By Karen Carstens and Jane Taylor
CAMBRIDGE, Md. – The president and Congress should resolve their differences and get down to the business of balancing the budget, said a majority of the 31 people stopped recently for interviews along the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland.
“It’s sad that these people who are supposed to be acting like elected officials are acting like children. Even kids in kindergarten work their problems out by the end of the day,” said Salisbury resident Harley Purnell, 22, who works for a youth outreach program.
Sixteen of those surveyed Wednesday at malls, community centers, a bar and pool hall cited the budget as their chief concern in this presidential election year.
Other top concerns included the economy and/or tax reform, education, welfare reform, crime and drugs and cutting politicians’ salaries.
About two-thirds said they were worried about cutbacks in social services, such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
“[There are] old people who’ve worked all their lives, and all of a sudden you start taking everything away. … I don’t think that’s right. They earned everything they get,” said Connie Wolfe, 45, of LaPlata, a sales clerk at a candy shop in the St. Charles Town Centre mall.
Sandy Yeatman, 37, an unemployed Cambridge mother of two and a widow, said officials shouldn’t be sending so much money overseas when U.S. citizens need help.
“They give enough funds to other countries and there’s children right here that are starving, especially in Washington where there’s children on the streets and older people. … They need more things for them,” she said.
She said she was homeless for six months and was concerned about the lack of funds for others without a place to live.
A few people agreed with Yeatman that cutting back foreign aid is a useful strategy to balance the budget while maintaining adequate social services.
“They could cut foreign aid in half for a few years. You can’t send $750 million to people living in the desert and then expect them to grow food in the sand,” said firefighter Glen Whiteley, 35, of Ridgeley.
Still others cited bloated congressional salaries as a potential area for budget cutbacks.
“They should cut themselves first. I think they’re cutting the wrong item. Why have half the country go broke?” Purnell said.
“They should come out here and try to make a living off $5 an hour,” Wolfe said.
She suggested sending poor people to Congress and the White House. “I guarantee you a poor person could straighten out these problems quicker than any of them politicians,” Wolfe said.
Reforming welfare was mentioned by several people as a necessary step to breach the budget impasse.
“The media in general lies, because the Republicans in general are not cutting social services, they’re just not proposing an increase,” Whiteley said. “There’s no reason they should keep funding welfare when able-bodied people could be out working. They could pick up trash for their paychecks.”
Education was another issue that concerned many.
“We need better educational systems on this side of the bridge. This is a poor area,” said Grasonville resident Dottie Komestat, 48, a sales clerk at an Easton fabric store.
“I have friends who worked as teachers on the other side but wouldn’t want to work here because their salary would be half,” she said.
Among those questioned were three watermen and three farmers. They said they were concerned with issues such as pollution and their livelihoods.
“I’m a waterman. The amount of chemicals and debris dumped in our waters … the big snows we had … all that runoff is going right into our waters,” said James Russell, 31, of Clements.
“It has killed seafood. The sediment has covered over oyster bars, it is starting to ruin the ecology of the bay and tributaries,” Russell said.
James Owens, 75, of Lexington Park, who was president of the St. Mary’s Farm Bureau for 13 years, said he is worried about the survival of small farmers.
“None of my children are interested in farming and I can’t blame them. It’s hard to make a living,” Owens said. “Most anybody around here that’s farming has got another job. The big farms are taking over, outcompeting the small farms.”
Besides being asked about their concerns, respondents were asked very specific questions, such as if they believed government officials are effective.
Almost half of those surveyed said Congress and the president were both ineffective in addressing the issues most important to them. “Neither one of them is doing a very good job,” said George Bradley, 30, a Delmar cereal farmer. “They can’t seem to agree on anything except they agree that they disagree. Somebody needs to take charge, take the lead.” -30-