First round of town hall meetings concluded
By By Jo Bonner
Last week, I took the opportunity during the scheduled congressional district work period to hold my first round of town meetings here in south Alabama.
As a freshman member of the House of Representatives, it was certainly quite a change being the person in front of the crowd reporting on events in our nation's capital and discussing issues of concern to my constituents and their families and friends.
After all, I had spent nearly 18 years traveling this same route, but as an aide to my former boss, Sonny Callahan. During that time, I became very familiar with the people of and issues facing the First Congressional District.
I also had the opportunity to meet and become friends with many people who came out to support Sonny during his swings through the district. During my three-day journey through the six counties in south Alabama, I was honored to see so many of these same friends come out to support me.
What was on your mind?
I was certainly pleased that there was such a tremendous turnout at each of the meetings, and I want to thank everyone who took time out of their busy schedules to attend the fifteen gatherings.
Moreover, I was very appreciative that so many of you took the opportunity to ask some tough questions about events currently unfolding here in Alabama and in Washington, D.C.
Without exception, all of the issues and concerns raised are indeed important not only to south Alabama but to the state as a whole. Additionally, many of them have been identified by Congress as areas that need to be addressed in the very near future.
For many of you, a primary concern is the extremely high cost of prescription drugs and the lack of affordable health care. Others of you have a vested interest in the declining shrimp and oyster industry in Mobile and Baldwin Counties and are looking for assistance and a solution to this growing problem.
Nearly all of you are concerned about the growing tensions in the Middle East. I heard many of you express anger at the impact the Iraqi situation, Canadian tariffs and the political unrest in Venezuela have had on rising prices at the gas pump.
Finally, I heard from countless business and community leaders and local elected officials on the tremendous need for economic development and infrastructure improvement, particularly in the more rural counties in the district. New industry means new jobs and an end to the high unemployment rates in south Alabama.
As your representative in Washington for the next two years, I want to assure you that I have heard all of your concerns and will do everything in my power to work with you and your leaders in county and state government to improve the quality of life for everyone in south Alabama.
A source of housing
Perhaps the most rewarding part of my job as a member of Congress is being in a position to help individuals and families who are facing difficult circumstances and have been unable to find a solution.
Whether it be assisting a deserving veteran with his or her claim for benefits with the Department of Veterans Affairs or giving a word of support on behalf of an applicant for Social Security benefits, I can think of no better reward for this job than the smiles and thank-yous shared by a constituent whose case has been resolved.
Often, I am contacted by individuals regarding matters which involve a state or local agency. While as a federal official I don't have direct jurisdiction or influence with non-federal agencies, I will do what I can to make sure that their problem is directed to a person or agency that can provide them with the most help.
From time to time, my staff provides me with information on new programs that have been introduced and which, while not necessarily under the umbrella of the federal government, are available to help.
During the past several weeks, my office has received many telephone calls from individuals and families who are seeking some type of assistance with repairs to their home. However, because of a low or moderate income level, there are very few programs available.
In response to inquiries on behalf of these constituents, officials with the United States Department of Agriculture have informed me of a program that is designed to provide assistance to families in this situation.
Through the Agriculture Department's Rural Development division, loan programs are available to assist very low to moderate income families in rural areas with the purchase, construction or rehabilitation of a home. Any housing financed through this program must be occupied by the owner and cannot be used as a rental property.
If you, a member of your family or a friend needs assistance in this area, I would encourage you to contact one of the following Rural Development offices:
Bay Minette (covers Baldwin, Mobile, and Washington Counties): 251-937-3297, Ext. 4;
Andalusia (covers Escambia County): 334-222-6528, Ext. 4; and
Monroeville (covers Monroe and Clarke Counties): 251-743-2587, Ext. 4.
For many problems that may arise in someone's life, a solution can be found somewhere. I will certainly keep you informed in future columns of other programs that may be of help to you or someone you know.
Please call if we can be of service. Until next week.
Jo Bonner is the U.S. Representative for District 1, which includes Atmore.