joe biden

White House details American Families Plan impact in Tennessee

Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration is breaking down how its American Families Plan would affect each state.

Here is the White House report on Tennessee:

The Need for Action in Tennessee

The American Families Plan is an investment in Tennessee’s children and families – because when American families do well, our nation thrives. The American Families Plan is a once-in-a-generation investment in the foundations of middle-class prosperity: education, health care, and child care. It will help families cover the basic expenses that so many struggle with now, lower health insurance premiums, and continue the American Rescue Plan’s historic reductions in child poverty. It will yield significant economic returns – boosting productivity and economic growth, supporting a larger, more productive, and healthier workforce on a sustained basis, and generating savings to states and the federal government.

HIGHER EDUCATION: Higher education is key to unlocking opportunity in the new economy, but the average cost of a 2-year degree in Tennessee is $4,600 per year. High costs are part of the reason just 60 percent of students in Tennessee are able to complete a postsecondary degree of any kind within 6 years of enrolling, and across the United States, high-minority and high-poverty high schools have seen 9 percent and 11 percent declines in college enrollment, respectively. To make higher education more accessible, the American Families Plan will provide at least two years of free community college to all students, including DREAMers. It will also increase the maximum Pell Grant awards by approximately $1,400 to support the 124,000 students in Tennessee who rely on Pell for their education, and provide grants to increase college retention and completion. In addition, the American Families Plan will provide support to
minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and the students they serve across the country, like Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs). This includes 12 MSIs in Tennessee.

UNIVERSAL PRE-SCHOOL: Pre-school is critical to ensuring that children start kindergarten with the skills and supports that set them up for success in school. But today, only 40,900 or 25 percent of the 166,000 3- and 4-year-olds in Tennessee are enrolled in publicly-funded pre-school. The American Families Plan will provide access to free, high-quality pre-school to all 3- and 4-year-olds in Tennessee, boosting their educational outcomes and allowing more parents to go back to work. In addition, the American Families Plan will ensure that all employees in funded pre-school programs are paid a $15 minimum wage and provide compensation and benefits comparable to kindergarten educators to those with similar qualifications.

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White House declares major disaster in TN counties affected by February storms

The White House has declared a major disaster in 13 Tennessee counties rocked by a winter storm in February.

Here’s the release:

Today, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. declared that a major disaster exists in the State of Tennessee and ordered Federal assistance to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by severe winter storms from February 11 to February 19, 2021.

Federal funding is available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe winter storms in the counties of Bedford, Cannon, Coffee, DeKalb, Fentress, Jackson, Moore, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Scott, Shelby, and Smith.

Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.

Robert J. Fenton, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named Myra M. Shird as the Federal Coordinating Officer for Federal recovery operations in the affected areas.

Additional designations may be made at a later date if requested by the state and warranted by the results of further damage assessments. 

Biden appoints four to TVA board, including two from Tennessee

President Joe Biden has announced plans to nominate four members to the board of the TEnnessee Valley Authority, including two from Tennessee.

Here’s the details from the White House:

Beth Geer, Nominee for Member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority
Beth Prichard Geer is Chief of Staff to former Vice President Al Gore and serves as a member of Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s Sustainability Advisory Committee. Geer has extensive policy and outreach experience on issues including climate change, environmental justice, and regenerative agriculture. She has served in senior roles in the Clinton-Gore White House, Department of Labor, and United States Senate. As a native of rural Tennessee, she graduated with honors from Middle Tennessee State University and earned the Public Leadership Executive Certificate from the Harvard Kennedy School Senior Managers in Government program.  She resides in Brentwood, Tennessee with her husband, Dr. John Geer.

Robert Klein, Nominee for Member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority
Robert P. Klein is a lifelong resident of Chattanooga having attending Hamilton County public schools graduating from Tyner High School, where he was a member of the National Honor Society and National Beta Club.  He also attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Klein served in the Tennessee Army National Guard where received an Honorable Discharge.

He began his professional career at the Chattanooga Gas Company before continuing at the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga (now EPB) where he worked in the Overhead Line Department.  He completed the Joint Lineman Apprenticeship Program becoming a Journeyman Lineman in 1982.  He furthered his career by becoming a Line Foreman supervising the building and maintaining of the power distribution system. Klein took a leave of absence with EBP to work with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 175 and was appointed in 1998 as an International Representative with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).  In 2003 he was appointed as the International Vice President of the IBEW Tenth District, which consists of Tennessee, Arkansas, North and South Carolina.  He was re-elected as Vice President at the 37th and 38th IBEW International Conventions.

During his career Klein has served on the Executive Committee and Board of Directors of the United Way of Chattanooga, Board of Directors for the Tennessee Labor-Management Conference, Board of Directors for the Tennessee Safety and Health Congress, sat on the Tennessee Valley Trades and Labor Council, where is served as President for fourteen (14) years.  He also sat on the Tennessee Valley Authority Labor -Management Committee as well as on the Board of Directors for the Southeast Labor-Management Public Affairs Committee.  Additionally, he was a Trustee for the IBEW-NECA Family Medical Healthcare Plan.  He officially retired from EPB in 2011 and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in 2015.

Klein, who is known as Bobby to his family, friends and colleagues attends Silverdale Baptist Church and still resides in Chattanooga with his wife, Sharon.

Kimberly Lewis, Nominee for Member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority
Kimberly Caudle Lewis of Huntsville, Alabama, is the Chief Executive Officer of PROJECTSYZ, Inc., a business that provides services and products in the areas of engineering, logistics, technical services, manufacturing, and international foreign military sales. She leads a workforce that supports federal and commercial customers across several diverse subsidiaries and at locations across the US and around the world. Lewis has a 25-year career spanning business operations and management, technology, and federal government contacting.

A life-long resident of Madison County, Alabama, Lewis would later become the first black female elected as Board Chair of the Huntsville / Madison Chamber of Commerce and most recently, the first minority owner of North Alabama’s only locally owned broadcast television station, WTZT-TV.

Lewis’ previous career roles and studies in healthcare and information technology set the foundation for starting PROJECTXYZ and where she was previously involved in management of large-scale IT implementations and projects for large healthcare companies. She earned a degree in Computer Information Systems at John C. Calhoun State Community College.

Michelle Moore, Nominee for Member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority
A social entrepreneur and former White House official with roots in rural Georgia, Michelle Moore is a purposeful leader with a passion for connecting clean energy with economic growth. Her passion for community power and getting good stuff done is rooted in her faith and the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Moore currently serves as CEO of Groundswell, a nonprofit that builds community power through community solar, clean energy, and resilience programs that share power, savings, and economic opportunity with more than four thousand families. Her accomplishments range from building the global green building movement as a senior executive with the U.S. Green Building Council to leading the sustainability and infrastructure delivery teams for the Obama Administration.

Moore got her start in sustainability in 1997 as Director of eBusiness for Interface Inc. in her hometown of LaGrange GA, where working for Ray Anderson showed her how to connect people, planet, and profitability and the pathway to “doing well by doing good.” Moore is married to Linwood Boswell, a local music mainstay, father of three, and community real estate agent in Richmond, Virginia.

White House circulates states’ infrastructure needs, but doesn’t detail how much each would get

The White House is putting out a state-by-state breakdown of infrastructure needs it says would be addressed by Democratic President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion proposal dubbed the American Jobs Plan.

While the cheat sheets list states’ specific deficiencies, they don’t break out how much of the federal money would be directed to each of them under the plan. So take it for what it’s worth.

Republicans are blasting the plan for going well beyond the scope of what is traditionally considered to be infrastructure.

Here’s the full release from the Biden administration:

For decades, infrastructure in Tennessee has suffered from a systemic lack of investment. The need for action is clear:

ROADS AND BRIDGES: In Tennessee there are 881 bridges and over 270 miles of highway in poor condition. Since 2011, commute times have increased by 7.7% in Tennessee and on average, each driver pays $209 per year in costs due to driving on roads in need of repair. The American Jobs Plan will devote more than $600 billion to transform our nations’ transportation infrastructure and make it more resilient, including $115 billion repairing roads and bridges.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: Tennesseans who take public transportation spend an extra 67.9% of their time commuting and non-White households are 5.6 times more likely to commute via public transportation. 21% of trains and other transit vehicles are past useful life. The American Jobs Plan will modernize public transit with an $85 billion investment.

RESILIENT INFRASTRUCTURE: From 2010 to 2020, Tennessee has experienced 40 extreme weather events, costing the state up to $20 billion in damages. The President is calling for $50 billion to improve the resiliency of our infrastructure and support communities’ recovery from disaster.

DRINKING WATER: Over the next 20 years, Tennessee’s drinking water infrastructure will require $8.7 billion in additional funding. The American Jobs Plan includes a $111 billion investment to ensure clean, safe drinking water is a right in all communities.

HOUSING: In part due to a lack of available and affordable housing, 396,000 renters in Tennessee are rent burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on rent. The President proposes investing over $200 billion to increase housing supply and address the affordable housing crisis.

BROADBAND: Nearly 10% of Tennesseans live in areas where, by one definition, there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. And 46.8% of Tennesseans live in areas where there is only one such provider. Even where infrastructure is available, broadband may be too expensive to be within reach. 17% of Tennessee households do not have an internet subscription. The American Jobs Plan will invest $100 billion to bring universal, reliable, high-speed, and affordable coverage to every family in America.

CAREGIVING: Across the country, hundreds of thousands of older adults and people with disabilities are in need of home and community-based services. The President’s plan will invest $400 billion to help more people access care and improve the quality of caregiving jobs.

CHILD CARE: In Tennessee, there is an estimated $768 million gap in what schools need to do maintenance and make improvements and 48% of residents live in a child care desert. The American Jobs Plan will modernize our nation’s schools and early learning facilities and build new ones in neighborhoods across Tennessee and the country.

MANUFACTURING: Manufacturers account for more than 15% of total output in Tennessee, employing 357,000 workers, or 11.5% of the state’s workforce. The American Jobs Plan will invest $300 billion to retool and revitalize American manufacturers, including providing incentives for manufacturers to invest in innovative energy projects in coal communities.

HOME ENERGY: In Tennessee, an average low-income family spends 8-10% of their income on home energy costs forcing tough choices between paying energy bills and buying food, medicine or other essentials. The American Jobs Plan will upgrade low-income homes to make them more energy efficient through a historic investment in the Weatherization Assistance Program, a new Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator to finance building improvements, and expanded tax credits to support home energy upgrades.

CLEAN ENERGY JOBS: Tennessee has outsized potential for innovative energy technologies including carbon capture and sequestration and geothermal energy generation, that create good paying union jobs. As of 2019, there were 79,626 Tennesseans working in clean energy, and the American Jobs Plan invests in building that industry through a reformed and expended Section 45Q tax credit and extending renewable energy tax credits.

VETERANS HEALTH: Tennessee is home to over 470,000 veterans, 9.4% of who are women and 45% who are over the age of 65. The President is calling for $18 billion to improve the infrastructure of VA health care facilities to ensure the delivery of world-class, state of the art care to veterans enrolled in the VA health care system. This includes improvements to ensure appropriate care for women and older veterans.

Feds rescind effort to lock in Medicaid changes made by Trump administration

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters following his address to a joint convention of the General Assembly on Jan. 19, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A little over two weeks before President Donald Trump left office, the Republican administration sent out a letter to states like Tennessee to declare it was locking in any approved changes to Medicaid programs for a period of at least nine months. Democratic President Joe Biden is now rescinding that guidance, meaning that previously approved demonstration projects or waivers could be withdrawn at any time.

The most immediate effect of the move could be a cancellation of work requirements for Medicaid recipients that had been approved in several states. But Tennessee’s first-in-the-nation block grant could also be on the chopping block.

“We’re the first state in America that just got a federal waiver for Medicaid that allows us to share savings with the federal government,” Gov. Bill Lee told the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday. “There’s a lot of partisan squabbling about that, but that was a business deal that was negotiated over a year-and-a-half that will allow Tennessee to have more money to spend on its Medicaid population than it would have underer a traditional Medicaid agreement.”

Read the full letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to TennCare Director Stephen Smith below.

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Lee joins call for Biden to withdraw moratorium on oil and gas exploration on federal land

Tennessee’s Bill Lee is joining 16 other Republican governors in calling on Democratic President Joe Biden to rescind an executive order placing a moratorium on oil and gas explosion on federal land and offshore.

Most of the governors signing the letter come from major fossil fuel producing states like Alaska, Texas, and Wyoming. By comparison, Tennessee is a bit player in oil and gas exploration.

According to 2014 information from the Tennessee Oil and Gas Association, most of the oil and gas drilling activity was concentrated in 11 counties in the Eastern Highland Rim and the Cumberland Plateau. The biggest producers were Overton, Fentress, Pickett, Morgan, and Clay counties.

Tennessee Dems send Medicaid block grant objections to Biden

House members attend a floor session in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State House and Senate Democrats are asking President Joe Biden to halt a Medicaid block grant for Tennessee.

Former President Donald Trump’s administration approved the block grant shortly before he left office. Republican state lawmakers rushed to OK the waiver before Trump left office last week.

Here is the full letter:

Dear President Biden,

We, the House and Senate Democrats of the Tennessee State Legislature, are writing you to request that you rescind the Medicaid block grant waiver that the Trump Administration granted, and our Republican colleagues in the General Assembly hastily voted to approve.

This waiver gives Tennessee more control over spending Medicaid dollars, in exchange for a cap on those funds. There’s a number of significant problems with this approach.

First and foremost, the state has proven themselves unable to handle the responsibility of being given more control over federal dollars. In addition to refusing to expand Medicaid for nearly a decade, our state government allowed a $732 million surplus of TANF funds to accumulate, rather than spend that money on what it was intended for – helping families in need.

The waiver allows for reducing the population of the 1.4 million Tennesseans eligible for Medicaid if there are problems re-registering beneficiaries. It also hands near-total oversight of the funds over to TennCare (Tennessee’s Medicaid program), which has a history of disfunction and unnecessary barriers to enrollment.

Since the outgoing administration first introduced the block grant proposal in 2017, Tennessee has been the only state to take up the offer. Even the most conservative legislatures across the country knew this was a bad deal. The New York Times referred to Tennessee’s undertaking of the block grant as a “structural experiment,” and the test subjects are working Tennesseans, families, and seniors.

The state GOP, which pushed the approval of the block grant through at the Eleventh Hour prior to Inauguration Day, refused to work with Democrats to ensure the proposal would be fair, legal, and appreciated by all Tennesseans. If they did, we would have pointed out the issues we saw with the deal, including the fact that it might not even be legally sound. Had they consulted with us, we could have come to a solution that better served people of Tennessee.

We know that they don’t want this program for the purpose of serving Tennesseans: they want this program for future political campaign purposes. Millions of Tennesseans will remain uninsured, this program will end up costing our taxpayers hefty legal fees, and the end result will likely be that a court will overturn it – unless your incoming administration can stop this waiver before it starts.

Thank you for your consideration.

State BlueCross stops short of sweeping donation ban

The state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The national BlueCross BlueShield Association made waves this week by announcing it would suspend political donations to lawmakers who objected to the certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s election as president.

“In light of this week’s violent, shocking assault on the United States Capitol, and the votes of some members of Congress to subvert the results of November’s election by challenging Electoral College results, BCSBA will suspend contributions to those lawmakers who voted to undermine our democracy,” the federation of 36 independent BlueCross companies said in a statement.

Chattanooga-based BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee doesn’t appear to be taking the same blanket approach toward its PAC donations to state candidates.

“An internal committee routinely reviews any potential PAC contributions before they are made. As part of this process, the committee examines the actions and records of elected officials on a campaign-by-campaign and candidate-by-candidate basis to determine whether they’re consistent with our mission, beliefs and goals,” the company said.

“BlueCross, like many other companies, will continue closely scrutinizing PAC contributions. As we always have, we will continue to look particularly close at candidates who take positions that differ from their stated core values, and how their values align with our own,” according to the statement.

The BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee PAC made $200,600 in state contributions during the last election cycle, of which $15,500 went to six Republicans who signed a Dec. 30 letter urging Congress to reject the presidential election results. A total of 18 representatives and five senators had signaled their support for the letter.

Blackburn, Hagerty to join effort to challenge presidential election

Bill Hagerty attends the Tennessee Republican Party’s Statesmen’s Dinner in Nashville on June 15, 2019. At right is U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood). (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Both Tennessee senators are joining an effort among 11 Republicans to challenge the outcome of the presidential election. While all allegations of voter fraud have been thrown out in the courts, Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood and Sen.-elect Bill Hagerty of Nashville said in a statement they will oppose the certification of the vote on Wednesday.

“American democracy relies on the consent of the governed,” Hagerty and Blackburn said in a joint statement. “Allegations of voter fraud, irregularities and unconstitutional actions diminish public confidence in what should be a free, fair and transparent process.”

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R—Tenn.) along with Senators Ted Cruz (R—Texas), Senator Ron Johnson (R—Wis.), Senator John Kennedy (R—La.), Senator Mike Braun, (R—Ind.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Senator James Lankford (R—Okla.) and Senators-elect Bill Hagerty (R—Tenn.), Cynthia Lummis (R—Wyo.), Tommy Tuberville (R—Ala.) and Roger Marshall (R—Kan.) announced they will vote to oppose the results of the 2020 election. They are also calling for Congress to immediately appoint an Electoral Commission, with full investigatory and fact-finding authority, to conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election returns in the disputed states.

“On behalf of Tennesseans, we are taking a united stand against the tainted electoral results from the recent Presidential election,” said Senator Marsha Blackburn and Senator-elect Bill Hagerty. “American democracy relies on the consent of the governed. Allegations of voter fraud, irregularities and unconstitutional actions diminish public confidence in what should be a free, fair and transparent process. Protecting the integrity of the electoral process is paramount to preserving trust and legitimacy in the final outcome.”

“For critical moments like these, the Constitution reserves the right to challenge the Electoral College results to members of Congress. On January 6, we will vote to oppose certification of the 2020 election results.”

Senators Marsha Blackburn (R—Tenn.), Ted Cruz (R—Texas), Senator Ron Johnson (R—Wis.), Senator John Kennedy (R—La.), Senator Mike Braun (R—Ind.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Senator James Lankford (R—Okla.) and Senators-elect Bill Hagerty (R—Tenn.), Cynthia Lummis (R—Wyo.) Tommy Tuberville (R—Ala.) and Roger Marshall (R—Kan.) released the following statement:

“America is a Republic whose leaders are chosen in democratic elections. Those elections, in turn, must comply with the Constitution and with federal and state law.

“When the voters fairly decide an election, pursuant to the rule of law, the losing candidate should acknowledge and respect the legitimacy of that election. And, if the voters choose to elect a new office-holder, our Nation should have a peaceful transfer of power.

“The election of 2020, like the election of 2016, was hard fought and, in many swing states, narrowly decided. The 2020 election, however, featured unprecedented allegations of voter fraud, violations and lax enforcement of election law, and other voting irregularities.

“Voter fraud has posed a persistent challenge in our elections, although its breadth and scope are disputed. By any measure, the allegations of fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election exceed any in our lifetimes.

“And those allegations are not believed just by one individual candidate. Instead, they are wide-spread. Reuters/Ipsos polling, tragically, shows that 39% of Americans believe ‘the election was rigged.’ That belief is held by Republicans (67%), Democrats (17%), and Independents (31%).

“Some Members of Congress disagree with that assessment, as do many members of the media.

“But, whether or not our elected officials or journalists believe it, that deep distrust of our democrat-ic processes will not magically disappear. It should concern us all. And it poses an ongoing threat to the legitimacy of any subsequent administrations.

“Ideally, the courts would have heard evidence and resolved these claims of serious election fraud. Twice, the Supreme Court had the opportunity to do so; twice, the Court declined.

“On January 6, it is incumbent on Congress to vote on whether to certify the 2020 election re-sults. That vote is the lone constitutional power remaining to consider and force resolution of the multiple allegations of serious voter fraud.

“At that quadrennial joint session, there is long precedent of Democratic Members of Congress raising objections to presidential election results, as they did in 1969, 2001, 2005, and 2017. And, in both 1969 and 2005, a Democratic Senator joined with a Democratic House Member in forcing votes in both houses on whether to accept the presidential electors being challenged.

“The most direct precedent on this question arose in 1877, following serious allegations of fraud and illegal conduct in the Hayes-Tilden presidential race. Specifically, the elections in three states—Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina—were alleged to have been conducted illegally.

“In 1877, Congress did not ignore those allegations, nor did the media simply dismiss those raising them as radicals trying to undermine democracy. Instead, Congress appointed an Electoral Commission—consisting of five Senators, five House Members, and five Supreme Court Justices—to consider and resolve the disputed returns.

“We should follow that precedent. To wit, Congress should immediately appoint an Electoral Commission, with full investigatory and fact-finding authority, to conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election returns in the disputed states. Once completed, individual states would evaluate the Commission’s findings and could convene a special legislative session to certify a change in their vote, if needed.

“Accordingly, we intend to vote on January 6 to reject the electors from disputed states as not ‘regularly given’ and ‘lawfully certified’ (the statutory requisite), unless and until that emergency 10-day audit is completed.

“We are not naïve. We fully expect most if not all Democrats, and perhaps more than a few Republicans, to vote otherwise. But support of election integrity should not be a partisan issue. A fair and credible audit—conducted expeditiously and completed well before January 20—would dramatically improve Americans’ faith in our electoral process and would significantly enhance the legitimacy of whoever becomes our next President. We owe that to the People.

“These are matters worthy of the Congress, and entrusted to us to defend. We do not take this action lightly. We are acting not to thwart the democratic process, but rather to protect it. And every one of us should act together to ensure that the election was lawfully conducted under the Constitution and to do everything we can to restore faith in our Democracy.

Check out these precinct-level maps of the presidential election in Tennessee

Our favorite political mapmaker Don Johnson has put his considerable talents to work with these maps of the presidential election in Tennessee based on the results certified by the state this week.

The level of support of for Republican Donald Trump is through the roof in much of the state. But the relatively small blue areas signifying support for Democrat Joe Biden still make up 1.14 million votes, showing how concentrated the state’s urban population is.

Here is another set of maps showing the changes in presidential party voting:

Keep up the good work, Don!