Val Arkoosh is vying for Pa.’s open U.S. Senate seat. And she’s prioritizing women in the workforce

‘We know that women do provide most of the childcare and eldercare in most of our families, and a lot of this is aimed at women. But each of these policies would help every working family,’ she told the Capital-Star

By: - October 12, 2021 2:15 pm

Val Arkoosh, a Montgomery County commissioner, is running to fill Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate seat in 2022. (Photo provided)

One of the few women running in the crowded race to fill Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate seat in 2022 has a lofty plan to help women return to work after many left their jobs to assume childcare duties amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Informed by conversations with health care workers, childcare providers, and female entrepreneurs, Val Arkoosh — a Democratic county commissioner from Montgomery County — outlined a proposal targeting women and female-owned businesses. It includes raising the minimum wage, addressing workforce inequities, and investing in healthcare and childcare.

Although the policy list targets women and female-owned businesses, children are at its core, she said.

“[Parents] want to know that their children are safe and well cared for while they’re at work earning the living that their family needs to grow and thrive,” Arkoosh, 61, told the Capital-Star on Tuesday. “And if we don’t ensure that our childcare and early learning centers have the resources they need to provide those services, then it’s incredibly difficult for moms and parents to get back to work.”

A September 2020 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that women experienced the worst effects from the COVID-19 recession, which hit working men the hardest but prompted women to stay home with their children whose schools were closed, or who had limited access to childcare.

According to the Pew Research Center, a net 2.4 million women and 1.8 million men left the workforce in the first year of the pandemic.

“We know that women do provide most of the childcare and eldercare in most of our families, and a lot of this is aimed at women,” she said. “But each of these policies would help every working family.”

Arkoosh’s proposal includes a $15 minimum wage, permanently expanded child and earned income tax credits, paid family and medical leave, and access to no-cost contraception and abortion. 

The plan also includes investments in childcare to make early education affordable, accessible, and inclusive through increased Individuals with Disabilities Education Act funding to support workers with nontraditional work hours or second-shift employees, typically from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., and higher pay for caregivers.

With nurses and healthcare workers leaving the workforce because of burnout, Arkoosh proposes funding home-based options to expand long-term care services under Medicaid, increasing wages, and passing safe staffing measures — having enough staff to cover shifts.

The United States tax system, which Arkoosh called “really unfair,” could serve as a starting point to fund some initiatives outlined in her proposal. She added: “We need to ensure that corporations and the wealthiest individuals are paying their fair share.”

Before being elected to her first full term on the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners in 2016, Arkoosh earned a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins while practicing medicine part-time and taking care of three kids. She also advocated for the Affordable Care Act with the National Physicians Alliance.

After a failed congressional campaign in 2014, Arkoosh was appointed to the board of commissioners the same year, filling the seat left vacant by now-Attorney General Josh Shapiro. 

She won reelection in 2016 and, currently serving as the board’s chairperson, she has continued to push policies that support parents and childcare workers, including an increased minimum wage for county employees and gender-neutral, paid parental leave. Montgomery County is Pennsylvania’s third-largest and second-wealthiest in the state.

If elected to fill the seat left vacant by Lehigh Valley Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, who’s retiring, Arkoosh would not only be the first woman to represent Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate but the first female physician from either party. 

She’s earned endorsements from 314 Action, a political action committee that supports scientists in public office, and EMILY’s List, which aims to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights. Arkoosh’s campaign also has raised more than $1 million to date, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

Her experience as a doctor whose patients needed more help than she could provide in an exam room pushed her into politics, and it’s a driving force behind her campaign.

“As a doctor, it was my job to work with them to solve their problems and help come up with realistic solutions, but I started to hear from so many people that at the heart of some of the health challenges that they were facing were denials from insurance companies, or maybe no insurance at all,” she said — adding poor air quality, lack of transportation, limited access to healthy food to the list.

Other declared Democratic candidates include U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, D-17th District, state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, surgeon Kevin Baumlin, and former Norristown councilman John McGuigan. State Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, also set up an exploratory committee for a potential U.S. Senate run.

Republicans vying for the party nomination are Jeff Bartos, who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2018; Kathy Barnette, an ally of former President Donald Trump with ties to QAnon; Sean Parnell, who Trump endorsed; and Carla Sands, a former Trump ambassador to Denmark. Montgomery County Commissioner Sean Gale is also running on a pro-Trump platform.

Some candidates, specifically on the Democratic ticket, have expressed similar goals as Arkoosh — raising the minimum wage, economic growth, and pandemic recovery. 

But Arkoosh said her perspective as a mom, physician, public health advocate, and county official has shown her that policies need to look “at the whole child and the whole of the working family.”

“We need this to be right,” she said. “Not only is that the right thing to do for our families, but it is the right thing to do for our economy.”

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Marley Parish
Marley Parish

A Pennsylvania native, Marley Parish covers the Senate for the Capital-Star. She previously reported on government, education and community issues for the Centre Daily Times and has a background in writing, editing and design. A graduate of Allegheny College, Marley served as editor of the campus newspaper, where she also covered everything from student government to college sports.

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