Wednesday, October 31, 2012

These Corbett job numbers are downright scary.

Last week when defending the $10,000 raises his boss doled out to top staff, the governor’s spokesman told the Harrisburg Patriot-News that Gov. Corbett has a “broader plan” to bring equity to the state workforce’s 12,000 managers. He said “Governor Corbett plans to grow the economy so that additional revenues become available which allow for additional raises.”

His plan to “grow the economy,” rang a little hollow to me. Perhaps because I had just done some research that points to PA’s economy moving in the opposite direction of the nation’s at large.   

See, while other Americans look at economic indicators like the unemployment rate and foreclosures, and feel encouraged by the hopeful signs Pennsylvanians are left wondering why the numbers in our state don’t do much to boost confidence.

The U.S. Commerce Department shows economic trackers like housing starts, home prices and consumer confidence are growing, while foreclosures and unemployment are down. But Pennsylvanians aren’t feeling this recovery.

Plus according to RealtyTrac foreclosures in the U.S. plunged to a 5 year low in September. But in the Commonwealth -- up a 134% since September 2011, the 2nd highest of any state in the country.

Similarly, the U.S. unemployment rate dropped to 7.8% in September, a 3/10 percent drop, falling in 41 states; Pennsylvania’s increased to 8.2 percent last month, climbing steadily every month since May.

Adding to the pain and frustration WNEP in Scranton reported that many recently laid off Pennsylvanians hit a wall when calling the state’s toll-free unemployment hotline – getting a busy signal -- sometimes for weeks on end. In fact when Labor and Industry Secretary Julia Hearthway called, she got a busy signal too.

I’ve heard the frustration and anxiety from would-be and existing U.C. claimants, and those trying to assist them firsthand.

So when can we expect this promise to “grow the economy?” In his first 22 months it looks its Corbett’s failed policies that are responsible for our state’s nonexistent recovery.

Remember back-to-back state budgets which laid off nearly 20,000 education professionals, and the 40,000+ working Pennsylvanians kicked off their health insurance, and asset tests to qualify for nutritional assistance – clearly these do not contribute to a thriving recovery. Compounded by the governor’s inaction on transportation infrastructure, which by the way would improve public safety and creating tens of thousands of jobs.

Not only has the administration (and others remember “jobs, jobs, jobs”) failed to generate the jobs it claimed were its top priority, it has also dismantled the safety net there to assist struggling families. This is simply unacceptable, Pennsylvanians deserve better.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Paging Dr. Corbett

After yo-yo-ing on whether or not to embrace his role as a leader in securing health care for every Massachusetts’ resident while he was governor, Mitt Romney has adopted the oft-Republican refrain that health care (like other issues when it suits them) should be firmly in state hands.

But what did Pennsylvanians do wrong? Why is health insurance more important for residents of the Bay State than the Keystone State based solely on the person at the helm? Last summer would 89,000 children in Pennsylvania have gotten cut from Medicaid if Mitt Romney were the governor of our Commonwealth?

But if comprehensive health care is a state issue as Mr. Romney insists, let’s look at what Dr. Corbett has prescribed for Pennsylvania.

Stage 1: Eliminate Affordable Health Care for working Pennsylvanians

Despite a campaign promising “developing a world-class work force” (evidently by decimating education funding), “promoting state parks and forests” (to multinational drillers, perhaps), and “improving our transportation infrastructure,” (seriously this is all on his campaign website!), Tom Corbett believed the first issue warranting his attention as governor was eliminating health coverage for over 40,000 working Pennsylvanians who were contributing to the cost of their insurance. (Not to mention extinguishing the hopes of the ½ million people on the plan’s waiting list).

Regardless of whether Gov. Corbett even had the authority to eliminate adultBasic, he had the ability, and that was just phase one in his Corbett (doesn’t) Care plan.

Stage 2: Cut 89,000 Children from Medicaid

According to Tom Corbett: it’s time to cut the fraud, waste and abuse that is crushing our state -- yep time to cut those freeloaders who are abusing Pennsylvania’s public programs -- all 89,000 of those kids living in poverty.

From August 2011 to January 2012, Corbett and his deputies directed the removal of 130,000 people from the Medicaid rolls. That’s a fairly atrocious number that sparked the attention of the feds which actually provide the guidance and jointly-fund Medicaid. Compounding the federal government’s insistence that the Corbett administration should revisit the rolls were the 89,000 kids who were cut. As of late May, the DPW Secretary still hasn’t accounted for where all the children who were cut disappeared to and why they no longer qualify.

Stage 3: Cut access to nutritious food

How can we really ensure health care costs go up for low income Pennsylvanians (which really means costs increase for all of us)? I suppose a cheaper option than distributing packs of cigarettes to people on street corners, is to jeopardize their access to nutritious food.

As if cutting or even holding budget line items like Farmer’s Market Coupons steady in a time of increased public need weren’t harmful enough, Gov. Corbett not to be outdone, decided to make access to food stamps more burdensome. The kicker is that by implementing an asset test, as the governor prescribed, actually costs the state (otherwise known as the taxpayers) more money.  This plan, which took effect in May, punishes people for collecting a modest savings that could help make ends meet in emergencies. You know – like every financial advisor would recommend.

In order to qualify for SNAP (food stamps) residents were already means tested, which means they could only earn 160% of the federal poverty level, about $35K a year for a family of four. The asset plan piles on the workload of the already task-saturated county assistance offices, which by the way have also seen the edge of the budget ax in recent years.

Stage 4: Collect a 5% income tax from the families with disabled kids

Candidate Corbett claimed to want to support Pennsylvanians with autism, however he approved a plan by a top deputy to implement a policy change to collect up to 5% of a family’s gross household income in the form of co-payments for medically necessary treatments for their disabled kids.

The policy was announced under the radar and bypassed formal review by the legislature and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission. Due to public outcry the plan is on hold for now, but when they tried to implement it, DPW in several cases didn’t even calculate a family’s income correctly, sometimes overestimating it by $100,000.

After considering just his first 22 months in office Corbett’s Health care plan doesn’t look promising for many of us. One Romney strategy Tom Corbett has adopted is tax breaks and less oversight for big business, now if he’d only embrace his approach to securing the health of residents of this Commonwealth ….

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Picking on the little guy

Corbett administration imposes a 5% income tax on families of disabled kids

You’ve seen this story unfold before: Gov. Corbett alleges Pennsylvania is in such dire straits that cuts must be made to programs that working Pennsylvanians depend on, while he gives tax credits to out-of-state corporations under the guise of job creation.

Well he’s at it again.

This week DPW implemented a policy it discreetly announced in August to begin collecting co-pays from parents for services provided to their disabled children.  Yep, disabled kids.

Last week DPW Sec. Gary Alexander defended the policy only after those affected and their advocates converged on the Capitol to voice their disapproval. Alexander devised the plan in an effort to make massive cuts in DPW’s budget, a task bestowed upon him by the GOP in 2011.

Under the new policy a family with a disabled child (or children) will have to pay up to 5% of their total household income if they earn 200% of the federal poverty level (about $46,000 a year for a family of four).

It will easily cost families thousands of dollars annually to continue receiving treatment. Some of these children have several medically necessary therapies, diagnostic tests and other services per week. The families I’ve spoken to have said it will force tough decisions between co-payments and basic necessities like housing and food.

The real kicker is in the past, DPW required oversight from the General Assembly or the Independent Regulatory Review Commission to put these kinds of harsh changes in place, but due to a GOP-backed law approved in 2011 Alexander (aka the Gov. Corbett ax wielder) can exercise ultimate control over these decisions. 

What’s really absurd is the new policy isn’t even necessary.

According to the Pennsylvania Health Law Project if DPW were to actually enforce the existing Autism Insurance Coverage Law (on the books since 2008) DPW could save $25 million a year. This new cockamamie plan would only save about $5 million while costing Pennsylvania’s thousands of working families with disabled kids nearly double that since when DPW pays for the services, the feds kick-in about 40 cents on the dollar to help.

The icing on the cake is that DPW has miscalculated the household income for some families by as much as $100,000.

Add this to the list of senseless plans the Corbett administration has rushed to implement and completely mismanaged.  Check back regularly to read more on the Corbett administration’s dysfunction: “Working Hard…to prove government doesn’t work.”