CONTRIBUTORS

OP-ED: Legislators don’t have to be moderate to work together

Reps. Kate Klunk and Dan Frankel
Pennsylvania Legislature
Rep. Kate Klunk discusses concerns as York County Commissioners meet with state lawmakers and poll workers to discuss last weeks election as well as  address necessary improvements needed for future elections, at the York County Administrative Center in York City, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Everyone in today’s General Assembly can agree on one thing (and perhaps only one thing): We, as a legislative body, are rather polarized. We are a polarized state within a polarized country.

For each of us, session days increasingly evoke Sisyphus, the Corinthian king who was cursed by Zeus to roll a boulder up a hill, only to have it crash down to the bottom again just as he reaches the top.

We are oftentimes on the opposite sides of that hill, and we are perhaps equally tired and equally frustrated.

Rep. Dan Frankel (D) Allegheny, joins Governor Tom Wolf, Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and legislators to discuss the repercussions of the Republican anti-choice bill, Monday April 11, 2016. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

Today we write with a reminder that, even in this brutal atmosphere of political discord, we can and must find ways to support our residents. The last 16 months have brought unprecedented challenges, and Pennsylvanians are counting on its leaders, polarized as they may be, to continue solving problems even amid their ideological differences.

Just last month, before fierce debates over abortion policy, election code and vaccine requirements, the two of us joined forces to pass a bill with little fanfare that will make a big difference in Pennsylvanians’ lives.

The measure, now signed into law, increases the income cap and eliminates the asset cap for workers with disabilities who rely on medical assistance. Those caps forced many disabled professionals to top out early in their careers, passing up promotions or raises to ensure that they can meet their healthcare needs.

For people who require support to get dressed in the morning, getting into their wheelchairs, and meeting other basic necessities of daily living, Medicaid is the sole way to get those needs met. That means qualified, hard-working, capable employees must set aside ambition. They’re caught in a Catch-22: If a disabled person tries to make it into the corporate boardroom, she has to give up the care that helps make sure she can get into her suit.

Other Pennsylvanians report that they cannot get married, because their partners’ assets would make them ineligible for medical assistance.

In this Commonwealth, only 35 percent of people with disabilities are working, with only 21 percent working full time. That means that families are being denied needed income, individuals are being denied fulfilling professional lives and our communities are being denied the talents of very capable and willing workers.

That’s the opposite of what our public policy should do.

Most Pennsylvanians will have never heard of this problem or our efforts to fix it – especially when headlines describe a far more exciting all-out war in the General Assembly.

But news of the governor’s signature on this unanimously passed bill reached those impacted quickly. “This bill will change my life,” one said.

Once the new law is fully enacted, MAWD enrollment will increase by more than 1,000 individuals, according to a state Department of Human Services estimate. This is based on the number of MAWD recipients disenrolled due to being over income limits. 

No longer will this population have to choose between their life goals and their health needs.

We write today, not to announce our retirement from impassioned political battles. Some of our top legislative priorities are in direct opposition to each other and find us debating one another in committee and on the floor. Our differences run deep, and are central to our respective belief systems and the districts we represent.

But, that shouldn’t stop us from working together where we can. Sometimes, when we all gather on the same side, we can put our might behind the same rock – and that’s when we can get it over the hill.

— State Rep. Kate Klunk is a Republican from Hanover and state Rep. Dan Frankel is a Democrat from Allegheny.