Sarah Klee Hood is a Town Councilor from DeWitt, NY and a director of a clean energy incubator and a candidate for the newly redistricted 22nd NY congressional district. WRFI's Fred Balfour interviewed her on April 21, 2022.
WRFI News Theme music: Alex Reed.
Transcript of Interview:
Fred Balfour, WRFI 0:23
Hello and welcome to WRFI Community Radio's series of candidate interviews leading up to the June 28 primary elections. Our series, starting tonight invited all candidates for both the 22nd Congressional District and New York's 53rd State Senate District. Coming up next week on Tuesday, April 26, we'll hear from Chol Majok, a city council member from Syracuse. You can see the full interview schedule and listen to the past interviews here on our website, WRFI.org. Today we're talking to Sarah Klee Hood, a DeWitt, New York counselor, town counselor, and a director of a clean energy incubator and the candidate for the newly redistricted 22nd New York congressional district. Sarah, welcome to WRFI. And thanks for joining us in the studio.
Sarah Klee Hood 1:17
Great, thanks. I'm glad to be here.
Fred Balfour, WRFI 1:19
We'll start out with a two minute opening statement from you. And then we'll get started on some issues. At the end, we'll leave time for a two minute closing statement. Now, the microphone is yours for an opening statement.
Sarah Klee Hood 1:32
Great, thank you. I am Sarah Klee hood. I was born and raised here in Central New York. I am an Air Force veteran, a mother and I work at the intersection of clean energy policy and technology development. I do serve as a current town town of DeWitt, Councilwoman. And when I think about my candidacy here, it really bloomed for concern for sidewalks and safety. So very, very local. And as I was on the campaign trail, I was knocking [on] doors and talking to folks and realized that their issues were far beyond the scope of a town board. They had to do with the cost of childcare, the cost of health care. And yeah, just the the the everyday challenges that folks here in the district were having, and that's that's how this candidacy blossomed. When we talk about where I come from, I said, I was born and raised here in the district, I come from generations of working labor. So electricians, nurses, teachers, construction trades, and I'm the first in my family to earn a college degree. I served in the military as an Air Force officer where I had 140 employees under me, and I managed a budget of $25 million. And I currently work in a nonprofit technology incubator, which helps the scientists creating clean energy technology, I apply business metrics to them business analysis, and help them commercialize their, their products or their services so that they can be purchased by governments and consumers like ourselves to address climate change. And I guess I'm really excited to be here, I didn't see a timer. But I've got to be close.
Fred Balfour, WRFI 3:07
We're a little unofficial on exact timing. But if you start to roll over, either our engineer will play some music, or I'll say, time to move on. And looking at your website, we see twelve priorities, and well explained detail on each one of them. We have 30 minutes. So I'm pretty sure we're not going to get through all twelve. But your website focuses on your core four. So let me read through them. And then we'll start single payer, universal health care, affordable childcare, paid family medical leave, and college and trade access. I'm going to take them and almost in that order and start with single payer universal health care.
Sarah Klee Hood 3:52
Fred Balfour, WRFI 3:52
Let's let our imagination run for a minute and assume that you've won the November election. And you will represent the 22nd. You're arriving in Washington to get started, help us understand how you would like to get involved with the issue of single payer universal health care as you start your job?
Sarah Klee Hood 4:10
Sure. So I think a little bit of context for those four platforms, and specifically, the single payer universal health care, is helpful. Those are four platforms that I received from the Department of Defense, anybody that serves under the Department of Defense receives those four services regardless of rank, structure race, or, or there's no discrimination factor, if you will, no class based structure. And because of those four services, I was able to change the trajectory of my life. And I get to sit here now and tell you why I'm qualified to run for Congress. So we've seen how these four services when used together can truly lift the bottom and allow people to expand both their personal and professional growth. In terms of what I would love to see for single payer universal health care is a government backed option that would allow people to to receive health care that is both affordable and attainable, but know that they can do it in a preventative manner. We're a very reactive nation right now in terms of how we practice medicine, and because of the high costs associated with health insurance and prescriptions. Unfortunately, folks in our community are delaying getting the services that they need to treat their themselves and improve their quality of life. So when elected in November, I would love to begin the discussions of how we transition from our private health care sector insurance policy and systems and to a government back system. This does not mean that you lose your health care provider by any means. It simply means now that you will not have copays, you will not have deductibles, you will not have annual fees that you need to maintain in order to maintain your insurance. And that would also expand to overhauling the prescription drug market because as of right now, we shouldn't be paying $7,000 for a an insulin vial, or $3,000, for a medication that you may need on a monthly basis due to end of life stages, if you will. So I realized that getting from our current situation to universal health care does sound scary to a lot of folks, because there's a lot of misunderstanding and a lot of change involved there. And I would support a public option that's placed on the free market, that public option, again, would be provided by the government, but it would be at a much lower rate. And that would force our private health insurance companies to either compete at a lower rate with this public option, or simply exit the market because they don't have a sustainable model. Additionally, I also support expanding Medicaid and Medicare eligibility brackets, we already have those two programs that are already on the market, they already have a consumer base that is utilizing them. If we expand them, we're bringing in more folks and allowing them to receive that coverage at an affordable price.
Fred Balfour, WRFI 6:48
There's a couple of interesting phrases here that get thrown around a lot. And I'd like to just ask you how you interpret them. Public option. So how would that appear to somebody who wants to get insurance and universal? How do you interpret that?
Sarah Klee Hood 7:02
Sure. So universal, I think is the most important one, because when we talk about universal health care, what that means is that health care is a right. When you were born into this world, you should be able to receive health care, regardless of your plot in life. Right now, what we have is a system that is afforded to folks if they can purchase it or afford it. The American Care Act did a great deal in terms of allowing affordability for populations that traditionally didn't have health insurance, but it didn't cover and it doesn't require everybody to be covered. So I think there's a real opportunity here to begin utilizing systems that are practiced around the world by many of our international colleagues, such as Canada, Great Britain, Australia, they have universal models where everybody has a baseline medical health insurance that they receive, and they can get care when they need it, and where they need it. And they're not delaying and further detrimental to their quality of life.
Fred Balfour, WRFI 7:55
So one way to say that is if you go to bed in America, you have health care.
Sarah Klee Hood 8:00
That would be a wonderful way to say it.
Fred Balfour, WRFI 8:03
And that happens over time? That happens quickly? What's your view of that?
Sarah Klee Hood 8:09
Well, I don't think that quickly is... I would love to see that. I don't know if that's realistic--quickly. Sure, I'm more pragmatic. And I think that it definitely needs to be rolled out in a manner that allows people to become comfortable with it, and allows for a change management process--this is a huge deal for folks. And I think it would be unfair of us to turn the light switch on and off immediately, we need to help them understand that the change is for the betterment of everybody. And that they aren't losing the privileges and benefits that they've already paid into, that they may be getting a better and a wider spread option, an opportunity to explore health care, there will no longer be in and out of network penalties, or fees associated with seeing a provider that isn't covered under your current plan. So I think it's an education factor that we need to do. And if we want it to succeed, we need to do it in such a manner that we do. We do do the responsible thing and ensure that we're educating upfront, we've seen through a lot of policies that when they happen very quickly and without a lot of public notice that the change is scary. And because of that it causes a lot of uncomfort and discomfort for folks.
Fred Balfour, WRFI 9:17
So if I'm looking to get an insurance, health insurance, what is public option, meaning the way I would approach getting it or how would I access it? Or where would I see it? How would I do it?
Sarah Klee Hood 9:27
The public option would be available by the government and you could likely sign up online if you choose to. That's how many of the opportunities are going now ACA Obamacare similar to that, you would opt into it. And at that option, you would be paying a lower rate because that's the whole purpose of its being is to be at a lower cost point. And once you signed up for it, you would find that you wouldn't be having those co pays or those [unintelligable] and you would find a qualified doctor and you could book an appointment there because there would be no in and out of network issues that you would have to deal with.
Fred Balfour, WRFI 10:00
And who would be managing this government backed approach?
Sarah Klee Hood 10:05
So that could be a private entity, or it could be multiple private entities or it could be the government. That is still--I need to see better research in terms of who would do that Canadians use a private entity, and the few that I've spoken to, they appear to appreciate it. So I think there's an opportunity to explore that part further.
Fred Balfour, WRFI 10:23
We know from a lot of studies, and this has certainly been a well studied topic, that the CMS or the government Medicaid, Medicare services, their administrative fees are about 5%, 4 to 6%. We also know that private companies are in the range of 15 to 20%, and even higher in some cases. So I'd be interested in how a private company could begin to approach the government level of administrative spending?
Sarah Klee Hood 10:56
Well, I think they would need to look at where their stock and dividends lie first, and then they can rework it backwards, they should be able to come up with some money.
Fred Balfour, WRFI 11:03
Do you see the starting out of an option, a Medicare option, covering exactly what Medicare covers now, or do you see it having a wider, much more broad set of services, you can get through that?
Sarah Klee Hood 11:27
I-- in terms of who's eligible will, we will increase the age brackets to allow folks the opportunity that may be younger than the current brackets right now. But in terms of the services, we absolutely need to bring in vision and dental, and overhaul the current Medicaid and Medicare prescription drug pricing scheme, because that too, has gone by the wayside and is no longer affordable for certain populations.
Fred Balfour, WRFI 11:51
If you're just joining us, we're talking to Sarah Klee hood, a candidate for New York's 22nd congressional district, that music was our signal that we had to do it. And so emergency room coverage. You mentioned vision, hearing, mental health care. Absolutely. And this would be added in as the system could be changed and adjusted?
Sarah Klee Hood 12:20
Well, I think when we're talking about an adjustment, those who need to come in bulk, I would, I would hate to think that we are picking and choosing which which of these services may be more important to folks and why they are all equally important. So this would be a phase that will be rolled in all together all these ancillary services that we now are paying a la carte, if you will, they would need to be bucketed together, because there's just there's no way that we can say which is more important for a particular individual and their health situation.
Fred Balfour, WRFI 12:50
Let's go on to affordable childcare, and talk a little bit about that. And from your short bio statement, I think you understand what affordable childcare could look like.
Sarah Klee Hood 13:02
Sure, again, this is another service that I received while I was in the service, and it's a revolutionary model. I should actually tag on the front of that. Since I've been talking to a lot of folks, what does affordable mean, that is different to everybody. So I think to get more specific, it would be a wage driven, affordable childcare. What our current childcare system has right now is it's a service center, and it's usually a flat rate. Regardless of your income, the childcare daycare center will be providing a flat rate to your family. Now, Department of Health and Services says that childcare should be approximately 7% of your income. Average childcare here in New York State is around $1,200 a month at 7% of your income being $1,200 a month, you need to make $220 for one child for that for that equation to be good math. So I think we need to look at a wage driven Affordable Care model for child care. And what that would be is based on your annual income, you would pay a certain percentage, ideally around 7%, we will need to figure those numbers out. And the government will come in on the back end and play the child care provider center the additional differential. Again, this doesn't go all the way up. So at some point, we will have a salary cut off point where if you make above X number per year, you're capped and it doesn't go any higher. And affordable childcare also looks like a model that extends the traditional traditional childcare hours. Right now there are around eight hours per day. The average business day is eight hours per day. We're not helping parents right now if they have a commute, or if they're taking public transit and they have to cross lines, that builds in time to their day. So what parents and childcare guardians have to do right now is pay additional care called wraparound, so that care is before the tree additional eight hour day and after the traditional eight hour day, and it's at an extended cost. So here again, we're double whammying parents for childcare just for the work day. Additionally, I would love to bring in USDA based meals, whether it's breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and including snacks. That's one more areas where we can help busy working families out. I can't tell you how many times when my two youngest--well, I only have two--when my two were little, and we would be getting out the door, I'm trying to go to work stretching them out the door, and we didn't have lunches ready. And I'm thinking, 'Oh, my gosh, I was going to go grocery shopping tonight, what am I going to give these to to eat during the day,' so then they're late, I'm late, and we still didn't have a very good lunch. And lastly, I think it's important to acknowledge that the business hours of nine to five are, I think of yesteryear. We have a workforce that works 24/7. And in order to ensure that they have affordable childcare, we need to be providing opportunities that are outside those traditional nine to five hours at the same rate as traditional hours. And that would look like overnight care. Usually that's at an increased cost, if you're even able to find that type of care. Usually, that's a family relative providing those types of care. So I would love to be able to have a wage driven system that provides at least 10 hours of care coverage, alternative hours, that is covered at the same rate. And USDA provided meals for the kiddos having a degree in nutrition, we could go we could go days on what the USDA diet looks like. But--
Fred Balfour, WRFI 16:38
--we'll be hungry. Go ahead.
Sarah Klee Hood 16:42
So I there's a real opportunity to get there. And we're having those conversations now at the federal level, which is very exciting. Because as we know, COVID forced a lot of folks out of the workforce to include a lot of mothers. And at now, the price point of childcare has gone up as a result of supply and demand that is forcing them to stay out of the workforce because they can no longer afford that entry level into the into the childcare system.
Fred Balfour, WRFI 17:06
I'm gonna ask a question based on something that appears on almost every page of your website. "Not a doller from the middle class, we close loopholes for corporations and top earners." The program you're talking about-- I want to apply it to the child care program to get specific, but this is going to cost some money. And can you talk just help us understand a little bit about how you would be proposing in a legislative package to get this money?
Sarah Klee Hood 17:34
Sure. So, you know, I don't know if we need a legislative package here. Or we can just take away some packages that have already been given out to the top earners. I think at the end of the day, we have some loopholes for corporations and for our top earners that allow them to disproportionately pay or avoid their fair share in American taxes. The middle class and the working class are burdened much more at a higher percentage in terms of what their taxes look like year over year when we talk about them in US compared to the top earners. So that's where the money comes from economists on both sides of the deal, both sides of the aisle, I should say, acknowledge that there is enough money if we just get fierce and we return to a higher tax structure that ensures everybody is paying their American share.
Fred Balfour, WRFI 18:22
Good. And let me give you a station break here. If you're just joining us, we're talking to Sarah Chloe hood, a candidate for New York's 22nd congressional district. Let's move on to another one of your core four. And that's college and trade access. And I wanted to focus specifically on trade access. Can you help us understand what you mean by that and some of the points that you'd like to have us think about?
Sarah Klee Hood 18:49
Sure. As I said earlier, in the program, I come from generations of trade. My entire father's side is IBEW. On my mother's side, we have construction workers, nurses and teachers. Now what I'm specifically talking about here is access to trades. I'm talking about a trade system that is based in equity. As of right now it is more or less a system that is who you know, and I've personally witnessed it. And that is it's a system that doesn't allow an opportunity for everybody. And there are fees associated with a lot of these. As you're going through your apprenticeship through journey, journeymanship to craftsman. There are a lot of fees that are included in the training schedules, as well as the equipment that you might need in a certifications. I would love to be able to remove all of those associated fees with for anybody entering the trades fields and allow them to simply go and learn a trade a skill that will then put them into the workforce and the economy. Not only will it allow them to have a fulfilling and a fulfilling way to you know have their have their job and their life but it will also help us. The trades are going down, enrollment has been going down. And if COVID shown us nothing, when people are stuck at their house and don't have much to do, they're going to renovate. And so the trade saw a boom over the last two years between the construction trades and sheetrock and drywall, the steel workers, the iron workers and electricians, my brother's an electrician. And he's he's a union guy, he went through union trade school, he was fortunate that he qualified for some of the free schooling that they offered, but a lot of the additional equipment that he needed and certifications were on him. But he was very busy during COVID. Once we were allowed to start intermingling again, because people needed a light fixture changed or they wanted to, they did a renovation and they needed the electrician to come in. There's low supply of them around our area, but there is significant demand. And we really need to ensure that we are backfilling that, so that we do have a workforce that can meet the needs of the of the homeowners and the consumers. Similarly to that, I think there's a real opportunity here with my work in clean energy and technology development, to start developing through workforce development programs, clean energy trades jobs, we've already identified key avenues of where this green economy jobs will come from. And that is manufacturing, maintenance and technology skills. And if we're able to start building out pipelines for those jobs, those can absolutely be labor unionized jobs, that we can then look into the future 10-20 years as we're evolving into this green economy.
Fred Balfour, WRFI 21:35
You mentioned that you see supporting people in the trades as they certify apprentice and so on. If you start back a little farther than the high school level, because much of trade starts there-- And I assume you have thought of that.
Sarah Klee Hood 21:53
Yes. When I look back now, in my high school time there, I wish that somebody had taught me how to file taxes. I learned some very poignant algebra and statistics. But I gotta tell you, if somebody had the ability to teach some basic life skills--and made it mandatory, I should say, they are still around. But in terms of introducing folks to trades at high school, I think it's imperative. By the time that you're done with high school, people-- it's an assumption that you're just going to go into college. We don't talk about the trades that the way that we should. And I think part of that is normalizing in high school so that there's an awareness for it. I have a lot of cousins, and my brother is one of them that just loves to tinker with their hands. But College was the assumed path for our generation. My brother, obviously, he's an electrician. Now he went that-- he went a different route. But I think that we need to start normalizing it and bringing the trades and accessibility to what the trades are in the high schools. OCES and BOCES is a program and I believe there's a very similar program here in Tompkins County that offers these trades types, hands on programming for high schoolers. And unfortunately, they're capped at the amount of folks that they're able to bring into this program. But if we can expand the number of young children that we're exposing to the trades, and all of the different assets of them, and then how they can contribute to society and have a wonderful life.
Fred Balfour, WRFI 23:15
Let me ask you a question here. And we're getting short on time. But I wanted to get to it, exactly, on the trade side. Do you see a role for industry in terms of working with school districts: apprenticeships, tenureships, advising, counseling?
Sarah Klee Hood 23:30
Yes, I do. And I can say this, because I have first hand experience. I work in technology and innovation. And I'm working with the Syracuse City School districts to develop their entrepreneurship and technology curriculum. So we're seeing industry coming into the education sector now by way of curriculum training. And the entire reason I'm on the board is so that we can bring some subject matter expertise into these curriculums, and allow non traditional teaching alternatives, if you will, for the young high school students. So I absolutely think there's a role for partnerships.
Fred Balfour, WRFI 24:05
We're getting close to the end, and we want to give you a good two minutes for your closing statement. And so take it away.
Sarah Klee Hood 24:13
Again, my name is Sarah Klee Hood. I am a veteran, a mother. I work at the intersection of clean policy, clean energy policy and technology development, and I'm an elected town councilor. When we talk about this congressional race, we are in a very unique position, both in our moment of time and nationally, the way that the new lines have been written and drawn--this democratic primary will likely determine who the next representative is for our region for the next few cycles. And because of that, we have a unique opportunity to elect somebody that not only has the qualifications needed, but is living here in the district, has a stake in the district, because they're living here, they're paying taxes, their children are enrolled, and more or less shares the values with a lot of folks here in the community. I think when you look at the candidates that are available, I might be the homegrown, average american candidate. There is nothing too particularly outrageous about me, but it's the fact that I know how to work hard. I know where the issues are, because I'm living here and I know how to address them through federal policy. I would love your support. And please visit the website SarahCleeHoodNY.com.
Fred Balfour, WRFI 25:26
Excellent. Thank you so much, Sarah. You've been listening tonight to an interview with Sara Klee Hood, a candidate in the Democratic primary for the newly redistricted New York 22nd congressional district. The primaries on June 28. Sarah, thanks for joining us in the studio to discuss your positions in this campaign and we agree with you it's an important campaign. To our listeners, you can tune in for WRFIs entire series of candidate interviews leading up to the June 28 primary elections. We'll be airing interviews with candidates for both the 22nd congressional district and New York's 53rd State Senate District. Next up, next Tuesday on April 26, we'll hear from Chol Majok, a Syracuse City Council member and a director of community engagement and homeownership at the Syracuse nonprofit Home Headquarters. You can read the full interview schedule and listen to archived versions of these interviews on our website, WRFI.org.