Senator Sanders Visits County (Valley Voice)

Brings over $143.000 in earmark funds for Addison County Dental Care, explains FHQCs Vets Funding and Views On a New Era In Cuba

By Mike Cameron, Valley Voice (Addison County)

Vermont's first term, Independent, United States Senator Bernie Sanders held a fifty minute informal, mid-morning, round-table press briefing with a publisher and reporters from the county's two longest running weekly news papers on Tuesday morning, February 19th, 2008.

Earlier in the day Senator Sanders made a scheduled stop at Vergennes Union High School. "I always enjoy talking to kids and helping them to understand the political process. So we were there earlier today, answering questions and listening to them," he explained.

ACDC Middlebury Gets Help From Fed

Middlebury based Addison County Dental Care a nonprofit organization scheduled to open later this year, will treat patients with limited or no dental insurance coverage. Senator Sanders said that he has helped to direct over $143,000 in Federal funds to help the organization begin their new practice here. A dental group in Castleton that helps provide low income and non or under-insured patients in Western Rutland County also received similar good news later in the day.

The funds are part of FQHC the acronym for Federally Qualified Health Care.

After his stop in Middlebury at 10:45 a.m. he and his Outreach Director Philip Fiermonte were off to Rutland to announce a Federal Grant for the establishment of a Federally Qualified Health Center scheduled to open soon in that city.

The Senator indicated in his brief opening remarks to reporters that he is also working on a future FQHC for Middlebury.

"One of the areas we have been working really hard on is the expansion of FQHCs," the Senator said.

Vermont has lagged behind in the formation of FQHCs when compared to other New England States and the rest of the country.

The FQHC concept is a community based health center which receives FQHC status by fulfilling a number of criteria.

When they pass muster with the Fed, by meeting the criteria, they qualify for a minimum of 6-hundred thousand dollars per year. Larger minimum amounts of funding are available depending on the size of the community being served.

FQHCs will treat any patients that ask for help regardless of their ability to pay.

Patients without health insurance will be treated on an income sensitive sliding scale. The more patients they treat who are covered by MEDICARE and MEDICADE the higher their (FQHC's) reimbursement rate will be from the Federal Government.

Senator Sanders explained that the care offered is top quality health care and is democratically administered, meaning for example that 51% of the people on the FQHC board in each community must be consumers. He added "by law they must also provide dental care and mental health counseling. Also the doctors writing prescriptions in FQHCs must provide the lowest cost prescription drugs available in America. It's a good deal."

Currently Vermont has FQHCs in Burlington, the"Northeast Kingdom," Wells River, Richmond, Plainfield and several other communities.

An FQHC for Middlebury?

To the senator's knowledge a facility here in Middlebury at least in the short term, would most likely be linked as a satellite to the original Vermont FQHC facility located on Riverside Avenue in Burlington once the application process is completed.

The annual operational budget minimum contribution from the Federal Government would not be affected by the fact that it was a satellite facility. "The process to establish a FQHC in Middlebury has begun. My goal is to have an FQHC available in every county in Vermont or as close to it as possible. We currently have six and a half" the senator explained.

Asked about FHQCs creating competition for local hospitals many of which are struggling with tight budgets, the senator explained that in his experience this has not been the case and that a co-operative atmosphere has existed between the two. "For one thing," he pointed out, "FQHCs help keep people out of the emergency rooms."

The application process for a FQHC facility currently takes about two years to complete.

Veterans Care

Senator Sanders also indicated that one of the main priorities in his first year in the U.S. Senate was to fight for increased funding for Veterans. He has gained further respect and support from Veterans across the country for his efforts on their behalf and said that he will continue to do so in the future.

The War On Terror

Senator Sanders also talked about the ongoing War on Terror. " the question is are we a nation of laws or a nation of men. The president under the guise of fighting the war on terrorism, thinks that he can do what ever he wants. Fortunately we have a constitution and we have laws in this land. There is no debate, everybody wants us to be vigorous in going after terrorism or after people who might be terrorists, but you can't give an administration blanket authority to do so. You have to have probable cause, in an independent court and they can do this very quickly. The phone company's for example have been asked by the Bush Administration to eavesdrop on millions of Americans. One company refused saying that they felt that it was illegal. Verizon and AT&T allowed it and are now being sued and saying that it is unfair. Their response is that the President asked them to do it." Sanders explained. The phone companies that provided the access expect indemnification. Senator Sanders strongly feels that this, "sets a really bad precedent."
Iraq

"The war in Iraq has see a gradual decline in the loss of life there, thank God but we are still spending 12-billion dollars a month there, 12-billion."

We visit school districts in Vermont that have run out of money for Special Ed but we are continuing to spend astronomical amounts of money there. We need to support the government there to some degree and we need to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can." When asked about Kurdish influence in the region and whether their defacto-independence would create instability or stability once the Iraqi Sunni and Shiite Arabs agreed on a Constitution, Sanders explained that it was difficult to predict, given the age-old disagreements between the three. "It's difficult to say. Most of the oil in Iraq is in Kurdistan in the north."

A New Day For Cuba?

Asked to comment on the recent, apparent resignation of Cuba's Fidel Castro and the transfer of power to his brother Raul, Senator Sanders was direct and to the point. "The time has come to normalize relations with Cuba." He is not alone in Congress in supporting normalization of American Cuban relations. A major sticking point is that Cuba needs to begin large scale Democratic reforms in that country. There are still many old wounds both physical and psychological among Cuban exiles living in the U.S. that need to be evaluated and in many cases healed before that is likely to happen according to others.

The Race For The White House

Asked about what to look for while following the current Presidential Race so that a voter might catch a brief glimpse of substance in all the rhetoric and National press clamor about the candidates, the Senator was again point blank, as is his style. "The media and especially cable television has not played a very good part in that process. We need to hear less about polling and gossip. We as citizens need to take a hard look at what the problems in this country are and see what the candidates are actually saying based on their records. Health care is disintegrating, what are they saying about health care. Senator McCain has promised not to raise taxes and that's a good sound bite. What it means is that he plans to give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires. Do we think that is good policy when our National infrastructure is falling apart, our kids can't afford to go to college and school districts are paying for the special ed that the Federal Government originally promised to pay? What is their (the candidates) vision for the future of the country? Do you want your grand children and great grandchildren to still be paying for the war in Iraq?" he said. "Increasingly politics has become like the television show "Survivor,"

It's you against him, who's going to survive." Senator Sanders said that being an Independent he will not endorse but will support whomever the Democratic Presidential Candidate is and will work "his brains out," to get them elected in the fall.