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  • Tennessee needs Medicaid expansion now

    Medicaid expansion is one of the most important issues to face the Tennessee General Assembly in more than 20 years. This decision will affect the lives nearly a quarter of a million working men and women in Tennessee, and now is the time to make a decision -- one that is based on people, not politics.

    Here are the facts: If we expand our Medicaid program, hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans -- will receive quality, affordable health care coverage. Tens of thousands of these individuals are children and veterans, many of them our neighbors from the National Guard who don’t qualify for full V.A. benefits.

    Every week when I get back to my district, I hear from working middle-class families whose jobs don’t provide health care and who make too little to afford real coverage on their own. Medicaid expansion offers an opportunity to expand coverage to these working families who live between 100-138 percent of the poverty line -- or about $31,000 a year for a family of four.

    Expanding Medicaid also makes financial sense. About 15 percent of the Tennessee economy is dependent upon the health care sector. Without Medicaid expansion, dozens of hospitals are in danger of closing, meaning our state could lose thousands of jobs over the next ten years.

    Drilling down deeper, we know that Tennessee currently ranks near the bottom in women’s health and infant mortality. Medicaid expansion offers a meaningful opportunity to address both these important issues.

    We know that the key to a healthy baby is a healthy mother. Unfortunately, our current system ignores the needs of working class mothers, who many times don’t qualify for Medicaid coverage until they are pregnant. Medicaid expansion would extend quality health care to women before they become pregnant, meaning a healthier pregnancy and healthier baby.

    It should be no surprise that Tennesseans have already made up their mind on this issue. A recent survey showed that 59 percent of Tennesseans believe we should expand the Medicaid program, while only 35 percent expressed reservations about such a move. This is because Tennesseans understand what is at stake.

    They know that expanding Medicaid will help working families, women and children. They also know it will reduce the amount of uncompensated care hospitals provide, which will ultimately bring insurance premiums down for everyone -- including those of us with employer provided or privately purchased coverage.

    The good news is that it’s not too late for Governor Haslam to do the right thing. Tennessee Democrats know that Governor Haslam can negotiate with the federal government on Medicaid expansion. That’s why we offered budget amendments that would allow the Governor to accept federal funds for expansion, if and only if the conditions for his hybrid plan were met by the Department of Health and Human Services.

    I understand there’s political pressure on Governor Haslam from the far right wing of his party. While putting this decision off may be politically popular, we owe it to the least among us to put people above all else and do the right thing.  Lives depend upon it.

    Joe Armstrong represents the 15th district in the Tennessee House of Representatives. He is the Democratic Caucus Vice-Chairman, and President of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators.

  • Maryland needs federal unemployment insurance

    As our economy is continuing to recover, and new jobs are being created every day, President Obama reminds us that we still have much to do, as millions of Americans are working every day to find jobs. Until recently, people had been able to rely upon the safety net of federal unemployment insurance to help put food on the table and pay the rent.

    However, Republicans in Congress have refused to extend unemployment insurance, leaving 1.7 million Americans without benefits, including more than 20,000 Marylanders. Approximately 70,000 more Americans lose their unemployment insurance each week that Congressional Republicans don’t choose to do what is right.

    Once again the GOP is putting partisan politics over struggling American families. It is sad and disappointing that these lawmakers do not realize these are real people that rely upon this essential benefit as a lifeline. 

    In 2012 alone, unemployment insurance lifted 2.5 million Americans out of poverty, and since 2008, 17 million children have been supported by unemployment benefits. Failing to extend benefits could slow our recovery and cost the economy 240,000 jobs this year. In 2011, the Congressional Budget Office found that funding for the unemployed was one of “the largest effects on output and employment per dollar of budgetary cost.”

    And in communities of color, the need is ever greater. The unemployment rate for African-Americans – while on the decline – still remains higher than the national average. This is not acceptable. President Obama knows this, and Democrats across the country know this. Nationally, the unemployment rate among African-Americans has remained above 11% for more than four years. Renewing unemployment insurance will provide the crucial safety net that these families need to succeed.

    Join me in calling on Republican Members of Congress to renew unemployment insurance. It is time to put an end to partisanship, work with Democrats and help our citizens who are searching for jobs.

    Yvette Lewis is the chair of the Maryland Democratic Party.

  • Freedom Day

    On January 23, 2014, an image of my father appeared on the front page of the Hattiesburg American, a local paper in Mississippi. The solemn picture shows an older African-American man recreating the city’s 1964 Freedom Day, when he was a 14-year-old civil rights activist demanding voting rights for all. He joined with hundreds of others across the beleaguered city.  He was a child, unable to use the very powers he sought for others, who nevertheless risked his own liberty to demand justice.

    There will be elections all across the country this November, and like my father 50 years ago, we will be called to participate and vote; in the process, we will be standing for those who will remain voiceless if we do not. Our response to that call will be our legacy half a century from now. Did we balk at the difficult beginnings of a transformed health system that will give millions the ability to live better without fear of economic ruin?  Have we ignored the attempts to cut the fabric of our social safety net, distracted by stereotypes and rigid ideology? Did our votes go uncounted because we refused to secure the unnecessary - but required - identification?

    The power of the vote is more than a right or an obligation. It is a powerful tool. In the proper hands, our votes alter the nature of our communities and our nation, much as my father’s protest helped change Mississippi. 

    I live in Georgia now, a frontline for civil rights and the right to vote. Each Election Day is a call from my father’s 14-year old self across the lines of race and class and geography that might separate us. It is his call that I urge each of us to honor in 2014.

    Let’s call Election Day by its rightful name beginning this year – for if we are willing to act, every Election Day has the chance to be our very own Freedom Day.

    Stacey Abrams is the Georgia House Minority Leader and represents the 89th district, which includes the city of Atlanta.

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