Fifth District candidates answer questions on Pell Grants, broadband

All across the United States, registrars will begin counting up the ballots cast on Tuesday and in early voting. In Virginia, 930,017 people have already cast ballots according to the Virginia Public Access Project. That including 88,035 in the Fifth Congressional District. 

That leaves a lot of people who may not yet have decided how to vote. I conclude this installment with the final in a series of segments from candidate interviews conducted by the Chambers of Commerce in Charlottesville, Danville, and Lynchburg with the two people vying for the Fifth District seat in Congress. 

Here are the previous segments with Republican incumbent Bob Good of Evington and Democratic challenger Joshua Throneburg of Charlottesville:

Now, the final installment which begins with a question from Rebecca Ivins, the chair of the Public Policy Committee of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce

“From Charlottesville to Lynchburg to Danville and even over to Farmville, private and public, the Fifth Congressional District is home to the largest concentrations of institutions of higher education in Virginia,” Ivins said. “Summer, we saw a $400 increase in the discretionary portion of a Pell Grant, which was successfully included in the Omnibus Funding bill last month. With the increase, the maximum Pell grant would be $6,895 for the coming academic year. The Biden administration has plans to double the maximum Pell Grant by 2029. Where do you stand on this proposed increase in federal resources for our neediest students and families to help them attend public and private colleges in the Fifth Congressional District?” 

“I would support that for sure,” Throneburg said. “I want to make sure that we are increasing the opportunity for students to… We have very high institution costs. We know that, and I think there is work for us to do on addressing that. One of the proposals that I have put forward is free community college because I do want to make sure that students have access to a good education and practical education that can move them into well paying jobs.” 

“I think there are a number of solutions, a number of proposals that we can have here to really increase opportunity and increase access to higher education, learning the skills and getting into good paying jobs… But yes, I would, I would absolutely support that. I want to, I want to make sure any, any person who’s willing to work hard and go out there and get an education and put in the work, can then you know, see the benefits of that. So I would be, I would be very supportive. 

And here’s the response from Congressman Good: 

“We want to reform the Pell grant system on the Republican side and the Education and Labor Committee,” Good said. “I don’t favor doubling that for a number of reasons. Number one, the cost of four year colleges and traditional colleges is astronomically going up faster than inflation and anything else, especially the non academic investment in the colleges, the positions that are multiplying that have nothing to do with academics or classroom, but other administrative functions, lots of diversity, equity and inclusion positions that are being added.

“And we’re subsidizing the massive increase on the taxpayer of college,” Good said.” And you could argue that while this is the local government’s responsibility for K to 12 education, is it the government’s responsibility to educate people into college degrees, graduate degrees, you even have some Democrats now talk about K to 20, instead of K to 12, which isn’t even K to 16. We’re supposed to subsidize graduate degrees now, for people…

“I had to work my way through school, I grew up in a lower income family, I grew up on food stamps, I grew up on free lunch, when, when most folks in school didn’t have that, of course, now, everybody has that, because we don’t want to feel stigmatized because of it. And you heard people say something we were poor, we didn’t know. I knew it. My brothers and I knew it, we had to work all of our lives. 

“I was the beneficiary of a Pell Grant I was, I was the beneficiary of student loans and I’m thankful that helped me to work my way through school, I kind of worked and wrestled my way out of partial wrestling scholarship. But I think we ought to be making these colleges in return for federal assistance to use these massive billion dollar plus endowments to reduce the… If they’re going to take federal dollars, then they ought to have to use these massive indole and damage to reduce the cost of their tuition. These colleges are getting wealthier and wealthier and the salaries are going up exorbitantly. And now we want to double the amount of Pell grants to them, which will make them just raise their prices, because they’re getting more money from the federal government. 

“Same thing will happen with the student loan transfer scheme. It’s not canceling the dad is not forgiving the debt. As we know, we’re making taxpayers who didn’t go to college, those who maybe went to a trade school, those who are working a blue collar job, those who didn’t go to college, those who work their way through college, or those who were, I guess, chumps, and paid off the student loan for some reason, making them pay for thethe student loans for people, families making up a $250,000. Individuals making up to $125K? What’s the average income in this country, and we’re going to allow those making up 225 to have their student loan debt transferred to people who didn’t borrow it? It’s unbelievable. 

“So I don’t know, until we deal with the rising costs of higher ed, generally, until we begin to put some things in place from a federal government influence standpoint to do that, I don’t believe in further subsidizing the rising rapid costs, because I think they’re just gonna raise the prices in return for the additional dollar. Oh, students can afford more. Let’s just spend more.

Let’s turn next to economic development and this question from Anne Moore-Sparks of the Danville-Pittsylvania Chamber of Commerce. 

“Congressman, how should Congress address the digital divide in regard to broadband access and affordability?” Moore-Sparks asked. 

“Great question,” Good responded. “I think there’s a growing bipartisan recognition of the need to try to help in that respect at all levels of government. There may not have been, you know, obviously, exact agreement on how to do that. But I advocated this as a county supervisor, for example, I was in the [Campbell] county government from 2015 to 19, before I ran for Congress, 

“While I was a spending Hawk, and I was tough on limited government and low taxes, and Campbell County had among the lowest real estate tax rates and the county that I live in outside Lynchburg there, and I was proud of that but I did believe that we needed to invest on the county level to try to bridge the profit gap between private providers. And you know, when the economies of scale didn’t work, because if if the economies of scale work and the profit incentive was sufficient, everybody would have broadband access and internet access across the country, everybody would be connected…

“But in some cases, of course, there’s just not enough people to make it work financially for a company that even though the Biden administration doesn’t seem to understand this, but a company that has to try to earn a profit to stay in business, and that’s the requirement, you know, to follow the interest of their shareholders. So I supported investment in that on the county level and Campbell County, I voted for that. And we did that and we’re making progress in Campbell County. 

“I liken it to be similar to like post office that connectivity now because as you know, if we just said okay, we’re gonna go just with privatization of mail service, then the FedEx’s and the UPS’s would never deliver to the most remote parts of the country. For 50-something cents like the post office does, they would have to charge exorbitant prices to do that, or they just wouldn’t service areas that didn’t make sense for them financially to service. 

“And we all know connectivity, Internet access broadband is like electricity today. We saw that as more during the pandemic shutdowns and lockdowns forced on by the government school closures forced home by the government. And it’s more people are working from home, as we know, working remotely. So I think there’s a federal role to play. It’s a local, state and federal role to play. 

“I’m glad that President Trump invested in that, President Biden’s continue to invest in that, unfortunately, though, when the federal government has done it recently, we passed the $1.2 trillion phony infrastructure bill, a year ago, only about ten percent of it was true infrastructure, roads, bridges, airports, things like that. And a lot of it had nothing to do with true infrastructure.

“You had this administration said we’re going to fix racist infrastructure, whatever that is, that was Pete Buttigieg, [Biden]’s transportation secretary who had no experience in transportation, by the way. 

“And then you also had a lot of green raw deal stuff in there climate, environmental extremism, stuff that has nothing to do with infrastructure. The fact is 99 percent of infrastructure in this country is done by private entities anyway, it’s not primarily done by the federal government, and we don’t have an infrastructure crisis in the country…

“But in the problem to your question, though, is we don’t get broadband by itself, we get it massive for a few billion dollars for broadband would make a difference, we get folded into a trillion dollar spending bill to try to force you to vote for the thing you like, like the broadband, so you don’t get criticized for that. Or you have to choke down the trillion dollars that you don’t agree with in order to get a few billion dollars that you do agree with. That’s unfortunately, how Washington works. It’s not how Washington should work.”

And the response from Throneburg. 

“My perspective is I think we should instate broadband as a public utility and treat it as such,” Throneburg said. “As you all may know, one of the interesting realities that has emerged over the last few years is Nelson County. [Nelson] worked really, really hard as one of the more rural counties to bring broadband into every home, and they have really brought it into almost every single home in the county. 

“At the same time, Nelson County was just ranked as the highest work from home county in all of Virginia. And there’s, I think, an obvious connection between the fact that broadband exists in those homes, and the fact that people can work from their home that has just brought tremendous opportunity to that county, I think that’s what we need to push all over the district to make sure that anyone who wants to who is in a home can have access to broadband. And that presents, you know, opportunity for work from home.

“But it also presents business opportunities across the district that you know, folks aren’t going to always go into spaces if they don’t have reliable internet. And so, yeah, that’s that’s been a big priority. For me. It’s actually one of the things that I hear on the campaign trail the most from folks, especially as you go out into some of the rural parts. But, you know, I think we want to really build up the economic opportunity that comes with broadband, and it goes beyond just the economic opportunity. 

“We know that for people who are trying to access health care, telehealth options are a wonderful option, both including mental health. But if you don’t have broadband, you can’t do that. We watched during the pandemic, what happened to students who didn’t have access to broadband, you know, sitting in the parking lot of McDonald’s trying to access their school assignments and do their homework?. And it’s just a, it’s a deeply inequitable reality. 

“In our current world, if somebody has lots of access to broadband, and someone has none, it provides such a deep inequity across our system. And so for that reason, it’s an absolute priority for me to see homes and businesses across this district…. And I think once that happens, then the economic opportunity that kind of proceeds from that reality is incredible for us.

“So I would treat it as utility, I would want to see the Congress, you know, pushing to get that done. On our side, that’s, you know, we have, we have the purse strings and so we have the economic ability to to make those investments and to see that happen. And that’s what I would be advocating for. pretty passionately, I think this is not just an economic opportunity. It’s a justice issue.

To see the closing statements and the rest, do go visit the rest on the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce’s website. 

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the November 7, 2022 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: