What Do Vermonters Think About Green Mountain Care?
Vermont’s unexpected election results have led to a lot of speculation among Vermonters and in the media. Many have asked whether this election should be interpreted as a reflection on Green Mountain Care, Vermont’s proposed universal, publicly financed, single payer health care system. My response to this is: Yes. The election results suggest we should move forward.
It’s no secret that the implementation of Vermont Health Connect, our execution of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) – sometimes called Obamacare, has been problematic and troubling to many people. The election is very likely, at least in part, a reflection of people’s dissatisfaction with the rollout of Vermont Health Connect. But that dissatisfaction does not include Act 48, the legislation that established our intent to enact Green Mountain Care, the first universal, publicly financed healthcare system in the country. On the contrary - the legislature, the administration, and the advocacy community should feel encouraged, if not compelled to redouble efforts to move forward with Act 48 and Green Mountain Care.
Moving forward with Green Mountain Care is our way and the best way to move beyond Vermont Health Connect and the ACA and actually improve healthcare. Specifically, implementing Green Mountain Care: a true universal, publicly financed healthcare system, promises to decouple healthcare from employment, decrease administrative overhead, lower cost to consumers, improve access to healthcare, and improve health outcomes.
Main Street Alliance has spent the past four months traveling around the state and speaking one-on-one with hundreds of small, main street business owners about some of the issues facing Vermont, including healthcare. In these conversations, we’ve learned that there is a lot of confusion and uncertainty about Vermont’s efforts to reform healthcare in the context of the existing and federally mandated Affordable Care Act.
There’s been a lot of healthcare reform lately – so much that keeping it all straight is a legitimate challenge. But one thing is clear to us based on hundreds of conversations: proponents of universal, publicly financed healthcare need to effectively communicate with Vermonters about the difference between the ACA and Green Mountain Care. Most importantly, we need to make it clear that Green Mountain Care will move us out of Vermont Health Connect and the ACA and into a system that will be much more akin to providing Catamount or Dr. Dynasaur for all Vermonters, that it will take private insurers out of the equation, decouple healthcare from employment, and be paid for through a progressive tax that will replace premiums. Green Mountain Care is a Vermont healthcare system that will include and cover all Vermonters just because they’re Vermonters.
In our conversations, we’ve found that the majority of small business owners (most of whom are not currently providing healthcare to their employees), are supportive of the idea of a universal, publicly financed healthcare system. Of course, they’re eager to see the financing plan and the benefits package, as we all are, to be able to assess the administration’s specific proposal. But the support for the concept – the support to apply for a waiver to the ACA and to move forward with a universal, VERMONT plan that takes private insurers out of the system - is resounding. As one small business owner from Windham county said: “I’d love to see healthcare come from the state; small businesses can’t afford to offer it.”
Please visit our website to see the list of businesses that have formed a working coalition to support moving forward with universal, publicly financed healthcare in a responsible way. A full report on Main Street Alliance of Vermont’s 2014 Small Business Policy Project will be released in December.
This article was written by Lindsay DesLauriers, State Director at Main Street Alliance of Vermont and resident of Huntington. It was originally published in VT Digger and subsequently in the Barre Montpelier Times Argus.
Main Street Alliance of Vermont is happy to announce that we have joined with five other organizations to form the new Green Mountain Care Coalition. Each organization in the coalition independently supports Vermont in moving forward with Act 48, the legislation that established Vermont’s intent to enact Green Mountain Care, the first universal, publicly financed healthcare system in the country. Together, we support a healthcare system that is decoupled from employment, that will lower cost to consumers, improve access to healthcare and improve health outcomes for Vermonters.
Recent Florida election results have relied on three things; turnout, turnout, and turnout. Engaging low propensity voters is essential in carrying the momentum built during the 2012 Presidential election, and achieving progress in areas important to small business owners. Minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, Medicaid expansion, and corporate tax reform are some of the most important reasons that small business owners paid close attention to this election.
The Florida Main Street Alliance focused their efforts engaging existing members by phone and email and reaching out to over 100 new business owners. Shop owners shared their window and counter space to place posters and flyers stating “This small business votes, and we want you to vote too.” Business owners are trusted members of their community and they can reach hundreds of people throughout the day without leaving their shop.
Placing a sign in their window and a flyer on their counter shows that business owners are involved in the elections and understand how the outcome weighs on their business. Some owners took it a step further though, and engaged their customers individually. Like Abraham Gordon, owner of Gordon’s Be Back Fish House. Abraham said, “If one of my customers comes in on Sunday and tells me they haven’t voted I’ll tell them to eat their lunch, and then go to the polls. If they come in Tuesday and they still haven’t voted I’ll tell them to go to the polls. Your lunch will be here when you get back.” Gordon also committed to drive several friends with him to Souls to the Polls on Sunday, the last day of early voting.
Small business owners also have a personal relationship with their employees and can do their part in encouraging their staff to take part in the election. Ricardo McQueen, owner of Food Health and Environmental Safety said, “If any of my employees haven’t voted by Tuesday I’ll call them into my office and we will talk about how important their right to vote is. I don’t care who they vote for, I just want them to exercise their right as an American.” Ricardo is an immigrant from the Bahamas who recently gained citizenship, and the right to vote.
In Orange County, the 2014 election brought out 34,700 more voters than the 2010 midterm election, which shows an 8% increase in voter participation from just four years ago. Main Street businesses helped get the word out and encouraged their customers and employees to vote. Many will stay engaged by hosting member meetings, attending town halls, and writing letters to the editor and articles for publication. Small business owners vote and they will make sure their elected officials have the best interests of small business at heart.
Is Vermont delivering on the promise of quality, affordable health care for women?
Families depend on both men and women to make ends meet. Women across Vermont are leading households and supporting families. It’s critical to make sure that all women are getting the health care they need to lead healthy, prosperous lives. As the World Bank says: Gender equality is smart economics.
The 2014 Women’s Health Report Card for Vermont underscores that we have a lot to be proud of — Vermont continues to lead the nation in women’s health. In the report card, Vermont was ranked No. 3 and earned a final grade of A. This report ranked all 50 states on 30 measures of women’s health, including coverage, access to care and health outcomes.
I was pleased to see this glowing grade as more evidence that Vermont is on the right track and is a leader in health care. However, I also took this opportunity to educate myself on Green Mountain Care — the next step in Vermont’s health care leadership. I’ll admit that I knew very little about the universal, publicly funded health care system outlined in Act 48. This is something to which the state of Vermont has already committed, and now I can comfortably say that I support this path forward and urge others to get educated.
So what is Vermont doing right? The positive strides of the Affordable Care Act expanded health coverage to more women through the new health insurance marketplaces and through Medicaid, improved coverage of preventive care, created stronger oversight of insurance rates, and increased quality improvement initiatives.
But can Vermont be doing better? Yes. There is room for improvement to ensure that all women in Vermont have access to the health care they need to lead healthy and prosperous lives — especially women of color. Our great report card cannot erase the truth that women of color in Vermont are still less likely to have health coverage, access to health care, and have poorer health.
Looking at the measures of women’s health by race, 6.1 percent of white women in Vermont report being uninsured. That percentage rises to 8.4 percent for black women and then jumps to 17.3 percent of Latinas. Additionally, 11.7 percent of elderly women earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level are uninsured along with 9 percent of those between 138 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level. These upsetting disparities will be erased if Vermont moves to Green Mountain Care in 2017. All Vermonters will have health insurance, just by virtue of being a Vermonter.
Vermont has a special opportunity to achieve the equality that is missing here and throughout the nation. There are many leaders working to balance the financing of this system; to translate the dollars we are already spending on health care into an equitable, universal system. This is enormously complicated, and the devil will truly be in the details. While not increasing the burden on individual Vermonters and Vermont businesses, we need all of our state leaders to side with women and communities of color to make their health a priority — to give our mothers, sisters and daughters full and fair opportunities that begin with quality, affordable health care.
Please join me in supporting our legislators’ commitment to work with the administration to finance Green Mountain Care. And let’s make an example of our state with a true system that is fairly financed, does not harm economic growth and achieves the equality we all deserve.
Stephanie Hainley is Chief Operating Officer at White and Burke Real Estate Investment Advisors in Burlington. She a founding board member at Main Street Alliance of Vermont and is past president of Burlington Business & Professional Women. This op-ed was originally published at the Barre Montpelier Times Argus and subsequently in the Burlington Free Press.
We come together in the halls of power and across the media as small business owners because we need to grab our good name back from corporations and lobbyists. On issue after issue, we stand for an alternative economic point of view: it’s about community, customer demand, social justice and sustainable business models. While we come together to advocate we are also exploring ways to provide concrete, hands-on assistance to our members.
Our Washington state affiliate has launched a collaboration with the Oakland-based Beneficial State Foundation to tackle the small business issue #1: access to credit.
Over sixty Spokane mom-n-pops and their community allies and customers came out to connect and share ideas about alternatives to big banks and Wall Street who extract wealth from our communities and rig the marketplace against small businesses. Owners of retail stores, restaurants, small manufacturers, dry cleaners, mechanics, IT and health professionals, consultants, artists and everyone in between joined in to brainstorm ways to bring together values-driven lending institutions and good providers of financial know-how assistance and Main Street Alliance members.
Kat Taylor, CEO and Founder of Oakland-based Beneficial State Bank and Foundation, as well as the Bank and Foundation officers, visited Spokane for the occasion and got to hear a range of entrepreneurial experiences with financial institutions. The picture, as you may suspect, is not that pretty, especially for women owners, people of color, immigrants and first-generation entrepreneurs. When it comes to being treated well by the banking industry, every small business has a horror story.
Our goal is to produce a valuable and vetted portal of values-driven lenders and service providers across Washington and beyond and to work actively on connecting them with small businesses. When we strengthen the business operations of our own members, we also strengthen our local economies and our ability to have impact on local and statewide policy debates.
We envision a banking industry that is fair to the person with the least bargaining power, provides access to financial services for all our communities, particularly the under-served. We envision lending institutions that promote the stability of the financial system and contribute to the sustainability of our environmental commons.
In other words, we believe that money should serve people, not the other way around. We call our new project Building Main Street. Let’s build strong local economies, improve quality of life for each of us, and make widespread gains in social equity and environmental renewal. Main Street, not Wall Street.
Here is a little glimpse from Spokane. Stay in touch with our Washington affiliate and let them know what you think.
Women and working family issues addressed in new State of Main Street report
Portland, OR - This morning, Main Street Alliance of Oregon leaders, Deborah Field, co-owner of Paperjam Press, and Sara Howe and Christy Cushing, co-owners of Howe Innovative Design, met with Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici to release the new survey report, State of Main Street. This report challenges conventional perceptions of small business owners’ thoughts on key policy issues. It details responding business owners’ views on key issues facing Oregon and the nation.Sara Howe, Christy Cushing, Deborah Field, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, Stephen Michael, and Sean Place. Photo credit: Kristin Rasmussen, Dist. Rep for Suzanne Bonamici (left to right)
Oregon small business owners are supportive of giving Oregon working families a fair shot—real opportunities to succeed and prosper with policies like basic standards for paid sick days as well as safe, secure, and effective retirement savings vehicles for small business owners and their employees. Women small business owners and business owners of color are particularly supportive of these policies. There is a clear call from the small business community that it’s time to rethink the “business as usual” agendas promoted by Big Business and special interest groups. We need to move towards understanding the whole picture of how our businesses interact with the communities we serve.
“Small businesses are a critical part of Oregon’s economy, especially in rural areas. Policies that support small businesses help create economic security and stability for working Oregonians. These policies include access to capital for those who want to start a new business, quality education, stable housing, and affordable health care,” Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici said. “When families earn a living wage, can take paid leave, and do not struggle to pay for child care, they are more likely to succeed and thrive. The Main Street Alliance report recognizes that these policies are good for small businesses because they lead to healthier families, a stronger local work force, increased consumer spending, and ultimately a stronger local economy.”
“As we continue to recover from this recession, I am committed to helping small businesses remain competitive in today’s market,” said Congressman Earl Blumenauer. “This report, issued by The Main Street Alliance of Oregon, clearly outlines some of the challenges that remain. While I’m concerned the benefits of our economic recovery aren’t being broadly felt, it’s encouraging to know Oregon’s small businesses feel as strongly as I do about the importance of affordable, quality healthcare, reforming our broken immigration system, and ensuring fair and equitable access to credit.”Sara Howe addresses Congresswoman Bonamici on issues impacting her small web, social media and marketing firm.
The Main Street Alliance of Oregon hopes lawmakers, the media and other decision makers will look closely at the results of this survey in planning public policy. We encourage them to listen and respond to the true voices of Main Street.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made a stop in Orlando on her way to Puerto Rico joining Congressman Alan Grayson and several community leaders for the Working Women Town Hall. The town hall was co-sponsored by the Main Street Alliance of Florida and focused on the principles of When Women Succeed, America Succeeds: An Economic Agenda for Women and Families. During opening statements, the Alliance for a Just Society’s Women’s Health Report Card was discussed, and the Representatives were ashamed to hear that Florida received a D overall and an F when it comes to health coverage for women. Several community members had an opportunity to address the Representatives and the panel of leaders, including two local small business owners.Pictured from left; Orlando City Councilwoman Regina Hill, Main Street Florida Leader Ricardo McQueen, Orange County Commissioner Tiffany Moore Russell
Martin Heroux, of Armando y Jorge’s Orlandonan Hot Sauce, asked the panel what could be done about the sub-minimum wage provided for tipped food service employees, a field dominated by women. As a business owner, Martin is committed to never paying low wages to his employees, or forcing them to rely on the generosity of customers to make ends meet, but wanted to know what could be done to level the playing field for companies like his. Several members of the panel responded, agreeing that the fight to raise the minimum wage must include efforts to raise tipped wages and level the playing field for small businesses that know their employees are worth more than $4.91 an hour. Their vision for Florida is for the state to join seven other states in abolishing tipped wages and requiring employers to pay at least the federal minimum wage to all employees.
Ricardo McQueen, President and Owner of Food Health and Environmental Safety discussed Earned Sick Time, and the need to incentivize businesses to offer paid sick leave. As a leader in the food safety industry Ricardo discussed the health concerns surrounding sick employees being forced to work, and the economic impact of having to lose a day or more of pay, particularly for low wage workers. While Orange County achieved the daunting task of getting Earned Sick Time placed on the ballot and voters in the August primary overwhelmingly supported the measure, citizens are still left without the measure due to preemptive measures taken by the big business backed State Legislature. Pressure from large corporations headquartered in Central Florida, such as Walt Disney World and Darden Restaurants, led to a controversial decision to nullify the work done by the Florida Main Street Alliance and other local organizations to secure paid sick leave.
Orange County Commission Tiffany Moore Russell responded directly to Ricardo’s testimony saying that we must continue the dialogue surrounding earned sick time, and ensuring that low wage workers in particular are afforded the right to call off to care for a sick child without losing pay. She suggested forming community based support groups for new and young mothers who can rely on each other for childcare assistance to help reduce the financial impact of a child getting sick. She went on to discuss the need to secure maternity leave for new mothers, and shared her personal story of having a baby while in office and only being able to take off for six weeks. Orlando City Councilwoman Regina Hill addressed Ricardo’s comments by saying that she supports measures that would force companies contracted by the city of Orlando to offer paid sick leave and maternity leave. Councilwoman Hill said we need to reward companies that are committed to their employees and incentivize high road business practices.
Portland, OR — Last night, October 22, hundreds of small business owners and small business supporters braved the rain storms and came together at HATCH to celebrate small business and connect Main Street business owners with local lenders.
Money on a Mission, sponsored by Beneficial State Bank and HATCH, brought together the top local small business lenders: Albina Community Bank, Albina Opportunities Corporation, Beneficial State Bank, Community Sourced Capital, Craft3, HATCH, Kiva Zip, Mercy Corps Northwest, Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon, Oregon Association of Minority Entrepreneurs, & Portland Development Commission.
There’s no question that there is a large gap in access to capital for Main Street businesses, especially for women business owners and business owners of color. More and more, tradition forms of lending aren’t working for small businesses across Oregon and nationally. By bringing together local alternative lenders and expert panels on business development and growth, all in one room, Main Street business owners were able to think outside the box and find creative ways to fill their capital access needs.
The event kicked off with welcoming remarks (and trademark song) from Kat Taylor, co-founder and CEO of Beneficial State Bank and Amy Pearl, Founder of HATCH. Then there was plenty of time for business owners in the room to network with each other and all 11 of the local lenders on site. There were expert panels in small breakouts for budding entrepreneurs on accessing early stage funds and for established businesses working to grow to the next level.
While it was inspiring to have all of these lenders presenting their alternative forms of capital, we know that there’s still a gap for those businesses who need smaller amounts. That’s why The Main Street Alliance of Oregon and Hatch Innovation have come together to work on creating streamlined ways for Oregonians to directly invest in Oregon-owned and operated businesses. To find out more about what’s coming down the pipe line, contact oregon [at] mainstreetalliance.org.
Last week, Main Street Alliance, in partnership with former governor Madeleine Kunin, convened a Business Task Force on Earned Leave in Burlington, Vermont. The event was held at locally owned Hotel Vermont over two days and included a visit from the United States Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez and a conversation with Washington business owner Molly Moon Neitzel, owner of Molly Moon’s Ice Cream Shops in Seattle.
The purpose of the two day roundtable was to bring together a broad cross section of the Vermont business community - including representatives from various business chambers, associations, and business owners to discuss last year’s legislative proposal on Earned Sick Days and to begin to chart a course forward with an eye toward the 2015 legislative session. Participation was well balanced between those who have a record of supporting efforts to establish a minimum standard of paid time off and those who have historically opposed such proposals.
The two-dozen participants heard from several experts in fields related to the debate on the first day and spent the following morning engaged in a facilitated dialogue surfacing both concerns and common ground. Secretary Perez, who stopped in to speak to the group for an hour, expressed his admiration for such a collegial approach to the issue, encouraged the continuation of productive dialogue, and expressed his hope that Vermont will be able to pass a bill next year.
Perhaps the most impactful moment was when Seattle business owner, Molly Moon Neitzel, teleconferenced in to share her experience as a business owner in a city that has already passed legislation similar to that under consideration in Vermont. Molly acknowledged her own initial skepticism of a universal standard of earned sick time in Seattle and admitted that, prior to the debate in her city, she had not offered sick time to her employees who tend to be between the ages of 18 and 24 and primarily part time. She was worried that her staff would use all their time and couldabuse the privilege – that it would be just another costly mandate in a city already known for its progressive workplace policies. In reality, however, she said that it’s had a negligible cost and has built enormous goodwill. She said, “It’s a liability on the books, but the cost just hasn’t materialized. I spent way more last year changing my brand of strawberries than paying for paid sick time.”
Main Street Alliance will continue to facilitate dialogue within the Vermont business community looking forward to the introduction of a new bill in 2015 to establish a minimum standard of earned paid leave in Vermont.
Main Street business owners across the country are proud to stand with our partners in Oakland at EBASE to support Measure FF & Lift Up Oakland — raising the minimum wage and increasing access to paid sick days.
Rising income inequality is the moral and economic challenge of our time. Main Street business owners understand that small business success is directly tied to the economic vitality of the communities in which they do business. The increasing wealth gap not only harms low-income people; it also creates a death spiral of falling demand that hurts small businesses.
We know that consumer demand drives the Main Street economy. Our employees are our neighbor’s customers and when workers have more money, businesses have more customers. With more customers businesses can hire more workers, which in turn generates more customers. In this virtuous cycle, increasing economic security for workers provides a boost to the bottom line of local small businesses.
Every job should be an economy-boosting job, and means family-wage jobs and access to basic workplace standards like paid sick days. We all get sick, but not all of us have the time to recover—and it affects us all. By allowing our employees to earn paid sick days, small business owners increase productivity and save money in the long run. Employees who come to work sick are less productive and recover more slowly. They’re also likely to spread illness to co-workers, which reduces productivity and increases absenteeism. Earned sick days also help to retain good employees and keep turnover costs low.
At The Main Street Alliance, we’re excited that there’s growing support for common sense workplace policies and raising the minimum wage. Together, we can help redefine “good business practices” and lift up the real voices of small business owners.