Ten years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, we look at the struggle to rebuild and why recovery efforts aren't spread equitably across the city.
President Barack Obama said when nominating Thomas Perez as U.S. Labor Secretary that his career exemplified the American success story. The son of Dominican immigrants, Perez worked his way through Brown and Harvard Universities as a garbage collector and warehouse worker. He’s served as a federal prosecutor, Maryland labor secretary and an assistant attorney general at the U.S. Justice Department. Because of his record at the Justice Department, Perez is considered one of the most aggressive civil rights advocates to head the Labor Department -– one whose confirmation vote was the closest of any of Obama’s second-term cabinet nominees. Join Diane for her conversation with Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.
- Thomas Perez secretary, U.S. Department of Labor.
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MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama has vowed to focus on income inequality this year, but he and his cabinet often find themselves in the position of defending the Affordable Care Act. U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez joins me here in the studio to answer new questions about the impact of the president's healthcare law on the American workforce.
MS. DIANE REHMHe also gives us his thoughts on how the Obama administration can bypass a reluctant Congress to reduce income inequality, raise the minimum wage for all workers, and aid the long-term unemployed. We'll be live video streaming our discussion. You can listen to us, as well as watch us, at drshow.org. You can be part of the program by calling 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Welcome, Mr. Secretary. It's good to have you here.
SECRETARY THOMAS PEREZIt's always a pleasure to be with you, Diane.
REHMThank you. And this morning The Washington Post had big headlines saying that the healthcare law is going to prompt over 2 million people to quit their jobs or cut their hours, and that is from a Congressional Budget Office report. How do you respond to that?
PEREZI respond to it by reading the report in detail and giving you what they say. It's really interesting. The opponents of the Affordable Care Act, the first point they make is that the Affordable Care Act is going to be a job killer. Here are the facts. Since the Affordable Care Act was passed in March 2010, the private sector has added 8.1 million jobs, which is the strongest 45-month job growth period since the late '90s.
PEREZYou look at the CBO report itself, and it notes that, in the short run, from 2014 to 2016, the Affordable Care Act indeed will expand jobs. And that's because, with the subsidies, money is being put in people's pockets. And when people have more money in their pockets, they'll spend more. And let me give you a full quote from the report.
PEREZ"The expanded federal subsidies for health insurance will stimulate demand for goods and services, and that effect will mostly occur over the next few years. That increase in demand will induce some employers to hire more workers or to increase their employees' hours during that period." So point number one is that, from 2014 to 2016, CBO points out that actually jobs will be created.
PEREZThere's another point here, which is that opponents often say that it will lead to more part-time work. And, again, the CBO report debunks that myth, noting that -- and I should probably quote it -- "In CBO's judgment, there is no compelling evidence that part-time employment has increased as a result of the ACA."
REHMSo what do you make of The Washington Post headlining the negative aspects of this? Isn't that going to be part of the headlines that you all are going to have to cope with as the Congress goes on into 2014 elections?
PEREZI can't control the headlines, but what we can do is control the facts. And what the CBO report points out is that, in the long run, people are going to have choice. And what this talks about is, in the long run, people who are working 60-hour weeks are going to exercise that choice in CBO's judgment to maybe work 40-hour weeks.
PEREZYou know that old billboard, Will Work for Healthcare. There are a lot of people who are in what economists call job lock. They're in a job because they need the healthcare. As the exchanges expand -- and, by the way, the CBO report notes that by 2017 they expect something like 24 or 25 million people to be in the exchanges. As people have that choice, they will elect that choice. So what it is saying -- I like choice.
PEREZAnd if my spouse is working and they're working because they have to work for healthcare and they have that opportunity to step back and take care of our kids or they have that opportunity to step back and start that business that they wanted to start, that choice is good for America. And so that's what the CBO report is talking about. And, regrettably, people can miscast it very simply and say it's a job killer. It is about giving people more choice. I think that's good for America.
REHMBut how do you overcome the impression that people have that the Affordable Care Act is, number one, a job killer, that, number two, President Obama lied about the Affordable Care Act in promising people they could keep their insurance? How do you overcome that?
PEREZWell, I think we overcome that with the facts. And the facts are this: 3.2 million people have already enrolled in the exchanges. Six million are enrolled through Medicaid expansion. Another 3 million are enrolled through the fact that they can now be on their parents' plan. You look at the rate of inflation in healthcare is at its lowest rate in 50 years. And what that means for employers is when your healthcare costs are shrinking, you hire more people.
PEREZYou look at the senior citizens who are now getting -- we've closed the donut hole. And so they're getting prescription drug benefits. We need to talk about those stories. And, you know, we get letters after letters. I had an employee come to me at work the other day and say, "Tom, we put my daughter, my 24-year-old -- she was invulnerable. She thought that she'd never have a problem in the world. We put her on our health plan. And, you know, a few months later, she was diagnosed with cancer."
PEREZ"I wake up every single day thanking God for the Affordable Care Act because it saved her life." And the president gets those letters every single day of the week.
REHMYou've also got labor leaders complaining that the ACA has subjected union health plans to new taxes and mandates while not allowing them to share in the subsidies. How you do deal with that?
PEREZSure. Well, we've been working very closely with labor unions to address their concerns. In the ideal world, when you have a law that is as sweeping as the Affordable Care Act was, you would work collaboratively with the other side to attempt to address any consequences of that law. We don't have that luxury here because the view of the other side here is to repeal. They don't want people with pre-existing conditions to have the new protections. So what we've been doing with labor unions is attempting to listen and address their concerns. And what we're seeing is a lot of progress.
PEREZAnd let me give you one example. Out in Oregon, home health workers, they were negotiating with the state for their wages. I think they were making somewhere in the $10.25 an hour, plus benefits. And roughly 4,000 out of the 20,000 people in the bargaining unit were able to be covered. What they did, which is exactly what the Affordable Care Act presents in terms of opportunities, is they moved everybody into the exchange where they got just as good coverage for a cheaper amount of money.
PEREZThey took that savings, and they translated that into wage hikes of $3 an hour. So they're now making $13 an hour. All 20,000 of the bargaining unit members are covered by healthcare. And so we've been working with unions to help them appreciate that, yes, change is very challenging. And I totally appreciate the concerns that my friends in the labor movement have raised. But there are remarkable opportunities. And we see it in Oregon, and we see it elsewhere where they're taking advantage of it.
REHMIs it just change or do you -- and this is a question that doesn't so much have to do with facts as impressions. Why do you believe Republicans and some Democrats have been so opposed to the Affordable Care Act?
PEREZI find it hard to understand why there are as many people as there who are so determined to insure that a struggling person, who's trying to climb that ladder of opportunity, can't have access to healthcare, which is one of those building blocks of self-sufficiency. I think we're on the right side of history. I know that. I also know we're on the right side of the future because, in the most remarkable country on the planet, the notion that 45 million Americans can't have health insurance, that's not America.
PEREZAnd so that's why we continue to work on this. And, you know, I really believe that as people understand what the benefits have been -- and we need to do more to make sure that people understand that the donut hole has been closed, that, for senior citizens, they're seeing remarkable savings in their prescription drug costs. And the remarkable myriad of benefits that have resulted from the Affordable Care Act, I mean, this is an unprecedented marketing campaign.
PEREZYou may recall Ronald Reagan did an album during the Medicare debate. There's this wonderful album of Ronald Reagan talking about how Medicare is going to lead to socialized medicine. He was on the wrong side of history. I think there are a lot folks right now who are on the wrong side of history. And I'm really proud to be with the president and the American people on this because we're helping to address one of the most critical needs in America, which is access to a healthcare safety net.
REHMThomas Perez, he is secretary of labor. We are going to take your calls, your comments after we take a short break. But first, I want to know about your relationship with President Obama. How well did you know him before you took the position?
PEREZI first met President Obama during the campaign. I hadn't met him beforehand. Like so many millions of Americans, I was so taken in by his vision for building an America in which everybody has the ability to climb to the heights of their success if they work hard and play by the rules and your outcome should not be determined by your zip code. And so I loved when I had the opportunity to work at the Justice Department and now the Department of Labor. It's a labor of love.
REHMAnd short break here. I see there are many callers waiting. We'll try to get to as many as we can. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Thomas Perez, secretary of labor, is here in the studio. Here is our first email from Michael who says, "Eight million private sector jobs sounds significant. Put it in perspective by comparing the number of private sector jobs today to the number that existed in 2008."
PEREZWell, let me put that in some perspective. Again, since the Affordable Care Act was passed, the private sector has added 8.1 million jobs. During the previous 10 years, 3.8 million private sector jobs were lost. And so we've seen remarkable growth in the last 46 months. The president would be the first to tell you that we need to pick up the pace of growth. And that's why he has an infrastructure proposal that would put people to work in good middle class jobs. Immigration reform would grow the economy. Investments and skills and other training programs would grow the economy as well.
REHMAnd here's another from Bob in Dallas, Texas: "Please respond to the assertion that Republicans dislike the ACA principally because it takes power from employees and managers and allows workers to make choices about employment without fear of losing healthcare coverage."
PEREZI've, quite frankly, had difficulty understanding the opposition to the ACA because I talk to working people all the time who are working hard and falling further behind. And they're one healthcare crisis away from bankruptcy. And I thought this was always a nation where we try to expand opportunity. And Medicare was an example of that. People fought against it, including, you know, people like Ronald Reagan. And they were on the wrong side of history.
PEREZAnd, once again, I think the president's efforts here, as people appreciate the benefits that they're getting and the opportunity -- and the listener's question really talks about the essence of this, which is choice. Employees and workers are going to have choices, and they do have choices as a result of the Affordable Care Act. They're not going to be locked in one job. Will work for -- you know, will work for healthcare, hat is not the model of America.
REHMOne of the president's major pronouncements at the State of the Union Address was that, by executive order, he's raising the minimum wage for new federal contract employees to $10.10 an hour. He wants to see it done now for all workers. How far can he go?
PEREZWell, the president would love for Congress to pass an increase in the minimum wage, the Miller Harkin bill. And there's a long bipartisan history of support for increases in the minimum wage. President George W. Bush signed an increase in the minimum wage. One of my predecessors, Elizabeth Dole, called her role in increasing the minimum wage one of her proudest accomplishments as labor secretary. When I was working for Sen. Kennedy in '96, the -- Newt Gingrich was the speaker of the House, and minimum wage was raised.
PEREZSo there's a long bipartisan tradition. And I'd like Congress, and the president would like Congress to act, but the president isn't going to wait. This is a year of action, and one of the actions he took was to announce his intent to sign this executive order because the federal government should set an example. We should be practicing what we preach. And the janitor who is cleaning the building in a federal building, that person ought to be making the minimum wage. And we should lead by example.
REHMBut how do you answer critics that raising the minimum wage is going to mean loss of jobs, smaller workplace forces, employers laying off people?
PEREZI think the overwhelming weight of the evidence supports the fact that that's just not the case. You look at the plethora of studies, including, by the way, studies that have been done years ago by a person, who's now a well-known name, named Janet Yellen. And the reason why that argument gets debunked is because, when you pay someone a decent wage, they become more efficient. They become more loyal.
PEREZA hundred years ago, Henry Ford did a radical thing. He doubled the wages of people on the assembly lines. And he did it for a number of reasons. First of all, attrition at the time was something like 350 percent because it was a hard job and the wages were lousy. And so he needed to maintain and retain his workers. He also wanted to make sure that people who worked on the assembly lines could afford to buy his product. And he understood that when you put money in people's pockets, people spend it. And then they -- then businesses have to make more things, and they have to hire more people.
PEREZAnd so I think that this executive order is smart and efficient government because we are encouraging employers, many of whom I have met, large business, small business who pay above the minimum wage already because they know that their most important piece of equipment is their human capital.
REHMMr. Secretary, you know as well as I do that most issues that the president puts up, there are people in Congress ready to take it down. Finally, the president, when asked by David Remnick in the New Yorker magazine whether he thought race had anything to do with his difficulty with the general public at large, the Congress writ small, do you believe race has had something to do with the president's failure to be able to deal with members of Congress?
PEREZI don't know the precise origins of the challenges right now, but what I do know is one thing. As someone who worked for Sen. Kennedy for a number of years -- and he was, you know, very progressive, and yet he understood that idealism and pragmatism are not mutually exclusive. And he asked the question -- when somebody proposed something, the first question that you should ask is, is it a good idea? Does it help middle class people move up the ladder of opportunity?
REHMSo you don't think race is in the mix here at all?
PEREZWell, I don't know what the issues are that are causing this, but I'm much more focused on getting us back to what I observed years ago where people focused on the ideas. At the State of the Union, for instance, Sen. Kennedy talked about -- I'm sorry, the president talked about expanding the earned income tax credit.
PEREZThat was a proposal originally brought forth by Sen. Rubio. What the president did is he asked the question, is that a good idea? And the answer is yes. I don't care who offered the idea. If it's a good idea, then we should move forward. If it helps people move up the ladder of opportunity, then we should move forward. We have moved away from that basic notion. And that's not good for America.
REHMBut you think it's a good idea. The president's supporters think these are good ideas. But every time he puts up a new idea, the opposition is ready to say -- no matter where it originated, it's no longer a good idea.
PEREZI will note -- and I know you're well aware of this -- the whole marketplace concept, which is embodied in the Affordable Care Act, was a Heritage Foundation and other sets of ideas. So, you know, it is rather ironic that the marketplace approach to expanding healthcare is something that folks who used to support that now oppose. That's the reality all too frequently, but what I see is some glimmers of hope. We saw, for instance, at the end of last year a budget agreement. It wasn't perfect, but the regular order prevailed.
PEREZI have optimism about comprehensive immigration reform this year. I think it's going to pass. I think it's an economic imperative. It's a national security imperative. It's a moral imperative. And I think there is consensus that could emerge. It will continue to be challenging, but I have optimism. And, again, I would go back to 1996, the government shutdown. That was when Newt Gingrich shut the government down. And the American people were furious, and they had every right to be.
PEREZAnd what happened in 1996, a president election year, where people say nothing can get done? Welfare reform passed. Immigration reform passed. The minimum wage was increased. The hate crimes bill passed. Health insurance reform passed, which brought us medical records privacy among other things. Things can get done if you can muster the will.
REHMAll right. Here's a final email I'm going to read before we open the phones. It's -- let's see, it says, "A number of disability and labor groups are calling on President Obama and Secretary Perez to require contractors with disabilities to be paid the same $10.10 minimum wage as other workers. I run a coalition of 21 national groups who have grave concerns about this exception. It's a very important exception given the president's focus on poverty and income disparity."
PEREZThe writer is referring to Section 14C, which is a provision of law which really has worked to the detriment of people with disabilities. And when I was at the Justice Department, we worked together with the labor department to make sure that people with disabilities were entitled to receive the wages that they deserved because I've met so many people with disabilities who tell me, I want to be a taxpayer. Not that many people go around saying, I want to be a taxpayer. But the unemployment rate of people with disabilities is unconscionably high.
PEREZAnd one of the issues that we are examining right now, as we prepare to finalize the executive order, is precisely the issue that this caller raised. So I really appreciate his bringing it up. And I can assure him and all people concerned about access to opportunity for people with disabilities that we are looking very, very carefully at that issue.
REHMThe president, in nominating you, described your career as exemplifying the American success story. Talk about your roots, where you came from, and how you did it.
PEREZWell, I grew up in Buffalo, N.Y. -- the Dominican Republic. My parents moved to Buffalo because they thought the weather would be very similar to the Dominican Republic. They were sorely mistaken.
PEREZAnd my maternal grandfather was actually the ambassador to the United States in the early '30s until he spoke out against a horrible dictator, Trujillo. And it was after the massacre of the Haitians in the mid-'30s. And after he spoke out, he was declared non grata, and that's how my mom's family got to the states. It was the middle of the Depression. They had little or no money, but they had a lot of grit, a lot of spirit. My father had to leave as well because he was part of the student movement.
PEREZAnd so they came to America seeking a better life. And my father served with distinction as a legal immigrant in the U.S. Army with great pride. And after he got out, he went to the VA hospital in Buffalo. And that's how we got to Buffalo. And I love Buffalo, N.Y. It will always be a part of who I am. It's a gritty town that has suffered some setbacks but knows how to take a punch. And...
REHMYou decided not to follow your father and siblings into medicine.
PEREZYes. All of my siblings are doctors. And I watched my brother operate once. And after they peeled me off the ground, I realized I needed another line of work. And so I did have to promise them I'd never be a plaintiff personal injury lawyer. No offense to any of my friends in the plaintiff's bar, but, you know, my parents taught us that, to whom much is given, much is expected. And I've been blessed to be able to work these jobs in government and help to expand opportunity for people.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You've been so aggressive on civil rights, and you came to the Labor Department with that background. Do you believe that that's why the vote on your nomination was as close as it was?
PEREZWell, I'm proud of the work I've done in the Civil Rights Division. I think civil rights is the unfinished business of America. And I believe in America where the right to vote is sacrosanct. And we should be doing our level best to ensure that every eligible person has the right to vote, not taking steps to make it more difficult for people to have the right to vote.
PEREZI believe that service members should have access to opportunity. And we did more work on behalf of service members in the Civil Rights Division under consumer protection laws, service members who were deployed abroad and had their houses foreclosed on while they were deployed. I'm very proud of the work that we did.
PEREZAnd I was all about making sure that we fully, effectively, and independently enforce the laws. And I'm proud of that. And I'm going to do the same thing here, and we already are doing the same thing at the Department of Labor. And I'm -- you know, some people have a different vision of civil rights. And I respect that. I fundamentally disagree with it, but we're about opportunity.
REHMDo you think immigrants who are illegal immigrants have rights?
PEREZAbsolutely. And many of them are enshrined in the law. You know, the Supreme Court in a historic decision 25, 30 years ago, Plyler v. Doe, said everybody is entitled to a K to 12 education regardless of immigration status. If, under the laws that we enforced in the Civil Rights Division, if you were abused by a law enforcement officer, for instance, it didn't matter whether you were a citizen, a noncitizen, whether you were documented or undocumented. That's wrong, and that's illegal.
PEREZAnd I'm proud of that work we did, and I'm proud of the work we did in connection with some of the immigration laws that were passed in Arizona and elsewhere that were a result of an understandable frustration with the broken immigration system but, in my judgment, were the wrong response. And I was very proud of the attorney general and the president for their leadership in those areas.
REHMAre you advising the president on changes in the immigration laws?
PEREZI'm certainly involved in the discussions around comprehensive immigration reform. And I'm very -- again, I'm optimistic that Congress is going to act. The president has clearly laid out his principles. And, you know, a key principle for him is that immigration reform needs to be comprehensive. We need to make sure that we provide a tough but doable pathway to citizenship.
REHMBut why is then the Republican approach of taking it step by step, why is that so wrong or so different from your approach or the president's approach?
PEREZWell, we haven't yet really seen a Republican approach because -- in the House of Representatives. We saw a very bipartisan and comprehensive approach from Republicans and Democrats in the Senate. And I applaud the leadership of Senators McCain and Rubio and others who supported the bill that passed the Senate.
PEREZWe look forward -- and I'm heartened by the fact that some principles have been articulated. Now the next step is for principles to get translated into bill language. And I hope that the regular order that we saw with the budget bill at the end of last year, where you had a conference and you resolved differences, is the order that's used here for immigration reform.
REHMGive me one principle that Republicans have put forward that you as Secretary of Labor could agree on in regard to immigration. I've got 20 seconds.
PEREZWell, we want to have fairness. We want to make sure that we have fairness and comprehensiveness. And that's what the Senate bill was. And that's what I hope the House bill will be.
REHMAll right. Short break here. And when we come back, time to open the phones. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones, 800-433-8850. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez is with me. Let's go first to St. Cloud, Fla. Hi, Alaric. How are you?
ALARICDoing fine today. How are you?
ALARICMy question concerns income inequality, and I have -- I'm curious what steps the president can actually take. One idea that I had, that I hadn't heard discussed in the media, was the possibility of the federal government requiring all contracts, labor or service providers, to have a certain ratio between the executives and the employees that would bring us on par to the ratio that we see in other countries, where, you know, it's closer to 1:20 or 1:15 as opposed to 1:200 or 2,000, whatever we have now that allows executives to make millions and millions while we still have line workers making minimum wage.
REHMAll right. OK. Thanks for your call. Mr. Secretary.
PEREZAlaric raises an issue that is so important, which is that, you know, productivity has gone up over 90 percent since 1979. And wages have gone up 3.2 percent. And so the prosperity that is felt by a few is not shared by so many. And that's wrong. That's not America. And that's why we are using our executive authority, as I outlined before, to increase the minimum wage for contractors.
PEREZI don't think that we have the authority to have the ratios that Alaric describes in terms of making ratios between the salary of the CEO and the salary of the lowest wage worker. But what we do have the ability to do is to make sure that nobody who works a full-time job should have to live in poverty. And the $10.10 minimum wage is something that will enable a family of four to move above the poverty level instead of where they are now.
REHMBut that question of ratio is something that Alaric wondered whether that could be affected by executive order. I don't think so.
PEREZAnd that's what I said. I mean, the -- in an executive order, we don't have the ability to say company X, the salary of your CEO can be no more than 10 times that of your lowest paid worker. But what we do have the ability to do is build an America where everybody has the ability to punch that ticket to the middle class. And that's why we're talking about investments in apprenticeship and training programs that result in jobs that pay a decent wage.
PEREZI think Alaric was calling from Florida, and I was in Tampa recently with Tampa Electric, which is the utility there. And I watched their apprenticeship program. And it was amazing, the people graduating from that, and they did a wonderful job of hiring vets. They're making $52,000 a year when they leave that program.
PEREZThere is a bright future in America for people who work with their hands. I was at the Ford plant in Louisville, Ky. You know, five years ago, they had 800 employees, and they were almost closing. Now they're 4,400 strong. And one of their biggest challenges is they want to grow further, and they need that skilled workforce.
PEREZAnd they pay a great wage. And so...
PEREZ...that's what we need to do.
REHMTo Detroit, Mich. Phil, you're on the air.
PHILGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
PHILMy question is -- I'm 50 years old. I do not currently have health insurance and haven't had health insurance most of my adult life. With the Affordable Care Act, I can get health insurance. It's about $560 a month for me and my daughter. Through work, I can get health insurance. But it's $1,100 a month for me and my daughter. I can't afford $1,100. I can't afford $560 really.
PHILI'm working, you know, basically working hand to mouth every paycheck. And my question is, I cannot get government subsidies if I don't use the health insurance offered by my employer. And yet it's double what I can get in the marketplace. Is that something that they're going to address in the future? That's what I really would like to know.
PEREZPhil, thank you for your call. And we have a team of navigators that are working one on one with people because what we're finding is that we hear specific anecdotes about particular situations. And what we've been able to find is that, when we really dissect it, there are other solutions out there. And so one thing I hope you'll do, Phil, is follow up with us.
PEREZAnd hopefully we can get your contact information and make sure that we address your situation because we have teams of people who are working across this country to address specific situations. And I very much appreciate the challenges you find yourself in. And I really want to work with you to find a win-win situation so that you can have that health security and also do it within the budget constraints of your household.
REHMAll right. Let's put Phil on hold, and that way Secretary Perez can get back to him. And let's go now to Jim in Fort Bragg, N.C. Hi there.
JIMGood morning. How you doing?
JIMI love your show. I wish it was two hours long and then two more hours. I've been educated.
REHMIt is. It is.
JIMOn the same topic -- on the same topic...
JIMI can amen what the gentleman has said this morning. I'm so happy to hear him. I'm one of those individuals that had private insurance. And it was very high. I switched, and it's a lot cheaper. I have nothing but good news and great things to say about it. The only problem I run into is with medications and trying to get those approved and start up again.
JIMI would say that, when I was working in my regular job and my kids were young and at home, it was good to have that high income and to make that money and have those benefits. But now that they're grown and gone and I'm over 50, I find that I'm happier in the work that I do knowing that I have healthcare and good health insurance and don't have to fight for that dollar and compete in an environment that to me was all about the bottom line.
REHMAll right, Jim. I'm glad you called.
PEREZJim is really talking about the essence of the Affordable Care Act, which is choice. The Affordable Care Act has given choice to more people, people like Jim who had family responsibilities with his children. They're grown up. He wants to do different things with his life, and the Affordable Care Act gives him that choice. He doesn't have to stay in the same job because he needed the health insurance.
PEREZHe has the exchange.
REHMHere's an email from Ron who says, "Since Obamacare passed, my health insurance premiums have increased by 50 percent. Never had I seen such huge increases. I'm now paying for the unhealthy insurers. Let's tell the whole story." That's Ron in Weatherford, Texas.
PEREZWell, Ron, again I'd like to have the same conversation with you that we're hoping to have with Phil to address your situation. I listened with great interest last week in the Republican response to the State of the Union where the congresswoman talked about a particular example. And then when we unpacked the example, it turned out that the situation was really quite different than the reality that was -- the inaccurate reality that was being portrayed.
PEREZAnd I want to make sure that Ron has access to affordable healthcare. I want to make sure that people across this country have access. Regrettably, Texas is the un-insurance capital of the United States. There are more people who are uninsured in Texas -- it's Texas and Florida are one and two in this country. And so we want to help.
REHMSo why would his insurance go up by 50 percent?
PEREZSee, I would have to -- again, and, Ron, we'd love to have a conversation and connect you with the navigators because every situation is different. And that's why we have to not only have a website, but we have real people with real expertise who can go through that.
REHMAll right. And going back to the subject of inaccuracies, I want to go back to that Washington Post article headlined "Healthcare law will prompt over 2 million to quit jobs or cut hours, a CBO report says." What came out after that?
PEREZWithin an hour or two, that piece in the Post, there was another piece in the Post from Glenn Kessler the fact checker. And this is the headline from that. "No, CBO did not say Obamacare will kill 2 million jobs." I hope people go beyond headlines and articles and actually unpack facts because...
REHMThat's why you're here.
PEREZAnd that's why we are here, and that's why we will continue to bring the facts to the American people. And the facts are that more people have access to healthcare for the first time in their lives. And that's good for America.
REHMAll right. To A.J. in Houston, Texas. You're on the air.
A.J.Hi, Diane. Just saying that you're the reason why I'm a NPR -- totally converted to NPR, and it's a great show.
REHMI'm glad. Thank you.
A.J.And, well, I'm a local franchise owner in the Houston area. And I think one of the main reasons why there are so many more jobs available today is because employers are taking steps now to force all employees under 28 hours to prevent incurring cost of insurance later on. Are there any talks amongst the presidency to maybe move a full-time employee considered as 30 hours to maybe 40 or 45? Because I'm seeing that many employees are supporting a full family on these minimum-wage jobs. And if they're only getting 28, 29 hours, they're unable to do so.
PEREZAgain, I'll go back to yesterday's -- thank you for your question, by the way. It's a very good question. It's a question we hear with some regularity. And yesterday's CBO report actually again debunks the myth that the ACA is leading employers to either eliminate jobs or reduce hours. And this is what the report says -- and I quote -- "There is no compelling evidence that part-time employment has increased as a result of the ACA." I've known that because I look at the labor data every month. The CBO has confirmed this.
PEREZIt would be -- in the ordinary course of Capitol Hill, if we were in the regular order, I think this question would be an excellent question to be the subject of debate. And if it turns out that maybe there's a different hourly threshold or you ramp it up or ramp it down as opposed to having a bright line, that might be a very viable policy discussion. But in current reality, it's simply, you know, you got to repeal it. And that's obviously not viable.
REHMOK. But here's what I don't get. How is it that A.J. calls with this issue, which he believes to be true, and yet here you have in front of you a CBO report saying that's not true? How are people supposed to discern what is true?
PEREZWell, again, you know, every time we hear an anecdote, well, this restaurant chain is reducing hours, we have a rapid response team that is looking into that and working with employers.
REHMBut the Obama team always seems to have to play catch-up.
PEREZWell, I mean, there's a lot of people across America, Diane, as you know, who are spending day and night trying to undermine the Affordable Care Act. I mean, again, you know, this is different from Ronald Reagan who did an album because Ronald Reagan -- and I gave Diane the album cover, which has a wonderful picture, by the way, of Ronald Reagan. And I'm very jealous because he has hair, and I don't. But Ronald Reagan speaks out against socialized medicine.
PEREZThis was the milieu in 1961. And that was the talking point. And here today the Affordable Care Act is a job killer. CBO debunks that. The facts debunk that. But we must continue to play Whac-A-Mole on that. And the president is -- what he is, is he is focused like a laser on making sure that we get people to enroll in the exchanges and have access to healthcare.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Allison in Bethesda, Md. Hi, you're on the air.
ALLISONHi. Good morning. Mr. Secretary, I'm a mother of a preschooler with Down Syndrome and also a proud Buffalo native and embarrassed at Washington's response to the rain today. But I want to say thank you, you know, for your early acknowledgement that Section 14 was a detriment to people with disabilities. Your work at the Department of Labor Civil Rights Division enforcing state and agency compliance with a 1999 Supreme Court L.C. vs. Olmstead really went such a long way towards ensuring Americans with disabilities were served in the most integrated setting.
ALLISONAnd yet we still have 420,000 people in America who are segregated into rehabilitation programs and sheltered workshops, many of whom making, as you know, less than the federal minimum wage. And so as we talk about, you know, wage equity and starting to have this national conversation about poverty and inequity, we have to include people with disabilities because they have been, for the past 13 years, the poorest minority group in America.
ALLISONAnd they have the highest rates of unemployment. So, you know, I'm sure you know that's what -- we're talking about an estimated 4.2 million people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are really -- here's my question -- confined to poverty by government policy.
ALLISONSo what we want to know, you know, will the executive order include these people? You know, we talk about janitors cleaning federal buildings or cooking meals. Those are often these same people making less than minimum wage. So I'll take your answer...
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call.
PEREZAllison, thank you for your call, and I agree with you. I don't understand why schools are closed when it's simply raining out. But that's the Buffalo in me speaking. And, you know, Allison, the president strongly believes that there's no such thing as a spare American. And that's why one of his first declarations, when he became president, was his declaration of the year of community living.
PEREZAnd I was at the Civil Rights Division at the time. And I'm very proud of the work that we have done in states across this country to ensure that people with disabilities, including your child, have the opportunity to realize their highest and best dreams. We have all too frequently focused on the dis in the word disability and not enough focus on the ability.
PEREZAnd that's what we're going to do. And the question that you asked about the executive order, we're actively looking at what our legal authorities are and what our abilities are. And I commend you to the case that we did in Rhode Island involving sheltered workshops, which was a groundbreaking case where people with disabilities were really being warehoused in jobs in which they were paid sub-minimum wage and really being destined to the scrap heap.
PEREZThat's not America. We don't kick people to the curb. And we give them opportunity. And that's why that case in Rhode Island that we did was a seminal case. And that was a joint venture between the Department of Labor and the Department of Justice. And I'm very proud of that work. And we're going to continue to do that.
REHMAll right. Mr. Secretary, I do appreciate your being here. I hope you'll come back and see us again.
PEREZIt would be a pleasure.
REHMSecretary of Labor Thomas Perez. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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