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Among topics, Senator discusses Social Security, support for farmers, environment

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley hosted a town hall at Scappoose Middle School on April 27. More than 60 community members attended.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, took questions from audience members, including two middle school students, at a town hall held at Scappoose Middle School on April 27.

Asked about how to save Social Security, Merkley presented two potential solutions.

"One is to raise the cap on the amount of income subject to a social security premium. The second is to apply the social security premium to all forms of income, not just simply wages," said Merkley. "Either of those two things can sustain the Social Security fund for essentially 70-plus years into the future. And I'm ready to support either one of them."

He added, "It's a challenge to get Congress to focus on [Social security] because they kind of think, 'Well, the crisis is a decade or two out there, we can wait.' Well, we shouldn't wait. It gets worse to fix the longer it sits there."

Merkley asked audience members to raise their hands for each of the options they would support. Attendees overwhelmingly supported both of the potential solutions.

Port of Columbia County commission candidate Nancy Ward asked Merkley how he and Congress can support farmers. Merkley said he is working with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to promote growing hemp.

"Sometimes it's policy, sometimes it's supporting programs," Merkley said.

Supporting farmers "happens through the appropriations bill, and I'm the top Democrat on the [agriculture] side, so I've been immersed in promoting those programs that work on all these different pieces," Merkley said, noting initiatives for supporting organic farmers, building up healthy soil, diversifying crops, and supporting agricultural research stations.

PMG PHOTO: ANNA DEL SAVIO - Attendees applauded after eighth grader Jonas Wilson asked Sen. Merkley if he had ideas on how to make Oregon school funding more stable.

Merkley spoke about the conflicts of job creation and environmental protection.

"I think the problems that are happening with the planet are so significant that at some point folks cover their eyes and their ears and say, 'I don't want to hear any more about it, it's just too painful.' Well, let's talk about the other side of the equation, which is that we can create jobs, we can create a stronger economy, by taking the transition to renewables," Merkley said. "We can launch an infrastructure [program] that will keep people employed in every construction trade for decades to come, meanwhile, establishing the cheapest electricity on the planet, which is renewable energy. And save our planet, improve our economy, both at the same time. That's the vision."

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