Arizona needs Sinema’s climate leadership

Environmental advocates across Arizona were encouraged recently when Senator Kyrsten Sinema spoke powerfully about the challenges facing Arizona due to the climate crisis. As she told The Arizona Republic, “We know that a changing climate costs Arizonans. And right now, we have the opportunity to pass smart policies to address it.” Sinema particularly emphasized the dire costs of “[the] increasing wildfires to the severe droughts, to shrinking water levels at Lake Mead, [to] damage to critical infrastructure.” 

Sandy Bahr

Senator Sinema is absolutely right, but unfortunately has yet to make clear her position on the need for key policies in President Biden’s once-in-a-generation, climate-action centered Build Back Better Act. The bill makes the kind of transformational investments in clean energy, in clean transportation, and in reducing the impacts of droughts and heat waves that we must seize right now while we still have the opportunity. 

Sinema’s office recently denied reports that she had called for $100 billion in cuts to climate action policies in the Build Back Better Act, but nonetheless has yet to voice support for a $150 billion climate action program that is under threat or for new climate investments that could replace it. 

Just how necessary is this legislation? On June 18, 2021, the city of Phoenix recorded temperatures at a sweltering, and for many unsurvivable, 118 degrees ― a single day in what became the hottest June in the city’s history (tied with June 2020). Severe drought again devastated every state in the region and reached levels we’d never experienced. We saw the first dangerous shortages declared on the Colorado River, which supplies water for 40 million people, and are watching fires again reach unnatural intensities. We must act with urgency on a national scale. The catastrophic costs of climate inaction are orders of magnitude higher than the price of investments we can make today. 

The good news is this: the Build Back Better Act’s investments in a clean energy economy will create massive opportunities across the Southwest, and in Arizona in particular. 

A new study from leading clean energy research organization RMI shows that our region would see billions of dollars in new wages for construction and operation jobs from new wind and solar projects if we align with the build out needed to reach our 2030 climate goals. Importantly, projects on this scale would also generate new tax revenue, to the tune of over $3.5 billion for our cities and municipalities. The Seidman Institute at ASU just released an analysis showing the Build Back Better infrastructure plan would result in 99,160 more jobs in Arizona per year, on average, over its ten years of projected investment. 

The political and the climate reality makes it clear: This is our moment. So, we are once again urging Senator Sinema to finally make her position on key provisions of this legislation clear. At a certain point, silence becomes assent, and if Sinema is unwilling to publicly defend the urgent climate action Arizonans so desperately need, it would be deeply concerning. 

Senator Sinema: please do everything you can to fully fund and pass the bold climate action policies we need in this bill as swiftly as possible.

Sandy Bahr is director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. 

Critical Tribal Provisions in the Build Back Better Act

A man dressed as the “Build Back Better Bill” wears a sash saying, “on to the Senate,” Friday, Nov. 19, 2021, as members of the House including Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., right, leave after voting on the bill on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

It is undeniable that we are now experiencing the consequences of climate change and that tribal communities are among the hardest hit. Congress needs to pass the ”Build Back Better” budget reconciliation package to help our communities now. 

Recently at The White House Tribal Nations Summit, President Biden set a goal of conserving 30% of America’s lands and waters by 2030 and is working in collaboration with Tribal Nations to focus on the most ecologically important lands and waters we call home. On November 15 the President signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law and is now working to gain final passage of the Build Back Better Plan. 

Jamescita Peshlakai

Together, these two economic packages contain billions of dollars to support Indian families with programs that will cut the costs of raising a family, and take unprecedented action needed to combat the climate crisis. 

It is important that the environmental and climate justice provisions in the Build Back Better Act be quickly passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden. This is our once-in-a-generation chance to protect our communities and treasured lands, improve access to clean drinking water and grow economic opportunity with clean energy jobs. 

Chronic underfunding of infrastructure in Indian Country has harmed Tribal communities significantly. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will make infrastructure investments spanning transportation, water, sanitation, energy, environmental restoration, broadband internet, and climate resiliency—totaling more than $13 billion in direct investments, with the ability to access hundreds of billions more in grants and other funding opportunities. 

Congress must ensure that the Tribal Energy Loan Guarantee Program gets established as part of the Build Back Better Act. This will appropriate $200 million to the Energy Secretary to carry out a loan guarantee program and guarantees 100% of unpaid principal and interest to access the Federal Financing Bank, increasing the cap on loan guarantees for Tribal Nations under that program to $50 billion. 

On education, investments included in the Build Back Better Plan would bring record funding for Tribes in the areas of childcare and preschool programs. Transformative education funds are included which will make it easier for Native women and other family providers to remain in the workforce and increase educational opportunities and outcomes for children. Minority-serving colleges and universities, including Tribal Colleges and Universities, are slated to gain significant funding through the Build Back Better Act. 

The Build Back Better Act spending plan allocates $10 billion for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and universities (TCUs), Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs). The funds from the plan would go directly to schools and provide research grants so desperately needed for quality, accessible education opportunities for Tribal Nations. 

Researchers with the U.S. Water Alliance and DigDeep found that race is the “strongest predictor” of water access and that Native households are 19 times more likely than white households to lack complete plumbing. Building back better for Arizona’s tribal nations means providing access to resources and increasing funding to support the development of critical water infrastructure for tribal communities. 

Arizona has $232 million in construction-ready water projects, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Investments in new water systems can bring tremendous benefits to the Navajo Nation, where only one in three homes has running water. 

The climate crisis has brought unprecedented fires, drought, water shortages and extreme heat. Without action, things will only get worse. We need the Build Back Better provisions that give tribal communities transition and relocation assistance for our members most vulnerable to the climate-driven displacement that comes from the rapidly changing climate. 

With the current discussions in Congress and the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Arizona leaders can now focus on plugging orphan wells and abandoned mines, many of which are located on tribal lands and in rural communities. They pose serious safety hazards and cause ongoing air and water contamination and other environmental damage that has been ignored for far too long. 

In addition, expanded clean energy incentives proposed in the Build Back Better Act bring important benefits back to the tribes themselves to address our lack of electricity stability and growing costs. It is estimated that 75 percent of U.S. homes without electricity are located on the Navajo Nation. 

In March 2021, the Navajo Nation solidified leases for two new solar plants on the reservation, which can start to help power some of these homes. The plants are expected to bring in $90 million in energy transmission payments, $13 million in land lease payments, and $6 million in tax revenue for the tribe, as well as power. Some of the income will go toward connecting more Navajo homes to the power grid and keeping rates down for tribal customers, according to the tribal utility. But more needs to be done. 

Native Americans are the original stewards of lands, waters, skies and all living things, and are the most vulnerable communities when it comes to the effects of climate change. Having Secretary Deb Haaland’s leadership at the Department of the Interior is a long-overdue opportunity – her leadership and the Build Back Better Act provisions go hand-in-hand for the betterment of the tribes and all underserved populations around the country and cannot be put off any longer. 

It’s time for Congress to act now and pass the Build Back Better Act, prioritizing tribal communities to bridge gaps so that our treasured lands can be a place where families and small businesses can thrive for generations to come. 

Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, D-Cameron, represents Legislative District 7.  

Disappointed that Republicans won’t support Build Back Better

I grew up in extreme poverty. Our family basically had nothing. We bathed in a local lake. I dreamed of living in a home with running water and electricity.   

As a young girl, I promised myself that if I were to ever have a family, my kids would never have to be poor like I was. But then the Covid pandemic came along in 2020 and tore my dream apart. Until the pandemic, life was wonderful. I was teaching, and though I wasn’t making much money, I was paying the bills, I had some savings, I took care of my girls, ages 8 and 18, without needing outside assistance.  

After 30 years of hard work, the system suddenly let me down. Schools cut back on staffing and I lost my job. And having to be home with an 8-year-old for remote learning sharply limited my job prospects. I got tangled up in a bureaucratic mess that prevented me from getting unemployment benefits.  

Today, I’m three months behind on my rent and two months behind on my electric bills. I literally must decide whether to pay my utility bill or put food on the table for my children. One of my most emotional moments was when my friends from church gave me a birthday present by paying off two months of my electric bill. Can you imagine receiving such a present? There were many tears.  

Something in the system has clearly broken. Yet instead of helping, government is looking the other way. Resources aren’t getting to people in the middle and on the bottom. We’re not seeing our fair share of support and benefits.  

Right now, Congress is considering a budget plan that I support. The plan would help control utility prices. It would also extend the Child Tax Credit, which helps me cover costs associated with my younger daughter. The proposal also provides more rental and down-payment assistance. My older girl has asthma. The budget plan would help lower costs for her care. And the infrastructure and budget bills would create more employment opportunities for people like me who have lost work due to the pandemic.  

This isn’t partisan. I voted for Donald Trump, but the pandemic calls for officials of all parties to set aside disagreements and unite behind practical solutions. I’m so disappointed that the Republicans I voted for aren’t supporting policies that would lower costs and create jobs.  

I’ve come a long way since taking a bath in the local lake and dreaming of living in a home with electricity. I made it this far by believing in the system, and by paying into it. Don’t let me and my family down now.  

Tylene Good lives in Tucson and is a member of WorkMoney, a nonprofit advocacy group. 

End insulin rationing and prioritize Build Back Better

Money is tight for my family of six. Between paychecks, I have to choose between paying for groceries and filling my insulin prescription. Most weeks, there is nothing left in our monthly budget for my medication, and I have to go without my life saving medication.

Leanna Tsinajinnie

Eventually, the prolonged high-blood-sugar levels will take a toll on my kidneys and I’ll need dialysis. It’s a path I watched my father go down, and I realize that it’s one I’m starting down as well.

My father was 40 when he developed Type 2 diabetes, and I was just 33. We live on the Navajo Nation Arizona reservation, where diabetes is far too common, because healthy food choices are few and far between. The closest town to our house has one grocery store, one gas station, and a dollar store. The next town over isn’t much better, with the only restaurants being fast food chains. And, like many rural areas, we lack adequate health services, so we have a heightened risk of dying from preventable diabetic complications.

I watched my dad struggle to afford insulin for years. When the price was too high at the pharmacy, he wouldn’t fill his prescription. His only other option for affordable insulin was a two hour drive away. And during winters with heavy snow, he struggled to make the four hour round trip. So, he rationed or missed doses altogether. After more than a decade of this, he developed kidney failure in 2019. At just 63, he will need to undergo kidney dialysis three times a week for the rest of his life.

Now, I find myself in his shoes. Last year, I developed gestational diabetes when I was pregnant with my youngest child. When the doctor first diagnosed me, I was terrified for the health of my baby. Concern for my own health didn’t quite hit me until I went to fill my first insulin prescription.

I don’t recall how much I paid for my first prescription, but I remember being shocked that the price was so high. I didn’t realize that the health insurance we pay so much for, would cover so little. At present, I pay $70 a month out-of-pocket for my insulin. That, along with the additional $100 I spend each month on diabetic supplies, stretches our budget almost to the breaking point.

I’ve gone as long as a week without insulin waiting for the next paycheck to arrive. When I don’t have insulin, I try not to eat, since food makes my blood sugar spike. But the hunger makes it challenging to find the energy to keep up with four kids. I try my best to push through the headaches, fatigue, and increased thirst and hunger, so I can be the perfect mom and stay positive even when my body is attacking itself.

Living paycheck to paycheck means I won’t know if we’ll have enough for my insulin from one week to the next. I hope that I won’t have to ration my insulin in the future, but there’s a good possibility I will. 

Fortunately, there’s a small glimmer of hope on the horizon for diabetics struggling to pay for their medication — but only if Congress prioritizes President Biden’s Build Back Better plan. It would cap insulin costs at $35 a month, saving diabetics like me hundreds of dollars each year. In a country where 1 in 4 diabetics report rationing their insulin due to the high price, this policy is long overdue. Cutting my insulin costs in half could save my kidneys and maybe even save my life.  

For the 34.7 million Americans living with diabetes, insulin affordability is a vitally important issue, especially in indigenous communities. I’m not surprised when I hear that Americans pay 2-3x more than citizens of other wealthy countries for the same medication. Because in America, pharmaceutical companies hold the cards and for diabetics like me, it’s either pay up or suffer.  

Every year there is talk about reducing insulin prices, but meaningful change rarely follows. My father and I are left to live with the very real consequences of Congress’ inaction on insulin prices. With Biden’s plan, Congress can fulfill its decades-long promise to reduce insulin prices and save lives in the process. I urge Arizona’s senators to stand up for diabetics like me and pass the Build Back Better plan. 

Leanna Tsinajinnie lives in Houck, Ariz., on the Navajo Reservation with her husband and four children.

Environmental justice for AZ in Sinema’s hands

Daniel Baldonado, a contract worker for a steel fabrication company, Ironco Enterprises, installs a series of solar panels on the roof of Wells Fargo Arena on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus in 2011. (Photo by Brandon Quester/Cronkite News)

Millions of Latinos in Arizona honored their dead loved ones last month during the traditional day of the dead, but this year the remembrance came with a stronger sense of frustration and sorrow, knowing that many of those who have left us were taken too soon, their deaths preventable. That has been the case for thousands of Latino families in Arizona, who after years of exposure to toxic pollution could not survive the Covid pandemic that has ravaged our communities over the past two years.  

These losses are not just a number quoted for headlines in the news coverage of the day. When we talk about air quality in our state, it is imperative to talk about the thousands of Latino families struggling with asthma. The reality is, 90% of Arizona’s Hispanic population lives in a county that received a failing grade for ozone air pollution from the American Lung Association. Currently there are 7.3 million people at risk from air pollution in Arizona, including the elderly, those with asthma, lung cancer, and the 3.3 million people of color who breathe polluted air every day. 

Melody Hernandez

Climate change-linked fires that ravaged our state this summer are also playing a major role in our air quality. As wildfire smoke spreads and impacts the daily lives of Arizonans, the communities bearing the brunt of this pollution are the Latino and African-American neighborhoods in south and west Phoenix, who sit in a bowl-like part of the Valley that smoke from fires tends to sink into 

All of these environmental injustices are a window into why Covid changed the reality for so many Latino families in Arizona and the United States. For many of us, the outcome is still unbearable. While all of the country faced the same enemy, not all of us had the same tools to fight back. In the case of Latinos in Arizona, the reality is that most of us were completely defenseless. The loved ones we lost passed away as a direct result of the decades of environmental inequality and injustice that plague our state’s history.   

However, today we have a chance to change our history and bring justice to the communities that are so often left to carry a disproportionate burden of pollution and the climate crisis. Through the Build Back Better framework unveiled by President Biden in Washington D.C., Latinos in Arizona could see a radical change in their realities and their quality of life. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema could play a decisive role in achieving this. Her support is the key to unlock historic investments destined to improve the air quality in our states and the wellbeing of millions of Latino families here and around the country.   

By building a nation powered by clean energy, the Build Back Better Act will not only lower the disproportionately high energy burdens that hurt Latino wallets, it will also provide our state with over 900,000 good-paying jobs, and it will also improve the air pollution that burdens our families.  

If passed by Congress, this bill will result in historic investments for Latinos, creating a green investment fund with a focus on the deployment of clean energy with 40% of investments targeted to disadvantaged communities. It will also include environmental and climate justice block grants aimed at reducing pollution and improving public health for communities on the front lines of our nation’s most dangerous legacy environmental and health hazards. 

The Build Back Better Act will result in transformative tax credits for clean electricity, vehicles, new technology and manufacturing, and will create jobs, jumpstart new businesses, help working families afford electric vehicles and more efficient appliances, and lower energy costs. According to Rhodium, the clean energy tax credits will help cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to 45-51% below 2005 levels by 2030, cutting families’ household energy costs by an average of $500 a year.  

Latinos in Arizona deserve the same chances at achieving success and living a healthy life as the rest of America. By voting for the Build Back Better Act, Senator Sinema would be ensuring a clean and safe environment and future for all Arizonians. Today, the chance to change our state’s history of climate injustices and build an equitable and just economy in Arizona is in her hands. 

Rep. Melody Hernandez, D-Tempe, represents the 20th District in the Arizona House of Representatives. 

Progressive push doesn’t sway Sinema

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., left, walks into the Senate Chamber following a Democratic strategy meeting at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Arizona progressives are ramping up the pressure on U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, hoping to get her support for a federal budget bill that would make major expansions to the social safety net and raise spending on Democratic priorities such as combatting climate change. 

With the Senate divided 50-50, every Democrat’s vote is needed to pass the budget reconciliation bill, and Sinema, along with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, has been demanding a far smaller bill than most Democrats originally wanted. This has made them both extremely powerful, and it has drawn the ire of many in their own party. 

“Sen. Sinema is standing in the way of passing this $3.5 trillion Build Back Better plan, and we are tired of Sen. Sinema standing in the way of something that’s overwhelmingly popular with Arizonans,” said Casey Clowes, with the climate change-focused group Sunrise Movement Tempe. 

The Arizona Working Families Organization recently took out an ad calling on Sinema to support the Democrats’ “Build Back Better” plan. The 30-second spot, which started airing in the Phoenix and Tucson markets on October 24 and will be running for two weeks on broadcast and cable channels and online, asks her if she is being swayed by “the millions of dollars you’ve received from corporate interests,” a reference to the hundreds of thousands of dollars her campaign has raised recently from normally Republican donors and from financial and pharmaceutical interests. 

“This is a perfect example of how corporations have corrupted our leaders,” said Angelica Zamora, Green New Deal network manager with the Working Families Party. 

While Sinema has been publicly tight-lipped about her objections to the bill, repeatedly refusing to answer specific questions when confronted in public by activists and reporters, last Friday she did speak out about why she opposes raising taxes on the rich and corporations to help pay for the bill. 

“Everyone knows I’m a fiscal conservative, and I told President Biden and Sen. Schumer I will protect Arizona jobs from fiscal policies that negatively impact our economic competitiveness,” she said on the Gaydos and Chad Show on 92.3 KTAR. 

Sinema didn’t go into details on the show on how she supports paying for the bill instead, but she did say this week that she likes a proposal for a corporate minimum tax to fund part of it, calling it a common-sense way to make sure highly profitable corporations “pay a reasonable minimum corporate tax on their profits, just as everyday Arizonans and Arizona small businesses do.” On-air last week, she defended her general refusal to discuss publicly her specific objections, saying that “negotiating through the press” would hurt her ability to get the changes she wants. 

“I am negotiating directly with my colleagues in the Senate and directly with the White House and President Biden,” she said. 

However, this is an approach that has frustrated many progressive activists. Both Zamora and Clowes said they have reached out to Sinema repeatedly to express their views without getting any response. 

“(Our experience) has been almost the same as her constituents’,” Zamora said. “We think we have some leverage because we both have some power in our organizations, but we’ve gotten the same treatment as her constituents.” 

Protesters have been showing up at Sinema’s offices for months – several dozen, including state Sen. Martin Quezada and nationally known civil rights leaders the Revs. Jesse Jackson and William Barber II, were arrested in front of her Phoenix office in July – and have recently started to dog her in public. On Saturday, protesters showed up at a wedding Sinema attended in Bisbee, carrying signs calling her a “sellout” and a “corporate $chill.” 

Perhaps the incident to have received the most widespread attention was in early October, when a few activists affiliated with Living United for Change in Arizona followed Sinema into a bathroom at Arizona State University, where she is a professor, to push her to support the reconciliation bill. Sinema left the bathroom without talking to the activists; earlier this month, ASU police recommended that four of them be charged with misdemeanors. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office said Monday that the matter is still being reviewed. 

Sinema said on Gaydos and Chad that she agrees with the LUCHA activists on the substance of the immigration issue, and wasn’t sure what motivated them. 

“I was really upset for my students,” Sinema said. “They’re just trying to get their master’s degree in social work … They’re not involved in anything political.” 

At the time, LUCHA officials said Sinema has shown no interest either in meeting with constituents and had “ignored, dismissed and antagonized” them. And although the election is three years away, talk is already swirling of a challenge to Sinema if she doesn’t hew closer to the party line. The Arizona Democratic Party’s state committee passed a resolution in late September threatening to pull support from Sinema if she continues to oppose modifying the filibuster. A Primary Sinema PAC was formed in late September, with the support of LUCHA’s executive directors and of Way to Win, a Democratic fundraising group that spent millions to support Democrats in Sun Belt states such as Arizona during the last election. 

A poll conducted by the progressive firm Data for Progress in early October showed Sinema losing hypothetical primary matchups to other prominent Democrats such as U.S. Reps. Ruben Gallego and Greg Stanton, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Tucson Mayor Regina Romero. However, Paul Bentz, a pollster with the Phoenix firm HighGround Inc., had questions about its validity. 

“From what I understand, it’s a text-only survey or an entirely internet poll, which from what I’ve read in their describer there means those people are more engaged,” Bentz told the Capitol Times. “Which, sure, but it also might mean they only polled incredibly upset activists. From what I read, there was no breakdown for the Democrats they talked to if people have any voting history, or any of those indicators you would want to see in a poll that demonstrates some sort of real measurement of challenges Sinema might face.” 

Bentz said HighGround’s polling “shows she has challenges with some Democrats right now, but it is almost exclusively offset with the increase in support she’s received among independents and Republicans right now.” He compared her struggles with Democrats to those of former U.S. Sen. John McCain, a Republican who was sometimes criticized for being insufficiently conservative and who Sinema has pointed to as a role model. 

“The tea party from 10 years ago is what we’re seeing on the left right now,” Bentz said. 

Zamora said both she and Clowes volunteered to help get Sinema elected in 2018. She said she hopes Sinema will support the Build Back Better plan in the end. 

“Anything can happen in the next four years,” Zamora said. “We’re still holding out hope. We still believe in her. Our people still believe in her.” 

However, Zamora said Sinema seems to have changed from the staunch progressive who was first elected to the Legislature. 

“The Sinema 10 years ago would be fighting alongside us in making sure the Build Back Better Act passes,” Zamora said. “The Sinema 10 years ago would be chasing people in the restroom to demand they not side with corporations.” 


Small business economy needs immigration reform

Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly should feel confident leading the nation to provide pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the Build Back Better agenda that is pending on Capitol Hill. As the founder of a statewide organization representing nearly 3,500 locally owned businesses, I know that legalization and citizenship will strengthen Arizona’s economy, be good for small businesses and entrepreneurship, and help address our critical labor shortage.   

Kimber Lanning

Arizona was once a battleground of anti-immigrant policies, but that time is thankfully behind us. Today, legalization and citizenship for Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, farmworkers, and essential workers has shifted in the public opinion realm. In a recent bipartisan poll, sponsored by the American Business Immigration Coalition, only 10% of U.S. voters, including just 17% of conservative voters, believed that the priority for fixing our immigration system should be deportations. Here in Arizona, four out of five voters support pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the Build Back Better plan.   

Arizona’s economy is fueled by small businesses, but we are facing a critical labor shortage that is the result of a perfect storm, including significantly changing career interests, Covid recovery, and years of anti-immigration policies. This has caused an extreme shortage of workers in the trades, hospitality, farms, and transportation, among other areas, all of which are essential for a strong Arizona economy. Our state currently has 181,000 open jobs that we simply don’t have the workers to fill. Providing permanent status for undocumented workers is not a panacea for solving this problem, but it’s an urgently needed piece of the puzzle.  

According to one analysis, legalization and citizenship will increase economic activity nationwide by $121 billion annually, including adding $31 billion per year to federal, state, and local tax revenues. About a dozen states will particularly benefit; Arizona’s economy will increase by $3 billion per year.  

New businesses are the drivers of job growth and we are fortunate that Arizona is home to more than 70,000 immigrant entrepreneurs. The household income of our state’s undocumented immigrants is $5.1 billion per year. They pay $556.5 million in taxes and have a spending power of $4.5 billion annually. The bottom line is that Arizona is stronger when we are inclusive and welcoming to all people.  

Kimber Lanning is founder of Local First Arizona, a statewide organization with nearly 3,500 business members working to strengthen Arizona’s economy and a member of the American Business Immigration Coalition. 

Small businesses need a paid leave program

Universal paid family and medical leave are long overdue. We’re staring down the best opportunity in our country’s history to join the rest of the world in providing every worker and every small business owner the ability to take time away from our working lives to recover from a serious illness, care for a new child, or care for a loved one. I’m looking forward to the day — hopefully before the end of this year — when we can say we’ve done it.  

As Congress moves forward with the Build Back Better plan and contemplates new and bold policy ideas to build a stronger, more equitable economy, small businesses are watching closely to see if our priorities will be included. Smart and timely investments in our care infrastructure will be critical for small businesses like mine as we bounce back from a turbulent 18 months. 

My bookstore, Changing Hands, has served the Valley for over 47 years. For nearly a half-century, we’ve striven not only to serve our community but to take care of our dedicated employees. For the last year and a half, the Covid pandemic has put that commitment to the test. It’s clearer than ever that all too often our employees, like so many Arizona workers, are one chance exposure, one medical emergency, or one sick child, spouse, or parent away from choosing between their health or family and trying to keep their jobs.  

That’s an impossible choice that no one should have to make. It’s a choice with no winners. When life calls someone away from their job, they may come to work when they should be home. But this isn’t good for them or their family. And it’s not great for my business to have someone on the floor whose mind is elsewhere.  

They can quit, but then they’re out of a job and we’ve lost an investment in human resources that can’t be easily replaced. Finding the right person to work in our bookstore can be very difficult. When we find an employee who can relate to and serve people from all walks of life, who is an avid reader and good communicator, we want them to stick around. When these valued staff members leave, especially unexpectedly, the health of our business deteriorates.  

Recently, one of our great employees needed emergency gallbladder surgery that was finally diagnosed after months of pain and missed days at the store. Her surgeon recommended a week of rest, but she had no more sick days. When she told me she planned to come to work the day after her surgery, I couldn’t believe it. We found a way to give her an extra week of sick pay but had she needed more time or had her illness been more advanced, we would have had to let her go.    

Gayle Shanks

We do all we can to provide our employees with good medical insurance, paid sick days and paid vacation, but when an emergency arises, we just can’t afford to pay for an employee’s extended leave on top of paying for replacement staff to cover their absence. An affordable, universal paid leave program available to small businesses like mine would go a long way toward keeping our great staff intact and helping us to continue to serve the Valley community as we have for decades. 

Thankfully, the plan that Congress will likely consider will provide universal paid leave without increasing taxes on middle-income workers and businesses. The program will be entirely covered by a small increase in taxes for the wealthiest corporations and individuals. After a year and a half when tens of thousands of small businesses have closed and millions of workers have lost their jobs, while at the same time corporate profits have skyrocketed and CEOs have spent their billions to rocket into space, that shouldn’t be too much to ask. 

We have a unique opportunity to learn from the lesson the pandemic has taught us about how difficult it is to manage unexpected employee absences without a plan. Let’s put that plan into place. For the first time in my lifetime, we’re on the precipice of guaranteeing that we won’t lose our jobs or miss a paycheck just because we or a loved one gets sick, or if we choose to have a child. Investing in our care infrastructure is a critical component to the ongoing economic recovery and to building an economy that accounts for our real, lived lives. Let’s seize this opportunity and establish universal paid leave once and for all. 

– Gayle Shanks is the owner of Changing Hands Bookstore and a member of the Main Street Alliance. 


We need to build back better for Arizona

President Joe Biden talks with reporters after returning to the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, after a trip to Michigan to promote his infrastructure plan. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

As a son of Scranton, Joe Biden has long been an advocate for working families. From day one, Joe Biden has put workers at the forefront of his “Build Back Better” agenda, fulfilling the promises he made on the campaign trail to put working people first. It’s no surprise that just seven months in office, he’s already on track to be the most pro-union president in American history.  

As a union carpenter, I was pleased to see that

Fabian Sandez

President Biden passed a Covid relief package that provided some much-needed help for American workers and their families. This package delivered immediate relief for Arizona workers, hospitals, schools, and small businesses. 

Now, it’s time to build on that success, plan for tomorrow, and build back better. This starts with passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill. This once-in-a-generation infrastructure investment will transform the state of Arizona. It will repair and rebuild our roads and bridges, invest in clean energy manufacturing, replace outdated lead pipes, enhance our competitiveness, and ensure that the future is made in America by American workers  all while creating good-paying, union jobs. 

For more than 140 years, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters has trained, educated, and represented the next generation of skilled construction professionals. To do our jobs safely and effectively, we need leaders who will fight for the safety and wages of hard-working people, support union training programs, and invest in our nation’s infrastructure. President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill accelerates America’s path to full employment and ensures workers are paid their fair share. Furthermore, this bill will protect critical labor standards on construction projects, meaning that our infrastructure  built by Arizona’s best tradesmen  will be built to last.  

Arizona union carpenters have been calling for investments in infrastructure for many years. With the assistance of Arizona’s Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, the Biden administration is on track to deliver.  

The passing of the bipartisan infrastructure bill will create jobs for union carpenters and all labor across Arizona. The investments made to improve our roads, bridges, airports, and public transportation, plus building affordable housing and clean energy infrastructure will position Arizona as the epicenter of the Southwest by fostering growth and prosperity for our workers, our communities, and our state, and bringing President Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda to life.  

In October 2020, candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris made their first joint campaign appearance at the Southwest Carpenters Training Center in Phoenix. During this appearance, Biden spoke about the importance of labor unions, and highlighted the benefits of having an “army of carpenters” supporting him. We were behind him then, and we are now. 

Fabian Sandez is the Local 1912 president in Phoenix for the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, which represents more than 58,000 members in six states. 


Without home care, I wouldn’t be completing my bachelor’s degree

The dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The House finally passed The Biden Administration’s Build Back Better Agenda, which will include the most transformative investment in home care in 40 years. This investment will expand access to caregivers, ensuring that people like me with disabilities receive the best care possible.

As a person living with disabilities, college life for me looks very different from the experience of the typical student. I use a wheelchair to get around and a ventilator to support my breathing. I attend classes virtually, but I can’t get online without the assistance of a caregiver.

When I was just six years old, I was diagnosed with a neurological disease, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. I knew early on that I wanted to pursue higher education, but many people with disabilities face barriers when doing so, and that was true for me as well.

One lesser known obstacle to pursuing careers and higher education is a lack of home care services. For most of my life, my mother performed many of the tasks related to my daily care. A lot of these services ought to be provided by health care, but aren’t. That means family members often have no choice but to serve as unpaid caregivers, even as they struggle to balance their careers and other obligations.

In the year since my mother, my primary caregiver, passed away, home health aides have been helping me to continue my studies. Now, nurses and in-home caregivers help me remain independent and access my online classes. I consider myself fortunate, given the large number of people waiting in vain for home care that they can’t get access to.

Across America, more than 800,000 elderly people and individuals with disabilities are waiting for in-home caregivers through Medicaid. But agencies struggle to recruit and retain qualified staff to perform this physically demanding work that pays so little — on just $17,200 per year, on average.

People with disabilities like mine are often compelled to receive care in nursing homes and other congregate care settings. But such places can limit our autonomy and put our health at even greater risk. With home care access, I can live my life to the fullest.

Some 61 million Americans have a disability, and millions more will develop one during their lifetime, many because of the long-term effects of Covid. If the United States doesn’t adequately fund home care services, more people will be left with no clear answer about who will help them bathe or cook their next meal.

My caregivers help me with those daily tasks and more. They help with cleaning, and get me to and from doctor’s appointments. My caregivers help me log onto the computer so that I can remotely attend classes and take part in political organizing that I’m involved in in my community. Receiving care at home means that I get to pursue these activities in a way that’s safe for my health.

This investment expands access to caregivers, ensuring that people with disabilities receive the best care possible. This is an important moment for the disability community, which represents a huge part of our nation’s population but whose needs have been ignored for decades.

This important moment for the disability community, which represents a huge part of our nation’s population but whose needs have been ignored for decades. It’s urgent that the Senate passes this bill. We must push forward for the many people who are still waiting for care.

Cody Newcomb lives in Chandler, Arizona. He is pursuing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Arizona.