Sanders addresses poverty at town meeting

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(Host) More than two hundred people packed the Springfield High School gymnasium last night for a town meeting on poverty.

The meeting was the first of four planned around the state by Congressman Bernie Sanders. He says poverty is a major crisis that Washington, and the media, have ignored.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) At times it sounded more like an old time revival than a New England-style town meeting. People shouted in agreement and cheered as Sanders spoke of ordinary, decent people slipping out the middle class to become poor.

(Sanders) “People are working forty and fifty hours a week, trying to pay their bills, trying to keep their heads above water economically. All of that is happening in the real world. And yet, when you go to Washington D.C. and you listen to what Congress talks about, this is an issue that to a very significant degree is ignored, is pushed under the rug. And what we’re going to do tonight, is bring it out in the open.

(Keese) Many of those in the gym were workers in, or benficiaries of, programs for low-income people. A coalition of social services and non- profit groups helped Sanders organize the meeting.

Lisa Clarke works for SEVCA, a southeastern Vermont poverty agency.

(Clarke) “We needed a forum where people could talk about what’s going on because there’s a tremendous housing crisis. You know, people are being driven out of their homes and they’re couch- surfing and there’s no room in the shelters. And nobody has enough money. There’s no affordable housing.”

(Keese) Sanders said more than half of Vermont workers earn less than the thirteen dollars and forty-two cents an hour necessary to afford decent housing. He condemned proposed cuts in section 8 housing, rural health programs, college loans and other programs that help people escape poverty.

He called for policies that benefit working people as well as CEOs.

(Sanders) “It is not acceptable that the heads of these large corporations who make tens and tens of millions of dollars make decisions by which they throw American workers out on the street and they move their plants to China where workers are paid at 30 cents an hour. That’s wrong. We’re going to demand that they start reinvesting in Springfield Vermont and the United State of America, rather than in China.”

(Keese) When someone in the audience brought up Sanders probable bid for the U.S. Senate in 2006, he asked speakers to stick to the topic at hand. But he said he’d be back to talk about that later.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.

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