Social Security Fairness Act

When we work in America, we make a contract with Social Security and Medicare that earns us benefits throughout our lives and into our retirement.

It is critical that we protect and strengthen these programs for all Americans. Some professions, public sector jobs, and the military in some states and throughout America are treated differently, leading to a breach of that contract.

If you or your spouse pay into Social Security and Medicare, you should be able to receive those spousal benefits regardless of where you’ve worked. Teachers and their spouses in Illinois, however, are getting screwed because of the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO). 

Under the WEP and GPO, workers who have paid into Social Security and Medicare have their spousal benefits dramatically cut, sometimes eliminating their Medicare coverage late in life when their spouse passes away. We must protect these spousal benefits for all Americans because these are earned benefits. It’s the right thing to do.


I would support the Social Security Fairness Act of 2017, which has broad bipartisan support. It’s one of the areas where my opponent and I are in agreement.

Unfortunately for our teachers and spouses, this bill has been sitting in the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security since March of 2017. It is not even listed on the Subcommittee’s website as a bill introduced in the 115th Congress, so the GOP is not serious about solving this problem.

That is why we need a Congress that will move this legislation forward instead of letting it die in a subcommittee for over a year and a half.

I will push for this reform as your representative and voice in Washington.

Advertisements

People Over Party.

“Are you for the party or the people? Both parties have wrecked IL. It’s “structure” is currently in a “state of disrepair” (has been for decades). With an estimated $8B deficit and growing, over 35k net loss of people—how will you standup to the Madigan’s and Edgar’s of IL? You won’t! They will not support your re-election…you’ll be ostracized.”

First, I agree that there are serious problems in Illinois caused by both sides of the aisle, especially when it comes to downstate.

Second, I’m running in a federal race to represent the 15th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, not the State Legislature.

There are great Democratic candidates running for State House and State Senate races throughout downstate. I would urge you to find yours and listen to what they have to say because they want to listen to what you have to say.

“IL can’t even climb out of the cellar in this historic economy?”

About “this historic economy.” It is historic, but not in the right way for the vast majority of people. And, that’s not just about Illinois. Wages have been stagnant for decades, in some industries wages have actually been decreasing. Many 70-80 year olds are working 6 or 7 days a week to help foot the bill for two or three generations. These working class people have been left behind by the economy, especially in rural America and rural Illinois.

“We sold our land in S.IL a few years ago—we were going to build our “dream” home; dumped the plans to retire in IL from the military—why bring our $ and entrepreneur ideas to a state with the top tax burden?”

If you want to examine the real drivers of our high tax environment in Illinois, look no further than our regressive flat income tax. This places all the burdens on working people and true small businesses. It also lands the burden of paying for education, infrastructure, and local government on property taxes. This is why the economic environment is so hostile to both workers and especially to business.

It will only get worse when the economy slows, and it will—tax receipts will decrease and state handouts will uptick.”

Calling assistance to families “handouts” is an easy way to not appreciate the real needs as well as the real economic benefits of this assistance. Under our current system, working while poor is punished. We should be incentivizing work instead. If you have any health condition within your family, these issues are compounded greatly.

The reality about monetary, healthcare, shelter, and food assistance is that all of these go directly into our local economies. When we cut these resources, we’re robbing our small businesses of much needed revenue. And, without eliminating the disincentives and punishments for getting back to work, the bridge to self-reliance is non-existent. We can work on this from both a state and a federal level.

“Why would an IL politician be concerned with people staying or leaving IL? Politicians do well in IL, get that state “gravy-train” (golden parachute) retirement plan to the tune of $72k off the backs of workers. For what? Nation leading deficits, taxes, state gov criminality, etc. When outflow outpaces inflow, maybe people will learn?”

When you examine downstate politics, the Republicans have one mantra. “Madigan.” That’s all they run on mostly, adding in one or two social issues that divide and separate as opposed to build and boost our local economies. I know that the People are exhausted by that boring, tired playbook.

Republicans have also ran nearly every county board, city council, state house, and state senate district for decades. What do the People have to show for it? Mass exodus.

There is plenty of blame to go around, but doing the same thing and expecting a different result . . . there’s a phrase about that, isn’t there?

  • I’m focused like a laser on changing the conversation.
  • Moving beyond this blame game.
  • Finding common ground, using common sense, and utilizing common values to move our district forward.
  • That is why I’m showing up, standing up, and speaking out everywhere I go. 

The People deserve to be heard, they deserve to be believed, and they deserve someone to stand up and fight for them everyday, both in D.C., in Springfield, and in their communities.

  • I’m open to solutions while sharing the innovative solutions I know have worked and that will work here.
  • We’re working together with anyone that is willing and open to do so.
  • Most people are too.

Waterways, Economy, and Mental Health

These are questions I was asked recently on the campaign trail.


Q: “Hillary Clinton said she wanted to invest $30 billion in the Coal Belt for clean up efforts and to restore the water quality in the Ohio Valley watershed.  What do you think about that idea?”

$30 billion isn’t going to do much if there aren’t standards applied throughout the region. The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission is likely to give up its responsibility on managing the river, which is a huge concern for me as this would leave the care of this vital resource to individual states. We need to provide stability and support to the Commission, be actively working with community members, officials, organizations, and businesses, and promoting this publicly to reverse this decision. 


Q: “What do you see as (the) greatest opportunity for economic development? What other opportunities do you see for economic development for (the) region?  What specifically would you do to help (southeastern Illinois) recover economically? What future do you believe the Progressive movement and the Democratic Party has in the United States has without the Coal Belt?”

After the deregulation of the coal industry in Illinois, we can’t compete with other states. Automation, bad business practices, and lack of union coal jobs all play a part in the decimation of coal in Illinois. However, under President Obama, coal production rose to 10% below 1970 numbers. Coal jobs did not correlate with the increase in production. Layoffs have been occurring not only in Illinois but in Western Kentucky as well. We need new industries.

Coal is vital for energy production as well as steel production. The technology has greatly improved, and America does it better than anywhere else. I wrote on this subject last November, https://gaither4il.com/coal-steel/.

Small energy companies as well as family farms don’t have a level playing field with their larger competitors.

The regulation and fee schemes are designed to squeeze them out of the market, and actually support bad behavior by the biggest companies. We have to correct those problems in order to keep more money and jobs in our communities.

Solar and wind farms are great industries that can create investment and job creation opportunities.

However, it’s not near enough to combat the job losses and unemployment numbers.

With all of our farmland, we should be growing hemp as we did during WW II.

25,000 products are made from hemp. We should be making these products here,  exporting these to other states and around the world, and become a new economic center in the Midwest. Currently, hemp oils are being sold in Illinois made from hemp grown in Kentucky and Massachusetts. It also combines with products we have here, like honey.

Another opportunity is to create new tourist destinations to drive money back into Southern Illinois.

Art communities have been very successful at creating linkages between farm and town, giving the square a facelift, providing artists housing, work, and a place to sell their work. Combined with our National Forests, State Parks, lakes, and more, these can create circuits for summer camping groups. Also, opening up the empty storefronts in our town centers can give property owners access to potential investors.


Q: “Mental health is a huge problem in rural areas.  The southeastern counties (are) no exception.  What, specifically, would you do to address rural mental health issues in those counties in Congress?”

This is a major priority of mine. I was recently the only Democratic candidate at a forum in Highland. The Republicans were all running for state representative and state senate seats. All of them wanted to cut the budget but were all for increasing access to mental health treatment. It didn’t make any sense to me how they could do both while cutting taxes, and I said as much.

There are a series of issues that we have to address here.

Providers and Access

There aren’t enough counselors, therapists, or social workers to meet the needs. Wait times are too long. If someone needs to see a psychiatrist, the wait times multiply quickly if a psychiatrist even is in the county.  Some counseling centers have the ‘Doctor in a Box’ option, but this simply doesn’t replace having the face-to-face interaction.

States are poaching our health professionals by offering free housing during the days and nights while they work there. The pay is better in these other states.

We have to be able to better compete as a region with pay, benefits, and housing. If we’re going to keep our brightest here, we need to pay them for their dedication. This will help bring specialists and other professionals to downstate Illinois.

High Costs, Health Insurance, Universal Healthcare

The high cost of healthcare in Illinois is part of the reason why we can’t better compete for the best and brightest, helping to stop the brain drain. There are a number of reasons for this.

The backlog of Medicaid payments is a serious concern for community healthcare and hospitals. As a state, we have to make healthcare a priority, especially for low income, people living with disabilities, seniors, veterans, and the chronically ill.

The current system is a broken bureaucracy that punishes work, creates undue amounts of paperwork for both clients and the state, and doesn’t serve the best interests of taxpayers or those who need these services. We have to fix this system, either by the state (which seems unlikely) or with federal guidelines and oversight. When states are unable to manage their Medicaid programs or unable to care for their citizens that these programs are funded to protect, Congress has a role to play.

We’re still not negotiating prescription drug prices. We’re still not dropping state borders allowing insurance providers to go national. We’re still not protecting people from high deductibles and high premiums, both in the individual marketplace and from employer-based plans. The fee for service model is broken, and it is time for a new approach. We can do something about each of those issues on a bipartisan basis because there is broad bipartisan support.

Meanwhile, we can work to pass a public option where there are minimal choices for people. Universal healthcare won’t be a slam dunk before the 2020 election and will be difficult to get over the finish line afterwards. We have to fight to make healthcare more affordable and more accessible every day until we achieve that goal.

Education Pipeline

The way we help increase the number of in demand healthcare professionals is by increasing the size of programs that educate them. We have great colleges and universities throughout downstate Illinois that have counseling, social work, and other degrees focused on graduating professionals. Many of these programs have limited cohort sizes at any given time due to accreditation constraints, which are vital to maintain.

We must provide additional grants and scholarships for students as well as more funding for the programs themselves in order to increase the size of these departments, increasing the size of graduating classes. Linking grants and scholarships to staying in the region is useful in keeping that talent from fleeing the state.

Q & A on the Main Issues

Healthcare

I have extensive experience and policy positions on healthcare. The far left positions of universal healthcare or Medicare for All do not address the structural problems that face the citizens of the 15th District. We have serious access issues in many of our counties and communities. 

What does access mean? Many residents are forced to travels hundreds of miles to see specialists that they can’t find at community and county hospitals. Also, Medicaid isn’t accepted at many healthcare providers.

Many are demanding universal healthcare, but when it passes our district’s residents will still have most of the problems they experience today.

We have to:

  • expand educational grants and scholarships for healthcare professions that are in demand
  • provide temporary lodging for healthcare professionals to provide care in rural districts on a regular basis
  • work to better integrate the various healthcare systems in the 15th.

This won’t be solved with a single talking point.

Infrastructure Repair

I also have discussed infrastructure on the campaign website as well as on the trail. We have to think bigger than just roads and bridges, which are in need of a massive overhaul. The lack of broadband access in our communities keeps local businesses from finding new outlets for their products and services. Also, the lack of connectivity is a disincentive for new industry and business for relocating to our district.

The infrastructure involved with water, power generation, and the power grid are all in need of a serious upgrade. These all will create new jobs for the economy of today and tomorrow. Unfunded mandates too often fall on rural communities. For examples, schools are mandated to test for lead but receive no funds to fix any issues found.

Education

The states have been starved of resources from the federal government since the Bush era. In Illinois this is exacerbated by the state’s regressive flat income tax. As a Congressional representative, we should be focused on providing retraining programs for workers left behind by our economy in the last three decades. Also, retooling and expanding both K-12 and higher education to include education, training, and skill-based opportunities for the jobs that are in demand locally and regionally will help stall the brain drain.

Social Security

This is another area I have extensive experience in managing and policies to move Social Security forward into the 21st Century. Many low income recipients haven’t received a real cost of living increase in a decade.

Just this year there was a 2% increase that was matched with a Medicare premium increase, wiping out the benefit increase. These seniors are strapped for cash and spend most if not all of their earned benefits each month in their communities.

We should expand the program, which will boost local economies.

How do we do that?

Increase the income cap.

Also, those on SSDI and SSI . . . we need to make it easier for them to get back to work without fear of losing their benefits, especially their medical coverage. This will decrease their medical costs, increase their expendable incomes, and help transition them off of the program over time.

Food Stamps

Food stamps nearly pay for themselves. For every $1 spent on SNAP it creates $1.76 in economic output. Everyone knows a story of someone abusing SNAP, but we don’t end a good program that feeds people in need because of a few bad apples. The continued decimation of the SNAP program with ever increasing food prices has led to increased food security. This is why many of our students go to school hungry.

That’s unacceptable. 

Medicaid

Medicaid is a vital program for low-income residents. It’s terribly mismanaged, and because the state doesn’t pay its bills on time, many healthcare providers no longer accept it. We have to fix the administrative problems, decrease the bureaucratic nightmare, and make it easier for healthcare providers to accept Medicaid. Work requirements overburden an already underwater bureaucratic system. Making it easier for those on Medicaid to get back to work should be the objective. The spend-down program is one of the worst programs the state could utilize. It places paperwork burdens on both patient and the state.

We have to do better.

Medicare

Medicare is an example of a program that saves money, provides healthcare, and is an earned benefit people count on when they become disabled or after they retire. The high cost of prescription drugs is creating problems for the sustainability of Medicare Part D. We have to be able to negotiate with drug companies, including purchasing drugs from reputable sources across our borders and overseas.

Seniors and those living with chronic illness shouldn’t be forced to travel into Mexico or Canada to purchase drugs at a cheaper price than they can get at our own pharmacies.

The Budget

The Republican tax reform bill blew a massive hole in deficits and debts for the foreseeable future, in the tune of trillions of dollars. The tax cuts for workers and small businesses were great, as these go right back into our local economies. The 14% permanent tax cuts for corporations, however, were fiscally irresponsible and not attached to any guarantees for jobs, wages, and repatriation of overseas money.

The Pentagon is often ignored when it asks for various defense programs to be cut because members of both parties want to keep those jobs in their districts and states. We can repurpose those jobs in innovative ways.

By creating a robust, energized economy that is focused on raising wages, increasing opportunity, and reigning in excessive spending, we can increase revenue and bring the budget back in line. Under President Obama, we were heading in the right direction. Now, we’re back on the wrong track.

What Makes Me Different

As I’ve traveled across the district, voters often share with me their concerns about electing another politician. ‘What good will it do? How will it change anything? What makes you different? Both parties are to blame.’

I’m not one to blame our problems on one person or one party.
I also don’t believe that one solution will solve any of it.
Throughout much of my life, when I see a problem I do something about it.
I don’t complain, I get to work instead. 

When I was in high school in my hometown of Sullivan, the elementary school where I was taught was in disrepair. With a classmate, I wrote a six-page exposé about the issues, the costs, and the solutions, one of which would be to pass a referendum to build a new elementary school. This was so well received that it was reprinted and sent to every registered voter in the district. The referendum passed, the school was built, and many of my relatives were students there.

This is just an example of how I don’t just talk about problems, I find solutions for them and work with others to achieve results. 

It’s absolutely accurate that both parties play the blame game. This has created a situation where the status quo is maintained.  The vast majority of Americans have been left behind.

Downstate Illinoisans have been left behind by both parties. Rarely has the Democratic Party even offered alternatives to Republicans and that has allowed Republicans to not have to work for the People that elect them to their positions.

I’m different from most of these politicians because I’ve lived through struggles and know how it is to be left behind, how it is to need services, and how it is for those services to not live up to the needs of the people. I’ve also fought to protect programs and strengthen services throughout my career.

I’ve seen bureaucrats make cavalier decisions that negatively impact people’s lives without much of a thought. I stood in the way of those decisions many times. When I was not there, those decisions became a reality and people I know died.

That’s what makes me different. I know the costs of failure are real.

We can’t just have a solution and think that’s good enough. We have to keep fighting to make life better for people, for all people. Often, a solution seems great at the beginning but in its implementation it isn’t all its cracked up to be. That’s why competent public officials check in on the results and ensure the programs and services are working as intended and fix any unintended consequences.

That’s what makes me different in this campaign and why I ask for your support in this vital primary. Our futures are on the line. It takes someone who knows what’s at stake in order to fight for the people of this great district in the way in which they deserve.

Illinois’ Problems Are Beyond Party

Here is my Letter to the Editor of my hometown newspaper, The News-Progress. When I was in high school, I actually wrote sports stories for them, as well as co-writing an exposé with a classmate regarding the costly maintenance problems with our elementary school. That story was actually distributed to all registered voters in Moultrie County.

Local newspapers are one of the only sources remaining that provide local news about your government, education, criminal justice, and other vital resources of information.


Re: Somethings Haven’t Changed

The state’s problems are beyond party. We don’t live 25 years ago, either. This is 2017, and there is bipartisan consensus on a state budget today. The Governor simply stands in the way of any budget becoming law.

Governor Rauner is constitutionally mandated to submit a balanced budget each year. He never once has. The State House and State Senate are the only elected bodies trying to pass a budget and actually deal with our state’s budget crisis. Any budget deal must be able to overcome a Rauner veto, as he demands to get 100% of what he wants. He actually doesn’t want a budget deal because he wants to use this issue in next year’s gubernatorial election.

Meanwhile, the Governor is off vacationing and campaigning, has made at least three bad lease deals with his buddies using our taxpayer money, and continues to hire his friends and business associates into taxpayer funded, six-figure salary positions that most are not even qualified to fill. That’s not good governance and certainly it’s not good business.

As downstate Illinoisans, we also don’t vote for Mike Madigan. We do vote for our state representatives and senators, our Congressional Representatives and Senators, and all of our locally elected officials. Yet, we send the same Party and the same people to Springfield and D.C. every election.

Aren’t we all tired of doing the same thing and expecting a different result? I’m frankly tired of the excuses. It’s all I’ve heard for decades. The blame game doesn’t solve anything and doesn’t help one single family here. It does help incumbents continue to be reelected despite not having any significant results to show for their time in office.

For a Party that lauds their responsibility and accountability credentials, there seems to be a vacuum of both when it comes to getting the real work of the People done. We all deserve so much better than we’ve been receiving for decades. The people we’ve sent to Springfield and D.C. haven’t helped our communities and families. Let’s send different people.

Kevin Gaither

gaither4il.com

-Running for Congress in the 15th District of Illinois