Congresswoman Letlow: ‘What keeps you up at night?’

Published 7:00 am Saturday, June 1, 2024

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VIDALIA, La. — Julia Letlow, U.S. Representative for Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District, visited with municipal officials and residents of Concordia Parish on Wednesday morning at the Vidalia Convention Center — specifically to listen to their concerns.

“What keeps you up at night?” she asked, casually sitting with a microphone in hand.

Vidalia Alderman Jon Betts was first to answer, saying that he hopes efforts to eliminate the windfall elimination provision and government pension offset that take away from his social security benefits continue.

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“It’s going to be too late for me since I’ll probably be retired soon. I’ve been fighting that battle for 27 years,” he said. “And so, I would like to see that effort continue. It’s not going to help me but it’s going to help somebody else. That’s one of the most unfair things that we do to our citizens as a government.”

The windfall elimination provision affects benefits for retired government employees in both the government and private sectors. The government pension offset also reduces the survivor’s social security benefits if the beneficiary is also a government employee.

Letlow said repealing the provision is her top concern.

“It is an abhorrent injustice to our public servants, those people who’ve devoted their careers to teaching to protecting our communities, our firefighters, and so on,” she said. “I tell you, that is the number one issue that I hear about in letters, emails, phone calls, and every story is absolutely heartbreaking. As a widow myself, who would definitely be affected by that down the line, it’s heartbreaking. It is my number one concern that I work on day in and day out.”

Letlow said past attempts at correcting the flaws in the system have failed. She has been in the Social Security Administration’s office to find solutions but left there with more questions than answers.

“I’ve really made strong ties with the new chairman of Ways and Means Jason Smith. He’s made a commitment to me that he’s going to work on this but said ‘If it was an easy fix, it would have been fixed over the last 40 years. The issue is there’s a large price tag on it.’ But my defense of that is that it’s your money that you paid in, so it should not be about the large price tag. What the government has done is stolen from you. And so, a wrong should be made right.”

Charles Gill, Justice of the Peace, said his top concern as a Ferriday resident is “praying that a bullet doesn’t come through my door or come through my window.”

He asked Letlow the question, “What can we do as a community and as leaders? I know we can’t solve the issue, but at least give us a better hope that it can get better.”

Letlow had no perfect answer to that issue either, other than “brilliant minds should come together.”

She said investing more into education, reaching children during early childhood “will put them on the right path to success, will keep them off the streets and will stop bullets from flying.”

Other issues on the minds of Concordia Parish constituents involve water treatment systems and poor drainage. Recently, a Louisiana Department of Health report showed three out of seven Concordia Parish water systems failed the Health Safe Drinking Water grading program, and each of the failing systems ties into Ferriday.

Concordia Parish Police Juror Genesia Allen asked if there were pockets of funding available to help Ferriday replace failing pipes.

Letlow said in every Louisiana town she has visited on tour, water is always a concern, “and there are definitely pockets of money that we can work with.”

Letlow’s office staffer Tyler Lemon said grant applications usually begin in January or February and go quickly before giving assurances that they would work with officials to walk them through that application process.