Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were the main issues on the minds of local residents as Congressman G.K. Butterfield visited the Warren County Senior Center in Warrenton on Monday afternoon.
Also attending the meeting were former Congresswoman Eva Clayton, Butterfield’s predecessor in representing North Carolina’s First Congressional District, and a number of county officials,
Butterfield said that his appearance in Warren County was among a number of visits to the counties he represents during the August congressional recess.
“It is difficult to represent the people without getting to know them and learn their needs,” he said.
Butterfield said that his speaking engagements in the First Congressional District often take him to elementary schools, where students ask if he has met the president, and to middle and high schools, where students ask him what members of Congress do. Among the main responsibilities, he tells them, is preparing a federal budget.
Butterfield devoted much of his time in Warren County on Monday to a discussion about the budget.
He said that Social Security remains a top concern among lawmakers. Right now, retirees are able to receive their full benefits. However, Butterfield cautioned, as Baby Boomers (commonly defined as those born between 1944 and 1964) retire, there will be more money distributed in benefits than there will be coming into the system from working people.
Ultimately, the Social Security Trust Fund could run out in the 2030s if nothing is done, the congressman warned, meaning potential cuts in benefits for future generations. He said that a number of options for addressing the issue have been discussed, including raising the qualifying age for benefits, raising premiums and raising the benefits cap.
Butterfield said that he favors a different solution.
“The best way to deal with it is to get more people working and making more money,” he said.
Butterfield noted that the Medicare program is in good shape, but remains a top concern due to the rising cost of healthcare.
In a related matter, the congressman said that Medicaid expansion will be an ongoing concern for legislators at the state and federal levels as the debate over whether states or the federal government should be responsible for funding continues.
Butterfield responded to a question about funding for education in rural school districts by addressing funds allocated to other needs of rural districts, from senior centers to programs designed to assist citizens of all ages.
He said that viewpoints include that of education being a state or local government issue, and that the federal government should not be involved in funding education, senior centers and other programs which could be better handled by state or local governments. However, Butterfield added that economically challenged counties, including Warren, may not have the resources to fully fund issues and may need assistance from the federal government.
“It’s a tough issue,” he said.
Clayton expressed a need to redefine rural education to ensure that students in such areas have the same opportunities as those in larger, more affluent school districts.
Butterfield replied that education at the public school and community college levels is essential to building the work force needed to attract industry. He added that lack of a sufficient work force has prevented industries from settling in some communities.
“We have to convince college graduates to stay in their communities,” Butterfield said. “We must have good jobs.”
The congressman said that immigration and infrastructure will remain among the top issues facing the federal government, and he encouraged the public to vote.
“We are at a defining moment in the nation’s history,” Butterfield said.