Archives for November 2020

A Simple Solution to Help Millions of Independent Workers Like Me

By Eli Hirsche

For a lot of people, app-based platforms are a convenient way to get around town, order takeout, or skip the line at the grocery store. But for the drivers, couriers, and shoppers that make it possible, working in the on-demand economy means so much more. 

For some, it’s a way to earn extra income and make ends meet; for others, it’s a livelihood. Independent workers are a growing piece of our changing economy, yet unfortunately, outdated laws are holding many workers back.

This issue is personal to me, because I’m a gig worker myself. Like so many people, the COVID-19 economic shutdowns put me in a tough spot, so I started delivering for Doordash as a way to get through it and make ends meet.

What started as a last ditch effort to stay afloat quickly became my new passion. I love that I don’t have to sit at a desk and stare at wallpaper for 40 hours a week; instead, I can explore my hometown, help feed my community, and make a living on my own schedule.

I’m not alone. In America today, 57 million people – about a third of the workforce – choose independent work. According to one survey, 86% of app-based drivers cited flexibility as a top reason for driving.

Though independent work is a significant part of the workforce of today and the future, the laws that determine how workers get important benefits, like healthcare and retirement, are relics of the past.

That’s because our social safety net reinforces the employer-provided benefits system. For instance, about half of all Americans get their healthcare from their full time employer. However, gig workers who are legally considered self-employed often can’t personally afford the exorbitant costs of benefits. 

Steps like the Affordable Care Act have helped fill in the gap, but a lot of independent workers still don’t have access to all the important benefits they need to earn a stable living because policymakers haven’t kept up with the rapidly changing economy

A portable benefits system will help.

A portable benefits system would allow independent contractors to have access to the same benefits as full time workers without having to give up their flexibility. That’s because the benefit plan would stay with the worker even if they changed tasks or shifted work to another platform – hence “portable.”

The way it works is simple: the worker would pay a certain amount into the program, and whichever platform they earn on would also pay into it. For instance, if I were to use a portable benefits plan in my current situation, Doordash would pay into it; if I switched over to Uber Eats, they would pay into the exact same plan as well.  

Some states have already implemented smaller-scale versions of portable benefits. In January, Washington State launched a portable benefits program for medical and family leave, giving countless independent workers the ability to take care of their health and spend important time with their newborn children.

Independent work is here to stay, and our policymakers must update our laws to adapt. We need to create a portable benefits system that covers major benefits for all workers who need them. That way, independent workers like me won’t have to choose between jobs and a flexible schedule we love and the lifesaving benefits we need.

Eli Hirsche is a worker in the gig-economy and Mesa voter

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Vaccines and Cures are hurt by price controls

By: Phil Green

I’ve been an airline pilot for over 20 years. The industry has had its share of challenges during my career, but I’ve never seen anything like today. The threat of COVID-19 has caused a severe reduction in business and tourist travel. This holiday season, fewer people will be boarding a plane to visit family or friends.

This is sad for my family personally and it’s also led to layoffs across my industry. The best way out is a COVID-19 vaccine.

That’s why I was thrilled about results recently announced by multiple biopharmaceutical companies. If vaccine progress continues at this rate, it seems likely that 2021 will be a far better year for families, communities, travel and tourism, and businesses of all types—and thank goodness for that.

The speed of this success is proof positive that America got it right with our free market system for pharmaceuticals. Our model supports maximum research and development so when an urgent need like COVID-19 arises, there are technologies and promising vaccine candidates at the ready.

Our elected officials must protect this system. Government price-setting and other interventions in the market have no place here. I only hope the leaders we elected this fall will stand firm against destructive prescription drug policies so that we can finally defeat COVID-19 and get back to work—at the airlines and in research facilities across the country striving cure other devastating diseases. 

Phil Green is a Mesa voter and a pilot for a major airline

COVID Relief Funds Need More Transparency and Oversight

By: Laura Oldaker

Fighting this pandemic has been extremely difficult. As a businesswoman and entrepreneur, I’ve seen the firsthand the damage done and know I will remember these days for the rest of my life as some of my most strenuous and stressful. Too many innocent Arizonans have suffered, lost their businesses or worse, lost their lives to this unyielding pandemic—so needless to say, I am ready for the days where we’ll be able to put this virus behind us.

Though local and federal governments have stepped up to help reinforce efforts like ours, and support our community throughout this crisis, there is much more to be done, particularly regarding relief funding. Specifically, the reauthorization of the Paycheck Protection Program could be worth as much as $257 billion and would help bolster local businesses throughout the country, many of which are in health care or directly involved in COVID-19 relief efforts. In making the important decisions as to how to delineate these funds, Congress must also implement measures to protect from fraud, waste, and crony capitalism—issues that plagued early relief efforts.

Increased oversight, transparency, and tracking are critical to prevent these PPP funds from falling into the wrong hands or being wasted. In doing so, the federal government can better ensure that our pandemic relief funds—our taxpayer dollars—are getting where they are needed the most, starting with our frontline workers.

Pelosi’s HR3 is a disaster for Seniors

By Marsha Volkema

As a Medicare beneficiary, I do not support Nancy Pelosi’s H.R.3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act and neither should any of our Senators or Representatives.

H.R. 3 is a partisan solution rammed through by the House Democrats without bipartisan input.  It imposes international price controls that will have devastating effects on future cures and medications.  I have been on Medicare for _ years and while some of those years were better than others, there is always room to improve the program. 

We do need lower drug prices in America, and I want to support a plan that does that, but I cannot support a plan that does more harm than good. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office preliminary analysis indicates that H.R.3 would reduce the number of new medicines coming to market, drastically decrease research and development budgets and impact as much as one-third of drugs currently in the development process. We need our representatives to work together and support a better solution than Nancy Pelosi’s H.R. 3.  

Fortunately, there is a better solution.  Senator Crapo has introduced the Lower Costs, More Cures Act.  It is a bi-partisan proposal that lowers the cost of drug prices while also promoting new drug development. It reduces the middlemen who drive up drug prices and ensures that saving flow into the pockets of Seniors.  Unlike Nancy Pelosi’s H.R. 3, the Crapo legislation incorporates bipartisan ideas that are fair to everyone. Senator Crapo’s Lower Costs, More Cures Act is better for seniors and all Americans and we all need to encourage our Senators to support it.


Marsha Volkema is a voter from Congressional District 8

Hold Congress Accountable on COVID-19 Spending

By Lea Márquez Peterson

You and I may have voted for different people in this election, but I bet we’re both hoping for the same outcome—good government led by responsible, trustworthy lawmakers, whatever their politics.

Character counts with voters because we recognize that government can be a breeding ground for fraud, corruption, and abuse of taxpayer funds, especially when powerful interests are involved. When nearly $3 trillion is up for grabs, the potential for waste and misuse is astronomical—but that’s exactly the situation we’re in with COVID-19. 

The U.S has allocated at least $2.9 trillion to save small businesses, help families, and keep the economy going through this pandemic, not to mention treating and finding a cure for the disease. Of that amount, however, some $1.4 trillion has been spent without any accounting to the American people of where, and to whom, it went.

We do know some things. For example, we learned that large corporations like Shake Shack[1] worth $2 billion also received PPP loans meant for struggling small businesses[2].

Small businesses are far less likely to receive low-interest, forgivable loans to help them survive and pay employees. Especially minority-owned ones. While PPP loans worth millions were handed out to companies that didn’t truly need them, only 12 percent of Hispanic and Black applicants in the US got loans they requested, even though over half asked for $20,000 or less.[3] And, in Arizona, where 27.2 billion was spent, only 4.1% went to Black applicants and 31.1% to Hispanic business owners[4].

Other things we know about COVID-19 spending have been compiled by the Project on Government Oversight in a readily searchable format online. Arizonans can use this tool to discover who benefitted from a vast array of pandemic-related government programs.

To be fair, some initial hiccups with COVID-19 relief were understandable. Lawmakers had to rush into action when coronavirus emerged and they lacked the luxury of time to craft the best legislation possible. However, continued obstruction of meaningful oversight and failure to patch trouble spots cannot be excused so easily.

This is not just water under the bridge, either. A still raging pandemic and faltering economic rebound make trillions more in COVID-19 stimulus extremely likely. There is also movement afoot to repurpose $130 billion left in the fraud- and abuse-laden PPP. 

We should not allow Congress to commit such enormous sums without straightforward answers about all coronavirus spending to date. We must also demand stringent safeguards to ensure additional funds are managed more responsibly so that meaningful assistance can reach small businesses and families in need.

Lea Márquez Peterson is the former President of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber and a Commissioner on the Arizona Corporation Commission. 


[1] https://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/which-companies-are-returning-their-ppp-loan-here-s-list-n1194566

[2] https://www.12news.com/article/money/ppp-loans-released/75-cf905bec-53ee-4f13-a306-f157856d3ef4

[3] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/paycheck-protection-program-black-hispanic-business-owners-shut-out-survey/

[4] https://beta.covidtracker.pogo.org/

Prioritizing Transparency and Accountability in the Next Stimulus Package

By Jonathan Lines 

I feel immensely disappointed in the ways the federal government has failed to fully bolster the American people and the economy throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Too busy playing politics, they’ve delayed voting on additional stimulus packages and reauthorizing the Paycheck Protection Program, which could be worth as much as $257 billion. This money would not only aid individuals and families in dire need of financial support through this prolonged crisis, but also small- and medium- sized businesses who have long struggled to stay afloat, including my own. For the past 34 years, I have owned and operated a roofing business in Arizona. We benefitted greatly from the PPP loan we received earlier this year but remain concerned about our outlook as we continue to endure financial stress and uncertainty. 

However, I’d argue that we are some of the luckier ones. Regardless of the pandemic, people still need their roofs repaired and insulation installed. Small businesses—hallmarks of Main Streets throughout our country—will not emerge from this crisis unscathed, as I anticipate we will. The assistance they ought to have received from earlier PPP payments may have helped, but much more is needed to reinvigorate our economy and the businesses that are the backbone of our local communities. 

Though the stimulus packages and the PPP have provided valuable lifelines to individuals and the business community at large, any reauthorization must be accompanied with reforms to increase transparency and accountability in government spending. Without these critical reforms, larger companies and corporations will continue to take advantage of funds intended to support smaller- and medium- sized businesses, specifically those who are not equipped to endure the financial hardships brought upon by a crisis of this severity. 

The initial PPP loan program put $349B on the line. Effectively delineating that amount of money was no easy task – and unfortunately, it wasn’t seal proof, either. The prospect of what was essentially free money, intended to bolster businesses suffering most throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, didn’t go unnoticed by larger companies, corporations and chains. Additionally, a number of foreign entities benefitted as well – the Project On Government Oversight, along with the Anti-Corruption Data Collective, found that millions of dollars from the PPP went to Chinese state-owned companies

This negligence worked directly to the detriment of smaller and independent businesses just like mine, many of which found it difficult to navigate the process created to secure a loan in the first place. Because of this, hundreds of thousands of small businesses across the country have had to shutter their doors, unlikely to open them ever again. Alongside these closed doors comes crushed hopes and dreams and a distrust in the government entities who are supposed to support good, contributory American citizens in times of crisis. 

If— when—the Paycheck Protection Program is reauthorized, it must be accompanied by reforms that increase transparency and reduce fraud, abuse, and waste of its funds. These reforms are paramount to the survival of America’s small- and medium-sized businesses and all taxpayers should demand them.

Jonathan Lines is a Yuma County Supervisor-elect and the vice president and general manager of Lines and Lundgreen Roofing and Insulation. 

Time for a Bipartisanship Approach to Lowering Drug Costs

By: Lalani Hunsaker

Last year, Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats passed H.R.3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, which imposed international reference pricing on some Medicare perscriptions. I am worried that introducing foreign price controls will have a negative impact on the production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines as well as other drugs already in testing and production.

The preliminary Congressional Budget Office analysis indicates that H.R.3 would reduce the number of new medicines coming to market and could drastically decrease research and development budgets. Granted, the analysis does say that in the near-term drug costs will be reduced, however, it does not account for the additional costs that would burden families due to the unavailability of lifesaving and cost-reducing new medicines. Furthermore, the Council of Economic Advisers found that HR3’s price controls would impact as much as one-third of the drugs under development and the California Life Sciences Association believes this will cause a workforce reduction of 80,000 jobs just in their state. I am worried that the bill does more harm than good.

On the other hand, the bi-partisan Lower Costs, More Cures Act also lowers the cost of drug prices while also encouraging new cures and treatments. It incorporates dozens of vetted, bipartisan ideas to update our federal policies and programs so that Americans get better prescription drugs prices. The changes in this legislation would also cap Part-D plans and allow enrollees who reach their out-of-pocket maximum to pay it in monthly installments. Under the modernized Part D program, enrollees would have Part D plan options that pass more of the discounts on to them, have peace of mind that insulin would only cost up to $50 per month, and would not face an Obamacare cliff scheduled to add an extra $1,200 to drug bills.

The Lower Costs, More Cures Act is better for seniors and we should encourage our Senators to support it.  

Lalani Hunsaker is the founder and President of the East Valley Women’s Coalition.