Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) made two key stops in South Kingstown during his South County Community Day tour designed to discuss budget priorities with local citizens and groups facing the possibility of program-based funding cuts.
Students, staff and board members at the in Wakefield greeted the Congressman in an informal round-table discussion of budget limitations and future funding potential.
The Education Exchange is an adult learning facility dedicated to providing workforce training, adult literacy, (ESL) English as a Second Language, and (GED) high school equivalency programs to adults, often under-privileged and at-risk, seeking skills necessary to enter and succeed in the workforce.
Executive Director Peggy Benz spoke to the lack of funding coming into South County. “We don’t have the same opportunities as other areas of the State," she said. "There is a disconnect with the training programs.” Benz expressed her frustration with the lack of current funding opportunities available to the adult set serviced by her agency. “There are funds available to agencies seeking assistance for the youth groups, 16-24, but we service older adults.”
Langevin agreed that there needs to be more collaboration in sustaining programs and growing a skilled workforce. Recent cuts and lack of investment in the nation’s schools and higher education were at the forefront of discussion. “Government agencies sometimes work in silos," Langevin said. "They need to work together. In this case, labor needs to work with education to create jobs.”
Participating in round-table discussions with students in several classrooms, Langevin listened intently as teachers and students interacted, sharing personal stories of life struggles and accomplishments and affirming the need for the programs offered by adult education agencies.
Many students do not have a high school diploma and were working towards a GED or completing skilled training, such as Hyacinth Bernard who has been working with the Education Exchange for more than two years. From Jamaica, Bernard came to the agency with little direction, entering the Homemaker program and hoping to continue to obtain her GED in the future.
Speaking to Patch, Congressman Langevin acknowledged that there are limitations and frustrations associated with a decreased funding environment.
“Budget cuts are inevitable," Langevin said. "I believe that the cuts need to take place at the right time and in the appropriate arena. I have always fought for programs that support education. An investment in education is one that will pay dividends in the future.”
Langevin also stopped at the , where Medicare and Social Security were of significant concern. Speaking to the lunchtime crowd, the congressman assured them of his opposition to the house Republican plan to end Medicare through the vouchering system. Langevin suggested a more balanced approach to budgeting, extending cuts across all arenas, maintaining the Medicare and Social Security systems.
The congressman was greeted with many questions from visiting seniors, some who had come with the purpose of seeking answers. Concerns were raised as to how to sustain Social Security and Medicare with decreased contributions due to high levels of sustained unemployment.
Margaret Hanson, a Wakefield resident for 35 years, questioned the governor’s tax rate plan and its consequences for small business and job growth. Langevin explained that the tax plan was not a plan in which he was supportive, although he agreed that there is a very real need to attract new business to the state.
“We want a competitive tax rate, one that will provide incentive to businesses to come here. However, we need to 'incentivise' the system, so that there is equality. The EDC is working aggressively to attract companies to Rhode Island and to work with companies here to increase job growth.”
“We can’t rely on cuts that cost jobs and increase expenses for the very people who can least afford it.”