Proposed legislation to provide health care and paid sick leave

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In these tough economic times, Minnesotans are increasingly concerned about job security and affordable health care. Two bills being considered by the Legislature would provide comprehensive health care and paid sick leave for all Minnesotans.

The Minnesota Health Security Act would greatly expand the number of people covered by state sponsored programs as well as extend services provided to include vision, dental and mental health. Free health care would be extended to children by 2010 and then to adults by 2012. While not entirely free for adults, the bill would implement a sliding payment scale so that medical expenses would not exceed more than five percent an individual’s or family’s income.

The Healthy Families, Healthy Workplace Act would allow all working Minnesotans to accumulate one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours of work with a maximum of nine days a year. Small businesses with 10 or fewer employees would only be required to provide five days of paid sick leave.

More health coverage
According to a study conducted by the Minnesota Department of Health last year, 374,000 Minnesotans, including 77,000 children, have no health insurance. With unemployment rapidly increasing this number is expected to increase in the coming months. The Kaiser Family Foundation recently found that “a one percentage point rise in the national unemployment rate would add 1.1 million to the ranks of the uninsured nationwide.” This could spell physical as well as financial ruin to families across the state and further strain the current state-run health care programs.

Pat Lamb, a St. Paul resident and long-time activist and community organizer, recently participated in ACORN and Take Action Minnesota’s lobby day at the Capitol. Lamb, age 62, is now retired and living on her own in St. Paul Public Housing. She is a recipient of Medicare and a number of services provided through Minnesota Care, one of the three publicly subsidized health care programs currently operating in Minnesota. While Lamb has suffered from numerous medical complications all her life, a series of eye surgeries recently threatened her independence. Luckily she was able to apply for an “independent living skill worker” to help her with daily tasks, such as setting up medical appointments and grocery shopping.

“I don’t know what would happen if they cut her. I can’t sustain myself on faith alone,” Lamb said. She also expressed her desire to expand similar health care services to other Minnesotans. “In my building there are many people with physical disabilities and don’t receive any assistance. I’m one of the lucky ones. People work hard but sometimes they need help.”

Catherine Dahir was recently laid off from her job at Reeves Park, Inc., a Minneapolis based jewelry manufacturer, and fears she will not be able to continue payments on her health care plan and home mortgage. In the middle of a costly divorce, Dahir says she needs support. “I don’t want to rely on the system but I have worked ever since I was 14 even with three severe spinal injuries and now I don’t have anyone to turn to.”

Members of ACORN and Take Action believe people like Lamb and Dahir should not have to choose between their health and their home and are urging legislators to pass the Health Security Act.

State Rep. Jeff Hadden, DFL-Minneapolis, said, “Personally I’m a universal health care advocate and I believe that we need radical reform in the health care system. I don’t see the Minnesota Health Security Act as an end in itself, but as a step towards a single payer system. I am supporting the current bill for practical reasons and for children.”

Time off when you’re sick
Forty-one percent of workers in Minnesota- more than one million- lack paid sick days, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Healthy Family Healthy Workplace Act would require employers to provide paid time off.

Ashley Vera, a senior organizer with ACORN, discussed her own experiences as a worker and as a mother. “When my kids were little and got sick I had to bring them to day care because missing a day to take care of them would mean losing my job.”

The legislation would have a significant impact on industries like restaurants which often do not provide paid sick leave. In these cases, ACORN argues that paid sick leave is more than an ethical matter, it’s also an issue of public health.

In speaking with legislators, ACORN members promoted the bill as a piece of health care reform with no cost to the state and with added benefits to businesses. In places where similar legislation has been passed, such as San Francisco, businesses actually found an increase in worker productivity and overall job satisfaction.

Alessandra Fuhrman is a student at Macalester College who is interning this semester with Workday Minnesota.

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