Toomey talks economy, odds of federal shutdown during Chesco visit


U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R) gets a tour of the facility from Lord’s Pantry Executive Director Jan Leaf, Monday in Downingtown.

U.S. Senator said he thinks shutdown is doubtful; seeks new policies to get economy moving

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

DOWNINGTOWN — U.S Sen. Pat Toomey spent much of Monday morning in Chester County, visiting a local food bank and attending a Veterans’ Administration event in Coatesville, in part to show his support for those in need locally, but also to get an opportunity to hear from constituents in a county that figures to be key in his 2016 reelection bid.

Toomey, a Republican seeking his second term in the U.S. Senate in 2016, came to the Lord’s Pantry here in the borough, bearing food donations for the pantry, which has helped to feed the needy in the immediate Downingtown/Exton area for 50 years. He got a detailed tour of the facility from Lord’s Pantry Executive Director Jan Leaf, as volunteers and those in need all but packed the building on what is a typically busy December Monday morning.

At pantry facilities such as The Lord’s Pantry, those in need are able to shop (with a pantry volunteer) — to pick out those foods that match their family’s needs, rather than just get a random selection of foods. By better matching the needs of every individual family, there is less waste and better use of the foodstuffs.

Monday, the tight aisles were crowded with folks seeking items to keep their families fed for the rest of this month. Out of respect of their privacy, The Times chose not to interview any of these folks on the record, many of whom expressed embarrassment in casual off the record conversations, about circumstances forcing them to need help.

Even in a wealthy county such as Chester County, local food pantries find themselves as busy as ever, evidenced Monday, as the slow economic growth of the past few years has been uneven and left many in our society behind. Toomey said he sees this as a clear sign of much that still needs to be done.


U.S Senator Pat Toomey (R) and members of his staff carry boxes of donated foodstuffs into The Lord’s Pantry in Downingtown, Monday.

“The economy is not where it should be,” he said. “We haven’t had the recovery that we normally have after a bad recession and here we are a number of years later, and we’re still struggling to get the economy really kicked fully into gear. Some of the numbers are certainly better than they were, but we still have a record low number of people actually in the workforce and wages have been terribly stagnant. If fact, they’ve moved backwards for most people.”

As Toomey said he sees it, much of the blame comes from inaction in Washington, D.C.

“We have a lot of work to do,” he said. “Unfortunately, a lot of the reason that the economy isn’t doing what it could be is bad policy in Washington. That has stifled growth. A big part of what I’m trying to do is have the kind of policy that will encourage the economic growth that creates opportunity and rising wages.”

While there are debates about which policies make sense to get the economy moving — and those debates will likely be front in center during many different elective races in 2016 — many in the community seem concerned about an apparent stalemate in both state and federal government, an atmosphere where politics seems to outweigh getting the people’s work done.

Many local folks have been directly impacted by the current political stalemate. Many local public and private groups, such as The Lord’s Pantry, depend on state funds, often disbursed through county grants, all of which have been on hold for more than five months, as the state continues without a budget.

With the current state budget impasse — and after Republicans in the state House of Representatives appeared to have opted out of an apparent budget deal Saturday night — new fears appear to be rising of a similar situation on the federal level. If GOP members in the U.S. House of Representatives block the omnibus spending bill this week, the possibility of a federal shutdown looms.

Toomey, though, said Monday he thinks a shutdown is unlikely.

“It’s a long story of how we got here, it’s a bad process, we should be doing individual funding bills to fund the government incrementally over the course of the year, so that a big, giant shutdown is not even a possibility,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’re not able to do that. I think it is unlikely that we’re going to have a shutdown. I think most likely we will either pass what we call an omnibus, a new spending bill that funds the government for the entire next fiscal year or a short term measure that continues the current funding for maybe a few days or a week until that bigger bill gets done. Either way, I think a shutdown is quite unlikely, not impossible, but unlikely.”

Toomey said that he and his GOP colleagues had tried to move individual spending bills, but were rebuffed by Democrats in both chambers.

“It’s very frustrating,” he said.

While the political debate goes on in Harrisburg and Washington, though, many folks in Chester County have a more fundamental concern: whether they will be able to feed their families this winter. As noted by officials from The Lord’s Pantry — and echoed by other food pantries around the county — while folks tend to show great generosity during November and December, with focus on the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, January and February can be difficult months, as donations drop off.

While various local supermarkets are consistent with donations, food pantry volunteers stress the continued need for donations throughout the year, especially after the holidays. And while all non-perishable foods are appreciated and welcomed, officials noted a need for diapers and baby wipes. Neither is covered by the federal Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program — and diapers are rarely donated to food pantries, despite being in need. Often, pantries purchase them to assist those families in need. Donations of those products would be appreciated, they said.

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