Members of the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition (APIC) have taken the stance that the government needs to not only to raise the minimum wage to $12 but also close loopholes that allow companies to shirk their responsibilities for providing health coverage within the Affordable Care Act. At a community briefing on January 21, APIC discussed how they would incorporate these priorities into its legislative agenda. About 40 people attended the meeting.

Diane Narasaki, the executive director of Asian Counseling and Referral Service, and eight other speakers talked about the APIC agenda, which included API related interests pertaining to minimum wage, education, paid sick leave, and healthcare.

Because of loopholes in the Affordable Care Act, some large companies’ employers are cutting employee hours under the threshold for the health insurance requirement so as to make these low-wage employees get Medicaid or seek taxpayer subsidized coverage through the state health exchange, according to APIC.

Tony Lee, an APIC member and the director of Solid Ground Advocacy, also outlined issues related to the K-12 opportunity and achievement gap (the significant difference in educational performance between groups of students).

According to the group’s agenda package, low-income students, students of color, and English language learners are dropping out of school at unacceptable rates and achieving at a lower level than Caucasian students.

Washington has the 12th-worst opportunity gap in the United States. It’s also one of the few states where that gap is still widening, according to APIC.

“This is a very large subject, obviously,” said Lee. “A lot of our Southeast Asian kids are not doing well. So I think the first message to legislators is that we have issues in our community that need to be addressed.”

Tony Lee talks about the “K-12 Opportunity/Achievement Gap” agenda. Photo by Vowel Chu.
Tony Lee talks about the “K-12 Opportunity/Achievement Gap” agenda. Photo by Vowel Chu

The agenda suggests that the state needs to improve the existing Transitional Bilingual Instruction Program for refugee and immigrant children who don’t speak English. The agenda also directs the state to require schools that have opportunity gaps to provide quality expanded learning opportunities, according to the package.

Tatsuko Go Hollo, policy associate of the Economic Opportunity Institute, talked about the “Shared Prosperity” agenda that would address problems such as wage theft, unpaid sick days, and loopholes in the Affordable Care Act.

Some employers are denying wages that workers deserve and paying less than what has been agreed, according to APIC.

The group wants the state government to pass legislation that would solve the wage theft problem by permitting courts to triple damages for wage theft, implementing electronic certified payroll, and protecting workers from retaliation.

APIC also wants the government to pass paid sick days legislation, which Seattle has already passed, in order to create a statewide standard.

From the top left: Tony Lee, Dori Peralta Baker, Lua Pritchard, Rich Stolz, Diane Narasake and Ron Chew. Photo by Vowel Chu
From the top left: Tony Lee, Dori Peralta Baker, Lua Pritchard, Rich Stolz, Diane Narasake and Ron Chew. Photo by Vowel Chu

Lastly, it recommends increasing the minimum wage from $9.32 per hour to $12 per hour within the next two years.

Ron Chew, director of the ICHS Foundation, also touched on an agenda to fund the International Community Health Service. The service is the largest non-profit Asian and Pacific Islander health care organization in Washington state, and it’s scheduled to open a clinic in Shoreline in August this year. The clinic will be the first non-profit community clinic in Shoreline.

“Construction is moving forward very, very quickly,” Chew said. “The fundraising has been going slow. We were hoping and will continue to pursue a $5 million request from the state to help with the construction cost.”

APIC will bring the issues highlighted in its legislative agenda to the forefront on Asian Pacific American Legislative Day.

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