Local seniors got to hear from several of the candidates running for the 23rd Congressional District in a town hall on Wednesday.

The California Alliance for Retired Americans held a town hall for the candidates to discuss their stances on issues important to seniors. Democratic candidates Tatiana Matta, Wendy Reed, Mary Helen Barro and Kurtis Wilson participated in the meeting.

Congressman Kevin McCarthy didn’t respond to an invitation to attend, according to CARA.

One of the biggest issues that was discussed at the town hall was Social Security. All of the candidates expressed a desire to prevent cuts to the program and even expand it.

“I’m so tired of Congress over the decades raiding the Social Security funds to pay for other worthwhile but unrelated programs,” Barro said. “Social Security monies belong to the people who pay into the program, people who worked all their lives. That money is not government money. It belongs to us.”

Barro said she wants to look into programs that are siphoning money from Social Security and see if Congress can find alternative funding for it so that funds can be restored. She said she would also introduce legislation prohibiting Congress from taking money out of Social Security funds.

Wilson said one of his goals would be to raise the taxable income cap for the program, which is currently $128,400. Wilson said he would introduce legislation to raise the cap to $150,000.

Wilson said he would also like to see base benefit increase from $1,300 a month to $1,500 and would like to see it reach $2,000 eventually.

“We need to ensure that our nation’s aging workforce and disabled veterans can retire with dignity and enjoy a decent quality of life,” he said.

Matta said it’s important to increase funding for the Social Security Administration to help with issues such as backlog and technology that needs updating.

She also said the administration needs to build satellite offices across the county so that communities that aren’t close to the Bakersfield and Lancaster offices can get services more quickly and efficiently.

“I would use my position to highlight the benefits and necessity of the [Social Security] program to seniors, retirees and working families,” Matta said. “I would work with the Social Security Administration so that federal dollars make it into programs that affect our district.”

One of the other major topics that was discussed was health care, including Medicare and Medicaid.

“Our health care system is a fiasco,” Reed said. “We need to get corporate control out of our government. We need to get the insurance companies out. We need to expand Medicare and get better hospital support. Health care is a human right.”

Reed said that while she supports the Affordable Care Act, she believes that universal health care is what is really needed. The other candidates said they were also in support of some kind of universal health care.

“If elected, I would do everything in my power to make sure the ACA is reinstated or a brand new system that gets us to a single-payer system is brought to bear,” Wilson said. 

While Matta believes that the nation’s health care system is greatly in need of fixing, she said people need to elect the right people into Congress to be able to make those changes.

“Our health care system is week and it will get worse if we don’t elect new leadership now. If you elect the wrong people into congress, we will lose the fight,” she said. “Everyone in this country deserves quality health care. When I am in Congress, I will do my part to push forward and make sure that seniors and families get the support they need.”

Joseph Luiz can be reached at 395-7368 or by email at jluiz@bakersfield.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @JLuiz_TBC. 

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