[Sayma-Announce] Liminality and new clothes: AFSC WV Economic Justice Update

Charles Schade c.vmbra at frontier.com
Tue Aug 20 09:53:45 EDT 2013

The report below summarizes current work of the West Virginia Economic
Justice project, operated by the American Friends Service Committee.
Charles Schade
Charleston, WV
Liminality and new clothes: AFSC WV Economic Justice Update

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau famously wrote, "Mistrust all enterprises
that require new clothes." I've always subscribed to that maxim, which
explains my discomfort recently when I went to a store and bought a suit and
tie. It gets worse. I've since  actually been seen in public with one, which
has essentially ruined my reputation. All in the line of duty.


The reason for the suit was that it's kind of like war paint when it comes
to hanging out with legislators and such. This week I'm going to be heading
to North Dakota with a state legislative delegation which will be studying
that state's Legacy Fund. For the last three years or so, we've been trying
to get WV to set up similar legislation (which we call a Future Fund) and I
figure I needed to look somewhat respectable.


Last week, I even managed to tie the tie, although it took a magazine
illustration and a couple of days work to do it. Since I may not be able to
replicate that feat, I'm leaving it tied forever. I even got my official
lobbyist ID in the mail last week.


Don't worry, though, I haven't been completely domesticated, although I am
housebroken for the most part. My political goal is liminality, a term
derived from the Latin word for threshold. I define it as the ability to be
inside or outside at will, a state of felicity enjoyed by my cat Wu (see
attached picture). I have been indoors, metaphorically speaking, more than
usual these days. 


Here's some of what's up:


*Dislodging a monkey from my back. Every year since 2008 I've worked with
the WV Center on Budget and Policy to produce a report on "The State of
Working West Virginia," which is modeled on the Economic Policy Institute's
book length State of Working America, only smaller. This year, we decided to
focus on how job quality has declined over the years. Our working title is
"From Weirton Steel to Wal-Mart," as the former was once our biggest
employer but the latter now sadly is. It was my job to come up with a
narrative frame and research it. My total first draft came to around 13
pages. The guys from the policy center will do the graphs and charts. It was
pretty painful as the times I recounted were the ones I (barely) lived
through. It was like reliving a real downer Bruce Springsteen album about
shut down mines and mills. We are hoping to release it around Labor Day.


You can see our earlier efforts here:




and the national effort that inspired us here:


 <http://stateofworkingamerica.org/> http://stateofworkingamerica.org/


and my complaints about writing it here:




While I've been writing about the past, Beth has been working on the
discussion guide for our project on WV's economic future. We've compared


*Bonding with the prison guys. This is really weird for me but Stephen Smith
and I met this week with the commissioner of the WV Division of Corrections
and two of his staff, i.e. the people who run the state's prison system.
Believe it or not, the subject of the meeting was how to help low income
people getting out of prison, specifically with Medicaid expansion. They are
seriously committed to seeing that every eligible person who gets out of
prison starting in 2014 will be signed up for health coverage under the
Affordable Care Act and we're committed to helping them do that.


Here's the funny part: we bonded with the prison guys by bashing the WV
Department of Health and Human Resources, which administers Medicaid. DHHR,
which supposedly helps people, is kind of known for its nastiness to poor
people and lack of transparency. There are any number of ironies there. 


Ever since advocacy efforts to expand Medicaid and pass a prison
overcrowding bill succeeded, I've been talking with state leaders about how
the former can help the latter, given WV's huge substance abuse problem.
Here's an interesting article about an audit in Oregon which suggested
Medicaid expansion could help ex-offenders deal with drug issues while also
saving the state millions:




I passed it along to the corrections people, the state Supreme Court
administrative director, and Governor Tomblin's policy director, all of whom
are interested.


*Speaking of the Future Fund, here's more about the North Dakota trip from
the Wheeling paper:




And here's another reason why we need it:




Without it, there is no way of turning nonrenewable resources into a
permanent source of wealth for WV.


*Child poverty coalition. We have been hopping as we gear up for the coming
year. We've had a steering committee meeting and an all-day retreat for
strategic planning (which didn't pretend to predict the future). Stephen
Smith, Alyson Clements from the policy center, and I with the staff of
Senate Majority Leader John Unger about the September policy symposium and
the select committee on children and poverty meeting which will happen the
following day. We met with Hallie Mason, Gov. Tomblin's policy director
about the same thing last Friday, suit and all.


*Speaking of the policy symposium, it looks like three AFSC folks from out
of state will be visiting WV. The lineup includes acting regional director
Ann Lennon from NC, Director of Grants Dierdre McKee from Philly, and
administrative assistant/videographer Bryan Vana from Baltimore. As of now,
all will be staying at Goat Rope Farm. Should be the partay of the century. 


Hunger games. I spent a few hours recently with my new best buddies in the
Office of Child Nutrition, where I heard a funny story. As I mentioned last
time, we pushed the Raleigh County school superintendent to expand access to
free breakfast and lunches. Apparently, the superintendent and his posse
called that Office and expressed anger at being made the target of a
campaign (he was, but they didn't do it-we did). After a good bit of
growling and grumping, he admitted he was going to do it. I'm also pleased
to report that the change will benefit more children than I thought: around
6,500 instead of 6,200+.


I have new data for the coming school year. Several more counties and
schools have embraced the Community Eligibility Option and I'm already
planning on pushing the ones that haven't. In a not entirely unrelated
story, Senator Unger is speaking in Wood County this week, which is in one
of the holdout counties. I'm sure the subject of the board's rejection of
feeding kids will come up. The Wood County board needs to feel love all year
round. We'll also be working with a new Food Policy working group on this
and related issues. Here's coverage about Wood County:




*Patriot coal deal. A while back, we signed on to an effort to support
working at retired union coal miners at Patriot Coal who were in danger of
losing promised benefits due to a corporate bankruptcy. I worked with UMWA
representative Brian Lacy to try to build organizational support from
religious organizations. Beth and I have participated in several rallies and
helped arrange for them to speak with the Tuesday Morning Group and others.
Latest word is the union negotiated a better deal despite the fact that a
federal judge ruled for the company in May. The union held a vote last
Friday and members overwhelmingly approved the deal by around 85-15 percent.
Here's coverage:




I think it was a great win for the union at a really tough time. 


*Head Start/sequester. We've had another meeting of an ad hoc group that has
formed to oppose sequester cuts to Head Start and other programs. I'm going
to try to write an op-ed sometime this week and we've adopted a pretty
complicated strategy, about which more later. It should be interesting.


*Tuesday Morning Group, which works on racial justice issues, hasn't quite
im- or exploded yet. Latest effort is to make a pitch to the legislative
committee on minority affairs to revisit a 10 year old study of racial
disparities by the legislature and try to bring it up to date.


*Other stuff. I attended an all-day meeting of the Legislative Action Team
for Children and Families about early childhood education, which is very
much in play. Beth spoke with some visiting college students about coal
issues. Another budget fight is brewing. We are going to support Medicaid
enrollment/voter registration efforts through the child poverty campaign.

It's always something.










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