Earlier this week, at President Obama's Atkinson, IL Town Hall Meeting, Pam Dennis of the Henry County Community Action Agency cited Experience Works as an example of a program that helps people keep their heads above water. The program Ms. Dennis was referring to is the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), operated by Experience Works. This year, Congress cut funding for the program 45 percent, despite its long record of success working with older workers, employers and thousands of community partners. Even the General Accounting Office reported that it is one of the few non duplicative Department of Labor workforce programs, and more importantly, one of the few that dedicates the majority of it funding to the unemployed poor. At this time, more older individuals than ever are desperate for income and are tirelessly searching for work to make ends meet, but need help retooling their skills. Due to the reduction in funding, the Senior Community Service Employment Program is able to help fewer employers and thousands of job seekers are on waiting lists. As President Obama prepares to speak to the nation about jobs, both the Administration and Congress need to rethink the drastic reduction in funding and reinvest in the Senior Community Service Employment Program - a jobs program that works.
Carole Lemon, Employment and Training Coordinator, North Iowa
Transcript of what was said at the town meeting:
Q: Hi, my name is Pam Dennis (ph). I actually work for the Community Action Agency that serves Henry County.?I?also serve on the Henry County FEMA board. And I understand that drastic cuts need to be made in order to balance our budget. But with the last couple years being so difficult for jobs, why are budget cuts to programs that are helping these people keep their heads above water??I'm referring to the LIHEAP?program, Community Service and Experience Works -- those type of programs that are helping people keep their heads above water. Why couldn't we cut somewhere else and leave those alone for now, or at least fewer -- lessen cuts?
THE?PRESIDENT:?Yes, well, first of all, I think it's important to understand if we take a balanced approach we don't need drastic cuts. The Low Income Housing Assistance Program, just to take one example, what we've done is we've said -- we have modestly reduced it, but partly because we had increased it significantly right when the recession hit, and it turned out that we didn't need as much budgeted as was actually used. And obviously it varies depending on the weather any given winter. But what we've tried to do is actually keep the bulk of that program in place, and folks will get help in the wint r if they can't afford to buy home heating oil. That's not going away.
The general principle you're talking about is right, though. We should not cut those things that help the folks who are most vulnerable if we can find other places to cut for folks that would be nice to have but we don't need. (Applause.) I agree with that general principle.
When Congress gets back in September, my basic argument to them is this:?We should not have to choose between getting our fiscal house in order and jobs and growth. We can't afford to do just one or the other. We got to do both. And by the way, the best thing we can do for our deficit and debt is grow the economy -- (applause) -- because when the economy is growing, more money in people's pockets, they pay more in taxes, and there's more revenue and fewer people are on unemployment. And that helps to reduce the strains on our budget.
So we've got to do both. And essentially, the best way for us to do this is to look at some of our long-term obligations and costs, figure out long-term savings that are gradually phased in so they don't hit too hard right now. In the short term, there should be some things that we do that are paid for by some of these long-term savings in order to get the economy rolling and get the economy moving.
And some of the programs you mentioned I think are ones that, in a wealthy and decent society like ours, we should be able to help people make sure that they're not freezing during the winter. I mean, that's just I think a basic obligation we have to our fellow Americans. (Applause.)