Tag Archives: Obama

Healthcare Crisis Cuts Cross Party Lines for Small Businesses

By Jeremy Herb
and Gregory M. White

Slideshow by Jeremy Herb

With the presidential campaign in its final days, small business owners and workers hit by the financial crisis are worrying about the cost of health care.

For Lower East Side bartender Malati Malay, a lack of health care coverage meant $2,000 in bills after two emergency room visits this year. Malay’s friends have suggested she give a fake name when visiting the hospital to avoid charges, she said.

“I need to get it, but I don’t know the best one to get, or what I can afford,” said Malay, an Australian with American citizenship. “I don’t understand how this country is meant to be the leader — you can’t even see a doctor.”

For New Yorkers who work for or own small businesses, presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama offer different directions on health care reform. Sen. Obama says he will cut taxes for small businesses to encourage them to pursue health care coverage for their workers, while Sen. McCain says he will provide every American with a $5,000  health insurance tax credit so individuals can choose their plans, according to campaign Web sites.

The Tax Policy Institute, a division of the Brookings Institution, said Obama’s plan would reduce the uninsured by 18 million by 2009, costing taxpayers $1.6 trillion over 10 years. The same review shows McCain’s plan reducing the uninsured by 1 million by 2009 at a cost of $1.3 trillion over 10 years.  According to U.S. Census Department figures nearly 47 million people are uninsured.

David Trueman, a lecturer in law at Columbia University,  and who practices law in Manhattan, said Obama’s plan has been mischaracterized in the campaign.

“It is not a nationalized health care. It is not a government health care,” he said. “Obama wants to have a pay or play mechanism for companies.”  (Under such a system companies would  pay for employees’  health insurance or pay taxes to the  government to support their worker’s health care.)

The Obama plan will also create a National Health Insurance Exchange to help individuals pursue coverage at reduced costs.

Trueman, also a psychologist, said McCain’s plan is much more radical, because the reduced burden on business would not have a positive impact on workers.

“It would work to disincentive businesses from providing health care benefits,” he said. “If individuals are simply going to apply for coverage…and there is no pooling of risks, I don’t see how this is going to reduce costs.”

Chris Remy, the co-owner of Cobble Hill gourmet cheese shop Stinky Bklyn, provides health insurance for his four employees, even though it cuts into profits.

“I do like Obama’s credit for small businesses that do health insurances,” said Remy, an Obama supporter. “In the long run that could encourage other small businesses to get in on the whole thing.”

For many small business owners, the weight of health care costs plays a primary role in voting decisions. Eighty percent of small business owners feel the issue is important to them, and 31 percent say it is the most important, according to the National Federation of Independent Business.

Rena Anastasi, owner of the Lower East Side’s Arena Salon, said she bought insurance for herself six years ago after living in this country since 1987.

“Since I got the shop six years ago, I realized I had to look into it,” she said.

Anastasi, who has an Obama sign in her shop’s window, felt it was impossible under any plan for her business to be able to afford insurance for its workers.

“We just don’t make the money to be able to,” she said, adding that the salon industry typically doesn’t provide health insurance. “I don’t feel it’s my job.”

Trueman feels a key to the Obama plan is how the Congress defines a small business. If small businesses are defined as two workers or more, it may put too heavy a financial weight on the tiniest operations. Trueman, however, doubts this will be the case.

“I think the plan will be responsive to the needs of small business,” he said.

Peter Morgano, who works at Boerum Hill Food Company, is currently insured under the state’s child Medicaid plan with his 2-year-old daughter. But he’s worried that insurance will soon expire, and  Morgano and his wife then plan to pay for their child’s insurance but go uninsured themselves.

Morgano, originally a Hillary Clinton supporter, who now a supports  Obama, doesn’t receive insurance from the Boerum Hill café and can’t afford a family plan.

“John McCain talks about $5,000. When family group coverage is $1,100 to $1,200 a month, $5,000 doesn’t get you very far,” he said. “Having your employer provide insurance is much more favorable to us people that work a day job. I work 50 hours a week and have no insurance,” he said.

Trueman said the health insurance burden will be difficult on small businesses in the current economic climate. But McCain’s plan could lead to increased demand and increased prices for consumers, Trueman said.

“McCain’s plan would look to do away with the employee-based system,” he said.

Malay, who hasn’t figured out how to pay her $2,000 bill, said business should help their employees.

“I don’t think they should have to pay all of it,” said the Lower East Side bartender, “but a least a little bit.”

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Speech Marks More than Democratic Acceptance for Women’s Group

The surging crowd at Skinny Bar stand in waiting for Obama's speech.

The surging crowd at Skinny Bar stand in waiting for Obama

by Gregory M. White

August 29, 2008

Expectations were high Thursday night at Skinny Bar, but not for a band or DJ’s performance.

The Lower East Side haunt played host to the NARAL Pro-Choice America event for Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama’s acceptance speech. It was hard to move in the concert like atmosphere.

The crowd, mostly female and younger than fifty, had high expectations for the candidate and, on occasion, a dose of cynicism.

NARAL Field Director Sabrina Shulman took an optimistic tone. “I hope that he does a blow out speech,” continuing, “He needs to be able to push and pull people along as much as he can.”

Thomas Giglio, an attendee, struck a more negative tone. “I would like to see him not be arrogant.” He continued, “I would like to see a short speech, short and concise.”

Also less than convinced beforehand was Jenny Zhang who felt that, “He needs to really make me believe this change is going to happen.”

Lalena Howard, Community Organizer for NARAL, emphasized the importance of women’s issues place in the speech. “I hope that he acknowledges his strong record as a pro-choice candidate.” She was also adamant that, “he sticks to what he believes in and doesn’t cater to the right or moderates.”

As the evening went on, the crowd grew and their cheers expanded, dotting every talking point with applause and pointed affirmations. When women’s issues were mentioned, volumes reached Madison Square Garden levels particularly with Obama’s remark, “We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.”

After the rapturous applause had subsided, and confused passers by on Orchard Street stopped filing in, there was a sense of possibility emanating throughout the Democratically dominated dive bar.

Nora Niedzielski-Eichner was particularly impressed by the bipartisanship of the speech. “I loved the talk about bridging, about bringing people together, about finding common ground.”

And while she felt the speech was a bit short on women’s rights, the national unity aspect was to Niedzielski-Eichner’s liking. “I think he pulled the rest of the country together.”

The passion of the speech was also appreciated, as Rainy White remarked, “ I think it was the first time he was speaking in an aggressive way, which was nice.’

Barney Tam was also in support of the vocal aggression saying, “Finally Democrats were on par with Republicans with that.” “He was able to verbalize what the Democratic Party stands for.”

There were some disappointed by the candidate himself. Polly Lai felt that this didn’t change much with the speech. “I think Obama is lightweight compromise.” Though, she admitted, “Even though I’m not happy about the candidates, I don’t want to vote for Nader either,” referring to Ralph Nader, independent candidate for president.

Disappointment over the speech was limited, but there were some. “Too long. Wrap it up. Enough sob stories,” said Giglio.

Most people who had their problems with the text understood, including Lila Garnett, “I do feel he has a job to do and the job involves a certain amount of marketing and it involves the avoidance of certain ambiguous positions.” Though she concluded easily, “I think he delivered.”

Still others questioned the list of policy proposals, Zhang stating, “I don’t know what his priorities are.” She continued, “What are his top three things?”

While there were complaints and conflict, a feeling of support ran strong within the room. Howard stated, “I thought he spoke really well about the economy, about the needs of the people over the needs of big business.” She concluded, “This speech was largely to woo people on the ledge.” White was in agreement, “I really felt like he was able to show what he could show after he was elected.”

Shulman wasn’t too worried about the lack of emphasis on women’s issues that others complained about.
“I think the bottom line is all these issues are women’s issues.” She concluded, “I thought it was pretty spot on.”

As the supporters, now sweaty from the cramped confines filed out the front door, the barman queued up the film Battle Royale, a timely choice for a campaign that is fast becoming one.

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