SEWELL TACKLES HIGH UNEMPLOYMENT IN 7TH DISTRICT
Terri Sewell represents one of the poorest districts in the country. A large chunk of the 7th Congressional District is part of Alabama’s Black Belt, which has some of the highest unemployment rates in the state.
She represents Wilcox County, which had the state’s highest unemployment rate at 16.4 percent, and two other counties in the 7th District – Dallas and Perry – are tied for the second-highest unemployment at 14.4 percent. Lowndes County, which is also in the 7th District, has the state’s fifth-highest unemployment rate at 12.9 percent.
The Birmingham Democrat told a Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Eggs & Issues audience that the “biggest issue in my district when we first took office … has been unemployment.” Her office held an October job fair at Alabama State University and will hold a similar event in Demopolis this year. Sewell, who was elected to a third term in 2014, said that more than 3,000 people attended the job and 100-plus employers were there.It’s a bleak picture. Add Greene County (11.9 percent) and Sumter County (11.2 percent) and you can understand that Sewell’s top priority is jobs, jobs, jobs. She said that the median income for a family of four in the district is $30,000.
“I know the people in the 7th Congressional District want to work – that they have a strong work ethic,” Sewell said. “What we lack in economic prosperity we more than make up for in heart and in spirit … What the people in the 7th District need are opportunities, resources, and that is the challenge to me as the representative of the 7th District to help provide those resources and those opportunities.”
She encouraged colleges and universities “to help those in the Black Belt receive an education; to promote economic viability and economic development in the 7th District.
She praised Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley for providing incentives for Golden Dragon to build a $100 million, 500,000-square-foot copper manufacturing facility in Wilcox County.
“If we can make it work in Wilcox – we can make it work all over,” Sewell said. The Chinese company is expected to eventually have 500 employees.
She has also instituted a series of workshops as part of her Project READY program, which stands for “Realizing Everyone’s Ability to Develop Yourself.” She said the program is about “self-empowerment.” Project READY works with two-year colleges, Alabama Career Centers and the Alabama Industrial Development Training program, which is part of the Alabama Department of Commerce. The READY program is being expanded to the high school level, said Sewell, who grew up in the 7th District, which also includes parts of Montgomery, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa.
She strongly defended the Affordable Care Act and pointed out that the “main purpose” of the program is to provide health insurance benefits to those who don’t have them. “The reality is that in America, no one should go without health care,” she said. Sewell pushed for the Medicaid expansion to insure even more people, but that has been opposed by Bentley. She also advocated for what she called “the working poor,” who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but are not old enough for Medicare. She said that 253,000 Alabamians fit in that category.
She also had some strong words for the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System facilities in Montgomery and Tuskegee, which are embroiled in a national scandal involving excessive waits to get appointments among a host of other issues. She said it was a “sacred responsibility” to care of veterans and “It’s something we can’t take lightly.” She praised legislation that allows administrators “to dismiss the bad actors as well as provide more resources.”
In a wide-ranging talk, Sewell:
> Said the Alabama delegation will make sure the state’s military has the resources they need and “acknowledged the importance” of Maxwell Air Force Base and Gunter Annex in Montgomery.
> Encouraged the business community to support the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery March and the 60th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott this year. She called it “an awesome responsibility to make sure the next generation remembers and they’ll never forget the struggles that took place so the universe now enjoys the freedoms …”
> Scolded people for “always badmouthing our president.” She said the vitriol needs to stop. She said that it’s not about race, but it’s about patriotism. “I get that Alabama is a red state, but this president is our president – president of these United States of America.”
> Supported the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, which lends money to small businesses so they can sell products and services overseas.
> Worried about mission creep in the Middle East and is “afraid of having boots on the ground.” She said a disproportionate number of constituents are in the military.