BURLINGTON – December 18 – U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders held a virtual town hall Thursday evening to provide an update from Congress and to hear the thoughts and concerns of older Vermonters.
Over 2,000 Vermont seniors joined Sanders for the town meeting which was held via phone call and streamed live on Sanders’ website. Each December, Sanders hosts holiday meals for seniors throughout the state. However, for everyone’s safety, this year’s event was held virtually. Sanders participated by video from his Senate office in Washington, D.C.
“Our senior meals and town meetings are always a highlight of the holiday season. While we couldn’t be together in person this year, I’m very pleased we had the opportunity to gather virtually,” said Sanders. “Especially at a time when many seniors are unable to be with friends and family, I thought it was important to continue this annual event and hear from my constituents about the issues that matter most to them, as well as the challenges they are facing.”
After Sanders’ introductory remarks, Vermonters asked questions on a wide range of issues. Areas of interest ranged from ways to expand and protect Medicare and Social Security, to struggles affording housing, heat, food, and prescription medications. With negotiations continuing in Congress, the COVID-19 relief package was on the minds of many who participated in the town hall. Many asked Sanders about the effort he is leading to ensure that a direct payment provision is included in the final relief bill, as well as his hope that Congress and a Biden Administration will continue to work on and pass additional, much-needed emergency relief in the new year. If approved, these direct payments to Vermonters would add about $350 million to the local economy.
“It’s interesting that all of the questions tonight touched on issues that millions and millions of people are struggling with. Whether it’s inadequate Social Security benefits, whether it’s the high cost of prescription drugs, whether it’s the housing crisis, whether it is student debt. Whether it is the inability of people to afford to keep warm in the winter time, you have asked exactly the questions that are on the minds of people all over this country,” said Sanders.
A few seniors on the call shared their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. One Vermonter expressed concerns about how the current economic crisis will affect their long-term financial stability, as well as their children’s, particularly considering they all are struggling with immense student loan debt. Paul from Johnson, VT said, “I’m committed to what I do for work, and I’m committed to my kids. Everything that I have surplus for savings, goes to my kids. In today’s economy, my oldest is unemployed because of the pandemic. My daughter is barely working. I have a parent plus loan and my kids have student loans. The payments are suspended right now because of the pandemic. I’m just ignoring it right now. I don’t need the stress.”
While another Vermonter from Williamstown, VT spoke of their difficulty affording basic necessities with their current monthly Social Security and veterans benefits totaling just $1,400, saying “I’m going to have to keep us going on a small check each month. It’s going to raise just about $12 this year. Where does that come out being fair at all?”
“This is America. People should not be hungry. People should not be homeless. People should not be unable to afford the medicine they need, not be in a position where they can’t afford to go to a doctor. This should not be happening,” said Sanders. “So the struggle that we face now is to change the priorities of this country to invest in ordinary people, so that all of us can live with dignity and enjoy life as we should be able to.”
Sanders ended the event by encouraging Vermonters to call his office should they need assistance, and promising to do everything possible in Washington to ensure Vermont seniors get the help they need when the need it. “I am very proud to fight in Congress on behalf of older Vermonters” said Sanders. “I wish everybody a very wonderful holiday season, and I’m sure that the new year is going to be a better one for all of us. I will hopefully be able to get to see you all in person in the not too distant future.”
Vermonters in need of assistance can reach Senator Sanders office by phone at 800-339-9834 or online at sanders.senate.gov.
To watch the town hall, click here.