2020

 

We The People 

                       Will....

  • A strong, well-funded public school system

  • Rural health care that works for us

  • Local job growth with good paying jobs     

  • Ensure our farmers, ranchers, and  producers  have the freedom to farm

  • Keep Social Security  & Medicare funded

  • Campaign finance  reform

 LIST OF ISSUES

EDUCATION

We support a strong, safe, inclusive, and well-funded, public school system. When comparing career alternatives, the teaching profession should be viewed as a top-ranking choice. From day-one of their career until retirement, teachers should feel secure in knowing that their public school system has a sustainable source of funds and will provide a retirement benefit program that adjusts to the cost of living.

Teachers and others who have worked in both the public and private sector may face reduced Social Security benefits due to the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset. We support modifying those provisions to ensure that public sector workers are treated fairly.

Teachers are professionals; they need to be treated with dignity and paid accordingly. Teachers should be determining curriculum - their feedback encouraged and respected. Most importantly, teachers must be allowed to do what they do best: teach and inspire.

Education tax dollars should remain in the community, under local, elected control, and not siphoned into the corporate abyss of for-profit schools. Our children and our teachers are our future - they are not line items on a spreadsheet, aggregated data points for sale to marketing firms, or a composite of test results used to justify a CEO's bonus. Our public schools are our community, not a profit center for exploitative and uncaring corporations.

We are committed to a federal, state, and local government framework that values teachers and students, not the high-stakes standardized test industry.

RURAL

In Van Zandt County, three-fourths of us are rural. In 2017, per the USDA Ag Census, Van Zandt County's farm, ranch, dairy, and greenhouse/nursery operations contributed $104.6 million to the economy. Agriculture is big business for this county - when producers face low prices, the whole county suffers. When producers go out of business so do feed stores, farm implement dealers, restaurants, and other small businesses.

Consumer demand for regionally and locally produced food and organic food is growing; Van Zandt County is well-positioned to profit from this trend. We support initiatives that encourage the expansion of farmers markets, on-farm sales of meat, milk, and produce, "farm-to-school" programs, locally produced artisan cheeses, breads, and specialty teas, microbreweries, wineries, and using locally grown food in restaurants. Any excessive regulatory barriers that impact the establishment, distribution, and consumption of regionally produced food need to be removed.

Nationwide, industry consolidation has given the top four cattle processing companies control of over 80% of the market. In Van Zandt County, cow/calf production makes up about 1/3 of our agricultural market. Cow/calf prices today are half of what they were in 2015 - and that is a big hit to a local economy.

The Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act of 2019 (S.1596), sponsored by Senators Booker, Tester, and Merkley, would put a moratorium on Big-Ag mergers and address antitrust issues for restoring a more competitive and fair market.

Federal and state checkoff programs mandate that producers pay a fee ($2.00 per head sold for cattle, $.15 per hundred weight for milk) which is channeled through industry-selected commodity boards and then earmarked for specific agricultural industry groups.  These groups use the fees to promote agriculture sales, and in theory, to return a better price to the producers.

 

There are 22 federal commodity check-off programs - combined they receive about $885 million per year from producers. How this $885 million is being spent has raised bipartisan concern and a demand for more oversight.  The Opportunities for Fairness in Farming Bill (S.935), sponsored by Senators Lee, Booker, Paul, and Warren, addresses transparency and accountability in the check-off programs.

Participation in an industry group marketing program should be up to the producer, not mandated by the government. When low commodity prices are putting producers out of business, producers need to be able to speak-up by shutting down their checkbook. The Voluntary Checkoff Program Participation Act (S.934), sponsored by Senators Lee, Paul, and Booker lets producers make the decision to opt-in at the time of sale. Texas needs a similar law to address state check-off participation.

Prior to 2017, USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) was the agency tasked with enforcing a fair market place for livestock and poultry growers and grain farmers. By late 2017 the Trump Administration withdrew proposed GIPSA rule changes that were intended to strengthen market-place protections for small producers contracting with goliath agribusinesses. And by late 2017 the Trump Administration dismantled GIPSA.

 

GIPSA is no longer a strong, independent agency; its enforcement power has been dispersed into the Agricultural Marketing Service.  We support restoring GIPSA’s USDA agency status, keeping GIPSA funded, and restoring the Farmer Fair Practices Rule Action (GIPSA Rules).

What do border walls, utility construction, toll roads operated by foreign corporations, and pipe lines for private business have in common?  Eminent domain, the taking of private land by the government. Eminent domain laws must be changed to ensure that any land taken is for public use, not private profit, that laws protecting landowners are not waived under the guise of a national emergency, that landowners have access to affordable legal representation and receive a fair price, including compensation for damage to their adjacent land.

A government process that abuses its eminent domain power to grab land at the border, at below-market prices, could be expanded to grab land anywhere. The following three bills address eminent domain protections for landowners at the border, but should be expanded to protect all private land:    

    The Rescinding DHS’ Waiver Authority for Barriers Act (H.R.1232), introduced by Rep. Rice, limits Homeland Security's authority to unilaterally waive “all legal requirements” to construct barriers along the border.

   

    The Borderland Takings Defense Fund Act (H.R.1233), introduced by Rep. Demings, establishes a $20 million DHS fund for legal services for low-income landowners.

    The Preventing the Taking of Americans’ Land to Build Trump’s Wall Act (H.R.1234), introduced by Rep. Vela (D-TX), ensures full compensation to landowners and prevents government seizure of land using below-market offers and condemnation proceedings.

Rural America pays higher prices for lower speeds and intermittent internet service, and compounding this problem are applications that monitor our internet usage. In addition to violating our privacy, profiting from our personal information, and opening us up to identity theft, these applications cause us to exceed data caps and experience even slower internet access.  The Mind Your Own Business Act (S.2637), sponsored by Senator Wyden, would impose serious penalties on applications who violate Do Not Track requests.

LOCAL ECONOMY

Rural is becoming a rare commodity. First and foremost, we want to keep what we have.  We value our rural strengths: quiet, small towns, neighborly, not much traffic, safe, low property tax rates, lots of open space, public schools, a hard-working, well-educated work force.

We want ranchers, farmers, and producers in Van Zandt County to continue to have the freedom to farm and to contribute to the growth of our economy. We appreciate, deeply, their stewardship of the land.

Consumer demand for regionally grown produce is increasing, and Van Zandt County is well-positioned to profit from this trend. Alaska has seen the number of farms grow by 30 percent. This growth is attributed to a focus on local markets, new growing techniques, and raising crops best suited for a unique growing season. The 2011 Texas Cottage Food law, which eased restrictions on selling food made at home, created over a thousand new businesses. In 2019 and with bipartisan support, the Texas Cottage Food Law was expanded to include more low-risk food items. We support initiatives that allow businesses to meet this expanding consumer demand.

Whether it is high-tech, low-tech, research, or manufacturing, attracting businesses to the more urban areas of Van Zandt County is a priority. We need elected leaders willing and able to attract businesses committed to complementing our rural community, and we need elected leaders committed to government openness when offering incentives. We expect new and expanding businesses to provide good paying, full-time jobs with benefits - and to respect our environment by preventing chemical and herbicidal runoff into our creeks, rivers, ground water, and private wells, by keeping our land free of harmful contaminants, and by not polluting our air.

Texas Tax Code Chapter 312 and 313 provide for local tax incentives to encourage new businesses or business expansion. Chapter 312 allows cities, counties, and non-school special districts to issue tax exemptions for a 10-year period. Chapter 313 allows school districts to issue a tax abatement for a 10-year period. These exemptions could be beneficial for creating jobs, increasing tax revenues, and attracting new businesses but there needs to be more transparency.

 

We support changing Chapter 312 and 313 to require a 90-day advance notice for public hearings, to require a job creation value that is proportional to the tax exemption, and to demand compliance with the Texas Open Meetings Act and the Texas Public Information Act.

To attract new business and to support our local businesses a fast, reasonably-priced, and reliable rural internet is a necessity. Over 25% of rural America do not have access to broadband with speeds of at least 25 Mbps/3 Mbps. Rural America pays higher prices for lower speeds and intermittent internet service. We have limited choices for our internet service provider (ISP).

 

The December 2017 decision by the FCC to eliminate net neutrality allows ISPs to favor urban subscribers over rural by capping data, slowing connection speeds, or charging for faster delivery of content.  With the elimination of net neutrality, ISPs could even deny rural businesses services needed to access the marketplace. 

 

The Save the Internet Act (H.R.1644), (S.682) would restore an open internet and prevent ISPs from penalizing rural customers.

SOCIAL SECURITY*

Because we have become healthier and live longer lives, the dynamics for Social Security funding will change over the next 15 years. By 2035, Social Security payments risk being reduced by 20% - 25%. Politicians who choose to do nothing (they call it the pay-as-you-go plan) are supporting cutting Social Security benefits.  Politicians who claim Social Security is an ENTITLEMENT that they will “fix” are supporting cutting Social Security benefits.

To keep Social Security funded at its current level, Congress must act now and pass a long-term, responsible plan, such as Representative Larson's Social Security 2100 Act (H.R.860).

The 2020 cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) for Social Security is a disappointing 1.6%. We support a Social Security COLA based on expenses that retirees would normally incur, such as health care, prescription  drugs, food, utilities, and housing.

Those reaching retirement age have paid into Social Security their entire working career. Employers have matched these funds. In the corporate world, this would be touted as a pension plan, a savings plan with 100% matching funds, an earned benefit, an incentive to stay with the company - NOT universal welfare for the aged - and NOT an ENTITLEMENT.

 

Many retirees have faced age discrimination - they were laid-off through no fault of their own, and after turning 50 found it difficult or impossible to re-enter the work force. This age discrimination also has a negative impact on an individual's Social Security benefits.

For retirees who would like (or need) to continue working while collecting Social Security, we support an end to age discrimination barriers, and we support lowering the income tax on their Social Security benefits. We support the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (H.R.1230), (S.485).

Over the years pay-ins to Social Security have exceeded pay-outs; the net contributions are added to the Old Age and Survivor Insurance (OASI) and Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Funds. The OASI and DI Trust Funds are often referred to as the OASDI Trust Fund even though they are actually two separate funds; the OASDI Trust Fund is also called the Social Security Trust Fund. 

 

By law, a board of trustees oversees the OADSI Trust Fund, and by law, investments must be safe  and conservative. In 2018 the OASDI Trust Fund was worth $2,895 billion (almost $2.9 trillion); it earned $83 billion in revenue from a conservative investment strategy.

Pay-ins come from three sources: employee payroll taxes, employer matching funds (the self-employed pay both payroll taxes and matching funds), and income tax collected on Social Security payments from retirees whose income exceeded a cut-off limit.  In 2018 employees and employers paid $885 billion, retirees paid $35 billion in taxes, and the OASDI Trust Fund contributed $83 billion to Social Security - in total, $1,003 billion. The pay-out in 2018 was $1,000 billion ($1 trillion).

The 2019 employee payroll tax rate for Social Security and Disability Insurance is 6.2% of earnings, capped at $132,900; employers pay a matching amount. For someone making $50,000 the pay-in is about $60 per week; the employer contributes a matching payment.

In 2019 pay-outs begin to exceed pay-ins, and the OASDI Trust Fund will be tapped to make up the difference. By 2035, economic projections indicate that the OSDI portion of the OADSI Trust Fund will be depleted. If nothing is done by 2035, Social Security payments could be reduced by 20% - 25%. Politicians who choose to do nothing are supporting cutting Social Security benefits.

There are many proposals for ensuring the fiscal soundness of Social Security. They range from gradually increasing the payroll rate by 0.1% (and the employer's matching contribution) per year over a twenty-four year period, increasing the earnings cap to $250,0000, eliminating the cap totally, creating a doughnut hole cap that stops at $250,000 and resumes collections at $400,000, taxing investment income, increasing retirement age, and decreasing Social Security benefits for the wealthy.

 

If the Republican Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 were working for the middle class, more and better paying jobs would grow the payroll tax base and lessen the need for rate increases.

From the 2019 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees for Social Security Trust Funds:

“The rate of change in total-economy productivity is a major determinant of the growth of average earnings.” 

 

“The average level of nominal earnings in OASDI covered employment for each year has a direct effect on the size of the taxable payroll and on the future level of average benefits.”

*See:  The 2019 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds: Introduction, Pages 2, 3, 6, 28, 98, 100, 240.

MEDICARE*

Politicians who claim Medicare is an ENTITLEMENT that they will “fix” are supporting cutting Medicare benefits.

 

In 2018 Medicare provided coverage to 59.9 million people; Medicare expenditures were $740.6 billion. 

Medicare Part A is funded through the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund (HI) and financed mostly through a 2.9% payroll tax (split between employees and employers). Medicare A covers hospital and inpatient care. When hospitalization pay-outs exceed payroll tax pay-ins, the HI Trust Fund pays the difference.

 

By 2026 the HI Trust Fund will be depleted, and Medicare Part A payments risk being reduced by 10% - 15%

Medicare Part B and D are funded through the Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Fund (SMI) and financed primarily through premiums and general revenue. Part B covers physician and outpatient costs; Part D covers prescription drugs. Medicare Part C, which allows enrollment in private health plans, is an alternative to traditional Part A and Part B.  Funding for Part C comes from the HI and SMI funds.  In 2018 the combined Medicare trust fund value was $304.7 billion. 

2018 -  Medicare revenues were $755.7 billion, and Medicare expenditures were $740.6 billion.

RURAL HEALTH

Rural hospitals serve a population more likely to be uninsured, low-income, less likely to have private insurance, less likely to have access to employer-sponsored coverage, and older. Between high uninsured rates, federal spending cutbacks, and lack of Medicaid expansion, rural hospitals in Texas are going to face serious funding challenges.

When Medicare and Medicaid funding is cut, rural hospitals with low operating margins are in danger of closing. Rural hospital closures result in the loss of in-community health care professionals, access to visiting specialists, maternity care, and emergency care.

In rural communities a hospital may be one of the larger employers. A hospital’s closure not only impairs access to health-care, it also has an economic impact. County sales tax revenues, employment, average income levels, and school enrollment may experience drops. New businesses, which could provide employer-sponsored health insurance, may be less likely to relocate to an area that does not have a good health care system.

Many rural hospitals depend upon Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. These rural hospitals also rely on uncompensated care (UC), Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment Program (DSRIP), and disproportionate share for hospitals (DSH) supplemental funds to cover reimbursement shortfalls and for treating uninsured individuals.

DSH, UC, and DSRIP funds flow from the federal government to the state Medicaid program. However, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) planned for states to stop using supplemental funds and transition to the Medicaid expansion plan. UC and DSRIP funds from the federal government may not be available after 2022; DSH funds are scheduled to be cut substantially by 2025.

Elected Texas representatives declined to participate in the Medicaid expansion program, leaving 1.4 million low-income Texans uninsured and adding more financial stress to rural hospitals.

 

Elected Texas representatives said “no thanks” to the 90%-100% funding offered by the federal government - funding paid for by Texans through federal income taxes. Instead, Texas accepted supplemental funds from the federal government, which covered only 60% of the cost, and then passed the rest of the cost on to counties and communities.

From the Texas Comptroller website (bold added):

“Texas’ current 1115 Medicaid waiver is a five-year, $25 billion program with costs shared between federal and local governments; Washington absorbs about 60 percent of costs. Note that, while Medicaid is supported by federal and state money, in the 1115 program counties and local hospital districts provide the matching funds needed to attract federal dollars.”
 

In 2018 the Texas uninsured rate, at over 17 percent, was the highest in the nation - rural areas in Texas had even higher uninsured rates. Van Zandt County’s estimated rate, for those under the age of 65, was 20% - 25% in 2017.

SmallAreaHealthInsuranceEstimates2017.PN
TexasRuralHospitalClosures2019.PNG

Between high uninsured rates, Medicare and Medicaid shortfalls, federal cutbacks of UC and DSH funding, and lack of Medicaid expansion, Texas and its rural hospitals will face serious funding issues over the next 5 years.

We need to elect leaders willing to preserve and strengthen rural health care systems and to stand-up for rural America.

MEDICAID*

Medicaid is a federal/state program that provides access to health care and long-term care to low-income residents. The federal government provides a regulation framework to the states; the states are allowed to tailor their Medicaid implementation within that framework.

 

In 2017 Medicaid cost $592 billion, split between the federal government and the states. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) Medicaid expansion accounted for about 12% of the cost of Medicaid.

Texas declined to participate in Medicaid expansion, leaving over 1.4 million Texans without access to affordable health insurance.

The federal government provides financing to a state’s Medicaid program based on the state’s per capita income and whether or not a state chooses to participate in the ACA Medicaid expansion.  In 2018 Texas received 56.88%  of its Medicaid funds from the federal government; Texas does not participate in the Medicaid expansion program. 

 

In 2020, states choosing to participate in the Medicaid expansion will receive 90% of their expansion funding from the federal government.

 

All tax payers, regardless of a state’s Medicaid expansion decision, pay for Medicaid expansion through federal income taxes.

Medicaid income eligibility is based on the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), and each state, within federal guidelines, can make its own eligibility decisions. In 2019 the FPL for a single person was $12,490; for a family of three it was $21,330.

 

The ACA provides insurance subsidies starting at an income level of 100% of the FPL; the ACA Medicaid expansion covers income levels up to 138% of FPL.  Individuals whose income is too low for ACA insurance subsidies and who do not qualify for their state’s Medicaid program are in the insurance coverage gap.

 

The Texas cutoff for Medicaid eligibility is 17% of FPL for parents with dependents and 74% of FPL for the elderly and those with disabilities. A non-elderly, childless adult with no disabilities is ineligible for Medicaid in Texas.  In 2017 approximately 759,000 Texans were in the insurance coverage gap (18% - 99% FPL).

 

If Texas had participated in the Medicaid expansion program, those in the coverage gap would be eligible for Medicaid plus an estimated 649,000 (100% - 138% FPL) Texans would be able to choose between Medicaid or insurance purchased through the ACA Marketplace.

*See:  2017 Actuarial Report on the Financial Outlook for Medicaid: Pages iv, 19. and Texas Medicaid and CHIP Reference Guide - 11th & 12th Edition.

GOVERNMENT INTEGRITY

As a country we must have an election process that leaves no doubt about its integrity.  We must be able to trust that elections are fair, honest, open, secure, and reflective of the voters' choices. We support the use of paper ballots only; voting machines with no paper-trail must be prohibited. For voting-related equipment that accesses a network, election security must also include cyber-security measures.
 

We support strong campaign finance and disclosure laws, including requiring full transparency of the interactions between lobbyists, special interest groups, elected officials and their staff.  From local government positions to the federal level, our elected officials need to view our vote as an honor, a privilege, an opportunity to serve, and not an entitlement.

Gerrymandered voting districts allow elected representatives to choose their voters instead of us choosing them. Gerrymandering results in partisan deadlock and representatives who feel they can ignore their constituents. We support redistricting based on the recommendations of an independent commission, made up of members who reflect the diversity of our state. The redistricting process must be transparent, accountable to the public, and non-partisan.

We must prevent Super PACs, foreign influence, dark money groups, corporate PACs, the lobbying industry, and special interest groups from corrupting our elections and our elected officials. All funds, contributors, campaign coordination, data sources, research funding, and advertising purchases involved in an election must be fully and publicly disclosed.

HEALTH CARE*

In 2018 the U.S. population was approximately 328 million, and U.S. health care cost $3.6 trillion -  a little over $11,000 per person.  Federal and state governments paid about 45% of the cost.  By 2027 our population is expected to reach 353 million; our health care will cost almost $6 trillion - about $16,900 per person.

Over a 10-year period (2018 – 2027) we will spend, as a country, $47 trillion on health care.

Health care plans must:

  •     Lower the per person cost

  •     Reduce the cost of prescription drugs

  •     Provide affordable health care

  •     Keep rural health care networks and hospitals viable

  •     Split the cost burden fairly

 

The Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3), sponsored by Rep Pallone, would require the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to negotiate prices for certain drugs.

 

2018 - $3.6 Trillion -  Health care was paid through the federal government, state governments, private businesses, households, and other private revenues. The federal government paid about $1 trillion on health care.

In 2018 hospital care and professional services, such as physician and clinical services,  made up the majority of our health expenses. Prescription drug expenses are included under medical products.

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