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Issues 2017-07-26T19:58:43-05:00

Issues

There are a variety of issues that affect the lives of rural Minnesotans. From agriculture to education and everything in between, our lives are shaped by the people and circumstances around us. I will not pretend that I have all of the answers. My goal in the next year is to visit with as many people in District 23A as I can. I want to know how I can help make your life better. I want to know what is important to you and your families. Because my political education is just beginning, the goals and issues I lay out here will change and evolve over the course of my campaign to reflect your voice.

Please email me with your concerns and with your stories at heather@klassenformn.com

I believe that every Minnesotan has a right to affordable health care. In our small communities, not all businesses can afford to offer health insurance to their employees. Our friends and family members deserve to be able to purchase their own plans at a price they can afford, allowing them to see the doctors they want to see. Medical assistance and MinnesotaCare are also vital programs for Minnesotans. People who qualify for these state/federal programs are small business owners, farmers, college students, elderly nursing home patients, children born with disabilities. They are not people who can simply “work harder” or “get a job with benefits.” If the ACA is repealed, this coverage will be drastically rolled back, with many of our neighbors losing coverage. In addition, rural hospitals and nursing homes will lose a major form of reimbursement, perhaps causing closures of our community hospitals and nursing homes, or at least a loss of jobs and beds. It will be up to the states to take care of our people, and I pledge to do just that.

Let me tell you a story about a person I helped obtain medical assistance. My friend Susan is a small business owner in our district. She had a dream of owning a café – a dream that she made happen with hard work and perseverance. Susan employs several people at the café, a warm place that is an asset to the community. As any small business owner in Minnesota knows, it’s hard to turn a profit in a small town, when travel to larger cities for shopping and entertainment is routine. Instead of giving up on her dream, Susan took a second job on nights and weekends to make ends meet and keep her business open. No one works harder than Susan, who is literally working from sun up to sun down. Most of the money goes back into the business, making it impossible for her to afford health insurance for herself. I reached out to her and told her that I could help her qualify for medical assistance through MNSure, as I am a certified insurance broker. She told me that she had not had a checkup in at least five years. A little over a year ago, I helped her qualify for medical assistance. Since that time, Susan has been to the doctor, where it was discovered that she has a progressive heart condition. She would never have known this until it was too late without medical assistance, and she will not be able to get the help she needs if she loses it. There are hundreds of stories like this in Minnesota.

According to the State of Minnesota’s cost of living calculator, a married couple with two children in our district would need to make at least $14/hour each on average just to meet their basic needs, like child care, food, transportation, and housing.  Studies show that overtime pay for workers has eroded over the past few decades, with fewer people qualifying for additional pay for overtime work. In addition, hourly wages have not kept up with inflation. Families today are making less money than those in the 1970s when adjusted for inflation. I will fight at the state level to ensure that workers are able to support their families without hurting small businesses in the process. We need to attract new businesses that create competition in the job market and pay workers a fair wage.

I recently spoke to a friend of mine who works a manual labor job at a feed mill in southwest Minnesota. Matt often works 50 or 60 hours per week. He is lucky because his employer pays time and a half for overtime hours, but many companies don’t and are not required to do so anymore. Matt said that he feels the government has forgotten about workers like him, who work full-time and still struggle to pay their monthly bills. We need to show these workers that we have not forgotten about them, and fight for measures that actually impact their lives in a real, tangible way.

There is no doubt about it – our district is an agricultural one. From farmers themselves to farm industry and even our small businesses, we rely on agriculture in southwest Minnesota as a major supplier of jobs. When the farm economy suffers, our communities suffer. Vice versa, farmers also rely on strong communities to support them, from good schools, a strong downtown, and convenient access to health care. We also need to support our farm families and farm industries by implementing fair regulations that protect the environment but don’t handcuff our farmers in the meantime. There are common-sense solutions that can protect our land and water while still allowing farmers to thrive. I will work with legislators, farmers, and policymakers to help implement these solutions.

My husband grew up in a farming family, and my brother-in-law still farms the land that was worked by his father and grandfather before him. My uncle owns a farm tiling/excavation company that was founded by his father. I have worked with many farmers in the insurance business and have witnessed how farming has changed in the past decade, from record high prices to tight margins today. While the farm economy is complex, it comes down to hard-working people who want to take care of their families and their communities.

Our district is composed of small towns. Some of these towns are lucky to have large industries, but many are made up of small businesses. Like farmers, small business-owners are the hardest-working people I know. Their restaurants, cafes, hardware stores, and gift shops are not just jobs to them – they are a fulfillment of a dream that they know will not make them rich in rural Minnesota. Small businesses create jobs. Jobs attract new people to our communities. New people spend money in our businesses and pay taxes, creating a stronger local economy. Everything is connected in our small towns. Without these small businesses, our downtowns would disappear. Despite how valued these businesses are, many owners are struggling to make ends meet and pay their employees. We need better incentives to draw more small businesses to our downtowns. Even more important – we need incentives to keep the ones we already have.

Strong schools attract workers to our communities. We need to ensure that our school districts have the funding they need to educate our children properly, from pre-K through high school. If you talk to school superintendents in our district, they will tell you that our state has not kept up in the past decade when it comes to school funding. Elective programs have been eliminated in many schools, including art, music and even physical education. Our schools need to be funded at a pace that keeps up with inflation and allows districts to hire qualified teachers and staff. We need to properly fund our districts so they are not just meeting required standards, but helping our students prepare for the future.

I also believe that job training should begin in high school. School districts like Fairmont have implemented vocational training, such as welding, to high school students. This program trains highly skilled workers for high-paying jobs as soon as they graduate from high school. Other states have approved measures to provide free community college to state residents. There is no reason that Minnesota couldn’t be a pioneer in this type of funding for higher education, and I will work with educators to find innovative ways to prepare our students for their futures, whether their futures include community college, technical training, or university.

Our roads and bridges are in rough shape in many areas of southwest Minnesota. On my drive to work each day on Highway 71 towards Jackson, I see the effects of years of neglect. You wouldn’t buy a new tractor and not perform regular maintenance on it. So why does this happen with our roads? In addition, rural Internet broadband services are still not up to par with most cities. I live on an acreage, and there are times that my kids can’t do their homework because our Internet connection is down or too weak. This is not acceptable. We are part of a global economy, even here in rural Minnesota. Our business and farms need to be able to compete, and broadband services are essential in making that happen. I will work to increase funding for our rural infrastructure, which will only help attract new businesses and jobs to our communities and help our existing communities be competitive in a global market.

I am a strong believer equal rights and equality for all, regardless of sex, race, religion, or sexual orientation. We need to close the wage gap between men and women, and we need to ensure that all human beings are treated fairly and equally in the eyes of the law. Women need to be able to access services for reproductive health. It has been proven that access to contraceptives and reproductive services decrease the number of abortions performed in our country. Those in the LGBTQ community deserve access to the same services as everyone else. Our immigrant neighbors must not be discriminated against because of where they were born. As I have said, we are all Minnesotans. We support and care for one another, and that’s what makes us great. I will fight to ensure protection from discrimination at every level.

My youngest son has autism spectrum disorder and ADHD. A trip to his therapist is a 45-minute drive one-way from our home. Other services, such as biofeedback, are even further away, making them all but inaccessible for families who can’t afford to take the time off work.  There are waiting lists for people of all ages at mental health clinics in our district. If you are suffering from depression, having to wait two months for an appointment could be the difference between life and death. As championed by the great Senator Paul Wellstone, we need better access to mental health services in Minnesota, especially in our rural areas. A child with autism in southern Minnesota should have the same access to services as a child in the metro.

Minnesota has always been a leader in renewable energy, from wind and solar power to biodiesel and ethanol, we are paving the way for the rest of the country. According to the Minnesota.gov website, “Minnesota’s Renewable Energy Standard is one of the nation’s strongest renewable energy standards, requiring utilities to provide 25 percent of their electrical generation from renewable sources like wind, hydrogen and solar power by the year 2025 and will help create next-generation industries with high-quality, good-paying jobs in Minnesota.”

In our district, we have witnessed first-hand the economic boon that wind energy has provided, with companies employing local farmers in their construction efforts, providing an additional revenue stream to their families. New, high-paying jobs are created for skilled workers. The construction employees who build the wind towers also spend money in our communities. The added jobs and money are a bonus in the effort to slow climate change by investing in renewable energy. We need to continue to research and implement new and innovative ways to use renewable energy in Minnesota, and we need to provide incentives for renewable energy companies to build in our district.

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