Annual Holiday Luncheon 2018
Annual Holiday Luncheon 2018

PA-165th Q&A in Lieu of Forum

Questions Alex Charlton Jennifer O'Mara
1. Having a family member with a disability shapes one’s outlook and experiences. Can you speak specifically to how you would protect access to Medicaid so that people can attend school, work, and live in the community? What type of legislation do you think is most needed in Harrisburg to protect the rights and livelihood of individuals with disabilities as well as their families?

As some local residents may know, during her birth, my daughter incurred a severe spinal cord injury that resulted in her being paralyzed from the waist down. She is brave, fearless and resilient and she works hard each and every day at therapy, both at home and with medical professionals. The challenges she and our family have faced as a result of her disability are part of the reason I first decided to run for the state legislature. For example, our insurance company initially denied our claim for them to cover a wheelchair. In addition, she had been repeatedly dropped from medical assistance - every year - by the state Department of Human Services (DHS) because they thought her medical issue (being paralyzed) had “resolved itself.”

These are challenges individuals with disabilities - and their families - face every day. During my first two years in the legislature, I have been and will continue to be a leading advocate for the disabled community to ensure they are treated fairly and with dignity. For example, I have co-sponsored legislation that would prevent insurance companies from denying coverage to individuals due to a pre-existing condition.

I opposed language in the fiscal code that would have required families to pay a fee for Medicaid services for their disabled child. I have supported efforts to increase funding for the Medicaid waivers program so that additional Pennsylvanians with disabilities can get access to needed services. In addition, I have been working with the Department of Human Services to ensure that individuals with disabilities are not repeatedly dropped from medical assistance by listing “permanent disability” as an option on paperwork. These are just a few of the many issues I have championed or spoken out on in the legislature. I hope that I earn the support of local residents so that I can continue to be an advocate for individuals with disabilities.

My husband is a permanently-disabled veteran. Without the support of programs like Medicaid, we wouldn’t be able to afford the healthcare he needs because of injuries he sustained in service of our country. I know exactly how complicated this program can be. Last year, the legislature tried to pass restrictive work requirements for Medicaid recipients, which would have cost the state $800 million and left nearly half a million Pennsylvanians without health insurance. This legislation would have penalized many of the citizens who need health coverage the most – those with long-term illnesses, seniors, and those suffering from substance use - and the additional red tape could have prevented people from receiving life-saving care. That is unacceptable. We need to be working to make the Medicaid system easier to use, not harder. We need to pass legislation to streamline the system and improve access to care. We also need to expand the health benefits savings account, which will allow people with disabilities, the members of our communities most in need, to save over $10,000, without losing their benefits.

 

But addressing Medicaid and treatment for people with disabilities also needs to go beyond the physical. We need to expand treatment programs for mental illness and substance use disorders, to reduce the effect these deadly conditions have on our communities and ensure everyone has access to care. That means passing bills like SB860, to prioritize evidence-based treatment for mental health and substance use disorders regardless of status or income.

2. In your view, how does Pennsylvania
rank as a place to work and do business? What steps would you propose to create good paying jobs and improve Pennsylvania’s
economy?

Overall, Pennsylvania is routinely ranked in the bottom half of the 50 states in terms of business friendliness. We need to do a better job in this area through a comprehensive approach that includes making our tax structure more competitive with other states, increasing funding for workforce development, investing in improvements to our transportation and utility infrastructure, and attracting and retaining talent.

I have taken a common sense approach to enhancing our business climate by improving career and technical education opportunities and funding for these programs. I have supported efforts to increase utility investment in energy efficiency projects that will reduce costs for both business and residential customers. I co-sponsored legislation that creates a one-stop shop for businesses going through the permitting process, supported needed regulatory reforms, and voted for the Small Business Tax Fairness Package to help make our state tax system more competitive for local businesses.

For a lot of corporations, Pennsylvania is a great place to do business. But those benefits don’t always translate to working families. Through the Delaware tax loophole, which allows corporations to do business in Pennsylvania without paying Pennsylvania income taxes to support our community, and maintaining the nation’s only active fracking industry without an extraction tax, we benefit large Pennsylvania businesses who know how to use the system without giving back to our communities. We need to change that. If corporations want to do business in Pennsylvania and profit off Pennsylvanians, they also need to be giving back to Pennsylvania’s schools and communities.  

 

Making Pennsylvania’s economy work for working people is my top priority. Growing up, my family relied on the services and benefits of Pennsylvania’s unions. Unions don’t just help members - they benefit all workers. It’s our job to continue to fight to make the lives of working people better. I will vote against right-to-work legislation; right-to-work states have been consistently shown to have lower wages and higher health care costs across the board, and our workers deserve better than that. Additionally, working people need a livable income. Pennsylvania hasn’t raised the minimum wage since 2006, meaning full-time minimum-wage workers are living below the poverty level. That’s why I’m supporting SB1044, a bill to raise the minimum wage to $12, then to $15 by 2024, and then adjusted according to inflation. We also need bills like HB2606, to make it easier and more democratic for workers to organize.

3. The LWV supports equal access to quality public education, which is to be achieved
by participation of government and citizens at all levels and by adequate financing based on an equitable and flexible tax system.
Pennsylvania schools continue to be challenged with both increasing class sizes and increasing costs.  What are the top problems with public education, and what are your proposals to improve it?

I am a strong supporter of our public education system and I believe that the quality of a child’s education should not depend on their zip code or their parent’s income level. My support for increased funding of our public schools, as well as my support for our teachers and students, is part of the reason I received the endorsement of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, which represents our local public school teachers.

As part of this year’s state budget, I supported efforts to increase the state’s share of funding for PreK-12 public schools and post-secondary education by $250 million. This year’s budget increased state funding for public PreK-12 education to a record high $12.3 billion, including $30 million for career and technical education. We also formed a new Education Subcommittee on Career and Technical Education to ensure that we continue to prioritize this important pathway for students into the workforce.

Recognizing that many local school districts did not have the needed resources to invest in new school safety measures, I also supported an effort to create a new grant program – funded at $60 million – that local schools can apply for to help fund safety initiatives.

One of the challenges facing both teachers and school boards has been the requirement that schools “teach to the test” when it comes to the onerous Keystone Exams and the requirement that students demonstrate proficiency in the areas of Literature, Biology and Algebra in order to graduate high school. Working with Senator McGarrigle, I am pleased to announce that earlier this month the legislature approved legislation that enables students to prove their readiness to graduate through alternative pathways.

If re-elected, I will continue to work to make sure we are providing the proper level of state funding for our schools and ensuring every child has access to a quality education in a safe learning environment.

I went through the public school system in Delco. As a certified teacher, I know first-hand the conditions students and teachers are facing in the classroom. Only 7% of our education funding passes through the fair funding formula, which means that Delaware County schools are consistently short-changed. If all of the public school funding went through the fair funding formula, every single school in the 165th would get a funding increase. Instead, right now our communities are facing higher property taxes, placing an undue burden on homeowners and seniors, to fund our schools. So that’s a start. But beyond that, we need to address the inequities in our education system. There are great public schools in the 165th - the public schools that got me here today. But there are also schools that are underfunded and struggling, and we need to be doing more to get them the resources they need. Pennsylvania ranks 46th in the nation for state share of public education funding, which means we’re not giving our teachers the support they need. We need to listen to teachers when they tell us they need books in their classrooms. We need to listen to teachers when they’re fighting for the right to unionize, for higher wages, for better working conditions. And we need to support the kind of professional development our educators need and deserve. I’m proud to be endorsed by local and national teachers unions, who know I’m going to Harrisburg to fight for public education.

4. Delaware County is in the path of Sunoco's proposed highly volatile liquid pipeline
project marketed as Mariner East. What are your views regarding the risks to public safety, impacts to property values,
and constitutional private property
rights?

I voted against HB 2154, legislation that I felt was an enormous step backward from an environmental perspective. In essence, the legislation would have reduced existing regulations on conventional drillers to levels established back in 1984. I have also co-sponsored legislation providing for an impact fee for natural gas and oil pipelines. That money will be used to establish a Pipeline Impact Fund to provide funding to local communities for pipeline safety training, investments, and technology projects.

In addition, I believe Governor Tom Wolf and the Department of Environmental Protection need to exercise careful oversight of the construction of the pipeline to ensure that the safety of local residents and our environment are not placed in jeopardy.

Our long-term goal is clean, renewable energy. That’s how we create sustainable jobs, and that’s how we build a better future for Pennsylvanians, protect our green space, and keep our communities livable for our children. While we’re still on that path, however, and still reliant on fossil fuels, we need to prioritize our communities. Right now, that’s not happening. In June, construction workers hit the pipeline – which is supposed to be nine feet underground – after just six feet of digging. The spot they scratched was only a few hundred yards from an elementary school. Sunoco has repeatedly dodged oversight and intentionally deceived our representatives to build a dangerous pipeline. For this project to continue, we need more honesty, more oversight, and more regulation to keep our communities safe.

 

A big reason this pipeline is so dangerous is because it’s not being constructed by well-trained, unionized Pennsylvanians. Instead, Sunoco is bringing in outside workers. They claim the pipeline is creating jobs, and it is - but not for Pennsylvanians. We need to require local union involvement in this type of construction, because local workers have our best interests at heart.

 

The pipeline is obviously a complicated issue, but one thing is clear: our decisions need to prioritize the people. I haven’t taken a cent from the oil or gas companies, because I recognize the importance of being able to make fair decisions to benefit the people, not special interest groups.

5.  Domestic violence victims’ inability to leave an abusive relationship is often due to
their inability to support themselves and their dependent children. If elected, what steps would you take to address both economic security and autonomy for women in Pennsylvania? What would you do to protect their safety?

We need to take a multi-pronged approach on various different levels to provide both economic security and autonomy for women. For example, I supported a new pending law that restricts abusers from collecting spousal support from their victims. I also supported HB 2060, legislation that Governor Tom Wolf recently signed into law, that requires individuals with Protection from Abuse (PFA) orders against them to surrender their firearms within 48 hours of the order being enacted. In addition, this bill also allows for PFA’s to be extended if the abuser is re-incarcerated, further protecting victims and ensuring they are kept safe.

In terms of economic security and autonomy, I would continue supporting reforms that provide women with pay equity. If a woman performs the same job as a man, she should receive the same compensation. That should never be a question. In addition, I support efforts to increase access to child care services for working women. I have co-sponsored legislation that provides tax incentives to employers who provide child day-care services for employees. Another piece of legislation I support provides direct relief to working mothers by providing a state income tax childcare deduction of up to $10,000 annually to help offset childcare costs. I also co-sponsored legislation to address financial aid challenges that some women face when seeking to return to college by requiring child-care expenses be included as a factor when colleges make financial aid determinations.

As the proud father of 3 daughters. I encourage my daughters to follow their dreams, telling them that they be anything they want to be, as long as they work hard. I want to ensure this is the case for girls - and women - across Pennsylvania.


 

I’m a survivor of domestic violence. I’ve spoken publicly about my experience, and I count myself lucky every day that I had a strong support system to help me get through one of the most challenging times of my life. We need to make sure every survivor, across Pennsylvania, has the same kind of support and safety.

 

Passing HB2060, to take guns out of the hands of domestic abusers within 24 hours, was a huge first step. But the Republicans amended the bill to include a provision that allows judges to return guns on a discretionary basis without a waiting period. That can create seriously dangerous conditions for women. We need to pass a full version of this bill to ensure the safety of women who have been the victims of domestic violence and abuse. The House needs to pass bills like SB500, which provides for law enforcement to accompany victims to their homes if they’re afraid of retaliation and SB502, which allows a judge to continue a victim’s Protect From Abuse even without a new attack. Beyond that, we need to be taking more direct action to support women in what is often the most difficult time of their lives. This includes passing legislation to implement safe and transitional housing; increase housing rights for victims; provide emergency health services for recovery; implement education programs for victims to undergo job searches and re-training; and fund additional Domestic Violence Programs and services through the Department of Human Services.

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