Nabilah Islam, a progressive Democrat running for Congress in Georgia's 7th district, is one of more than 100,000 people in her community who lack health insurance—and she is preparing to ask the Federal Election Commission to to allow more working-class candidates like her to run for office by sanctioning the use of campaign funds to pay for personal health insurance.
The daughter of working-class immigrants from Bangladesh, Islam is a political organizer running in the 7th district's Democratic primary on a platform pushing for Medicare for All, reproductive justice, a Green New Deal, and other bold initiatives.
"If there are more Nabilahs in Congress, I assure you, things like Medicare-for-all, things like a living wage, $15 an hour, would just be a no-brainer."
—Nabilah IslamHer bid to represent her community on Capitol Hill, however, has forced her to place her $30,000 in student loans in forbearance and forgo the health insurance policy she had to avoid the $120 monthly premium.
"Because of the financial impediments, many working people choose not to run for office, and women and people of color are at an even greater disadvantage due to wage and wealth gaps," Islam wrote in her FEC filing (pdf), which she plans to submit next Monday. "The ability to use campaign funds to pay for health insurance would be a small step towards lowering the barriers for working class people who are considering running for office."
Making it possible for more of the 27.5 million Americans who still lack health insurance even under the Affordable Care Act to run for office, Islam argues, would give the 90% who hold less wealth than the richest 1% far more representation on Capitol Hill.
Islam spoke about her petition in a video she posted to social media Wednesday.
The FEC assumes "that full-time candidates can afford to spend thousands of dollars on health insurance, taking on a huge new expense while we're also losing our income from work," Islam said.
I’m a 30-year-old Muslim woman, raised by working-class Bangladeshi immigrants. I can’t afford healthcare on the campaign trail — so I’m asking @FEC to let me spend campaign funds on health insurance.https://t.co/kRCfFKLacE pic.twitter.com/v7T0kiFST4
— Nabilah Islam for Congress (@NabilahforGA07) January 22, 2020
Such expectations have led to 40% of congressional seats being held by millionaires, Islam said in her letter to the commission.
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"I really believe that we need more people like me, more people with my working-class background who grew up with parents that worked low-wage jobs," Islam told the Washington Post on Wednesday. "If there are more Nabilahs in Congress, I assure you, things like Medicare-for-all, things like a living wage, $15 an hour, would just be a no-brainer."
Islam has won endorsements from Occupy Democrats and Matriarch, a PAC formed last year which aims to send working-class women to Congress.
Her petition comes two years after Liuba Grechen Shirley, a New York Democrat, successfully petitioned the FEC to allow her to use campaign funds to pay for childcare, which she argued would help bring the perspective of working parents to Congress.
"Liuba and Nabilah are both working to dismantle the conditions that keep Congress overwhelmingly white, wealthy, and male," Islam's adviser, Monica Klein, told the Post.
Islam won applause from progressive lawmakers and other supporters on social media.
Running for office is cost-prohibitive for poor and working class people. This could help open the field to candidates who live like the majority of Americans. https://t.co/AaUvsvqWnn
— Torraine Walker (@TorraineWalker) January 22, 2020
"When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ran and transformed what it looks like to represent people over corporations, she did so without health insurance, risking a life of great debt," tweeted progressive activist Rafael Shimunov. "How many other great leaders are on the bench today because they cannot take that risk to themselves and their families?"