislators.

The fence-sitters were looking to the governor for
reassurance, according a Juneau
lobbyist who pushed for the bill. (The lobbyist asked not to be named because
of agreements with unrelated clients not to be quoted in the media.)

These legislators were under intense pressure from
conservative Republicans and they wanted reassurance from Gov. Palin that she
would sign the bill. Members didn’t want to cash in political capital for a
bill that the governor was going to veto anyway.

Palin failed to act and the bill died in committee. It is
not clear why the governor opposed extending health insurance to poor children.
Some observers speculated that Palin let the bill die because the program
covers abortions.

The state of Alaska
does not cover most medically necessary abortions. Therefore, Denali KidCare is
an important source of funding for uninsured pregnant women seeking to
terminate their pregnancies.

Before receiving the vice presidential nomination, Palin had
promised to hold a special legislative session this fall to debate two abortion
bills. Denali KidCare hoped to get their 200% solution on the agenda during the
special session. With the governor off on the campaign trail, it is doubtful
that a special session will be held any time soon.

Palin’s attitude towards health insurance for poor children
is in step with that of her running mate, Sen. John McCain.

When the SCHIP program was set expire in 2007, McCain voted
against a Democratic-backed bill that would have reauthorized and expanded the
SCHIP program.

At the time, McCain said he opposed the bill because he didn’t
want to raise the federal excise
tax on cigarettes to pay for expanded coverage.

McCain is on the record as opposing expansion of SCHIP to
cover middle class children, which he believes would be a departure from the
program’s original intent.

SCHIP is designed to help families who make too much to be
covered by Medicaid, but not quite enough to buy their own health insurance.
Because health insurance costs have increased much faster than incomes since
the program started in 1997, the target group is getting larger because more and
more people are getting priced out of health insurance.

Democrats in Congress twice failed to achieve a veto-proof
majority for the enlarged SCHIP plan. President Bush vetoed the bills, which
would have extended health coverage to 10 million children. Congress eventually
passed Bush’s stopgap bill which funds the existing SCHIP program through March
2009.

It is interesting to note that McCain supports enhanced
medical insurance for embryo-Americans but not for born children. The Arizona senator voted
for a bill to extend SCHIP coverage to fetuses in utero. Obama and Biden voted
against that bill.

Sarah Palin had the opportunity to expand health insurance
to Alaskan children, but she chose not to. She and her running mate have
signaled that they are hostile to any expansion of government-funded healthy
insurance, even for uninsured children. For McCain/Palin, free market ideology
trumps practical solutions.

Analysis Economic Justice

New Pennsylvania Bill Is Just One Step Toward Helping Survivors of Economic Abuse

Annamarya Scaccia

The legislation would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have "a reasonable fear" that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit.

Domestic violence survivors often face a number of barriers that prevent them from leaving abusive situations. But a new bill awaiting action in the Pennsylvania legislature would let survivors in the state break their rental lease without financial repercussions—potentially allowing them to avoid penalties to their credit and rental history that could make getting back on their feet more challenging. Still, the bill is just one of several policy improvements necessary to help survivors escape abusive situations.

Right now in Pennsylvania, landlords can take action against survivors who break their lease as a means of escape. That could mean a lien against the survivor or an eviction on their credit report. The legislation, HB 1051, introduced by Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery County), would allow victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking to terminate their lease early or request locks be changed if they have “a reasonable fear” that they will continue to be harmed while living in their unit. The bipartisan bill, which would amend the state’s Landlord and Tenant Act, requires survivors to give at least 30 days’ notice of their intent to be released from the lease.

Research shows survivors often return to or delay leaving abusive relationships because they either can’t afford to live independently or have little to no access to financial resources. In fact, a significant portion of homeless women have cited domestic violence as the leading cause of homelessness.

“As a society, we get mad at survivors when they don’t leave,” Kim Pentico, economic justice program director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), told Rewire. “You know what, her name’s on this lease … That’s going to impact her ability to get and stay safe elsewhere.”

“This is one less thing that’s going to follow her in a negative way,” she added.

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Pennsylvania landlords have raised concerns about the law over liability and rights of other tenants, said Ellen Kramer, deputy director of program services at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which submitted a letter in support of the bill to the state House of Representatives. Lawmakers have considered amendments to the bill—like requiring “proof of abuse” from the courts or a victim’s advocate—that would heed landlord demands while still attempting to protect survivors.

But when you ask a survivor to go to the police or hospital to obtain proof of abuse, “it may put her in a more dangerous position,” Kramer told Rewire, noting that concessions that benefit landlords shift the bill from being victim-centered.

“It’s a delicate balancing act,” she said.

The Urban Affairs Committee voted HB 1051 out of committee on May 17. The legislation was laid on the table on June 23, but has yet to come up for a floor vote. Whether the bill will move forward is uncertain, but proponents say that they have support at the highest levels of government in Pennsylvania.

“We have a strong advocate in Governor Wolf,” Kramer told Rewire.

Financial Abuse in Its Many Forms

Economic violence is a significant characteristic of domestic violence, advocates say. An abuser will often control finances in the home, forcing their victim to hand over their paycheck and not allow them access to bank accounts, credit cards, and other pecuniary resources. Many abusers will also forbid their partner from going to school or having a job. If the victim does work or is a student, the abuser may then harass them on campus or at their place of employment until they withdraw or quit—if they’re not fired.

Abusers may also rack up debt, ruin their partner’s credit score, and cancel lines of credit and insurance policies in order to exact power and control over their victim. Most offenders will also take money or property away from their partner without permission.

“Financial abuse is so multifaceted,” Pentico told Rewire.

Pentico relayed the story of one survivor whose abuser smashed her cell phone because it would put her in financial dire straits. As Pentico told it, the abuser stole her mobile phone, which was under a two-year contract, and broke it knowing that the victim could not afford a new handset. The survivor was then left with a choice of paying for a bill on a phone she could no longer use or not paying the bill at all and being turned into collections, which would jeopardize her ability to rent her own apartment or switch to a new carrier. “Things she can’t do because he smashed her smartphone,” Pentico said.

“Now the general public [could] see that as, ‘It’s a phone, get over it,'” she told Rewire. “Smashing that phone in a two-year contract has such ripple effects on her financial world and on her ability to get and stay safe.”

In fact, members of the public who have not experienced domestic abuse may overlook financial abuse or minimize it. A 2009 national poll from the Allstate Foundation—the philanthropic arm of the Illinois-based insurance company—revealed that nearly 70 percent of Americans do not associate financial abuse with domestic violence, even though it’s an all-too-common tactic among abusers: Economic violence happens in 98 percent of abusive relationships, according to the NNEDV.

Why people fail to make this connection can be attributed, in part, to the lack of legal remedy for financial abuse, said Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project, a public interest law center in Pennsylvania. A survivor can press criminal charges or seek a civil protection order when there’s physical abuse, but the country’s legal justice system has no equivalent for economic or emotional violence, whether the victim is married to their abuser or not, she said.

Some advocates, in lieu of recourse through the courts, have teamed up with foundations to give survivors individual tools to use in economically abusive situations. In 2005, the NNEDV partnered with the Allstate Foundation to develop a curriculum that would teach survivors about financial abuse and financial safety. Through the program, survivors are taught about financial safety planning including individual development accounts, IRA, microlending credit repair, and credit building services.

State coalitions can receive grant funding to develop or improve economic justice programs for survivors, as well as conduct economic empowerment and curriculum trainings with local domestic violence groups. In 2013—the most recent year for which data is available—the foundation awarded $1 million to state domestic violence coalitions in grants that ranged from $50,000 to $100,000 to help support their economic justice work.

So far, according to Pentico, the curriculum has performed “really great” among domestic violence coalitions and its clients. Survivors say they are better informed about economic justice and feel more empowered about their own skills and abilities, which has allowed them to make sounder financial decisions.

This, in turn, has allowed them to escape abuse and stay safe, she said.

“We for a long time chose to see money and finances as sort of this frivolous piece of the safety puzzle,” Pentico told Rewire. “It really is, for many, the piece of the puzzle.”

Public Policy as a Means of Economic Justice

Still, advocates say that public policy, particularly disparate workplace conditions, plays an enormous role in furthering financial abuse. The populations who are more likely to be victims of domestic violence—women, especially trans women and those of color—are also the groups more likely to be underemployed or unemployed. A 2015 LGBT Health & Human Services Network survey, for example, found that 28 percent of working-age transgender women were unemployed and out of school.

“That’s where [economic abuse] gets complicated,” Tracy told Rewire. “Some of it is the fault of the abuser, and some of it is the public policy failures that just don’t value women’s participation in the workforce.”

Victims working low-wage jobs often cannot save enough to leave an abusive situation, advocates say. What they do make goes toward paying bills, basic living needs, and their share of housing expenses—plus child-care costs if they have kids. In the end, they’re not left with much to live on—that is, if their abuser hasn’t taken away access to their own earnings.

“The ability to plan your future, the ability to get away from [abuse], that takes financial resources,” Tracy told Rewire. “It’s just so much harder when you don’t have them and when you’re frightened, and you’re frightened for yourself and your kids.”

Public labor policy can also inhibit a survivor’s ability to escape. This year, five states, Washington, D.C., and 24 jurisdictions will have passed or enacted paid sick leave legislation, according to A Better Balance, a family and work legal center in New York City. As of April, only one of those states—California—also passed a state paid family leave insurance law, which guarantees employees receive pay while on leave due to pregnancy, disability, or serious health issues. (New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, and New York have passed similar laws.) Without access to paid leave, Tracy said, survivors often cannot “exercise one’s rights” to file a civil protection order, attend court hearings, or access housing services or any other resource needed to escape violence.

Furthermore, only a handful of state laws protect workers from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and pregnancy or familial status (North Carolina, on the other hand, recently passed a draconian state law that permits wide-sweeping bias in public and the workplace). There is no specific federal law that protects LGBTQ workers, but the U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission has clarified that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Still, that doesn’t necessarily translate into practice. For example, the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 26 percent of transgender people were let go or fired because of anti-trans bias, while 50 percent of transgender workers reported on-the-job harassment. Research shows transgender people are at a higher risk of being fired because of their trans identity, which would make it harder for them to leave an abusive relationship.

“When issues like that intersect with domestic violence, it’s devastating,” Tracy told Rewire. “Frequently it makes it harder, if not impossible, for [victims] to leave battering situations.”

For many survivors, their freedom from abuse also depends on access to public benefits. Programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the child and dependent care credit, and earned income tax credit give low-income survivors access to the money and resources needed to be on stable economic ground. One example: According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, where a family of three has one full-time nonsalary worker earning $10 an hour, SNAP can increase their take-home income by up to 20 percent.

These programs are “hugely important” in helping lift survivors and their families out of poverty and offset the financial inequality they face, Pentico said.

“When we can put cash in their pocket, then they may have the ability to then put a deposit someplace or to buy a bus ticket to get to family,” she told Rewire.

But these programs are under constant attack by conservative lawmakers. In March, the House Republicans approved a 2017 budget plan that would all but gut SNAP by more than $150 million over the next ten years. (Steep cuts already imposed on the food assistance program have led to as many as one million unemployed adults losing their benefits over the course of this year.) The House GOP budget would also strip nearly $500 billion from other social safety net programs including TANF, child-care assistance, and the earned income tax credit.

By slashing spending and imposing severe restrictions on public benefits, politicians are guaranteeing domestic violence survivors will remain stuck in a cycle of poverty, advocates say. They will stay tethered to their abuser because they will be unable to have enough money to live independently.

“When women leave in the middle of the night with the clothes on their back, kids tucked under their arms, come into shelter, and have no access to finances or resources, I can almost guarantee you she’s going to return,” Pentico told Rewire. “She has to return because she can’t afford not to.”

By contrast, advocates say that improving a survivor’s economic security largely depends on a state’s willingness to remedy what they see as public policy failures. Raising the minimum wage, mandating equal pay, enacting paid leave laws, and prohibiting employment discrimination—laws that benefit the entire working class—will make it much less likely that a survivor will have to choose between homelessness and abuse.

States can also pass proactive policies like the bill proposed in Pennsylvania, to make it easier for survivors to leave abusive situations in the first place. Last year, California enacted a law that similarly allows abuse survivors to terminate their lease without getting a restraining order or filing a police report permanent. Virginia also put in place an early lease-termination law for domestic violence survivors in 2013.

A “more equitable distribution of wealth is what we need, what we’re talking about,” Tracy told Rewire.

As Pentico put it, “When we can give [a survivor] access to finances that help her get and stay safe for longer, her ability to protect herself and her children significantly increases.”

News Politics

Coalition Warns of Trump-Pence Ticket’s ‘Hateful’ Record

Ally Boguhn

“Let’s be clear, the Trump-Pence ticket is the gravest threat the LGBTQ community has ever faced in a presidential election,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.

A coalition of leaders from reproductive rights, LGBTQ, labor, and Latino organizations joined together Friday to speak on the political and legislative records of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and his newly announced running mate, Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN).

“Today Donald Trump doubled down on his hateful anti-LGBTQ agenda by choosing [as] a running mate … a man who has made attacking the rights and dignity of LGBT people a cornerstone of his political career,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, during a press call hosted by the Hillary Clinton campaign. Speaking after news broke that Pence would join Trump’s ticket, Griffin outlined the many ways Pence had previously threatened the well-being of LGBTQ Americans, including voting against nondiscrimination efforts, signing a so-called religious freedom bill in the state, and opposing marriage equality

“Let’s be clear, the Trump-Pence ticket is the gravest threat the LGBTQ community has ever faced in a presidential election,” said Griffin.  

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said that Pence’s selection was “proof positive” that the presumptive Republican nominee was moving to surround himself with “extreme ideologues,” adding that Pence had a track record of enforcing much of the anti-choice rhetoric Trump has wielded during his run for president. 

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“Donald Trump has promised to defund Planned Parenthood. Mike Pence actually led multiple efforts to shut down the government just so he could defund Planned Parenthood,” said Hogue. “As governor, he slashed funding for reproductive health-care clinics like Planned Parenthood to such a degree that it resulted in a public health crisis, with an uptick in HIV infections in rural areas of Indiana.”

“Donald Trump said … that he would punish women who had abortions. Under Mike Pence’s watch as governor, Purvi Patel … has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for attempting a home abortion,” continued Hogue.

“We now have two men in the race who don’t seem to get that women are half the workforce, and breadwinners in their families” said Liz Shuler, the secretary-treasurer of workers’ rights organization the AFL-CIO, in response to Pence’s selection. Shuler explained that Pence had voted against equal pay efforts such as the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act while in the U.S. House.

Pence also repealed Indiana’s construction wage law, which set a minimum wage for workers on public construction projects, “taking money directly out of the pockets of construction workers,” said Shuler. She compared Pence’s stance on labor issues to similar positions taken by Trump, who has previously claimed wages are “too high” and supports right-to-work laws, which as Rewire has previously reported, “have had negative effects on wages, income, and access to health care for people who work in states that have seen legislators attack collective bargaining.”

Martín Garcia, director of campaigns for the Latino Victory Project, worried about a Trump-Pence ticket’s impact on “Latinos across the country.” Garcia warned that Trump’s plan to deport 11 million people would “tear families and communities apart” and that his proposed border wall could “cost taxpayers millions of dollars.” He added that such policies would be in line with Pence’s rhetoric and policymaking.

During his time in Congress, Pence co-sponsored a measure which would have changed the rules on birthright citizenship, limiting it “to children born to at least one parent who is a citizen, immigrants living permanently in the U.S., or non-citizens performing active service in the U.S. Armed Forces,” according to ABC’s Indianapolis affiliate RTV6.