Idaho Moms Serve Milk, Cookies And Health Care Critique

Jul 7, 2017

Thursday, people critical of the Senate proposal to replace Obamacare staged a sit-in at Republican offices across the country. While the Senate is on recess, the protesters hoped to get the attention of their elected officials. In Boise, a group of women took a similar action – but with a maternal touch. Reporter Frankie Barnhill was there and filed this report.

The parking lot outside Senator Mike Crapo’s office in downtown Boise is full of minivans, as moms and kids carrying signs cram into the lobby. Boise activist Melanie Folwell directs them.

“So guys we’re going to head up in just a minute," says Folwell. "If everyone, including kids, wants to take a quick minute and come up and sign this card we’re leaving behind with the senator to go with the milk and cookies."

Folwell organized the sit-in, comprised of mothers who are part of a group called Boise Moms for a Brighter Future. But unlike other progressive groups protesting the Senate bill, this gaggle of at least 30 mothers and dozens of kids held a “mom-in,” bringing milk and cookies to Crapo’s staff.

Amber Labelle is juggling homemade chocolate chip cookies and her two daughters. As they head upstairs to the senator’s office, Labelle’s three-and-a-half year old daughter asks her, “Where’s Senator Crapo?”

“I don’t know, I wonder if Senator Crapo’s going to be here," says Labelle. "I hope he’s here.”

Kids sign a "card" to Senator Crapo, asking him to meet with the group before he votes on the health care bill.
Credit Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

Crapo’s Communications Director Lindsay Nothern greets the group and leads them into a conference room. The chairs fill as kids spread their coloring books on the table and little ones snack on cheerios. One baby sits on the floor at her mom’s feet.  Her mother – Cynthia Weyerman – hands her a small American flag to keep her entertained. Weyerman then turns to speak directly to Nothern, first introducing her son who sits on her lap.

“He has asthma and allergies and it’s getting worse as we’re entering the fire season and the air quality is not great," Weyerman says. "If we were to lose our Medicaid coverage, I would have to choose going back to work which with six children – you could just imagine how restrictive that would be.”

Nothern takes notes as the women go around the room expressing their concerns over the Senate health care bill. One mom holds up a picture of her son – who’s in therapy today – and begins to cry thinking of what it would be like to lose coverage.

According to the Urban Institute, as many as 30,000 Idaho children would lose insurance under the bill.

Amber Labelle shares her concerns about the proposed Senate replacement for Obamacare with Sen. Mike Crapo's staff. Labelle brought her one-and-a-half-year-old (pictured here) and her three-year-old daughters to the senator's Boise office.
Credit Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

The discussion is calm – although it’s clear that Crapo’s staff and the women are not going to agree over some policy points.  

Nothern says the Senator is in Idaho but not in his office and he’s very interested in hearing from his constituents on the health care bill. The spokesman says he will make sure Crapo gets their message. But that’s not what these moms want to hear.

“But if he’s in a room full of parents, full of his constituents, and he can really feel that message – I think that’s so much more impactful," says one mom. "And that would show us that he is a good representative of our state.”

After about an hour, Nothern says it’s time for the sit-in to wrap up but assures them he’s going to relay their concerns to Crapo. As Amber Labelle packs up her two kids, she says she’s exasperated that he was not in attendance – and wishes Crapo would hold a town hall before deciding how he’ll vote on the bill.

“The idea that it is so difficult to get the attention of your elected official in our American democracy is just really frustrating," Labelle says.

Nothern says as someone who has twice battled cancer, Crapo is particularly sensitive to the health care debate in Idaho. The senator voted against the Affordable Care Act, and has since voted to repeal it. Nothern says Crapo was leaning toward supporting the Republican bill before the July Fourth recess, calling it a “promising step.”

“We don’t know all the changes this bill could bring. We want certainty. And that’s the debate and that’s the input he’s getting right now.”

Senator Crapo will be back in DC next week, where the healthcare bill may come up for a vote.

A baby waves an American flag at her mom's feet at Senator Crapo's office.
Credit Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

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