Casey speaks on ‘state’s future’

BEDFORD — One in four Bedford County children don’t have access to the internet — a Federal Communications statistic that U.S. Sen. Bob Casey called “abominable” when fielding questions Wednesday from Bedford County Chamber of Commerce members and the public.

“Kids can’t do their homework,” he said. “It doesn’t only hinder small business development; it puts rural kids at a disadvantage. There’s no excuse for that. We need to invest in our children.”

The future of younger Pennsylvanians was a common thread throughout Casey’s remarks as he spoke as part of the chamber’s “Government: It’s Your Business Speaker Series” held at the Bedford County Historical Society’s Hall at Kinton’s Knob.

Whether it was stagnant wages in conjunction with rising costs, gun violence and health care issues, Casey provided his take on these issues framed in the context of the impact on the young, calling them “the state’s future,” he said.

Broadband access, often taken for granted by city residents, is one of the obstacles faced by rural areas like central Pennsylvania. Additional issues include infrastructure issues such as bridges not on PennDOT’s repair list but which carry schoolchildren and first responders; decaying water, sewer and electrical systems; the opioid epidemic that forces great-grandparents and grandparents to raise their children’s children; high student college loan debt; and others.

Casey said he has traveled throughout the commonwealth this summer recess and constituents’ concerns come down to flat or declining wages and increasing costs, the opioid crisis and gun violence. The Senate returns to Washington, D.C., Monday, and Casey said he expects gun violence-issues to be debated.

“I would expect that we’d start the debate on gun violence. Mitch McConnell promised debate on specific bills dealing with background checks. I hope he would put a focus on universal background checks. When a gun is transferred among family members, current law doesn’t require a background check. Secondly, I expect we’ll see discussion on Extreme Risk Protection Orders, which allows a law enforcement officer to petition the courts to temporarily remove weapons from a person who is seen on social media making threats of violence. I would expect both of those to pass with bi-partisan support.

“Forty percent of Americans worry about being a victim of gun violence,” he said. “Mass shootings have become so common that more and more Americans have either been a victim of a mass shooting or know someone who has been killed or injured in one. They are only one-step removed.”

Families face steadily rising costs in child care and medical and prescription coverage. “Everything has gone up except wages. The federal government should be part of the answer.”

He disagrees with Trump administration efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act through lawsuits and “undercutting the exchanges” — without offering alternatives — and simultaneously talking about significant cuts to Medicaid, including an expansion program that provides treatment for people with substance abuse issues.

During a question and answer period, Casey said multiple approaches need to be used to combat young people from leaving rural areas and the state.

“The impact is profound,” he said. “No one politician has all the answers” to address the outward migration of young people who are crippled with an average school debt of $33,000 and seek higher-paying jobs.

Mirror Staff Writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.