Capitol Update: Rep. Holscher discusses community struggles compounded by coronavirus pandemic

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Each week, we provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Rui Xu, Rep. Cindy Holscher, and Sen. Jim Denning are scheduled to send updates this week. (Sen. Denning did not respond to our invitation to submit a column). 

Below is the submission from Rep. Holscher, a Democrat representing the 16th district.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, my days are spent pretty much the same – while managing a household consisting of three teenagers, from sunup to sundown I work to help people get answers to their questions which typically includes assisting in filing for unemployment or accessing other programs vital to surviving the pandemic.

Through these interactions, it continues to be quite evident that a great number of people are struggling, here in Kansas, and have been for many years. This crisis reveals those struggles and shines a light on many of these severe situations.

Each Saturday I hold a weekly virtual town hall starting at 2pm through FB live. During these calls we cover current information in regard to #COVID-19 from local, state and federal sources.

Additionally, this past week we spent some time discussing some of the struggles this pandemic has once again brought to the surface:

-Wage Disparity – remember when you were told you needed to save money for a rainy day? Of course, it’s a very logical move as one never knows when there will be an unexpected emergency or loss of income. However, with current-day wages and the cost of living, it’s an unattainable goal for many. In a 2017 study by CareerBuilder, it was found that nearly 4 out of 5 workers live paycheck to paycheck in the US, which is the 12th richest nation in the world. Additionally, the Federal Reserve Board in 2017 determined that if there’s an emergency, 44% of American households indicated they could not cover a $400 expense. Having income disrupted even for one time period, has caused immense struggle for many Kansans adding to the overall stress of the situation.

-Underlying Inequality with Access to Health Care – as shown with this epidemic, as with other health situations, minorities and people living below poverty are more vulnerable. African American workers are more likely to hold jobs that cannot be done from home which increases risk of being exposed to the virus (NPR April 18 report). Additionally, the lack of access to affordable health care means more underlying conditions which makes COVID19 more dangerous. In Wyandotte County more than two-thirds of those dying from COVID19 are African American while they make up just 23% of the population (KC Star April 16).

-Disproportionate Impact on Women – the wage gap between men and women has continued and is very relevant to this situation. For instance, female nurses make $ .80 for every dollar male nurses take in. When we talk about physicians, the gap is larger with women making $ .73 for every dollar made by their male counterparts. Women in the medical profession are a major part of the foundation of our healthcare response to Coronavirus and should be treated financially equal to their male colleagues with the same experience – even without considering a pandemic. The impact stretches on to the service sector (in which many of these jobs are regarded as “essential”) where females make up 59.2% of these jobs. (See Women’s Foundation report on “Impact of COVID19 on Women”).

-The Impact of Excessively “Small Government” – small government has been a focal point of the movement by extremists in our state government for several years. Touting the mantra “taxes are theft” while creating a fear of government has been a great cover for the chipping away of necessary programs that help our society and build up our communities. For years, with Gov. Sam Brownback at the helm, our state suffered at the hands of his extremist allies in the Legislature as schools were severely underfunded, roads and infrastructure decayed, and nearly every department in state government was stripped down to bare bones.

Governor Kelly’s administration has aggressively worked to build up these departments and has put some extremely capable people in charge of each one. But, it can’t all be done overnight. While public schools are now better funded, roads and highways are getting more attention, and overall infrastructure has moved in the right direction, there are still many areas that need to be addressed.

One such area revealed during this pandemic is the fact that much of the computer system in the Dept. of Labor (and other parts of our state government) is 40 years old and was finally I the process of being upgraded, but not yet completed. With the increase in unemployment claims, to say the system has been overwhelmed would be an understatement.

This crisis illustrates the difficulties of being prepared for an emergency when trying to rebuild from a very depleted standpoint. I shudder to think how we would be faring if this pandemic occurred under former Gov. Brownback or if Kris Kobach had won the 2018 gubernatorial election (and would have likely worked to restart parts of the disastrous Brownback experiment). Yet, many of their allies remain in the State Legislature and consistently push for spending down of ANY excess revenues. If they’d had their way the past two sessions, our hands would have been tied even further in addressing the needs of our citizens during this pandemic.

And then, there’s the topic of Medicaid Expansion, (which falls under the far right label of big government) and has been a “fatality” of extremist control of the state government. Under Gov. Brownback, Medicaid expansion passed the House and Senate, only to be vetoed by him. Last year, with a new Governor, Laura Kelly, in support of expansion, the House passed the bill, however, it was stopped in the Senate by extremist leadership.

With over $4 Billion in funds forfeited over the past 5 years, this is money that could have better equipped our health care facilities in terms of staff and equipment to handle this crisis as well as basic health care needs of our citizens. And, of course, there is the human cost; poor Kansans cannot access health care which puts them at greater risk for any health issue, COVID-19 included.

This pandemic has shown once again how we need government – reasonable, well-managed government, not extremist ideology. And, have no doubt about it; during the extremist push for small government, the people in control (and those pushing it), have gotten what THEY need. The rest of us have faced the negative effects. In our desire to regain control of our schedules, and “return to normal” let’s not make a return to inequality which is driven by extremist ideology.

The November 2020 Election will be a key part of defining how we move forward. All 40 Senate seats and 125 Representative seats of the State Legislature will be on the ballot this fall. As we work to re-develop and restructure our state economy, we have the opportunity to help determine, through our vote, how we want this to look. We will need people willing to collaborate and solve problems, not extremist ideologues.

I encourage you to reach out to resources like MainStream Coalition, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to helping citizens understand issues important to Kansans. One of the best tools they have available is the legislative scorecard (see: www.MainstreamCoalition.org/getinformed). Essentially, they do the work for us in checking voting records of our Legislators.

This tool helps voters identify the extremists who will often voice support on issues important to Kansans, but reveal their true extremist allegiances through their votes. As an additional guide, Mainstream Coalition endorses candidates who support public schools, a balanced budget, health care access and equality for our people.

That is the kind of information all voters must have going into the fall elections. It is imperative voters are knowledgeable so that we elect a collaborative body that works for the good of the people – whether in a pandemic or not.

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