Addressing the issues

Ernst visits Jewell Saturday during 99 County Tour

—Daily Freeman-Journal photos by Teresa Wood Senator Joni Ernst visited with Hamilton County Deputy Sheriff Steve Butler and Ellsworth Police Chief Gary Johnson at her 99 County Tour for 2018 held at South Hamilton High School in Jewell on Saturday.

Senator Joni Ernst fielded questions on immigration, food security, Olympic sexual abuse, veterans’ issues, federal spending, clean water and conservation at her 99 County Tour on Saturday at the South Hamilton High School Auditorium in Jewell.

After a brief introduction by District 48 State Representative Rob Bacon, Ernst invited the first question from the audience of 40.

The issue of immigration needs to be addressed as an open dialogue, said Ernst. Birth rite citizenship is a constitutionally guaranteed right and it would take an assembly of a constitutional congress to change that. She said she didn’t expect that would ever happen.

On the other hand, Ernst said that the Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals who are now in the country, through no fault of their own, should be allowed to stay. She noted many have grown up in the United States and know no other country. They could become part of their communities by earning citizenship.

“There is a lot of discussion about DACA recipients,” said Ernst, noting that the issue will come before the Senate for debate this week.

Senator Joni Ernst listens to Shannon Walker of Clarion prior to Ernst's 99 County Tour event in Hamilton County on Saturday. The town hall was held in the South Hamilton High School Auditorium in Jewell on Saturday and drew over 40 people.

Ernst said that there will be a border security on the country’s northern and southern borders, although probably not a solid structure. Instead, security walls may be constructed at heavy traffic areas where there is high crime. Other forms of security would include more federal agents and surveillance monitors.

The senator noted that chain immigration and the immigration lottery system targeted by President Trump need to be addressed.

A constituent asked about immigrants assimilating into American society by learning English.

“English needs to be a part of the equation,” agreed Ernst. “I love bilingual speakers but one language is needed in order to bring everyone together.”

Several questions were asked concerning veterans. Addressing the issue of veteran health care and the failure of the current health care provider to manage claims, Ernst agreed a solution needs to be found.

“Health Net is failing our veterans,” said Ernst, who cited the administrator is not paying claims that it had agreed to pay. But unfortunately, there is no other health care administrator that can step in and manage the system at this time, she said.

Asked about several recent military training deaths of young recruits, Ernst said that due to the underfunding of the military, training and readiness were not at the forefront of spending. With the new budget, the military will not only have additional funds for training but also funds to maintain its fighting force.

Ernst noted that the lack of funds resulted in several issues of poor defense readiness. She cited instances where many troops were working overtime and not getting the rest they needed in-between shifts. She added that less than half of the US Navy planes failed to meet readiness levels and that ship maintenance and ship building were insufficient to provide an adequate military defense. By lifting the defense spending cap, these issues can be addressed, she said.

On an additional topic affecting veterans, the Veterans Rights Restoration Act addresses the issue of certain veterans being denied the right to carry a hand gun, said Ernst. The legislation prevents a veteran from being stripped of his or her Second Amendment right without due process if they have sought treatment for a sex trauma or PTSD.

In reference to the claim that the federal government did not perform due diligence in monitoring the Central State Pension Fund, Ernst said that the fund was indeed mismanaged and current legislation addresses the pension shortfall.

Efforts are being taken to recover the funds and to discover where those funds went, said Ernst.  As it stands, members of the Teamsters and Coal Miners unions will receive less than guaranteed pensions due to what was initially promised, said Ernst.

“If the government is responsible, the government must pay,” said Ernst. “Or we must find out who is responsible. We need to do due diligence and find out what happened.”

Asked if she supports total funding of the Environmental Protection Agency, Ernst said that she supports “doing the right thing” at the state level on the water quality initiative. Federally, environmental projects are funded through the The Department of Agriculture and work needs to be done in order to utilize CRP funds in a better way. Currently, retiring farmers are putting entire farms in CRP acres and that is not what the program was originally designed for, she said.

“It is being used for whole farms and not for acres that need be protected,” she said.

Asked about the defunding of the EPA in regards to the Endangered Species Act and about allowing decisions to be made on a local level rather than from collected sources, Ernst noted that the energy industry and the nation’s universities are on the cutting edge of technology. Those strides to find efficient energy would eliminate the disturbances that arise between natural environments and fuel exploration.

Ernst said that she supports all sources of energy including fossil fuels, wind and solar energy that are environmentally sound. She noted that 40 percent of the wind energy generated in Iowa is used by Iowans and that next year that level is expected to climb to 80 percent.

Regina Hurt, Executive Director of the Iowa Food Bank Association asked what steps are being taken to ensure that the 400,000 people dependent upon area food banks continue to be served.

Ernst said that 80 percent of the 2018 farm bill will deal with food security issues. She noted that many Iowa counties are economically challenged and many are dependent upon the lifeline that food banks and charities offer. She said that one way to improve those figures is to work on self-sufficiency.

“SNAP is only temporary but hopefully we can help close the skills gap so that people can provide for their family,” she said.

Asked about the possibility of establishing community health centers to provide service at 10,000 sites across the nation, Ernst explained that a voting block of bipartisan lawmakers is needed in order to address that issue and without that joint cooperation, that goal can’t be accomplished.

Several audience members asked about the recent revelations of the sexual abuse of Olympic athletes and what the federal government can do about it.

Since the US Olympic team is federally charted, it is under federal oversight, explained Ernst.  Yet, when allegations were raised two years ago, nothing was done.

“It has opened up a can of worms,” said Ernst, noting that additional abuses are being brought forward. “We need to protect our young women and men from abusers.”

The status of Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey’s appointment as an undersecretary in the US Department of Agriculture was also questioned.

The confirmation of Northey, has been held up by Sen. Ted Cruz (TX-R), explained Ernst.

“Bill Northey is eminently qualified to work on conservation, but Sen. Cruz does not like renewable fuel standards,” said Ernst, who said that the confirmation of Northey and renewable fuels are not connected. But because Iowa is a big proponent of ethanol, Northey is being targeted by Cruz. Ernst said that Northey’s expertise in conservation and water quality would be a great asset to the USDA.

Ernst addressed the passage of the 2018 budget which increased the national debt by $1 trillion.

Government must find ways to untangle its debt, said Ernst. One of the biggest costs is military spending. By allowing the State Department to work through ways of resolution before entering into a costly conflict would better serve the country, she said. Also, employing direct Rules of Engagement with enemy combatants would end conflicts in short order, said Ernst. In addition, enlisting allies to fight along side the US in a conflict would aid in reducing US military spending.

Finally, by employing better business practices, the US can reduce its debt, she said.

Ernst said the Department of Defense should be required to submit to an annual audit as other federal agencies are required to do.

She also cited the redundancy of many federal programs.

“Good programs should be rewarded and bad ones ended,” said Ernst. “There are 47 programs that address work force development. We should focus only on the ones that are good.”

At the conclusion of the town hall, Ernst asked the audience to contact her offices if they have any questions or if they are struggling to get resolution from a federal agency.

“We will do the case work for you,” said Ernst.