Let’s Talk Healthcare

With the debate swirling in the midst of the GOP attempt to pass the Graham-Cassidy bill before September 30th, it is time to have a frank discussion about how we got where we are today in the conversation surrounding healthcare. History shows us a hard truth: Healthcare has always been the line that divides the haves from the have-nots in this country.

President Harry Truman was one of the very first to fight for a plan for universal health care coverage back in 1945 as part of his Fair Deal.  Had it passed, his plan would have worked much like Social Security does, but his plan was rejected. Nine years later, after Congress rejected the idea of healthcare for all, employers instead took control.  Employers had the power to give benefits only to a certain group of people, which eventually created a two-tiered system where only privileged individuals had access to quality health care. The next few decades brought many changes to our healthcare system, adding Medicare and Medicaid in the 70s and then a shift to private healthcare insurance in the 80s.

But then came President Obama, who was finally able to pass the Affordable Care Act that gave millions of people coverage who previously didn’t have it. The ACA was an attempt to level the playing field, and its benefits have been numerous. It gave protections to those with disabilities and pre-existing conditions.  Over 70% of nursing home residents are now covered by Medicaid, and Medicaid also provides coverage for two out of every five kids in this country. Yet the Republican Party wants to go back to two tiered system that protects only the rich. If we don’t stop them, rural hospitals that have been able to expand services and clinics throughout Arkansas will be the first to close their doors.

Republicans want to gut Medicaid, yet many people in this state don’t even realize that ARKidsFirst is Arkansas’ version of Medicaid. In Garland County this is particularly troubling, as one out of every four of our children and elderly live at or below the poverty line, and 14% of our people still don’t have any insurance at all.  We can drive to our health care clinic where we’ll see people standing in long lines waiting to see a doctor because they don’t enjoy the benefit of private healthcare insurance like their white collar counterparts.

My husband and I have a little girl who’s three years old.  She’s beautiful and smart and the very best thing that’s ever happened to me.  When I look in her eyes, I see the childlike innocence and beauty of everything that can be right in this world. Our children are the generation of tomorrow.  And all of our kids – my daughter, your daughter, your neighbor’s daughter – all of them deserve to grow up in a country knowing that whatever healthcare issue may arise, we invest in them and their health and well-being.

I know the Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect and that people are legitimately frustrated with rising healthcare costs, myself included. We all want lower premiums and more money in our pockets from month to month.  The cost of prescription medications is outrageous.  But the answer doesn’t come in the form of block grants; it comes in the form of people reaching across the political aisle to do what’s best for American families.

I believe in the people of this country and I believe in our capacity for goodness and for doing the right thing. And the right thing is caring about each other, lifting one another up, and coming together to tackle the problems of poverty, healthcare, and income inequality.  But somehow we’ve drifted so far from what’s right that THIS is where we are.  And we have to find our way back.  We have to fight, and we have to make our voices heard. And if they refuse to listen, the only thing we have left is our collective vote.  And that vote can be a very powerful thing. 

2018 is coming, and it’s coming soon.  I’ll see you at the polls. 

Because, after all – it’s our tomorrow. 


On the Cost of Child Care

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average annual cost of child care for a 4-year-old in Arkansas is $4,995, or the equivalent of $416 per month.  For far too many Arkansas families, this cost is an extreme financial burden when coupled with the realities of a mortgage and rising costs of healthcare and prescription medications.  Parents are forced to choose which day care to send their kids to based on cost alone rather than on the quality of the curriculum or staff.  The bottom line is that day care is entirely too expensive for the majority of Arkansas families.

I know.  I have a three-year-old.  My husband and I are educators and the very definition of middle class, yet, like many other families across this country, we struggle with the cost of child care.  In order to make up for the cost of sending our daughter to one of the best facilities in our community, we must make strategic and smart financial decisions. Our day care costs us approximately $550 per month – $6,600 per year – the same cost as average in-state tuition to a four year university.  In short, day care takes a huge chunk out of our budget, and that’s the case for far too many of our friends and family across central and southwest Arkansas.

We also must consider this: Poverty rates in Arkansas are extremely high. 35% of children in Garland County come from homes at or below the poverty line.  Fortunately, many low income families are often eligible for forms of financial assistance for day care and other early childhood education programs.  The problem is that far too many middle class families in Arkansas are ineligible for that same aid because of their income level, yet, just like my family, they too struggle with the astronomical cost of child care programs. Something must be done to level the playing field not just for those kids who come from situations of poverty but also for the many Arkansas families that are ineligible for aid but priced out of private programs.

Nobody debates the fact that early childhood education is a critical factor in predicting future academic success.  The evidence is overwhelming.  The formative years of ages three to five are crucial for setting the stage for how well children will perform in elementary and middle schools.  Moms and dads know that in order for their kids to be successful in life, they must set them up for success from the very beginning.  Yet, sadly, almost half of this country’s three and four year old children are not enrolled in any type of educational program.

The answer is that we must ease the financial burden of childcare for working class families by ensuring that no family pays more than 10% of their annual income for any child care program.  It is critical that we invest in this country’s future and show the American working class that we put families first in the form of child care subsidies and significant tax relief.  The Economic Policy Institute estimates that this measure could save the average Arkansas family as much as $1,300 per year – which can make a huge difference in the budget of most families.  But capping childcare costs alone is not enough.  We also must implement a carefully planned and strategic universal preschool program for four-year-old children to ensure that all kids get an equal opportunity to a high quality early childhood education.

There is no greater reward than that of a family, and there is no greater investment than in that of our children. Now is the time to do the right thing by substantially easing the financial burden of child care costs on Arkansas families.  Because, after all – it’s our tomorrow.



Jobs Matter

Yesterday, Toys R Us announced that it was filing for bankruptcy.  That fact alone might not be cause for alarm, but the United States’ largest toy store is not the only retail chain to be facing difficulties.  Nine other retail chains have also filed for bankruptcy this year, causing almost 90,000 workers to lose their jobs.  Stores like J.C. Penney, Sears, Kmart, and Radio Shack are closing their doors in communities all over the nation.  Malls sit almost completely empty and physical stores are becoming obsolete in an age of online shopping and e-commerce.

America is changing, and it’s changing rapidly.  How we shop, how we drive, how we communicate – all of these things will look vastly different in twenty years than they do today.  Consider the changes that have already taken place just over the past few years.  Now when families head to Walmart for groceries, it is often difficult to find a live cashier at the register.  Restaurants such as Olive Garden and Chili’s now have a “pay at the table” option where you swipe your own credit card. Amazon has unveiled “Go” stores without checkout lines, physical money, or employees to work as cashiers.  Ford and General Motors are moving full steam ahead at developing driverless car technologies.  Machines are now doing the work that once was the responsibility of American workers.

Automation, artificial intelligence, and e-commerce are changing our world so quickly that we hardly have time to adjust to new technology before more changes are upon us.  But these changes don’t come without a price, and that price is steep:  American jobs. In the coming decades, Americans will continue to lose more and more jobs to automated technologies as the industries of yesterday disappear, and if we don’t put plans in place now to replace those jobs with the jobs of tomorrow, the families of this state will be left behind without the means to provide for their kids’ future.

Arkansas has the potential to be on the cutting edge of developing new jobs to meet these challenges.  Our abundant natural resources such as lakes, land, rivers,and streams give us ample opportunity to create tens of thousands of new jobs in solar and wind energy. There is also vast untapped potential in manufacturing the equipment needed in order to power alternative energy sources. Rural communities in central and southwest Arkansas can become leaders in the nation through the development of renewable resources and building and assembling the equipment needed to produce clean energy.

But we also must do a better job at advising students of the jobs of tomorrow.  Our secondary schools, community colleges, trade schools, and institutions of higher education must help our young people make smart decisions that will ensure their future success in a changing job market. Jobs in software, app, and web development, engineering, science and health technology, and solar and wind energy are the wave of the future.  Academic advisers must help students understand the economic implications of their career choices and guide them into career fields with the opportunity for economic growth.

What it comes down to is this:  We must create exciting new job opportunities for Arkansas families or we will be left behind as more and more jobs are displaced over the course of the next few years. Now is the time for bold new ideas. People want money in their pocketbooks, and that should be our number one priority. We must work together to ensure that all of our families have jobs they can count on and an income they can live on.  Because – after all, it’s our tomorrow.


The Time is Now

If last night’s second annual Dames, Dems, & Drinks fundraiser in Little Rock is any indication, the future is bright for women in Arkansas politics.  The energy in the room was electric, as individuals from all walks of life came together to celebrate the candidacy of a group of talented, diverse women who are dedicated to bringing about positive change at all levels of government.

And that’s something to truly celebrate – because we need more women in all levels of elected office.  In Arkansas, only 25 of the 135 legislative seats are occupied by females.  Eighteen women serve as state representatives and seven serve as state senators.  That means women make up only 18.5% of the Arkansas General Assembly.  On the federal level, that number is even bleaker.  We have no women who currently represent our state in Washington as members of Congress or as part of the U.S. Senate.

Without a doubt, those numbers will change as more women begin to step up and out of their comfort zones and into the leadership roles they were always meant for. There is a movement happening right now all over the state and across the country that I am convinced will shape the future of politics and the world as we know it for our daughters and granddaughters.

This is a picture of just some of the women who have already announced their candidacy.  They are leaders in their respective communities and include some of the hardest working, smartest, and most compassionate individuals I know.

Progressive Arkansas Women

But let’s be clear – the road to success for women in politics is never easy.  It takes strength and a resiliency that is unparalleled. That’s why it is imperative that all of us – each and every one of us – show an unprecedented level of support for the women who have taken on this challenge.  Your time, your money, and your energy is needed like never before. We need you.  Arkansas needs you.  The country needs you.

So be part of our journey.  Join the movement.  The time is now.



On Harvey 

Hurricane Harvey brought with it rains and floods like the south has never seen, but Texas is strong and will rebuild even bigger than before.  The stories of kindness and compassion in the wake of Harvey’s destruction give us hope.

I am thankful to live in a community that responds to tragedies such as these with immediate action.  This is a letter sent immediately following the disaster on August 31st:

Hot Springs friends:
The events unfolding in Texas and Louisiana are absolutely heartbreaking. It is surreal to think of the sheer devastation and total loss that so many families are currently experiencing.
We can help. A truck and trailer will be traveling to Port Lavaca, Texas, this Saturday morning to deliver supplies to flood victims. Items needed include bug spray, Gatorade, heavy work gloves, blankets, canned foods, cleaning supplies, water, diapers, and baby formula. If you are at all able, please consider making a donation of any of the needed items to include in their delivery.
You can drop your donation at 608 West Grand Avenue between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. today and tomorrow. All items must be delivered by 4:00 on Friday, September 1st, in order to make it on the truck and trailer for delivery.
Thank you so much for all that you do for our community and beyond.

The response was overwhelming.  Not even 48 hours later, our Headquarters was filled with all sorts of necessities, including water, blankets, diapers, and cleaning supplies.  Here is a picture of a portion of what we collected.


I am thankful to live in a community that believes in giving back.  The people of Garland County are some of the kindest and most generous individuals in the entire state.  Thank you, Hot Springs, for opening your hearts to those in need.  As Anne Frank reminds us: “No one has ever become poor by giving.”

A New Voice in Arkansas Politics

My name is Hayden Shamel.  I’m the wife of a high school football coach, the mother of a beautiful three-year-old little girl,  and the chair of the Democratic Party of Garland County in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

I started this blog to share my perspective on political issues – as a mother, as an educator, and as a community leader. I also started this blog to have an opportunity to hear from you about the issues you care about. I want to know what matters most to you and your family and how our elected officials can help.

The people of Arkansas are facing real problems, and we need legislators who are focused on finding real solutions.  We deserve representatives who are willing to reach across party lines to implement bold economic policies that will directly help our families, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. We deserve someone who will get things done.  We deserve a better Arkansas.

That’s why I’m adding my voice to the conversation.  I am fighting every day to make sure that Arkansas families get ahead and stay ahead.  I’m fighting to strengthen public education, to make healthcare and prescription medication more affordable, and to ensure that the people of this state have jobs we can count on and an income we can live on.  I’m fighting for YOU.  Because, after all – it’s our tomorrow.

So be part of the conversation.  Be part of the journey.  Follow me on social media, subscribe to this blog, and chime in with your perspective.  Let me know what you’re thinking and how I can help.  We’re all in this together.