We focus on winning elections, and a lot of times, it feels more like team sports or a fight based on abstract principles. But these races matter — just look at what’s happening in Wisconsin, New Mexico, and several other newly blue (or purple) states.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers unveiled his first budget and it did not disappoint. It’s loaded with progressive priorities, from a raised minimum wage and increased public school funding to automatic voter registration and nonpartisan redistricting reform. It would also fully expand Medicaid, decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, freeze school vouchers, and undo Scott Walker’s signature Right to Work For Less law, which nearly caused the lifelong government succubus to be recalled during his first term.
Even though Democrats won a vast majority of votes in November, the GOP’s egregious gerrymander helped the party keep control of the state legislature, which means that this ambitious budget will have to be scaled back. Republicans have vowed to ignore the funding levels and begin working from their paltry austerity budgets of the past few years, but Evers has laid down some bold markers, and there’s a lot he can do without GOP support.
Fully expanding Medicaid is particularly notable, because Scott Walker refused to do so for six years out of sheer malignant principle. He slightly expanded eligibility, but refused to take it to the point at which the state (and working people) would get hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government. That’s what we call being a spiteful jerk.
As working people in several red states celebrate the official expansion of Medicaid due to victorious ballot initiatives, others living under the boot of cruel Republican governors are beginning to lose their health care en masse.
Last summer, Arkansas became the first state to implement work requirements as a condition of receiving Medicaid, a new and pernicious hurdle made possible by waivers offered by the Trump administration. The new law requires some Medicaid recipients ages 30-49 to spend at least 80 hours a month working, volunteering, or looking for a job. So far, 17,000 vulnerable people have been kicked off their bare-bones state healthcare because they did not meet the threshold.
That number is bad enough, but the context makes it even more disgusting. Most people on Medicaid in Arkansas were not required to report their hours because they were already either employed, have a small child at home, disabled, or otherwise unable to work. The Kaiser Family Foundation broke down the numbers for November, and they don’t paint a pretty picture:
“The large majority (83%, or 53,975 people) were exempt from the reporting requirement for November 2018,” the center reports, “while 78% of those not exempt (8,426 out of 10,768) did not report 80 hours of qualifying work activities.”
It’s clear that people on Medicaid want to work, as nearly 98% of those exempt were indeed employed for more than 80 hours a month. So what happened to the non-exempt people?
Here we are, two days out from the most important election of our lifetimes, which is a statement that is eminently dramatic but somehow undersells the gravity of what we are facing. I truly don’t know what American democracy will look like if Democrats don’t sweep up at the ballot box on Tuesday. And it’s not just because of the threat posed by Trump and his sycophantic posse. All across the country, there are pitched battles being fought over issues that directly touch the lives of tens of millions of people — and will, more broadly, impact us all.
Here is a guide to the biggest issues and races to watch on what will be a very nerve-wracking, exciting Tuesday evening.
Donald Trump’s tweets make clear that he is a terrible egomaniac and likely a criminal. But his administration’s legal maneuvers are what really mark his presidency as an assault on the well-being of average Americans. On Thursday evening, the White House announced that it joined a GOP lawsuit that seeks to fully dismantle the Affordable Care Act. While the Trump administration is only seeking to have some of the Affordable Care Act thrown out, it is targeting the most popular provision: barring insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing medical conditions.
This is a particular danger to low-income Americans, who historically have been in worse health — the link between economic and medical hardship is very direct. That the House of Representatives this week also voted to cut $7 billion from the massively successful and universally popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers 9 million kids nationwide, makes it more clear than ever that we are in an all-out class war.
Healthcare is shaping up to be the number one issue in November’s election, with the power to shape electorates. This week, we want to look at the great campaigns that are going on the offensive, working to expand Medicaid in states that have refused to do so thus far.
Initially, the Affordable Care Act required states to expand Medicaid, the public health insurance program for low-income Americans. Another lawsuit filed by heartless conservatives who hate poor people turned it into a voluntary initiative, and thus far, 32 states have followed through with the expansion, the most recent being Virginia and Maine. The expansion in Maine was triggered by a very successful ballot initiative, and this year, there are several more states with campaigns working hard to get a Medicaid expansion on the ballot.
These are not typically Democratic states, but they have strong grassroots community leaders who are reaching across partisan lines to promote a public good. And so far, it’s looking good.
“A majority of Nebraskans support Medicaid expansion,” Meg Mandy, the program director for Insure the Good Life, told Progressives Everywhere. “That is why we decided to bring this directly to voters, and why we feel we are in a strong position to qualify the measure and win in November.”
Mandy says they began collecting signatures in April, and as of early last week, they were halfway to the number needed to qualify for the ballot. The signatures are due on July 5th, and Mandy says they’re on target to beat the deadline. Nebraska ranks 27th in the US in access to healthcare, so victory in November would provide a major boost.
“Expanding Medicaid will give 90,000 hardworking Nebraskans access to critical, life-saving care,” Mandy said. “We know that regular visits to the doctor and preventive care leads to better health outcomes. It’s especially beneficial for earlier diagnosis and treatment of conditions like diabetes, cancer, and mental health issues.”
In Idaho, the campaign is truly a bottom-up, grassroots effort. The progressive group Reclaim Idaho decided last summer that they’d barnstorm the state in a 1977 RV, turning their campaign to expand Medicaid into a grassroots event. Volunteers collected signatures on both the ballot petition and the RV itself, earning tons of statewide attention and ultimately doing what was said to be almost impossible: securing over 60,000 signatures from voters 18 of the 35 districts in Idaho, qualifying for the ballot this November.
The achievement itself is a major one: Idaho Republicans had made the already difficult requirements for getting an initiative on the ballot even more onerous after a 2013 citizen vote on a simple education matter didn’t go their way. This marks the first initiative to even get on the ballot since those changes. Idaho faces 27% premium increases this year, making this a very attractive option to both Democrats and Republicans.
The third Medicaid expansion ballot initiative is in Utah, where things are a bit different.
After years of being shut down by a far-right state legislature, a partial expansion of Medicaid was approved earlier this year. But it’s unclear whether the federal government, even under Trump, will accept its controversial provision that limits coverage to people who make poverty wages — just $12,140 a year — and below. The Affordable Care Act provides help for people making up to 138% percent, which is not great, but far better than Utah’s bill.
Unwilling to accept a half-measure, a coalition of activists collected signatures to get a full Medicaid expansion on the ballot this November. Utah Decides rounded up support from 140,000 people and last month qualified for the ballot, bringing the state one step closer to providing medical care to 150,000 new people — double the amount the legislature’s bill would cover.
Here’s what’s so significant: two-thirds of Utahns support Medicaid expansion. That’s two-thirds of a very, very red state supporting a policy that Republicans have blocked for years and advocated for by Democrats. Yes, the governor there wants to expand it to some degree, but this is a much more substantial expansion that people support — and it helps to show them that Democrats aren’t lib’rul monsters, but people who are compassionate and want to help their families.