Vote for a better future, not the candidate Saturday, Apr 18 2020 

By Ben Goldberger —

Bernie Sanders brought the 2020 presidential election back to the forefront of Americans’ minds after he announced the termination of his presidential campaign April 8. This paves the way for the democratic nomination for Joe Biden and almost guarantees we will see a Biden versus Trump battle for the presidency.

Sanders spoke to many of the underlying issues in society today that affect a vast amount of people, and built a strong base of young, diverse supporters, especially college-age voters in the process. Many Democrats are devastated by his resignation, seeing their two choices return to the norm for American politics: old, rich, white men.

This disappointment is leading many of Sanders’ supporters to either vote third party in the presidential election or not vote at all. While this frustration with the current political system and democratic party is valid, voting third party or restraining from voting will only further the systematic struggles that Sanders’ fought so hard to combat. 

Let’s be honest, a third-party candidate will not win any election in the current political scene, especially the most important presidential election in recent history. The two-party dominant political system is not the best system by any means, and third parties allow for vaster representation in politics, but this is not the election to protest this system. 

While it is easy to look at the two major-party candidates for this election and find issues with them both, this election is about more than just the candidates. 

For starters, it is likely that at least one or two Supreme Court seats will open up within the next four years. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 87, a Supreme Court Justice known to lean democratic in her decisions, has faced multiple health complications throughout this year. Along with fellow Justice Stephen Breyer, also over 80 years old, are likely to resign in the next coming years.

This means that whatever party is in charge could change the balance of the Supreme Court for years to come. 

Another issue to consider is the rapidly decreasing health of our planet.

In October 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report that said if the global temperature does not decrease by 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2040, the Earth will reach past the point of return, leading to a state of inhabitability.

The current administration has not made saving the environment a priority, enacting or removing laws in order to benefit businesses over sustainability.

The next administration to take office will set the tone for how this country acts towards environmental justice and will either start to make progress that will keep this planet livable or worsen the situation and decrease the time until Earth is no longer habitable. 

2040 may seem far away, but it is much closer than it feels. Children who started kindergarten last fall will be seniors in high school in 2032, only eight years until the point of no return.

This is an extremely pressing issue, and this election will decide the fate of the planet, and the fate of future generations.

Despite all of this, many supporters of past democratic candidates cannot bring themselves to vote for Biden, because they see the similarities between him and Trump. While voters should not condone his past behavior by any means, they also should not let the disappointing choices of candidates deter them from what this election is truly about. 

This election is not about one candidate or the other. It is about which party gets control over the Supreme Court for upwards of 25 years to come, altering decisions like reproductive justice, LGBTQIA+ equality, transgender rights and racial justice to name a few.

It is about making a larger effort to save the environment before it is too late. It is about making a greater life for the upcoming generations.

Even if neither of the two dominant candidates represents voters’ beliefs entirely, people should vote for the candidate who will pass the most policies that they agree with.

Biden is definitely a step back into traditional politics, but if Sanders supporters want even a speck of what Bernie stood for to become a reality in the next four years, they should put their personal pride aside and vote for the democratic candidate. 

Baby steps will still move us forward. 

File Graphic // The Louisville Cardinal

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Just Transition: Amid Climate Debate And Coal’s Decline, West Virginia Considers Its Future Monday, Feb 17 2020 

On a recent soggy Wednesday evening, dozens of West Virginians packed a conference room inside the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center to discuss the need for a “just transition” for coal-impacted communities.

As the nation grapples with climate change, the need for a fair transition for workers and communities that depend upon coal jobs and revenue has also gained traction. Nearly every 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful has touted some version of the idea, ranging from the expansive “Green New Deal” championed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to former Vice President Joe Biden’s more modest mix of worker training and direct assistance for coal country.

In West Virginia, discussions are starting to get attention in the state’s capital despite strong political support for the coal industry.

“When you’re hearing a call for a just transition for coal-reliant communities, folks are saying ‘look, starting now and into the future, we’re going to decarbonize the economy,’” said Ann Eisenberg, a law professor at the University of South Carolina. “There will be disproportionate losses imposed on coal-reliant communities. And that’s unfair. So we’re going to offset the losses. And that is where I think this is a good thing. And it’s also tricky.”

Eisenberg was one of a handful of experts who spoke at the event hosted by West Virginia University’s Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, the nonprofit West Virginia Center on Climate Change (an offshoot of conservation group Friends of Blackwater), and the left-leaning West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

Brittany Patterson | Ohio Valley ReSource

Three groups hosted a just transition discussion on Feb. 5, 2020 in Charleston, WV.

The speakers facilitated a conversation about what constitutes a “just transition” as well as how West Virginia and other regions that depend on coal could actually get there.

Adele Morris with the Brookings Institution said the first step is to acknowledge the clear data about coal. Even without a comprehensive climate policy, the fuel is already losing ground in the region and across the country. Low natural gas prices and the falling cost of renewable energy have priced many coal plants out of the market.

hindsight2020-mine-empAlexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

Federal data show since 2009, mining employment and coal production has fallen by about 50 percent in the Ohio Valley. The energy shift is already underway, Morris said, but without the part that would help communities make the transition.

hindsight2020-mine-prodAlexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

“We’re in it. We’re in the transition,” said Morris, who is a senior fellow and policy director at the nonpartisan think tank. “And it’s going to get worse before it gets better. But it’s not fair. And that’s what I think should be urgently at the top of the agenda of the policymakers from coal country, and they’re not, in my opinion.”

Legislative Attempt

One lawmaker is making a pitch in West Virginia. State Del. Evan Hansen, a Democrat representing the north-central county of Monongalia, has introduced a bipartisan bill that would create a state Just Transition Office, and a community-led advisory committee that would focus on helping West Virginia communities affected by the decline of coal.

“The primary goal here is to write a just transition plan for the state of West Virginia that would look at ways to funnel funding into these communities and other types of resources into these communities in a manner that’s led by what people in those communities think is best,” Hansen said.

The bill is modeled after similar legislation that passed in Colorado. On Wednesday, the West Virginia version passed out of one of the two committees to which it was referred, but Hansen acknowledges it faces a long road to becoming law with the state’s legislative session more than halfway done.

Still, he believes the appetite is growing among the state’s lawmakers to address coal’s decline.

“I would say privately many legislators of both parties acknowledge that there is a transition going on and that this is one of the most important issues that we need to deal with as a Legislature,” Hansen said.

Not everyone is a fan of the bill, including the West Virginia Coal Association.

“Sounds to me like that they think that it would be much better if it were something other than the coal miners,” said the group’s president Bill Raney. “And that bothers me a whole lot because we got the best coal miners in the world.”

Raney’s group is pushing a bill this legislative session that would require West Virginia coal plants to burn the same amount of coal they did in 2019 in the years ahead, regardless of what makes most economic sense.

Of major note during the discussion was how to pay for a “just transition.”

Today most economic transition work in the region comes from federal programs including the Appalachian Regional Commission and Abandoned Mine Land program funding, which offer grants to coal-affected communities in the millions of dollars range.

Morris has estimated the region will require tens of billions of dollars over the next decade and would require some kind of regulatory leadership from Washington, D.C., preferably a carbon tax. Democratic candidates who have supported the idea have differing ways to fund it, although most rely heavily on investing in clean energy and decarbonizing the economy through a “Green New Deal.”

Some in the region have encouraged lawmakers and candidates looking at these climate policies to engage with residents directly.

That includes Cecil Roberts, head of the United Mine Workers of America. In September, he spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. He expressed concern the type of sweeping change Democratic presidential candidates are promising may be too big of a lift for Congress given its past track record in helping coal country.

“We want our health care saved, and if you can’t do that, and it’s been 10 years, how do you think we’re going to believe that you’re going to be able to give us a just transition from the coal industry to some other employment?” he said.

Kentucky Conversations 

Chuck Fluharty, President and CEO of the Rural Policy Research Institute, helped to organize a community-centered, just transition model in eastern Kentucky called Shaping Our Appalachian Region, or SOAR. He said SOAR has shown this type of work is possible, especially if a community-centric approach is embraced. However, it’s not easy.

SOAR’s premise is built upon a collective impact investing model that engaged the public, private and philanthropic sectors.

IMG_4112Sydney Boles | Ohio Valley ReSource

Kentucky entrepreneurs show their products at the 2019 SOAR Summit.

“The real proof of the pudding is in how broad collective commitment is, and is it there for the money or is it there for the future?” he said. “How much it is about investing and not simply dropping dollars on the table.”

Some politicians hope to engage coalfield communities directly about how to balance implementing climate legislation while protecting workers and investing in communities. Kentucky Democratic state senator and U.S. Senate candidate Charles Booker recently launched a series of town meetings on the subject in the heart of eastern Kentucky coal country.

Even among those who support a just transition, questions remain about how best to do it. Morris said there is little data on what has worked in economic transitions in the past. Her team has looked at the impact of military base closures, for example, but said the analogy isn’t perfect. Worker retraining efforts often have mixed results.

“There’s this policy design challenge of how do you get from the wholesale dollars of the federal government into well designed retail level grants and assistance and so on,” she said. “I’m still struggling with exactly how you do that in a way that gets those resources out, but does it in a way that that gives people comfort that it’s responsibly allocated.”

In a report published last July, Morris and colleagues at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University quantified just how much of a coal-producing county’s budget came from coal, and how big a hole their budgets might face without coal revenue.

Then the authors turned to the various policy proposals to limit greenhouse gas emissions, which would set a price on each ton of carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere.

Morris said that the revenue generated by such policies could be steered into the type of investments needed and at a scale that would make a just transition more likely.

For example, a carbon tax of $25 per ton would likely raise a trillion dollars in revenue over 10 years, she said.

“And that kind of revenue allows for a very generous support for coal-reliant areas,” Morris said.

Homelessness And Health Costs: This Kentucky Mom Faced Cancer While Living In Her Car Monday, Nov 18 2019 

Photo 1 (4)

Cancer was what finally pushed Kristi Reyes into living in her car.

The mother of four had worked all her life, starting at age 7 when she helped out at her family’s furniture store. Most of her work was in retail. It was paycheck-to-paycheck but she kept her kids together and a roof over their heads.

But then in 2012 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She started cycling through jobs because of the time she needed to take off for recovery from treatment. Soon, she was too sick to work at all and things continued to slide. She had Medicaid, what she calls a medical card, but it wasn’t enough.

“Even though I had a medical card, there were out of pocket things that medical didn’t cover,” Reyes said. “I don’t care how much money you make. Money is never enough when you’re sick like that.”

Mary Meehan | Ohio Valley ReSource

Kristi Reyes now spends time with her grandson in her new home.

She and three of her children, who were ages 11, 13, and 15, all stayed in the car for awhile. But soon she was forced to let her children live with other people.

She remembers recovering from surgery to remove cancerous lymph nodes, homeless and alone. Eventually, she was too sick for treatment to even continue.

“I couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs without being out of breath, almost needing oxygen,” she said. Her diabetes was out of control. She was also having trouble with her kidneys.

But Reyes said she knew other people who had it worse.

“At the same time, I think that was kind of something that kept me going. Right? Like knowing that somebody had it worse than I did.”

At least, she said, she had a car.

Housing And Health

In fact, Reyes’ case is not unique. The National Alliance to End Homelessness estimates there are 15,000 people experiencing homelessness in Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio. Many more are living on thin financial margins. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reported earlier this year that half of rural Americans say they could not afford to pay an unexpected bill of $1,000, and nearly a third say that they have had trouble paying medical bills.

Jessica N. Sucik directs homeless services for HealthFirst Bluegrass, a federally qualified health center in Fayette County, Kentucky. HealthFirst serves 25,000 patients, many of them poor. It also runs two health clinics for the homeless.

HealthFirst Bluegrass

Jessica Sucik of HealthFirst Bluegrass.

She said there is a saying in public health that “housing is healthcare.”

Just the nature of chronic illnesses such as diabetes or COPD can limit how much people can work. 

“So they know they can’t work permanently, 40 hours a week,” she said. “They’re working as they can, but they also can’t afford housing or whatever treatment they need to overcome their condition.” 

Circumstances can change quickly. 

“With chronic medical conditions, something temporary can very, very quickly turn into a permanent homelessness status,” she said.

That leads to challenges paying the bills. It can be an unrelenting cycle.

“Without that, it’s like, you know, building a house on sand,” Sucik said. ”You have to have that safety and that security blanket of safe, stable and affordable housing before you can take care of yourself and be able to meet your needs.”

In recent years, HealthFirst has adopted a team approach with all patients. There is a medical provider, a social worker, a case manager and psychiatrist to provide medical, psychological and social support instead of leaving patients to fend for themselves.

“The magic that happens when you address not just the physical health issues, but also the things that are preventing them from getting those physical health issues addressed, is really, that’s where it’s at,” she said.

Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

Policy Solutions

But others say homelessness or personal bankruptcy due to medical costs point to a need for more systemic change.  

One policy solution gaining traction among Democratic presidential candidates is Medicare for All, a proposal that would eliminate private health insurance and replace it with a government-run system. Leading contenders Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders support such a proposal. 

rural-homeless-rent-burden-map-v3Alexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

Warren estimates her proposed plan would cost $20.5 trillion above expected health care costs over ten years. She says that could be paid for largely with an increase in taxes on the top income brackets and through savings in medical costs, but that claim has met some skepticism from policy experts. Sanders has been less specific about the costs and has said his proposal would find savings through cutting administrative costs. 

The Urban Institute has estimated that a switch to a single-payer system would require $59 trillion over 10 years, about $7 trillion more than the costs under the current system.

Dr. Steffie Woolhandler is co-founder of the advocacy group Physicians For A National Health Program, which argues for a single-payer system. Her group says research shows more than 60 percent of personal bankruptcies are tied to medical bills. She says a single-payer system can reduce costs and relieve families from going into debt, which is why many other countries have such a system.

“Virtually every other developed country guarantees health care to everyone living there,” she said. “This is true in Europe, it’s true in Canada, and it’s true in Australia. The United States is an outlier.”

She said the idea is gaining appeal in the U.S.

“What I’m seeing, really since 2016, is that the idea of Medicare for all has become an issue with non physicians and a lot of people who don’t work in health systems but are users of that healthcare system are actually talking about Medicare for All,” she said.

rural-homeless-care-categoryAlexandra Kanik | Ohio Valley ReSource

A Kitchen Table

Reyes doesn’t spend a lot of time considering such policy decisions. Taking care of herself and her family is about all she can handle. 

For about four years from the time she was first diagnosed with cancer, she was struggling to keep her employment, living mostly in her car, and separated from her children. 

She tried from time to time to get into a shelter but whenever she’d reach out, they were full.  One day, she said, she couldn’t take it anymore.

“I was at my wit’s end. Like I didn’t know what else to do. I was tired, worn out. My body felt like I couldn’t handle it anymore,” she said. “Honestly, I just started praying.”

Finally, she found help and a new home. 

She called the Salvation Army and was referred to the Housing and Homeless Coalition of Kentucky. Within two months, she was off the street.

Last year, she moved into a house in Frankfort, Kentucky, where she lives with her children, two grandchildren and her boyfriend. Because of her ongoing medical problems she has been approved for lifetime housing assistance and resumed her cancer treatment. 

“That made it even better. Because I know no matter the struggles of my health, or the battles that I got to fight with it. I’m always going to have that support.”

About a month ago, she was well enough to start working at a Subway sandwich shop.

A simple, second-hand dining room table is her favorite place to be.

“That’s the thing, that’s my thing,” she said with a laugh. “Because I can come in, I can cook for my children. And we can sit at the table and have a meal together.”

Looking back, Reyes said, she realizes now that she was in denial about just how bad her health was. And she hopes other people will take some comfort in knowing things can change for the better. 

“You just have to tell yourself, ‘OK, I’m not going to give in today,” she said. “You know, people just need to know that just because you’re going through things, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be stuck there for a lifetime.”

Sanders Visits Coal States On Heels Of Climate Plan Release Friday, Aug 23 2019 

Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders will visit Kentucky and West Virginia just days after releasing his plan to address climate change.

Sanders is scheduled to speak in Louisville, Kentucky, Sunday and in Morgantown, West Virginia, Monday. 

His detailed climate plan released Thursday calls climate change “the single greatest challenge facing our country.” 

Like many of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, Sanders supports a “Green New Deal” to move the country from fossil fuels to renewable energy by 2030. 

Sanders’ climate plan also prioritizes help for those who worked in fossil fuel industries, such as coal miners who would be displaced by that transition. 

Jesse Wright, WVPB

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders during a 2016 campaign stop in Morgantown, WV.

“Fossil fuel workers have powered the country for more than a century, working in dangerous and precarious jobs to provide for their families,” the plan states. “When we are in the White House, compensation and assistance for displaced workers will come first; the balance sheets of fossil fuel corporations and billionaire investors will come last.”

The plan calls for $16.3 trillion in direct public investment and claims 20 million jobs would be created while solving the climate crisis. 

More than $1 trillion would be used to assist displaced miners and other workers. Sanders’ plan would provide up to five years of unemployment insurance for displaced workers and guarantee new jobs would pay comparable wages. Displaced miners would be eligible for housing assistance, job training and health care. 

Chris Woolery is with the eastern Kentucky nonprofit the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, or MACED. He said Sanders’ proposal is comprehensive and speaks to the challenges communities in eastern Kentucky are facing. 

“We are in the middle of a transition, whether we want it or not,” he said. “I think the most important thing is how do we manage that? And how do we care for the people that are most affected?”

Carl Shoupe, a retired Kentucky coal miner and energy transition activist, said Sanders’ emphasis on ensuring a “just transition” for those who worked in fossil fuel industries has also opened the door for other Democratic presidential hopefuls to do the same. 

“By Bernie’s tremendous efforts in these issues, you know, he’s got a lot of people talking about this now,” he said. “We’re just excited that people are talking about this just transition.”

Sanders’ plan faces opposition from both the mining industry and labor. The head of the United Mine Workers of America calls its goals “almost impossible.”

Sanders is not the first candidate to outline ways to address the needs of coal-impacted communities as the country shifts away from fossil fuels.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and former hedge fund manager and activist Tom Steyer have put forward in-depth policy suggestions to address coal miners displaced by the transition away from fossil fuels. Other candidates, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, include suggestions in their climate proposals that would support displaced workers and coal-impacted communities. 

 

Trump, Buttigieg raised most presidential campaign money in Kentucky Friday, Jul 26 2019 

Donald Trump and Pete Buttigieg in splitscreen

The reelection campaign of President Donald Trump raised far more money from more individual donors in Kentucky than any of the other presidential candidates in the first six months of 2019, with South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg raising the most in the state among the many Democratic contenders. A ProPublica database of Federal Election Commission […]