5 Steps to Staying Covered

Did you know that if you bought a health insurance plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace in 2014, you can renew your current plan or enroll in a different plan for 2015? 

This fall, you’ll get two important 2015 health care plan notices about your health coverage. One will come from your health insurance company to explain any changes to premiums and benefits for the coming year. Another will come from the Marketplace with important deadlines and information about Open Enrollment, which starts on November 15, 2014. These notices help you understand your choices for 2015.

To stay covered through the Marketplace for 2015, make sure to follow these 5 Steps during Open Enrollment:

5 Steps to Staying Covered

Your Server Isn’t on the Menu

For women who make their living off tips, sexual harassment is a constant workplace peril.

By Marjorie E. Wood

Marjorie_Elizabeth_Wood

At a popular sit-down restaurant in Independence, Missouri, Allison waits tables for $3.60 an hour — the going rate for servers at her restaurant.

Advocates of raising the federal hourly tipped minimum wage of $2.13 up to the standard minimum wage — currently pegged at $7.25 — understand that living on tips is difficult. As Allison put it, “There are times when guests have left me one dollar or 50 cents just because they got angry at something.”

Sexual Harrassment and Tipped Workers

No Crop Photo/Flickr

In other words, tipped workers are financially insecure. According to the Economic Policy Institute, tipped workers are more than twice as likely to fall into poverty and nearly twice as likely to be on food stamps as the general population.

But there is another, less obvious, reason to abolish this sub-minimum wage, according to a new report from the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC).

Not only are servers like Allison more likely to be poor — they are also highly likely to experience sexual harassment on the job. The new report found that a staggering 90 percent of tipped workers in the restaurant industry are sexually harassed.

Surveying nearly 700 current and former restaurant workers, ROC — in partnership with Forward Together — found that customers, co-workers, and management regularly impose “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” on industry employees.

Women reported experiencing sexual harassment more often than men, with a majority of respondents encountering it on at least a weekly basis. Women were also more likely to say that sexual harassment was “an uncomfortable aspect of the work environment.”

Living on tips means that women — who make up two-thirds of all tipped restaurant servers — are forced to rely on customers for their income rather than on their employer.

This creates an environment, the report says, in which women must “please and curry favor with customers” for their livelihood. Often, that means tolerating unwanted sexual advances. So it’s no surprise that while the restaurant industry employs only 7 percent of American women, it generates more than a third of all federal sexual harassment claims.

Yet the phenomenon varies widely from state to state. Interestingly, the report found that in states that pay the same minimum wage to all workers — tipped and non-tipped alike — women were less likely to experience sexual harassment.

In so-called “$2.13 states,” however, tipped women workers were three times more likely to be told by management to “alter their appearance and to wear ‘sexier,’ more revealing clothing” than they were in states that had eliminated the tipped wage. And they were twice as likely to experience sexual harassment as women in states that have one minimum wage for all workers.

Men and non-tipped workers were also more likely to report being sexually harassed in $2.13 states.

What does all this add up to?

Eliminating the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers would do more than just improve women’s financial security. It would also create a safer, more equitable workplace where servers like Allison won’t have to tolerate inappropriate advances to make a living.

ROC is continuing to collect stories from tipped restaurant workers on its website at rocunited.org. If you’ve ever experienced sexual harassment in the restaurant industry, share your story with ROC.

It’s time to send a message to the industry and to policymakers that servers aren’t on the menu.

OtherWords columnist Marjorie E. Wood is a senior economic policy associate at the Institute for Policy Studies and the managing editor of Inequality.org. IPS-dc.org
Distributed via OtherWords.org

Can You Hear Us Now?

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is refusing to participate in any public hearings on Net Neutrality.

By Mary Alice Crim and Candace Clement

Mary-Alice-CrimCandace-Clement

On a recent Monday night in Brooklyn, five empty chairs stood on stage — one for each member of the Federal Communications Commission. A crowd had amassed in the room for a public hearing to send this message to the agency: Don’t hurt the open Internet.

But the commissioners’ absence sent a stronger message: We’re not listening.

The Corporate Fox in the Chicken Coop, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

When Corporate Foxes Mind Internet Coops, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

The FCC — the agency charged with regulating telecommunications — is expected to vote by the end of the year on Chairman Tom Wheeler’s plan to let Internet service providers (ISPs) offer “fast lanes” to companies that can afford to pay for speedier access.

Hundreds of businesses, organizations, and websites that rely on an open Internet have slammed the plan, which would kill Net Neutrality — the principle that requires ISPs to treat all traffic equally. Net Neutrality has made the Internet an unrivaled space for free speech, civic participation, innovation and opportunity. Without it, a few ISPs would become the gatekeepers of everything we do, say, and see online.

During the public comment period, nearly 4 million people— a record-breaking figure — weighed in on Wheeler’s plan. A whopping 99 percent of these comments oppose this proposal, according to one study.

Given the unprecedented public interest in this issue, many groups have urged the FCC to get out of Washington and host public hearings. But so far Wheeler has ignored this call.

In fact, the FCC has gone out of its way to avoid attending public gatherings like the one in Brooklyn. It’s been more than five years since all five FCC commissioners left Washington together to participate in a public hearing where anyone could testify.

These kinds of public hearings used to be commonplace for the agency, regardless of which political party was in control of Washington. But Wheeler’s FCC is different.

Instead of appearing at events with open microphones, Wheeler — a former lobbyist for the cable and wireless industries — has opted to attend industry trade shows. In fact, all five commissioners consistently attend the annual conventions of the cable, wireless, broadcasting, and electronics industries.

Yet somehow they just can’t find the time to meet with the public.

The FCC seems to fear hearing from everyday people who use the Internet to communicate, connect, learn, and survive. And while some of the commissioners have left Washington on a few occasions since Wheeler proposed his rules (Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai convened an official FCC hearing in College Station, Texas), the chairman himself has been absent from any public events on Net Neutrality.

“This is a real inflection point for us as a society,” says former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who attended dozens of public hearings during his decade in office and spoke at the event in Brooklyn. “The decisions they’re going to make between now and the end of the year are probably the most important that the FCC is going to make in a generation.”

The commissioners, Copps concludes, shouldn’t vote “until they get out of the Beltway and listen to the people who have to live with the results of their decisions.”

As the clock ticks down to a final FCC vote — which could happen as soon as December — the question looms large: Where is Tom Wheeler? And why won’t he meet with the people he’s supposed to serve?

Candace Clement is the Internet campaign director for Free Press and Mary Alice Crim is the organization’s field director. FreePress.net
Distributed via OtherWords

The Stakes in THIS Election Could NOT be Higher!

Originally posted on Humboldt County Democrats:

The Federal budget deficit may be down, but because of all the various deficits, the debt has continued to rise under President Obama but at a much lesser rate. Evidence continues to show that the Great Recession, President Bush’s tax cuts, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq explain most of the deficits that have occurred on Obama’s watch.  However, Republicans continue to blame President Obama for ALL our budgetary woes, figuring if they say that enough folks will begin to believe that and once again, put them back in the driver’s seat.

AT ISSUE

On April 10, 2014, the House passed budget resolution HConRes96 for fiscal year 2015 [Vote 177: 219(R) – 205 (12R + 193D)].  That resolution has not yet been taken up in the Senate as a budget already covering fiscal year 2015 was authorized within the Bipartisan Budget Act passed in December 2013.

HConRes96 was introduced…

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Amodei on the Minimum Wage

— submitted by Rich Dunn, RNDC 2nd Vice Chair

I’m old enough to remember when the minimum wage was raised from $1.40 to $1.60 in 1968, but I don’t remember anybody saying that the increase would cost jobs or drive small businesses into bankruptcy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator, $1.60 in 1968 translates to $11 today, so the $7.25 minimum wage actually represents a 34% pay cut.

Even an $11 minimum wage would only bring purchasing power back to where it was in 1968, a year when GDP was $910 billion. That’s equivalent to $6.15 trillion now. The GDP is currently over $16 trillion, an increase of 180%. Had the rising tide actually lifted all boats, the minimum wage would have to be $30 an hour for workers on that wage to realize their fair share of the wealth.

When progressives call for the minimum wage to be adjusted for inflation, conservatives usually accuse them of engaging in “the politics of envy” and “class warfare.” They need to be reminded that the war on the poor has been raging non-stop since 1968, but in the absense of a  ceasefire in Washington, the living wage battles have moved to the state and local levels. That’s where we now hear about “radical” proposals for the wage floor to be raised to $15 an hour, which would only account for inflation plus half the increase in labor productivity. How radical can you get?

In 2013, Rep. Amodei voted against raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 over two years. Meanwhile back in Nevada, his lobby group has been advocating for repeal of the state’s $8.25 minimum wage. Apparently he thinks it’s just fine for low-wage workers to be paid a third less in real terms than they were in 1968, even as the economy has grown nearly three fold. I don’t think the average Nevadan would agree with him on that if they knew the facts. But they don’t.

Obamacare Reality Check

— submitted by Rich Dunn, RNDC 2nd Vice Chair

If you’re asked about Obamacare, use it as an opportunity to show how much difference progressive change can make. Open enrollment began one year ago, on October 1st, 2013. The websites had a rocky rollout, but 10.3 million Americans who had no health insurance a year ago now have coverage. Competition has increased – there are now 25% more insurance companies offering policies in the health insurance market. United Healthcare, the market leader, will be offering policies on 25 state exchanges in 2015, double the number in 2014. The system was designed to foster competition, and that is exactly what is starting to happen.

According to the Republicans, the ACA was going to be a government takeover of heathcare. But you wouldn’t know that from how private sector insurers have been doing on the stock market. United Healthcare’s stock is up 16%, Humana’s is up 34%, Aetna’s 22%, Cigna’s 13% and Wellpoint’s a whopping 37%. Some government takeover that turned out to be.

On top of that, 8.2 million seniors have saved over $11.5 billion, money that went right back into the economy. Republicans predicted that Obamacare would send costs through the roof, but between 2010 and 2013 health care costs have only risen at an annual rate of 1.1%, which is the slowest rate of increase of any three year period on record and below the overall rate of inflation.

Hospitals are expected to save $5.7 billion dollars this year alone in uncompensated health care costs. Republicans kept saying that all people without insurance had to do was go to the emergency room, but as usual they never mentioned who was supposed to pick up the tab – the hospital, of course. Thanks to Obamacare, that’s now far less of a problem. Most of that $5.7 billion in hospital savings happened in states like Nevada that opted to expand Medicaid. The 23 Republican states that refused Medicaid expansion are seeing a wave of hospital mergers and closures thanks to the rising cost of uncompensated care.

The next open enrollment period begins on November the 15th, and even though there may be more website glitches, it is bound to go a lot smoother this time around. You may have noticed that the Republicans have stopped talking about repealing Obamacare after more than 50 attempts, and that’s because it’s working. It doesn’t solve the long term cost problem – only healthier lifestyles can do that – but at least fewer Americans will be at needless risk because they can’t afford to see a doctor when they get sick.

And don’t forget that insurance companies can no longer drop you from coverage because you get sick. They can no longer refuse to sell you coverage because of a pre-existing condition. Women can now get free breast cancer screening. The “donut hole” for senior meds is being closed. Children can now stay on their parents’ policies to the age of 26. We’ve also seen the end of lifetime limits to insurance reimbursements.

The rate of uninsured Americans has already dropped from 21% to 16%, which is pretty impressive progress considering the level of Republican obstruction at all levels of government. Had that obstruction not occurred, we would now have more like 20 million newly insured Americans instead of just 10.3 million.

Our friend Mark Amodei supported every single attempt to repeal or delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, something voters can’t be reminded of too often. Amodei has been part of the problem from day one, and it’s a little late for him to strike a pose as a bipartisan pragmatist who stays above the fray. It’s time for him to go!

Cegavske Surprises No One: Vote Suppression 101

NVRDC:

Voter Suppression 101 — where NV GOP wants to take Nevada …

Originally posted on Desert Beacon:

Cegavske Here’s hoping exactly NO ONE is surprised by Secretary of State candidate Barbara Cegavske’s announcement that she is in favor of photo ID requirements for voting. [LVRJ] The issue is on the GOP’s top ten list of ways to prevent “those people” from voting. No matter that this is a solution without a problem – list the number of prosecutable voter impersonation cases brought in Nevada in the last 10 years? None. And, forget the whine: “she noted there is a pool of money at the Department of Motor Vehicles that is used to replace homeless persons’ IDs when lost. “We don’t want to suppress anybody,” she said.” [LVRJ] Do we have to reprint the DMV office map for Nevada? The one that shows how far some people would have to go to get a replacement ID, or an original for that matter?…

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Guns: Common Sense vs. Nonsense

Originally posted on Rcooley123's Blog:

Rarely a week or even a day goes by when we do not read or see a story concerning preventable deaths caused by firearms. Acts both criminally intentional and totally accidental are committed on a regular basis. Mass murders at schools, places of worship and shopping centers vie for space in the print media and airtime on broadcast media and cable alongside serial snipers, victims of domestic violence, cop killer ambushes, murder/suicides and every imaginable form of accident involving people of all genders, age groups, religions and mental states.

Many of these deaths and injuries are needless and highly preventable. Passing common sense legislation – or at least not passing laws that any person with even a modicum of common sense will see as disasters waiting to happen – could easily reduce their occurrence. The fact that our government has been so hesitant to break this cycle of preventable death…

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Here’s What Inversions Are Costing Us

Inversions — or tax maneuvers that reward U.S. corporations that declare themselves overseas residents to avoid paying taxes in America — have been in the news a lot lately, because more than 50 percent of these deals have happened in the past five years.  And will cost ordinary Joe and Jill Americans nearly $20 billion over the next decade — critical dollars that could grow and expand our middle class.

Here’s the bottom line: When corporations invert and pay less in taxes, other working Americans have to pay more to help fund the services we all rely on. (Like maintaining the roads and bridges they use to bring their products to market, equipping our schools with the resources they need to educate/train a base of potential employees, and equipping our military to protect their ability to conduct business not just in the US, but across the globe — just to name a few.) Most working Americans don’t have access to fancy accounting tricks — and parasitic corporations shouldn’t be able to stuff their pockets by using such tricks at our expense.

But if that isn’t already beyond the pale, Corporations that have already inverted are getting $1 billion a year in federal contracts, according to Bloomberg News. Clearly, they’ll do everything they possibly can to be less American when it’s time to pay their taxes, but they’ll claim to be more American when it comes to scoring lucrative government-funded projects.  And what they’re not paying?  Well those funds end up picked from our pockets when we, as ordinary Americans, pay our taxes.

What the Treasury Dept has done is essentially the equivalent of sticking a finger in a leaking dyke.  Congress needs to act to eliminate #Inversions and to hold Corporations accountable for pay their fair share.  Currently, two bills have been introduced and are sitting in Committee: HR5278 in the House, and S2704 in the Senate.  Each bill has been introduced by a Democrat and NO Republicans have signed on as sponsors.  It is well past time that we insist they STOP rewarding parasitic corporations that choose to desert America.  These companion bills titled, the No Federal Contracts for Corporate Deserters Act, would bar parasitic “inverted” corporations from getting U.S. government contracts once they change their corporate address to avoid U.S. taxes.  The 113th Congress is coming to a close and we need to pressure Congress to pass a No Federal Contracts for Corporate Deserters Act BEFORE the closing gavel on the 113th Session.

Second Discovery of GMO Wheat Reveals ‘Failed Policy’ That Threatens Farmers

USDA says genetically engineered wheat discovered on Montana farm

by Andrea Germanos, CommonDreams staff writer

“Coexistence between genetically engineered and non-genetically engineered crops is a failed policy that fundamentally cannot work,” stated Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for Center for Food Safety. (Photo:  luke chan/flickr/cc)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday revealed that it was opening an investigation into the appearance of unapproved genetically engineered wheat in Montana.

It marks the second time the USDA is issuing notice of a discovery of rogue genetically engineered (or GMO) wheat. There is no commercially-approved GMO wheat.

According to a statement issued by the USDA, the discovery of the Roundup-resistant GMO wheat was made in July at Montana State University’s Southern Agricultural Research Center (SARC) in Huntley, Montana. That location was the site of Monsanto-led GMO wheat trials, approved by the USDA, from 2000 to 2003.

The agency stated that the GMO wheat found at the Montana site is different from the rogue GMO wheat spotted in 2013 on an 80-acre Oregon farm which was not the site of trial tests. That discovery sparked international backlash, with Japan and South Korea suspending some imports of U.S. wheat and the European Union calling for more testing of U.S. wheat. It also sparked a class action lawsuit by U.S. wheat farmers against Monsanto, charging that the GMO wheat finding caused them economic damage.

In the same announcement issued Friday, the USDA states that it is ending the investigation into the Oregon GMO wheat discovery, stating that it “appears to be an isolated incident,” and that the Oregon wheat is “significantly different” from the Montana wheat.

It states that there is no evidence that there is now GMO wheat in commerce and that it is unclear how the GMO wheat ended up on the Oregon farm.

Watchdog group Center for Food Safety, however, charges that the new discovery poses a threat to farmers and should be a call to stop open-air field trials.

“Once again, USDA and the biotech industry have put farmers and the food supply at risk,” Andrew Kimbrell, executive director for Center for Food Safety, said in a statement. “Coexistence between genetically engineered and non-genetically engineered crops is a failed policy that fundamentally cannot work. Genetic contamination is a serious threat to farmers across the country.”

“USDA cannot keep treating these as isolated incidents; contamination is the inevitable outcome of GMO crop technology,” he added. “USDA should, at a minimum, immediately place a moratorium on open-air field testing of genetically engineered crops.”


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