State Rep. Alicia Recce, appointed to a coveted spot on the DNC’s Platform Committee, expects this year’s platform to be specific, instead of continuing the tradition of advocating for broad themes.
Criminal justice reform isn’t part of the current platform, she said. Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Platform Chair Congressman Elijah Cummings and Rep. Reece all want to change that.
“One can get so caught up in the politics of distraction and destruction that we lose sight of the need to address the problems that affect people on a day-to-day basis,’’ Reece said.
She made her comments during a meeting with more than two dozen leading progressive groups that attended a forum to discuss specific things they’d like to see in the Platform, a document that helps shape the party’s and voter’s priorities in the upcoming election. ProgressOhio convened the meeting.
Kalitha Williams from Policy Matters Ohio wants the Platform to call for reforms that would end predatory lending practices and close existing loopholes that allow payday lenders to prey on Ohioans. The reforms would strengthen families by freeing up more of their hard-earned money for things that matter, she said.
She cited a recent report by the Center for Responsible Lending that found payday lenders drained nearly $503 million from desperate Ohioans in 2015. The report showed that 89 percent of payday loans in Ohio are taken within 60 days of the previous loan being repaid and 73 percent are taken on the same day as the previous loan was repaid.
Addressing policies that promote poverty emerged as a major theme.
Some speakers called for higher wages, noting that too many Ohioans who work full time still live in poverty and can’t meet their families’ basic needs.
SEIU’s Kelsey Bergfeld urged the platform to call for a higher minimum wage and updated the gathering on Raise Up Cleveland, a proposal to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour beginning next year.
The Ohio Federation of Teachers’ Melissa Cropper talked about the link between poverty and education.
“Kids are bringing more needs to the classroom, so it’s important to advocate for a system that encourages learning and supports teachers and school systems,’’ she said. Unfortunately, for some the answer is to siphon off money from traditional public schools and send it charter schools with terrible records of achievement.
Cropper urged the Platform Committee to specifically state that public money should only go to high-performing charter schools and end the practice common in Ohio of sending it to some of the worst ones.
Jason Smith of Groundwork Ohio echoed the call for a better educational system and said it can be achieved by laying a strong foundation through investments in early childhood education. To be effective, the programs must be affordable, high quality and meet the needs of families by offering full-day, full-year care to accommodate working parents, he said.
Smith cited new analysis showing that early childhood education professionals in Ohio and 36 other states are paid so little that they fall below the federal poverty line, and he said that Ohio’s investment in Head Start is so limited that the state serves just 26% of the kids who are eligible.
“We need to look at these as educational programs, not welfare programs,’’ he said. Education can promote self-sufficiency and strengthen families and communities, lessening the need for public assistance.
Nita Carter of UHCAN said the consumer health advocacy group continues to champion quality, affordable and accessible health care for everyone. The Affordable Care Act has allowed Ohio to provide insurance for more of its citizens but she is concerned that the advancements could be undermined.
“There is a trend to have to do something to get services, and sometimes people don’t have the something to give,’’ she said. An example: The so-called Healthy Family waivers pushed by Republicans that would require low-income folks to pay premiums to access care and pay a fine if they don’t. Studies show this will reduce care and raise health-care costs in the long term.
Low wages also are hurting those who care for the elderly, said Rep. Stephanie Howse of Cleveland.
“We are getting older and many folks who are older don’t have resources to properly care for themselves. They must rely on others – family members – to take care of them….It’s a service that should not be undervalued,’’ Howse said.
People should not have to live in poverty, she said, to care for an elderly parent or sick child, and she pointed to research conducted by AARP that showed demand for care-giver services is on the rise.
Collin Marozzi from Common Cause Ohio wants to see the Platform call for changes that give all voters a chance to participate in democracy. Those changes would include a public funding option, tax credit system for small donations and expansion of voting rights.
“We have to stop the voter-suppression tactics being used to undermine low-income people. This cripples our ability to govern ourselves,’’ he said.
Gwendolyn Green of the Main Street Alliance urged the Platform to embrace reasonable accommodations for pregnant women. Today, 13 states have such requirements; Ohio isn’t one of them.
To show why the change is needed, she told Rep. Reece about a pregnant woman fired by UPS – rather than reassign her to a job that did not require heavy lifting. A male driver, however, was assigned new duties after a drunk driving conviction prevented him from legally driving.
Kelsey Ellington, aide to Columbus City Council member Liz Brown, echoed the theme of advancing policies that help families. Councilwoman Brown is championing paid family leave. As a new mom, she speaks from experience. Just 13 percent of American workers have access to paid family leave; among low-wage workers it’s just 4 percent, Ellington said.
She and Innovation Ohio’s Erin Ryan pointed to an IO study that shows the value of paid leave to families, employers and communities.
Linda Cook of the Southern Poverty Law Center stressed the need for the Platform to champion policies that reduce poverty.
“The way out of poverty is a job, but it’s just not any job,’’ she said. “Workers need a living wage, reliable hours and we need to remove barriors to employment – such as incarceration, Our incarceration rate is too high and it has a direct impact on the ability of people to get and keep a good-paying job.’’
Larry Price, Vice Chair of the Baptist Ministerial Alliance and a member of the NAACP, said America has less than 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the prison population. He said African American men are more likely to be stopped by police, and more likely to be locked up longer than white men for the same offenses.
This can be remedied by strengthening bonds of trust between communities and police, ending the practice of racial profiling, providing federal matching funds for police body cameras, doing a better job of collecting and analyzing criminal justice data and giving judges more discretion over sentencing.
Scott DiMauro, Vice President of the Ohio Education Association, noted that speaker after speaker raised issues of insufficient wages, income inequality and the school to prison pipeline.
“A lot of actions have influenced these trends but none more than the decline of organized labor,’’ he said. During the same time as worker productivity has gone up by 79 percent, the median income has increased just 18 percent.
“When unions are strong, wages are higher, the economy is better and we are better to able to meet the needs of our people.’’ DiMauro urged the Platform to call for strong support for collective bargaining rights.
Colleen Dempsey from the National Association of Social Workers, Ohio Chapter, called for the Platform to demand an end to conversion therapy, the widely discredited practice of having mental health professionals and social workers try and change the sexual orientation of children. The American Psychological Association opposes gay conversion therapy, and the practice is widely condemned because it can lead to anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide among young LGBT people, she said.
But Dempsey also told Rep. Reece about the need for social workers, a traditionally low-paid profession, to earn a higher wage. Many students graduate from college with students loans that burden them with debt or cause them to leave a profession they love, and Ohio, simply to make more money.
Ron Rees, Executive Director of the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development, focused his remarks on the need for policymakers to focus on the causes of poverty, then find ways to reduce it. “We have the ability to lift families out of poverty if we are willing to recognize what keeps them in poverty.”
Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, Executive Director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, noted that hunger is rising in Ohio but can be reduced by expanding investments in many programs that already exist. They include: the Earned Income Tax Credit, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and national service programs such as VISTA and Americorps.
Andre Washington, President of the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute, an organization of labor unionists committed to civil rights, again noted the continual dismantling of voting rights in Ohio and the need to protect them.