By Erin Smith
U.S. Congressman Robert Pittenger conducted a Town Hall meeting at the Cape Fear Farmers Market in Elizabethtown on Thursday afternoon. The event featured an update on the activities of the United States Congress followed by a question and answer session.
Congressman Pittenger said members of Congress are working on tax reform. He said the current federal tax rate for businesses is 35 percent and that is not competitive. “We want America to be attractive for corporate investment,” said Congressman Pittenger.
Over the past several years, the United States’ economic growth has been the lowest since World War II. Congressman Pittenger said such weak economic growth hurts low income and minority families the most.
It is not just businesses and families who are hurting. Congressman Pittenger explained the passage of the Dodd-Frank Bill in 2009 hurt financial institutions, as well. Since then, in North Carolina more than 50 percent of the small banks have either closed or merged with larger institutions because of the regulatory burden placed on them by the Dodd-Frank Bill. He said Congress is working to try and relieve the burden on small financial institutions.
The Affordable Care Act was another area where Congressman Pittenger said work is being done to create a more competitive environment and to offer clients more options when choosing a health care policy. Since the adoption of the Affordable Care Act, premiums for health care plans have increased more than 200 percent. “This can’t continue on this spiral,” said Congressman Pittenger.
During a question and answer session, Congressman Pittenger was asked to elaborate on the health care situation and what is being done to change the system. He responded there was a health care bill passed in the U.S. House but it failed to pass the U. S. Senate.
Doyle Owen told Congressman Pittenger he lost his son, Brandon, on February 11, 2017, to an overdose. “I’ve had to wait four or five days to get him somewhere. What can we do to get them (addicts wanting help) somewhere without them having to wait?” said Owen.
Congressman Pittenger related his own story of a neighbor who recently lost a daughter to an overdose. He explained Congress has recently appropriated funding for individuals to receive treatment and to assist law enforcement. Congress has passed bills that have provided $70 million in funding for opioid-related care in addition to $485 million in funding appropriated in April.
Owen replied, “When an addict needs help, they need help then. You’ve got to have somewhere for them to go right then.”
Pastor James Brigman of Rockingham related his story of walking from North Carolina to Washington, D.C. to protest Medicaid cuts. His daughter, Lauren Faith, is disabled and cannot talk or walk. He said as he was walking he saw a lot of hatred in the country.
“We can make everybody’s job better if we were to sit down and talk to each other,” said Pastor Brigman.
There were also questions regarding cuts to funding for the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Congressman Pittenger said there are no planned reductions to funding for FEMA. Linda Ferster, a staff member for Congressman Pittenger, said Hurricane Harvey has placed a strain on immediate critical needs with FEMA.
“There has been word put out (FEMA) funds have been frozen. That is not the case,” said Ferster.
She added FEMA officials are still working in North Carolina on housing needs, food needs and other Hurricane Matthew-related issues. Forster did say public infrastructure projects will still be funded by FEMA but construction will be delayed.
“Right now they are taking funds for critical needs in Texas,” said Ferster. She added as more funding is made available, those projects will be resumed.
Congressman Pittenger added a supplemental funding bill will be passed to supplement the needs of FEMA.