Obama addresses economic issues in Elyria

Josh Johnston

Concerns about health care took a backseat to jobs and the economy during President Barack Obama’s Town Hall meeting Friday at Lorain County Community College.

The people of Elyria did not ask about the health care reform bill currently in Congress, but they quizzed the president for an hour on how to get or generate more jobs in the area.

Obama spoke to a crowd hit hard by the economic downturn in the second stop of his “White House to Main Street Tour.”

Addressing students, community members and business leaders, Obama downplayed the criticism this past week of his health care agenda and party by assuring the audience that he would keep fighting for them.

“So long as I have the privilege of serving as your president, I will not stop fighting for you,” Obama told the audience of more than 1,200. “I’m not going to walk away just because it’s hard.”

After his opening remarks, Obama fielded questions on topics ranging from Pell Grants to intellectual property rights protection overseas.

Valerie Fultz, a worker in the financial services office at LCCC, asked the president if his administration would continue to increase Pell Grants. Obama replied with a straight yes.

“We made enormous investments into higher education,” he continued. “We significantly increased the level of each Pell Grant, and we also put more money so that we could have more Pell Grants.

“One thing I have to say though, even as we put more money into the student loan program, we’re also trying to reach out to university presidents and administrators to figure out how we can reduce the inflation in higher education. The fact is, the only thing that has gone up faster in costs than health care is, guess what? Higher education. Trying to find creative ways for universities to do more with less is going to be important.”

However, job-related questions dominated the discussion. While he gave no specific solutions, Obama said he was working with Congress on a “jobs bill” that would benefit industries that aim to help the country become energy efficient. He said Ohio received the largest sum toward clean energy, highlighting a $25 million investment on an Elyria-based plant.

The unemployment rate in Ohio, at 10.9 percent — or 641,000 people — in December, has increased three-tenths since November. The state’s current unemployment rate is above the national average, according to the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services.

Jerome Lowery, 29, of Elyria, asked the president how he could get a job after being convicted of a felony and never being previously employed.

“I couldn’t get a job. I felt discriminated,” Lowery said after the meeting. “Then I went to jail, (so) now I’m wearing two coats of discrimination. But (I’m) still trying. I’m overwhelmed that I got to say to the president what I wanted to say. I feel appreciated.”

Lowery also asked Obama to read a poem he wrote on Inauguration Day last year. The president took the poem and said he would read it later.

Despite the serious topics of the meeting, Obama kept the mood light by joking with audience members and promising to personally look into each situation. In many cases, he directed the people to leave contact information with his staff.

A single mother of three told Obama her youngest child almost died of lead poisoning last year. She said she contacted the Environmental Protection Agency and received no help.

“I guarantee you that somebody from the EPA is going to call you in about five minutes,” Obama replied, causing the audience to laugh. “Before you sit down, there’s going to be a phone call from the EPA.”

One audience member, Jordan Brown, didn’t have a question, but just wanted to shake the president’s hand.

After the question and answer session, Obama took the opportunity to address the current health care bill going through Congress and correct the myths some people hold. The president reassured the crowd that the reform bill would benefit all Americans.

“None of the big issues that we face in this country are simple,” he said. “Everybody wants to act like they’re simple. Everybody wants to say that they can be done easily. But they’re complicated. They’re tough.

“The health care system is a big, complicated system, and doing it right is hard.”

Before and after appearing at LCCC, Obama toured local manufacturing plants, including EMC Precision Machining and the Riddell factory. He was accompanied by Gov. Ted Strickland, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Reps. Betty Sutton and Marcy Kaptur and Elyria Mayor Bill Grace.

In his closing statements, Obama reiterated his promise to keep fighting for Americans.

“I want to march forward with you,” he said. “I want to work with you. I want to fight for you. I hope you’re willing to stand by me, even during these tough times because I believe in a brighter future for America.”

Read about Obama’s visit to Lorain County Here

Contact public affairs reporters Josh Johnston and Regina Garcia Cano at [email protected] and [email protected]. Public affairs reporter Darren D’Altorio contributed to this report.