ST. CHARLES – The coronavirus outbreak is an object lesson in the importance of accessibility to health care, Congresswoman Lauren Underwood told a large audience Saturday at a town hall meeting in St. Charles.
Underwood, D-Naperville, has made health care coverage one of her signature issues and told the crowd filling the St. Charles City Council Chambers that local public health agencies are playing an essential role in the response to the COVID-19 disease.
To prove her point, Underwood quickly introduced Kane County Health Department Director Barbara Jeffers, who urged those attending the town hall meeting to focus on sanitation.
“Most important is to exercise good hand-washing,” Jeffers said, recommending people keep alcohol-based hand-sanitizers on hand.
“If you’re sick, stay home,” Jeffers said. “Limit your travel. It will take all of us to minimize the spread of viruses.”
Underwood told her constituents to expect Congress to move forward soon with a coronavirus emergency spending package that will be much larger than that proposed by the Trump Administration.
“Obviously this is a rapidly developing situation,” Underwood said.
The freshman lawmaker took the opportunity to highlight health care initiatives she is sponsoring, including a bill to eliminate patient out-of-pocket payments for insulin and for asthma inhalers, as well as other medications for chronic conditions.
Underwood’s sprawling 14th Congressional District includes much of Kane County, including Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles, Elburn and Sugar Grove.
The questions from the audience illustrated a constituency concerned with a wide variety of issues, from climate change to the integrity of the nation’s elections.
“The on-going threat to secure elections is critically important. It’s not just Russia,” Underwood said, citing Iran as another nation posing a cybersecurity threat.
Underwood criticized U.S. Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for resisting election security appropriations bills before finally agreeing to a $250 million infusion that Democrats have decried as too little.
The congresswoman lamented the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation.
“We know climate change is real, it’s here and has an economic impact,” Underwood said.
St. Charles Mayor Ray Rogina hosted the town hall and noted that he had recently visited Underwood’s Washington, D.C. office.
“Her door is open to local officials,” Rogina said.
For the most part, the audience appeared to be made up of supporters for Underwood and her political views, as evidenced by her response to a question on the abortion issue.
“I support the unrestricted right to the full range of reproductive services,” Underwood replied, earning her thunderous and sustained applause from the crowd.
As the sound of the clapping died down, a single catcall emerged from the back of the room from someone with an opinion at odds with Underwood’s position, prompting a gentle but firm rebuke from Rogina, who quickly called for the next question.
Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns came to the town hall meeting with the goal of bringing to Underwood’s attention a very specific problem now facing municipal governments.
Digital cellular networks are now implementing 5G wireless technology, with practically no restriction on how or where they may install antennas.
“We have no say if they come to town and how they come to town,” Burns told Underwood.
The congresswoman pledged to work with the Federal Communications Commission on the issue.
Asked about the opioid crisis, Underwood said the nation needs to invest in treatment for drug users.
“We hear from the president about border security, but we cannot pursue this from a law-enforcement-only approach to addiction,” Underwood said.
Judges should be given the latitude to handle those charged with drug offenses on a case-by-case basis, with drug courts and other tools at their disposal, Underwood said, rather than being shackled with mandatory sentencing laws.
More than one question involved America’s polarized political divide and the lack of civil discourse.
Underwood was upbeat.
“There’s gridlock and dysfunction but it’s not broken and beyond repair,” Underwood said,
Rogina noted that with two-year terms, members of the U.S. House find themselves in a virtually continuous election cycle and asked Underwood how she deals with the job’s pressures.
“You know what? It’s fun! It’s a fun job,” Underwood replied.
Keeping her job will depend on the voters. Underwood, who unseated Republican incumbent Randy Hultgren in the 2018 election and turned the 14th District from red to blue, is seeking a second term in office.
Seven Republicans are vying in the March 17 primary for the chance to face off against Underwood in the Nov. 3 general election.
Source: The Daily Chronicle