The Kansas City, May 15
U.S. Rep Vicky Hartzler, a Republican from Missouri, isn’t a fan of the latest coronavirus stimulus bill circulating on Capitol Hill.
“I don’t know a single Republican who was asked for input on this $3 trillion bill,” she tweeted this week. House Democrats were prepared to approve the measure as early as Friday.
Hartzler will almost certainly be a “no” vote on more financial help for Missourians struggling in the current crisis. And that’s more than strange because when it comes to taking federal handouts, Vicky Hartzler is a veteran.
She got a forgivable paycheck protection loan in April. “Our family businesses applied for and received PPP loans to ensure our employees could remain employed and the business could pay expenses,” the congresswoman said.
We asked her office to tell us the amount of the loans and provide the number of her employees protected by the federal program. A spokesman refused.
“I can point you to Rep. Hartzler’s statement on her family businesses taking PPP loans,” spokesman Danny Jativa said in an email. “That is the only information the office has put out.”
The lack of transparency is unacceptable. Hartzler’s family broke no laws in applying for the forgivable loans, but her constituents have a right to know how much of their money was used to protect her business interests.
They should also know if Hartzler’s application received preferential treatment.
Hartzler’s handouts aren’t limited to the PPP program. Hartzler Farms Inc. has taken almost $1.2 million in crop subsidies since 1996, according to a database compiled by the Environmental Working Group. That includes more than $375,000 taken during her time in Congress.
Hartzler Farms took $109,000 in 2018 alone for crop losses that were partially the result of President Donald Trump’s trade war with China. That’s about 14 times the average payout to farmers in the state.
Yes, this is hypocrisy of the first order. Hartzler has sharply criticized excessive federal spending over the years and has cosponsored balanced budget amendments, an idea that is now laughable.
She has repeatedly endorsed cuts to the federal food stamp program, known as SNAP. “Socialism and big government takeovers don’t work,” she said in February.
This approach — money for me, and not for thee — is particularly dangerous in the current environment. The COVID-19 pandemic has crushed businesses across the nation, including many in Hartzler’s district. The jobless rate may soon exceed that in the Great Depression.
Congress needs to do more. Hartzler may want to listen to her Missouri colleague, Sen. Josh Hawley, who has offered legislation guaranteeing a portion of some workers’ earnings for the duration of the pandemic. While there are flaws in Hawley’s bill, the idea of keeping workers whole while the economy recovers is sound.
And Hartzler should know this. The web of subsidies surrounding agriculture was first assembled during the Depression, when farm bankruptcies were rampant. That system more or less exists today, and Hartzler uses it.
For a quarter century, at least, Vicky Hartzler’s hand has been in the government’s pocket, seeking help for her business. Now her neighbors need help, too. Instead of rejecting another round of coronavirus relief, the congresswoman should step forward and offer concrete proposals to provide it.
The Joplin Globe, May 16
Oklahoma does it right; Missouri and Kansas, not so much.
The state of Oklahoma is sharing every week the names of nursing homes that have had a COVID-19 outbreak, listing the number of positives among both staff and residents. They are not releasing individual names or personal medical details, of course, but have found a way to provide critical information to the public while at the same time protecting privacy.
Missouri and Kansas could learn from them.
According to AARP, more than 16,000 nursing home residents and staff had died from COVID-19 as of last week, representing roughly a quarter of the nation’s known coronavirus deaths. Their experts also indicated that the number of infections and deaths in nursing homes is likely being undercounted because the information is hard to get. In some states, the organization reports, more than half of coronavirus deaths have come in nursing homes. A New York Times database this week concluded that more than 28,000 residents and workers at nursing homes and other long-term care sites for older adults have died thus far — closer to a third of all U.S. deaths.
In other words, nursing homes are on the front line in this pandemic, and we think the public is served best by having the kind of information Oklahoma provides.
Yet the state of Kansas is not publicly reporting COVID-19 cases or deaths for its long-term care homes, or the names of those homes. Neither is Missouri, which has begun putting out a weekly (weakly) report providing only the number of what it calls “congregate living sites” in each county that have reported an outbreak.
Officials with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services cite a state law that they say prohibits them from disclosing the medical facility identified. That law, we believe, was put in place to protect nursing homes, when what lawmakers should be doing is protecting public health. So Missourians are left with inadequate and incomplete information, which is hardly a strategy for combating a pandemic.
Missouri law, by the way, does not restrict counties from naming the nursing homes, but many are following the state’s lead.
According to Elaine Ryan, AARP vice president for state advocacy and strategy integration, a “patchwork of inconsistent data” exists that is making it hard to get a picture of the severity of the problem.
AARP is advocating for consistent daily public reporting from every state, including the names of affected long-term care homes.
“There’s a serious problem in these facilities,” Ryan says, “and we need to know where the outbreaks are so we can target additional resources to help save lives.”
David Terry, an attorney who has represented nursing home residents and families who have sued nursing homes, recently told Ozarks Public Radio that the names should be made public to help families make decisions.
“They should have that information before they put Mom or Dad into a nursing home,” he said.
Some families have told Terry they are not being informed about outbreaks in homes where they have relatives staying.
We urge lawmakers in Missouri and Kansas to reconsider the short-sightedness of earlier decisions that withhold vital information, and to make public welfare the highest priority, whether nursing homes want the names released or not.
The St. Joseph News-Press, May 18
Spare us the political lecture over the unfairness of voters getting another crack at changes to legislative redistricting in the state of Missouri.
Voters were presented with a poison pill in 2018, when an impractical system of drawing up boundaries was tacked on to a measure that limits lobbyist gifts to lawmakers.
Those much-needed ethical reforms came with baggage: In this case, an unelected demographer is given the ultimate power to draw state House and Senate boundaries with a goal of achieving “partisan fairness.” This represents a step back from the past system that used a nonpartisan commission to draw boundaries every 10 years.
Among elected officials, this could be seen as a pure power play. Republicans have a stranglehold on the legislature and are none too keen to see Democrats make inroads, thanks to a demographer wielding a complex formula known as an “efficiency gap.”
But viewed from the standpoint of Missouri’s voters, the legislature’s endorsement of a redistricting do-over makes perfect sense. Clean Missouri, as passed in 2018, put a premium on competitiveness and partisan fairness over the shape or compactness of districts.
That should raise concerns about Andrew County’s representation coming from south of Interstate 29 or St. Joseph residents calling a 660 area code to talk our own elected official.
This issue largely passed the legislature last week on a partisan vote, but one exception was Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Democrat from University City outside of St. Louis. She expressed worry about districts with funny doglegs and elongated strips making it harder to get African-Americans elected, if inner-city St. Louis needs a Republican to balance out the new Democratic seats in the rural areas or suburbs.
“We’re talking about the representation of our communities,” she said in stltoday.com.
The irony is that the original Clean Missouri was pitched to voters as a way to stop the gerrymandering of legislative districts, but it has the potential to create districts that are just as oddly shaped. The only difference is this gerrymandering is accomplished by bureaucratic experts in the name of fairness.
In the end, voters get the final say at the polls on the new redistricting proposal, which would retain the bipartisan commission and emphasize compactness of districts.
It’s a risky move. Missouri Republicans who supported this second constitutional amendment could pay a heavy price for advancing a measure that is seen as undoing the will of the people.
That’s politics. We’re just saying if there is voter retribution, it should come from voters who live fairly close to the lawmaker in question.
They say all politics is local. They don’t necessarily say it’s fair.