MONTCLAIR, NJ - Congressman Donald Payne Jr. welcomed Montclair residents and surrounding communities housed within the 10th Congressional District to an open Town Hall meeting on May 31.
Payne hosted the town hall meeting in the chambers of the Montclair municipal building. Constituents to shared their concerns about health care reform, President Trump's budget proposal and the ongoing investigation of Russian tampering. Concerns were also raised about education under the current Trump administration
The Town Hall meeting was carried out in a very informal, but well mannered order as Congressman Payne laid the ground rules for how the meeting was to progress. With no shared agenda, he opened the floor to the public who were asked to line up and address the congressman on issues important to them. Unlike his fellow Congressional colleagues who recently held their own town hall meetings to much anger and unrest in surrounding communities, Payne's meeting was orderly. Each constituent that approached the podium were appreciative of Payne for taking time to hear what they had to say.
First question of the evening was asked by Joyce Wilson Harley, Vice-President of administration and finance at Essex County College. She asked about reducing student debt and securing funding to aide in lessoning the burden of student default and delinquent loans. Harley also spoke about the proposed Federal budget cuts to programs that the administration has expressed as non essential.
Payne carefully taking time in his response, said that he recognizes the importance of education and its expense. He made light of having his own triplet children who now attend college and spoke of its financial burden to families.
Payne stated that he strongly opposes vouchers and feels that vouchers take away funding from the public sector and places it into the private sector with no oversight as governed by law using tax payer money. In his response, he further noted that he has passed legislation noted as Promised Neighborhoods Act that provides grant money for non profit organizations to partner with higher education in strengthening the support that is often needed to fill the financial gap for funding of afrer school and enrichment programs. He also mentioned his participation on the Federal Purchase Act and Student Loan Refinace Act to help cut student loan default.
Payne concluded by saying the that the Democratic Party is working on putting in place what they can to protect those safeguards already in place and to establish other sources of funding that can be tapped into.
Loretta Shortt, representing the Essex County chapter of NOW, expressed concerns with what she described as the government's systematic method of taking away from the poor and giving to the rich via taxation and tax breaks for those who make more than the average American household.
To Shortt's question, Payne expressed that he understood her concern and that he too fights daily to make sure that the voices that she mentioned, were not being overlooked. He stated that with a Republican majority, the battle is uphill in regards to working on legislation changes to existing tax codes and spending.
Tonya Poteat spoke and presented Payne with gits from children. Poteat, representing Montclair Child Development Center, serving over 400 plus children in the Montclair /Orange area, began by thanking Congressman Payne and proceeded to present him with cards made and signed by the students and teachers of the program. He was overjoyed when students from the program presented him with the gifts.
Gaye Overby Cole, who works with Poteat, joined in and extended an invitation for him to visit and see how the Federal dollars he has been instrumental in sending to support MCDC have impacted the early education initiatives in the township of Montclair. Payne, who was delighted to recieve the cards and t-shirt, expressed, "This is what its all about. ...the children, the future."
William Scott was among the list of constituents who spoke. The long time resident and Vice Chair for the NAACP Affordable Housing Committee and member of the Political Action Committee, asked Payne about voter ID laws and how they impact people of color and the poor.
In answering Scotts question, Payne mentioned that each state has rights and laws that differ from state to state. He added that many in Congress felt it was their own business to dictate how they regulate and mandate some of the laws used in other states. Calling them "draconian" in its application in todays landscape.
Scott followed up by adding his personal interpretation of what he sees as the spreading of democracy around the world. He added that it is a restrictive stance against the nation's own citizens and called for protecting our rights here at home in the USA. Paynes response was that "we must remain vigilent and make sure that people become a part of any solution that conquers the taking away of peoples rights to vote."
Payne shared that Congressman John Lewis from Atlanta and others are traveling to various college campuses around the country to enlighten college and high school students on the importance of voting and becoming involved in government and local community issues.
Elizabeth Kaplan, Montclair resident, followed Scott stating that her question of concern centered on the issue of health care and its importance. She expressed further concerns that Trump and his administration continue to push for health care repeal, however, if enacted, she stated that it would impact millions and divert funding from Medicare and other programs that aide the elderly and the poor. Payne responded stating that prior to Trump's election, Republicans attempted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) 60 times with no success. He added that he's been in Congress for 5 years and voted on the act 15 times.
In his response, he shared the plight of his Republican counterparts who's constituents are currently receiving assistance under the ACA and are currently pleased with it now. Payne added that when they see their Republican representative endorsing the passing of the repeal of the health care act, that they are now facing the possibility of losing it and have begun turn their anger and dissatisfaction at their elected statesman. Based on his work and knowledge of how the senate works Payne stated that he believes the "bill will die on the senate floor and will be scraped to start anew." Once again, Payne began assuring the audience that the Democratic Party was doing all it could do to keep up the fight in congress in getting health care for all.
As the evening went on other constituents addressed concerns on the military budget with the Congressman making note on the astounding amount of money spent on defense. His strong belief in promoting peace he made mention of the recent bomb dropped a few months ago. "I didn't even know we had a bomb like that that existed."
He added that with the current administration, he sees the military as taking matters into their own hands, as Trump has been perceived to having no grasp as to what is going on around the world as it relates to conflicts that threaten the US interest.
On a lighter part of the program, Payne got to meet one of his Facebook constituents face to face, laughing but at the same time respecting his point of view. Payne making light of it, jokingly pointed out, that in his post, the language used could have been a little nicer in its delivery.
In closing, the Congressman thanked the members of the community that came out and gave acknowledgements to Mayor Robert Jackson of Montclair who closed out thanking the congressman for coming to Montclair to host the town hall meeting.
Also in attendance were Senator Nia Gil (34th district), Freeholder Vice-President Brendon Gill, Assemblywoman Shelia Oliver and Assemblyman Thomas P. Giblin (34th district).
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