Phil Hare Speaks on Poverty at Carl Sandburg College
By Karen S. Lynch
Rep. Phil Hare (D-Ill) spoke at Carl Sandburg College on March 10 on the topic of lifting working families out of poverty in Galesburg and surrounding communities. Knox County is on the poverty warning list for the second year in a row. Hare spoke following comments from Tom Schmidt, President of Carl Sandburg College who spoke about the importance of education and job training skills in overcoming poverty, especially for those who lost manufacturing jobs at Maytag and Butler. Schmidt was enthusiastic about Galesburg’s future stating education is key to improving opportunities for new jobs in the community and for its citizens to acquire the job skills necessary. Schmidt also talked about the difficulty a few adults had admitting they had trouble reading, after successfully earning good wages for many years, while working at manufacturing plants. Schmidt said it took a great deal of courage for them to ask for the help they knew they needed.
Hare was welcomed with warm applause by the audience while saying he wanted to keep his talk informal and hear from the people. “I met with the Register-Mail recently and they talked about a series of stories they ran about poverty, here in Galesburg in particular and problems we face. I just wanted to hear from you and maybe get some ideas and pass along some of the things we’ve been trying to do.” Hare continued, “This community is very special to me, not just because I was born here — not just because you have one of the best community colleges in the seventeenth district but seriously, this community has really, really been hit and I don’t have to tell you that.” Hare said he had met with Congressman LaHood. “Yesterday we talked on the floor and I said my mission here — and I don’t like to single out individual communities — because I represent the complete district. But, I want to do everything I can to help bring this community back. Whether it’s the overpasses, whether it’s working with the community colleges getting the money for programs that they want for some training.”
Hare added, “I want to be proactive here because it seems to me that is what the job is really all about — helping ordinary people out. It doesn’t matter whether you are a democrat or a republican or it doesn’t matter from what spectrum you come from. When people don’t have health care, or they don’t have a job, when they leave the community and the younger people aren’t staying. I mean that’s a drain and you’ve been hit hard, and I don’t have to tell you that, with Maytag and all the different losses of jobs.”
Discussing what has been done at the federal level, Hare thought they had made, “a good first step, we have reduced the student loan interest rate tax and we need to do more of that.” With the emphasis on education, “To me education is an investment. We can invest now or we can pay later.” Rep. Hare also met with the manufacturing association in Washington recently, “They were saying we need to have people who are trained to be able to work in our factories and our businesses.”
Hare understands education is a key issue. “Community colleges are a wonderful place for those types of programs and other programs. I know Richmond Community College in Decatur is working with ADM to try to do some training for bio-diesel and ethanol for people to go to work and I know that is going to be a huge impact in that area.”
Focusing back on Galesburg, “I want to be very proactive here. We have a limited amount of money. But again, I want to bring as much as I can back, as much as I can, and this community deserves — if you will, from my perspective, more than its fair share because you paid a very heavy price and I think I have a responsibility to do what I can.” Hare said that he wants to open the discussion to everyone for ideas or thoughts of what we can do collectively. “We have to address the issue of poverty in this community. That has to be addressed!” The Register-Mail asked Hare for his assistance, if he would be willing to bring people together on the issue. Hare responded, “I’d be honored to do that and just because I’m not here, I have two great staff people, Andy Rowe is here and Pat O’Brien and you should know we have two people at the Galesburg office that are wonderful. So we have the staff here to help and that’s what I want them to do and I told them I want to get a dialog going and maybe a task force, mayor, for lack of a better term.”
Hare discussed other areas where he has tried to help. “You know we’ve raised the minimum wage. I think that is going to help some.” Hare also talked about alternative fuels like bio-diesel and ethanol for plants in the area that may be on the drawing board. He wants to assist in that area as well, as an area for great opportunity.
Hare also discussed No Child Left Behind. “I know Bonnie (Harris) has probably talked our ears off about the problems we have with that program. In terms of what that does to the district’s schools, that are already hit by the loss of property taxes. And then the government comes in and under-funds the program and the school districts pull money out of programs to fund the testing — and then geography and P.E. and arts and those types of programs that kids desperately need seem to go… and we are going to be looking at Head Start and Even Start and we need to fully fund those programs.”
“I’ve received a request from the City of Galesburg and from the county in particular on economic development areas that they want, and I can tell you we are going to ride heard on them. I got an appointment with Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN) of transportation. Ray LaHood and I are going to sit down, and we are going to sit down with him and see if we can come up with a plan to see if we can’t get these things funded, particularly the railroad overpasses that I know are huge to this community. But we’ve got to do more it seems to me. Too be honest, I’m a little bit stuck what else we can do federally. I don’t think we can just throw money at it.”
Going back to community colleges, “There are great programs that community colleges have. City economic development people have. That ordinary people have — ideas on what we can do to promote economic development, and therefore jobs.” Hare also discussed the need for the infrastructure of roads and water to promote development, but also acknowledge we have a huge budget deficit. “We aren’t going to cure the problem of poverty in the City of Galesburg overnight, but we have a moral obligation to deal with it, to look at it, to address it and to come up with ways of being able to see what we can do to help with the process.”
Pointing out the need for community input, Hare added he wanted to work with the mayor, the county board, state senators, and local economic developers. “I’m not the type of person, by the way, that wants to tell Galesburg what I think is best for Galesburg. I think the people who live and work here, or don’t work here in particular — we have to have an idea and then let me be able to see what we can do on our end to get some funding but also to get some attention drawn to it.”
Mayor Gary Smith finished the discussion on local economic development efforts and the importance of BNSF railroad, (with the second largest classification yard) and the potential for development with that asset, thanking Rep. Hare for his support in the grade separation funding for BNSF railroad improvements. Smith also emphasized the importance of education and obtaining the skills necessary for local jobs that already exist. “Those $20 per hour jobs are there if you have the $20 per hour skills sets. They are starving for nurses, for medical technicians, and for computer techs.”
Jan Occhi (D-District 3) spoke about GREDA and the decline of tax revenues that directly affect education and social-economic needs. “The government is having to be very creative in how they can provide the same quality of life. More people need more social services than ever before. We have people who have never had to ask for food stamps.” Occhi also commented about her involvement with the Boys and Girls club that is feeding kids after school and parents are asking if they can eat with their kids.
Bonnie Harris, Regional Superintendent of Schools for Knox County, discussed the problems of truancy, “The parents drop off their kids at the front door and they walk out the back door.” Funding is a problem with area schools because of a drop in tax revenue, directly related to the sale of Maytag and Sandburg Mall at reduced cost that lowered the tax base and tax revenues. Harris also emphasized education and illiteracy as a major problem with some parents trying to assist their children, when they have problems themselves.
Congressman Hare sat with the audience well past the allotted time, informally taking questions and discussing various ideas and concerns the citizens have. A local veteran voiced concerns about the current scandal of veterans’ medical care at Walter Reed Hospital. Hare is on the Veteran’s Affairs Sub-Committee and said the issue of veteran care makes him very angry. “Most of the people injured in the war are loosing limbs while the government cut funding in the budget by $2 million for prosthetics. Other problems exist with a shortage of traumatic brain injury specialists nation-wide to treat veterans. According to Hare, the V.A. estimated we need eleven centers to treat wounded soldiers and veterans with injuries and traumatic stress but only have four facilities.
With an impassioned comment Hare concluded, “I don’t want to hear anymore whether we can afford to help the veterans. We cannot afford not to provide the necessary funds available to take care of them. We put them in harms way and we make the promise to take care of them when they come back. If we don’t have the money than we better go find it!”