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25% of Americans Struggling to Pay Medical Bills

1 in 4 Struggling With Medical Debt

We’re four months into enrollment in the health exchanges and at least 7.7 million Americans have applied for coverage.

That’s good news for the one in four Americans that are struggling with medical bills. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey reported this statistic last week. It is a powerful reminder why we set out to reform health care in the first place.

Faced with mounting medical bills, people have to tap into savings, or the equity in their homes to stay afloat, and that’s if they’re lucky enough to have any savings. Even still, many times it’s not enough.

The crushing cost of care and medical debt has become the leading reason why Americans declare personal bankruptcy. The CDC survey also confirmed that 1 in 10 Americans can’t pay their medical bills at all.

Cathy Stoddart, a nurse and one of our Executive Board members, can tell you all about this from first hand experience. In a blog post last year, Cathy talked about how her family had to file for bankruptcy after years of working to pay off medical bills for her son’s heart surgery.

“As a mother and a nurse, my child not having the care he needed was not an option. So we ended up putting his heart catheterizations, echo cardiograms and doctors’ visits on our credit cards.

“We always paid what we could, but those charges and mounting medical bills after years and years became more than we could ever repay in several lifetimes; so we had to file bankruptcy,” said Stoddart.

Talking head TV pundits are eager to point out every bump in the rollout of Affordable Care Act, but the truth is that 7.7 million people are on their way to having insurance that could not only save their life, but also keep them from the brink of bankruptcy. That is why we need Obamacare, and that is why if you haven’t enrolled already, you should do it right now.

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Grieving Fiance Asks Governor Corbett, “How Many More People Have to Die Before Fixing the Problem?”

Governor Corbett had a rare run-in yesterday with a man who was tragically affected by the Governor’s refusal to accept Medicaid Expansion. The Governor has been known to avoid the people most affected by his policies.

Outside the doors to a $1,000 a plate Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Governor Corbett met with Scot Rosenzweig, a man from Allentown whose uninsured fiancé recently passed away from untreated health conditions.

“If she had access to good, preventative healthcare services when she needed it, her life would have been saved,” said Rosenzweig.

In the encounter, Mr. Rosenzweig gave the Governor an enlarged photo of his fiancé and encouraged him to expand Medicaid. Governor Corbett said that he can’t both expand Medicaid and work on fixing problems he sees with the system, but he assured Mr. Rosenzweig that “I believe we will have [Healthy PA] by the end of the year.”

Governor Corbett’s proposed alternative plan to Medicaid expansion -“Healthy PA” – will cut existing Medicaid coverage for seniors, people with disabilities and pregnant women while imposing new and unnecessary government mandates.  Additionally, if a version of the long-delayed plan is approved by federal officials expanded coverage will not take effect until 2015, leaving 400,000 people to be denied insurance and forced to risk their health for at least a year.

That’s too little, too late for Scot who asked the Governor, “How many people have to die before we fix the problem?”

“Governor Corbett needs to see and hear the consequences of his decision to delay Medicaid Expansion for hundreds of thousands of uninsured people all across the state. We are not just talking about facts and figures; real people’s lives are at stake,” said Rosenzweig in a media statement.

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We Are Standing Up for Commonsense Immigration Reform

This year, we joined in actions around the state advocating for commonsense immigration reform that offered a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million people living in America right now who are yearning to realize their own “American Dream.”

Immigration reform is an issue close to us. We see first-hand the struggles of our coworkers who have had to try and navigate the flawed and cruel system currently in place. A system that divides families and keeps people in limbo for decades.

Marie Youyoute, a CNA at Golden Living Center in Rosemont, is one of those people. Her mother left Haiti to work in America when Marie was very young and was separated from her family for 20 years. Hear Marie’s story in our video.

This summer, an immigration reform bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support, but the measure has stalled in the House. On November 12th, a handful of activists, including former SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina, occupied the Mall of America and fasted for 31 days  in an effort to move members of Congress to act on immigration reform. Their story was followed by major news media outlets and recorded on their own website,

The President and the First Lady visit Eliseo Medina (to the right of President Obama) and the rest of the Fast for Families fasters on the National Mall.

The President and the First Lady visit Eliseo Medina (to the right of President Obama) and the rest of the Fast for Families fasters on the National Mall.

The fasters were visited by political and social leaders, members of congress and even President Obama and the First Lady. In a Nov. 25th speech, President Obama mentioned the fasters and the need for immigration reform.

“Right now, I’m seeing brave advocates who have been fasting for two weeks in the shadow of the Capitol, sacrificing themselves to get Congress to act,” he said. “I want to say to Eliseo Medina, my friend from SEIU, and the other fasters who are there as we speak, I want them to know — we hear you. We’re with you. The whole country hears you.”

On Thursday, Dec. 12th, Congress went on recess without having addressed immigration reform. On Friday, the fasters concluded their action, but implored our leaders and all of America to continue efforts to reform our broken immigration system.

“I feel very fortunate that we touched the hearts of America,” Eliseo Medina said. “I think we managed to unify all sectors of our community. Even though Congress left town without doing comprehensive immigration reform, I think there is no doubt that they have to do something now. When they come back in January, they will have to … continue the act of creating a just immigration system.”

In 2014, we will take up the mantle of immigration reform and continue to push our leaders in Washington to enact this much-needed reform and bring 11 million people struggling in the margins of our society into the full embrace of citizenship.

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We’re Standing with UPMC Workers

Workers at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) have been facing one of the most aggressive anti-union campaigns that we’ve seen in recent history. But the strength of workers who are speaking out has been moving the entire city of Pittsburgh to action. During the last few months, UPMC workers have had elected officials, gubernatorial candidates, labor and community leaders and residents from all parts of the city joining them in their efforts to stand up to UPMC. Lending their voices, experiences and photos to an effort to bring attention to what’s going on for workers inside UPMC’s work sites across the region, billboards, bus shelters and online ads appealed to people to “Stand up to UPMC” with workers. And they did.

Pittsburgh United issued a report that brought to light the low standards that UPMC is creating, and how it’s holding back the entire economy and shrinking rather than strengthening the middle class.

UPMC Worker Christoria Hughes

UPMC Worker Christoria Hughes standing up to the hospital giant that’s been bullying her coworkers and her city.

On Labor Day, the parade of thousands led with a “Stand with UPMC workers” banner, held by Central Labor Council President Jack Shea, UPMC workers Ron Oakes and Jim Staus.  Dozens of other unions carried placards, and standards to stand in solidarity with the workers of UPMC.

Then, likely Democratic nominee for Mayor Bill Peduto shared his support with a room full of UPMC workers, and a host of gubernatorial candidates joined in!

Only one week later, on Saturday September 7th, something extraordinary happened in Pittsburgh. Hundreds of people came together to stand up to UPMC and demand that the healthcare giant stop bullying the workers, patients, and taxpayers of Pittsburgh.

Faith and labor leaders, elected officials, UPMC workers, bus riders, teachers, patients, taxpayers and students demonstrated their unity and resolve when they peacefully and silently sat down as one on Fifth Avenue right in front of UPMC’s flagship hospital.

Just last week, after weeks and weeks of investigation, Region 6 of the National Labor Relations Board — the federal agency charged with protecting worker’ rights — issued a second historic complaint in a year against our city’s largest employer, UPMC. The complaint alleges 47 instances of harassment, intimidation, discrimination and illegal firings, including:

  • Firing workers for their union activity — including Ron Oakes, who was fired for a second time just three weeks after being reinstated as part of UPMC’s settlement of the first complaint.
  • Calling the police on and threatening to arrest workers who were talking about the union while at lunch.
  • Retaliating against workers who testified at the Labor Board. ​

As a response to the new NLRB complaint the Pittsburgh City Council unanimously passed a Will of Council in support of the workers of UPMC and called on UPMC to put an end to its anti-union campaign.

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Healthcare #ProTip: More Nurses = Fewer Readmissions

RN-Group-Happy-350pxThe Federal Government recently started to penalize hospitals for discharged patients that end up right back in the hospital within 30 days. The Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP) cuts Medicare reimbursements to hospitals up to 1% for high readmission rates. Last year, those reduced payments totaled about $280 million.

A new study out from the University of Pennsylvania gives hospitals clear guidance on how to reduce readmissions though: increase registered nurse staffing.

The study published in Health Affairs this month compared 1,413 pairs of hospitals and found that facilities that had higher levels of registered nurse staffing were 25% less likely to have a readmission penalty. In fact, every additional hour of care provided by registered nurses per patient day reduced odds of a penalty by 10%.

More nurses means fewer readmissions. Seems obvious doesn’t it? Nurses are typically the first ones to notice when a patient might be developing a problem with their treatment. They’re also the main source of education for patients and families during discharge. A nurse with too many patients is too busy being pulled in different directions to make sure patients are truly ready to go home.

It turns out that nurse staff levels also increase a number of other important quality patient care indicators including mortality, patient satisfaction and patient safety to name just a few.

Any hospital that truly wants to improve its quality measures needs to start by increasing registered nurse staffing. This one change has the most potential to increase quality across the board.

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Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

SEIU_MarchAugust 28th, 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and we are celebrating this anniversary by continuing the struggle for equality and economic justice that more than a quarter of a million people raised their voices for at the Lincoln Memorial that day in 1963.

It was at the march that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech — a speech which helped to shape modern America and encouraged everyone who was dreaming of a better future to keep fighting for that dream. While the speech was directed at the racism and horrible injustices faced by blacks in America, it was a dream of equality shared by men and women of all races and faiths who came to march on Washington that day.

The march for Jobs and Freedom was focused on more than civil rights. It also gave light to the grievous economic injustice of the day. Marchers called for a public works program and job training for the unemployed, federal laws banning discrimination in hiring, a $2-an-hour national minimum wage (equivalent to over $15-an-hour today) and a broadened Fair Labor Standards Act.

While progress has been made, these issues of equality and economic justice are still being fought for today and our union is on the front lines of that fight. Marchers in 1963 were fighting for “dignified jobs at decent wages. It’s a fight we continue to wage today. Since the late 1970s income inequality between the average American and the wealthiest 1% has grown astronomically. This was no accident, this inequality was created by policies and tax regulations that favor the wealthiest among us and continue to funnel America’s wealth away from workers and into the hands of the super rich.

Today, we are at the forefront of the fight for dignified jobs at decent wages. We stand with those calling for a national minimum wage — a living wage for hardworking Americans. We fight against CEOs and management who continue to exploit their employees’ hard work for their own obscene financial gain. We fight against those lawmakers who would disenfranchise voters by enacting unreasonable Voter ID laws. We fight against the lies and misinformation that opponents of the Affordable Care Act spread in an effort to undermine making affordable, quality healthcare available to everyone. We fight against a state legislature that refuses to expand the Medicaid program, despite the millions of dollars it would bring, the tens of thousands of jobs it would create and the hundreds of thousands of uninsured Pennsylvanians it would cover. We fight for a commonsense path to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans who want to realize their own American Dream.

We fight together against the continued injustice that hard-working men and women still face today. We fight to realize our dreams.

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State Budget Stops the Bleeding, but Pennsylvania is Still in Critical Condition

PA-CRITICALTwo years of drastic budget cuts have left many essential public services in a critical state. Public education from Kindergarten all the way up to college has been slashed. Last year, funding for county human services was cut by 10%. Local governments and school districts are struggling to make up for the shortfalls. In many ways our state is on life support.

True to form, Governor Corbett’s proposed budget this year reflected his priorities of providing tax breaks to corporations over funding the education, health care and services Pennsylvanians’ need.

However, because of the action of many of our members and a wide range of other progressive organizations, the final 2013-2014 state budget will stop the hemorrhaging. Still, we have a long recovery before we are in a stable condition again.

Here’s a quick post-mortem on the final budget deal:

  • Overall spending levels in the budget increase 2.3% over last year.
  • Funding for K-12 education statewide increases $122.5 million, but that still leaves in place the 81% cut to state funding for public schools put in place since Governor Corbett took office.
  • The Accountability Block Grants that fund pre-K, full-day kindergarten and tutoring programs did not get an increase this year, leaving it with still less than half the funding it had in 2010.
  • State universities also did not get an increase to offset any of the 22% cut the system endured two years ago.
  • Medicaid funding increased slightly, but the State House effectively blocked an expansion of Medicaid that would have drawn down hundreds of millions of dollars from the Federal government and created tens of thousands of jobs.
  • Funding for programs for people with disabilities and child care increased by double digit percentages in many places in the budget, but the block grant program piloted last year that cuts county human services funding by 10% is being expanded to more counties this year.
  • Growth in prison spending continues to outpace growth in education funding nearly 2 to 1.

For considerably more detail, get the full scoop from our friends at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.

On the positive side, the legislature made some small moves to close a few of the main corporate tax loopholes that we have sought an end to over the last few years – including the Delaware Loophole. Unfortunately, at the same time the legislature created new tax breaks for banks, gas drillers, and people that own private planes.

Pennsylvania’s prognosis is uncertain, and the leadership in the legislature – and our Governor – doesn’t seem to have a plan for improving our outlook. It will take the continued effort of us, the front line caregivers of Pennsylvania, to turn our state around.

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Last minute deal promises to keep Labor Board functioning

National Labor Relations Board logo - colorIf anyone questioned how committed some legislators are to weakening unions and workers’ ability to challenge employers that violate their rights, one only has to look at a recent showdown in the Senate.

Some Republican Senators had been blocking votes on several Presidential appointees to the Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and other agencies.

But when push came to shove, the fight was really over the Labor Board nominees, and it wasn’t until Senate Democrats planned to change long standing Senate rules that a deal to fill the NLRB seats was reached.

Why such a big deal over the National Labor Relations Board? Because it’s one of the last checks on the power of corporations, and the main arbiter of disputes between unions and employers. If big corporations and their defenders in Congress can render the NLRB inoperative, the uneven playing field that is labor relations in our country would become almost entirely one-sided.

If you doubt the motive, talk to Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who at the beginning of the controversy said that making the NLRB “inoperable is progress”.

So what does the NLRB do exactly? The NLRB oversees the process most workers use to form a union, and protects workers’ right to band together to improve their lives. It was formed in 1935 after the National Labor Rights Act was passed to enforce the law and provide a structured process for resolving disputes.

But over the years, employers – with the help of conservative courts – have managed to weaken workers rights.  Employers have figure out ways to crush union organizing campaigns while staying within the letter of the law.  Moreover, the penalties for violating workers’ rights are so weak that some employers even go so far as to fire or discipline workers who are trying to form a union, and get little more than a slap on the wrist.

Right here close to home we saw a recent example of this when the Region 6 office of the National Labor Relations Board settled allegations that UPMC committed 80 separate violations of labor law – including firing two workers. UPMC put the fired workers back to work and reimburse back pay, but no further fine or penalty was imposed.

Filling the NLRB appointments so that the Board can continue to operate is good news for workers, but we have a ways to go before there’s a level playing field that lets workers freely organize and we can rebuild the middle class.

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Two Supreme Court Decisions Have Potential to Help Patients

US Supreme Court - correctedThe Supreme Court has been busy the last couple weeks issuing new rulings in a wide range of cases.

In the realm of health care, two decisions could be good news for patients.

The first case might mean more access to cheaper, generic prescription drugs. Most people know that when a company creates a new drug, they get a patent for it so that no one can make a generic drug for at least a few years.

In some cases, the drug company holding the patent has essentially paid generic drug companies to drop legal challenges to the patent. It’s called “pay-to-delay” and it keeps cheaper, generic drugs out of the hands of patients.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took one drug company, Actavis, to court over these “pay-to-delay” settlements, but the case was appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court wisely decided that the FTC has the right to challenge drug companies that “pay-to-delay”. While that underlying antitrust suit still needs to be settled, hopefully it will lead to quicker access to generic drugs.

The second case prevents companies from patenting our genes – kind of. It’s a complicated case, but here are the basics. Myriad Genetics patented the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes, recently made famous by Angelina Jolie. Having a mutation in the BRCA-1 gene can raise the risk of developing breast cancer from 12% to 60%.

Since Myriad held the patent on the gene, it was the only company that could develop the test to let patients know if they had a mutation. A test they charged $4,000 for.

With the ruling from the Supreme Court last week, other companies at least now have the prospect of developing other tests for mutations since Myriad can’t continue to hold a patent on the entire gene.

Where the decision gets complicated and the future gets murky is that the Supreme Court took care to note that complementary DNA could be patented. It would be well beyond the scope of this post to explain cDNA. Luckily others have done that for us.

The bottom line here is that no one company can patent an entire gene, opening the door for others to conduct research, develop tests and therapies. And that, should be good news for patients.

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Are Hospital CEOs Being Rewarded for Driving Up Costs?

Are Hospital CEOs Being Rewarded for Rising Costs?Many of the bonuses given to non-profit hospital CEOs are tied to increasing profit margins, patient revenues and utilization according to an investigative story published by Kaiser Health News (KHN) and ABC News yesterday. Some bonuses are tied to improving quality measures and patient care, but compensation experts interviewed in the article agree that those incentives are secondary to financial measures.

For all the talk about reform, CEO incentives for traditional financial goals of boosting revenue and the bottom line still far outweigh those for rigorous quality and efficiency targets, experts say.

“What you’re seeing is incentive plans that look pretty similar to what they looked like five years ago or ten years ago,” said James Guthrie, a hospital compensation consultant for Integrated Healthcare Strategies. “They’re changing, but they’re changing fairly slowly.”

In the meantime, health care costs continue to rise, and hospitals constant efforts to “one up” each other are helping to drive those costs up for all of us. From buying the newest robotic surgery system, to $8,000 handheld ultrasound machines, hospitals are investing a lot of money in equipment that doesn’t necessarily improve quality.

This is not to say that hospitals shouldn’t innovate, acquire new technology or expand services. They should do those things, but in an effort to improve quality or fill an unmet health care need – not compete with other non-profit health systems.

In Pennsylvania, we used to have a “Certificate of Need” requirement that kept hospitals from duplicating equipment or services to keep costs in check, but the legislature let the law expire in 1996. Senator Jim Ferlo is proposing the legislature bring back the Certificate of Need regulation – an idea that is worth further consideration.

Regardless of the outcome of that debate though, this article from KHN makes it pretty clear that basing million dollar bonuses for hospital CEOs on increasing volume, profits or procedures – instead of higher quality – is a surefire formula for higher health care costs.

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Affordable Care Act Already Saving Consumers Cash

4979861313_9eeedff0d4_oA new report out from the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is already saving families considerable amounts of money – $2.1 Billion to be exact.

Half of those savings comes from an often underreported part of the health care law that requires insurance companies to give rebates to their members if they don’t spend at least 80% of their revenue on paying for medical services. The rate is even higher, 85%, for large group policies.

The other part $1 billion in estimated savings comes from lower premiums insurance companies set to meet the 80% requirement.

This is extremely welcome news for families given that insurance premiums have risen 131% since 1999.

But that’s not the end of the good news. California recently announced the rates for the insurance plans it will offer on its new insurance exchange as part of the ACA. Despite opponents of the law claiming the rates would cause “sticker shock”, the rates were actually much lower than expected.

As Obamacare continues to roll out across the country, expect more good news about affordable health insurance for working families.

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Pennsylvania Healthcare Workers Urge Governor Corbett to Expand Medicaid

SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania members and the Cover the Commonwealth campaign launched a Tumblr where people are sharing their reasons why Governor Corbett should expand Medicaid.

tumblr4_mm6am676Oh1sn59sto1_1280.jpg  tumblr5.jpg  tumblr1_mmdph9eF5C1sn59sto1_1280.jpg

Join them with your reasons and share or reblog their photos widely to make sure Pennsylvanians can enjoy better health and the creation of new jobs with Medicaid expansion.

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Health & Healthcare Equity as a National Priority

SEIU Healthcare members witness injustice in healthcare every day. As doctors and nurses, LPNs and lab technicians, and nursing home and home care workers across the country, they see disparate access to care and worse, sometimes fatal outcomes simply because of the color of a person’s skin, where they live, how much money they have, their job, or how they choose to express their gender identity. This just isn’t right.

At SEIU Healthcare we stand with all communities for health equity. We stand for health justice.

Communities of color continue to experience so many hurdles when it comes to accessing quality, affordable healthcare. For so many families, healthcare is out of reach. As a result, millions of people still experience glaring and pervasive health and healthcare disparities.

It is unacceptable that right here in the U.S. systemic healthcare disparities continue to result in higher rates of chronic diseases, shorter life spans and an overall lower quality of life for millions of African Americans, Latinos, Asian and Pacific Islanders and Native Americans –even among those who are insured.

That’s why SEIU Healthcare members, healthcare advocates and organizations continue standing up to protect the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and Medicare, some of our tools to correct inhumane injustice, at every turn–and now as we enter federal budget negotiations.

Thankfully, the Affordable Care Act is already at work, delivering much-needed benefits to communities of color. For example:

  • Nearly 3 million Latinos and 3 million African Americans will gain healthcare coverage under expanded Medicaid coverage to poor and working adults.
  • More than 2.5 million young adults have gained coverage because of the new health care law, including 736,000 Latinos.
  • By 2016, 3 million African Americans who would otherwise be uninsured will gain coverage through Medicaid expansion eligibility; another 3.8 million will be able to purchase lower-cost health plans through the creation of Affordable Insurance Exchanges.
  • Already, 6.1 million Latinos now have coverage for preventive services without additional cost sharing under the Affordable Care Act. In addition, 4.5 million elderly and disabled African Americans who receive health coverage from Medicare now also have access to an expanded list of preventive services with no cost-sharing. These services include annual wellness visits and personalized prevention plans, and access important screenings such as diabetes and colorectal cancer screenings, bone mass measurement, and mammograms.
  • The healthcare law invested $11 billion over five years to expand community health center programs. Nearly 26 percent of patients served by community health centers in 2010 were African American; 35 percent of those patients in 2009 were Latino. The law increases the funding available to the more than 1,100 community health centers.
  • Several initiatives will increase investments in programs like the National Health Service Corps, a network of primary care providers serving communities with significant medical, dental, or mental/behavioral health need, to help diversify the healthcare workforce and strengthen cultural competency.

SEIU Healthcare believes that every man, woman, and child deserves the justice and human dignity of living a healthy life.  As members of Congress prepare to negotiate the federal budget, let’s remember that it’s up to each of us to fight for the social and economic investments that end health disparities once and for all.

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Governor Corbett Needs to Accept Medicaid Expansion Today


Together with our allies in the Cover the Commonwealth coalition, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania has been active statewide leading the fight for Medicaid expansion.

Medicaid expansion will cover 700, 000 additional Pennsylvanians without health insurance, will contribute tens of billion to our economy, including new job creation and investment in our hospitals. Multiple recent studies by the RAND Corporation, the Pennsylvania Economic League and the Independent Fiscal Office of PA has shown the Medicaid expansion is a win-win situation for Pennsylvania, leading to broader healthcare access, better patient outcomes and an economic boost for our state. Additionally, many other governors who had a similar initial reactions have since changed their minds, including New Jersey’s Chris Christie, Arizona’s Jan Brewer and Ohio’s John Kasich decided to go along. Under the expansion, the federal government would cover 100 percent of the cost of newly eligible enrollees for three years, and then the federal share would drop to 90 percent. If we refuse to accept expanded federal Medicaid, this money will simply go to states who will.

Despite all the reasons to take federal funding for Medicaid Expansion, the Corbett administration has not yet decided to do this, nor has it ruled it out.

Here are some of the things that our union has been doing and will keep doing to raise awareness:

Get involved today to make sure that Governor Corbett does what’s right for Pennsylvania and doesn’t leave the money on the table!

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Corbett’s 2013 Budget: Siding with the 1%

On February 5, Governor Corbett unveiled his $28.4 billion budget proposal for 2013-2014. Although his plan offers modest increases in social services, in reality, these inadequate investments would come at the expense of good, middle class jobs for our Commonwealth. The Governor is proposing to sell off Pennsylvania’s wine and spirit stores, relinquishing a revenue-generating asset for Pennsylvania’s taxpayers and threatening thousands of family-sustaining jobs. The Governor is also attacking retirement security for tens of thousands of working Pennsylvanians by proposing to replace State employees’ hard earned pensions with insecure, inadequate savings accounts. At its core, this budget is a clear reflection of Corbett administration’s continued priorities of favoring corporate interests over the needs of working families.

Healthcare & Human Services
Although a number of human services see modest increases including CHIP funding, mental health services and long term care, these gains are minimized by Corbett’s indicated refusal to accept expanded Medicaid funding under the Affordable Care Act. By doing so, Corbett would refuse billions of dollars in federal funding that could cover up to 800,000 uninsured Pennsylvanians free of cost for the first three years and then costing just 10% in following years.

Corbett’s “Passport for Learning,” which offers schools $1 billion block grant depends on the successful passage of a liquor privatization plan. And although basic education funding is increased by $90 million, funding levels are still millions less than where they were when he took office. In fact, the budget locks in 85% of the classroom funding cuts that have been enacted over the past two years.

Additionally, the budget maintains cuts to higher education in effect since 2011-12, which continues to put college out of reach for a growing number of our state’s brightest minds.

The budget plan provides much-needed funding increasing in transportation infrastructure, funded largely through by removing an artificial price cap on the oil franchise tax.

Pension Overhaul
Corbett’s budget proposal would move new state and school employees into a separate retirement system similar to a 401(k) which he argues would save $175 million in the next fiscal year alone and without which additional cuts would be needed else where. However this proposal requires legislative support and court approval, both of which will be hard to secure.

Tax Breaks & Loopholes
The budget includes major new business tax breaks, including a complete phase out of the capital stock and franchise tax in 2014 which generated more than $1 billion in state revenue for the state in 2007-08. The new budget fails to close the Delaware Tax Loophole or enact a fair severance tax on Marcellus Shale drilling.

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Fiscal Cliff Deal – What Does it Mean for Us?

The Good News:

  • Income taxes: The Bush-era tax cuts will remain permanently in place for the vast majority of Americans. For individuals who make up to $400,000 a year—or families making up to $450,000, tax rates will increase from 35% to 39.6%.
  • Unemployment benefits will be extended for one year.
  • Capital gains taxes, which are paid on the sale of stocks, real estate, and other capital assets, will increase from 15% to 20% for individuals making more than $400,000 or families making more than $450,000.
  • Tax breaks – including the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit and the American Opportunity Tax credit – are extended for five years.
  • “Doctor Fix” —  A 27% cut in reimbursements to doctors treating Medicare patients were prevented for a year.
  • Estate taxes will increase from 35% to 40% with the first $5 million exempted for individual estates.

And the Not-So-Good News:

  • Payroll Tax Hike: The 2-percentage point cut to the payroll tax expired at the end of 2012 and was not renewed. That means the Social Security payroll tax will increase from about 4% to 6.2%. That’s approximately $1,000 more for a typical family earning $50,000 a year.
  • Sequestration – or automatic spending cuts worth $1.2 trillion – has been put off for two months. Finding a solution with the new Congress will most likely not prove to be an easy task.
  • The Debt-Ceiling: Within the next two months, Congress must find to raise the the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling or face a potential government shutdown. The country hit its debt ceiling limit on Monday.


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This Victory is OUR Victory

Jackie Whitehead volunteering to help elect worker friendly candidatesFor working people all across this country the re-election of President Obama signals a loud YES to our shared vision of a vibrant middle class fueled by good jobs, access to quality, affordable healthcare and a fair shot at the American Dream.

Here in Pennsylvania, we proved what can happen when we put our hopes and dreams to action. To get our president and other working families candidates in office, thousands of our member organizers, volunteers and partners knocked on 441,735 doors and made 122,719 calls in the last six months, walking endless miles and carrying on countless conversations with voters. We persevered through attempted voter suppression, millions of dollars worth of negative ads and divisive political debate. And the results were undeniable. In addition to our president carrying the Keystone State for a second term,

  • Kathleen Kane became the first Democrat and woman to become Attorney General.
  • Senator Bob Casey, who has been a friend to seniors and working families for years, won re-election over GOP hopeful Tom Smith.
  • Eugene DePasquale, who was elected as our next State Auditor, will work hard to ensure Harrisburg’s financial affairs are conducted in an honest, transparent manner.
  • Worker-friendly candidates picked up three additional state Senate seats, marking the largest Democratic pickup since 1970.

This is victory we can all be proud of. With one voice, we sent a message to Washington and Harrisburg that we demand representatives that will stand up for the rights of women, working families and seniors, create good jobs and require the 1% to pay their fair share.

We know the fight for working people goes on. We know we must find a way to work together in order to move our state and nation forward and call on our legislators to create good jobs now.  But if November 6, 2012 tells us anything, great things are possible when we come together and rise to the challenge.

Check out our Purple Power in action!

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Statement on the Life of Senator Arlen Specter

Leaders of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Pennsylvania released the following statement upon learning about the death of Senator Arlen Specter:

“Our union is saddened to hear of Senator Specter’s passing. Senator Specter was a strong independent voice for Pennsylvania and an ally to our union on many important issues including raising the minimum wage, extending unemployment benefits, and improving access to health care for low income families and the uninsured.

“Senator Specter put people before partisanship and was the kind of moderate statesman that we could use more of in today’s Congress. We will remember him for his leadership and numerous contributions to Pennsylvania during his decades of service. We offer our thoughts and prayers to his family in this difficult time for them.”

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Romney in a “Dream World” on Treatment without Health Insurance

In a meeting with the Columbus Dispatch editorial board yesterday, Mitt Romney minimized the disastrous effects that the lack of affordable health insurance has had on millions of American families, sparking outrage from those who have struggled to find and keep affordable health insurance.

“We don’t have a setting across this country where if you don’t have insurance, we just say to you, ‘Tough luck, you’re going to die when you have your heart attack,’  ” Romney said. “We don’t have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance.”

In response, Georgeanne Koehler from Pittsburgh, whose uninsured brother lost his life to a heart attack after doctors refused to replace the battery in his defibrillator, had this to say about Mitt Romney:

“If Mitt Romney believes that you can get the care you need without health insurance, he is living in a dream world. I’ll never forget the day when a cardiologist told my brother you will not have your heart defibrillator replaced unless you find a private health insurance policy or you come up with tens of thousands of dollars to have it replaced.

It wasn’t one hospital or one doctor, I called every hospital and cardiologist and the answer was all the same: ‘If he is stable, we cannot replace the defibrillator and the outcome is going to be one thing and that’s death. We won’t be able to help him.’ Billy died on March 7th, 2009 when his defibrillator gave out. So now when I want to see my brother’s beautiful eyes, I have to close mine.

So Governor Romney, you keep dreaming if you want to, because it’s a lot easier to live in a dream world. Families like mine who have lost a loved one due to lack of insurance are stuck living in a nightmare.”

Georgeanne Koehler is a retired hospital worker, SEIU member and a tireless advocate for affordable healthcare access.

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Corbett’s Voter ID Law Blocked!

A judge postponed Pennsylvania’s voter ID law on Tuesday, October 2, ordering that the new requirements could not be enforced until after the presidential election. Although the court’s ruling would not stop the law from going into effect next year, it is possible that the court could issue a permanent injunction, which would effectively overturn the law. The Court decided that the state did not adequately ensure that people could easily acquire the necessary identification in order to vote on Election Day. If in place, the law could have prevented as many as 759,000 eligible voters – mostly young, elderly, disabled and low-income – from casting their ballot on November 6.

For the hundreds of SEIU members and allies that led the work in this fight,and the thousands of Pennsylvanians that will benefit, this ruling is a huge victory for democracy. But the battle is not over yet. We must make sure people get to the polls to elect President Obama and other candidates that will stand up for working families.

On Election Day – What You Need to Know

Poll workers will still ask voters for a photo ID, but no voter will be prohibited from voting if they don’t have one. First-time voters and voters registering for the first time in a new voting division will still be required to show an acceptable form of ID. Acceptable forms of ID – which can be either a photo or non-photo ID – include a PA driver’s license, a photo ID card issued by the Department of State, a current utility bill, bank statement or paycheck, among others. The non-photo IDs must contain the voter’s name and address.

Questions? Call the coalition hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) or visit

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