In the midst of debates about the federal budget and addressing our debt, Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) discussed his priorities of supporting effective education programs and protecting Americans' retirement security following a proposal by House Republican leaders to focus many funding cuts on student aid and raise seniors' health costs by ending Medicare. Langevin's stops at an organization for adult literacy and job training, a senior center and a small business were part of a "Community Day" in South County. He began by highlighting important education efforts in Peace Dale at the Education Exchange, which serves as the only official GED testing site in the region and prepares workers to succeed through college preparatory courses, computer skills training and career readiness programs.
"The State Department of Labor and Training has reported that adults with a high school diploma or less accounted for almost 60 percent of Rhode Islanders collecting Unemployment Insurance Benefits in January," said Langevin, who spoke with Executive Director Peggy Benz, members of the board and three classes of students. "As we deal with the many issues involved in putting together the government's budget, we cannot forget that our economy will not recover unless we create jobs. Facilities like the Education Exchange play a critical role in putting people to work.
"I have always believed the private sector is much more effective at creating jobs than government, but businesses need a qualified workforce to choose from and that's why we need centers like these in Peace Dale, Westerly and North Kingstown to help close the skills gap."
Since it was founded in 1978 as the Washington County Adult Learning Center, the Education Exchange has helped 17,500 adults increase their literacy, earn a high school equivalency, or improve their workplace skills. Recently, its services were expanded to North Kingstown. However, potential funding cuts could reduce the number of classes offered, which would limit access and extend the time it takes for students to complete the courses they need, and could even result in decreasing enrollment despite increasing demand. Langevin noted that the Republican budget clearly demonstrated its disregard for investments in education by cutting college aid for nearly ten million students, elementary and secondary education funding by 25 percent and extra reading and math help for one million low-income children.
The Congressman next visited the South Kingstown Senior Center, where he addressed concerns about seniors programs and the House Republican budget's plan to end Medicare by creating a voucher system that requires seniors to cover the extra cost of insurance in the private market. A typical senior would pay an extra $6,400 for health care in the first year, more than doubling what he or she would pay if the plan were not adopted. Langevin stated his strong opposition to this arrangement and pointed out that the new health care law has demonstrated ways to save more than $500 billion in Medicare while maintaining the program's promise to seniors.
An equitable and balanced approach to our debt and deficit would preserve our commitment to seniors through Medicare and Social Security by considering all parts of the budget and asking for shared sacrifice from everyone. Langevin has advocated ending tax subsidies to oil companies as well as the breaks provided to the wealthiest two percent under the Bush tax cuts.
"We will only be able to develop a realistic plan to tackle our fiscal challenges if we work together to find genuine savings, which must include examining entitlement programs, but also excessive defense spending as well as unfair and outdated sections of the tax code," said Langevin. "We can't rely on cuts that cost jobs and increase expenses for the very people who can least afford them.
"Meanwhile, the same people proposing that we address our deficit by ending Medicare for seniors and making it harder for students to afford college would actually raise the national debt by $6 trillion over the next decade by further lowering taxes for the wealthiest individuals and corporations. We need a more responsible way forward."
Today's visits were part of another of Langevin's "Community Days," during which he visits students, seniors and businesses in a particular area of his District. He concluded with a tour of the nearly-completed Charlestown Package Store with Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI). The Congressmen met with representatives from Oyster Works, a Charlestown-based architecture, design and project management firm, which is building the store with its "Sensibly Green" approach that encourages the incorporation of environmentally friendly features that make sense for a business' bottom line. The building is a model for eco-friendly, energy-efficient commercial design and development.