Friday, April 16, 2010

Citizens voice concerns to legislators

Issues over healthcare, local services raised

Express Staff Writer

From left to right, A.J. Church, Mike Matthews and Linda Culver, the regional directors for Sen. Mike Crapo, Sen. Jim Risch and Rep. Mike Simpson, sit with Dale Ewersen and Ivan Swaner at the Blaine County Senior Connection in Hailey. The legislative staff members were in Blaine County to hear concerns from Wood River Valley officials and residents that could be addressed at the federal level. Photo by Willy Cook

While Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, and Congressman Mike Simpson, weren't able to get away from Washington, D.C., members of their staffs paid a visit to the Wood River Valley this week to listen to community issues that could be addressed at the federal level.

On Monday morning A.J. Church, Mike Matthews and Linda Culver, the regional directors for Crapo, Risch and Simpson, respectively, met with the Blaine County Commission at the Old County Courthouse in Hailey.

The staffers also held a public meeting at the Blaine County Senior Center later that morning.

One of the main issues raised during the first meeting was the seemingly contradictory stance taken by Idaho lawmakers in respect to the federal government.

"We look to our leaders to provide clarity that the federal government does indeed do a lot for Idaho," Commission Chairman Larry Schoen said. "The idea that the government doesn't do anything for Idaho is ludicrous."

The comments were in large part due to many Idaho lawmakers' opposition to healthcare reform, which includes Idaho signing onto a lawsuit contesting the constitutionality of the new federal law.

Schoen said that the reform is necessarily complex and Idaho's elected officials should be helping constituents understand how it will affect state residents, rather than simply disparaging the law for their own political ends.

"It's imperative that they help us understand rather than score political points based on people's emotions," Schoen said. "It's silly to see the programs that people are using and employed by in Blaine County cut just because of anti-government sentiment."

"This isn't a 'one-size-fits-all' takeover. This type of rhetoric appeals to the angry and disenfranchised, but it does nothing to enhance the healthcare debate," he added in an interview after the meeting.

Another issue was raised by Commissioner Angenie McCleary, who voiced concerns about Idaho's budget cuts, and specifically the potential impacts to the Department of Health and Welfare.

Because of Idaho's shrinking budget, the state is set to close nine of the department's offices, including the Blaine County office in Bellevue, as well as the office in Jerome.

These offices are scheduled to close in May.

A meeting to discuss this issue further has been scheduled for May 3, from 1 to 5 at the Community Campus in Hailey.

McCleary said that the community meeting, which is open to the public, will include representatives from the school district, St. Luke's Wood River medical Center, and the local Health and Welfare office.

"It's really hard to know at this point what all the impacts will be," McCleary said of the closures in an interview after the meeting with the legislative staffers. "The goal will be to figure out how the community will come together to deal with the cuts and gaps that will now exist."

In response, Culver said that there are unlikely to be any remaining stimulus funds that could be used to help cover any program or service cuts, as that money already has designated uses elsewhere.

However, Culver said she would bring the concerns to Simpson.

"While they're in D.C., we're their eyes and ears," Culver said. "That's what we're here for."

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