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Blumenthal addresses eastern Connecticut business community in virtual Chamber meeting

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal touched on workforce development in eastern Connecticut, inflation, immigration, gas prices, the filibuster and other subjects during an online meeting with the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce on Friday afternoon.

The Democrat extolled the value of workforce training programs, singling out Electric Boat for its engagement in such programs.

“Electric Boat is stepping up in a big way, as is eastern Connecticut. We should support these kinds of efforts and provide more training, which will enable more folks’ jobs to be filled,” Blumenthal said. “We’re getting more openings than we have people unemployed. We need to provide more training and development of workforce ... I think the challenge will be how to fill the jobs without incurring additional inflation.”

He also noted that the additional unemployment compensation being paid out as a result of the coronavirus pandemic has ceased.

“There’s been unhappiness with unemployment compensation increases — those are in the rearview mirror,” Blumenthal said. “One of the seeming mysteries is why more people are not going back to work. I would guess they’ve exhausted much of their savings. I’m hoping that will contribute to more people being in the workforce.”

One of the questions Chamber President Tony Sheridan asked Blumenthal is whether streamlining the immigration process would help with a shortage of workers.

“I am strongly in favor of immigration reform. It’s a broken system. The numbers of people coming into this country who are capable of working are too few,” Blumenthal said. “I work on constituent matters involving immigration, visas, green cards and other challenges, where people really deserve and need to be here. ... We don’t want to open our borders, we don’t want to eliminate security at our borders, that’s not what I’m advocating, but more of the immigration that over the history of this country has made us a nation of immigrants.”

Blumenthal took a question about cannabis-related businesses and banking. The Safe Banking Act, which has been passed by the House but not the Senate, wouldn’t change the federal legal status of cannabis but would allow cannabis businesses to access federal banking services. Blumenthal said he would advocate passage of the bill to his fellow senators.

As some of his legislative colleagues have been doing recently, Blumenthal said the Build Back Better Act has a better chance of passing if legislated in “segments” rather than as a total package — for example, climate change matters in one bill and child care issues in another. He believes easier access to and cheaper child care will get some people back to work. He spoke of a proposal from Build Back Better that would make it so child care wouldn’t cost more than 7% of families' yearly income.

Blumenthal acknowledged party member Joe Manchin, a Democratic senator from West Virginia, has been delaying passage of Build Back Better, but said they are friends who work together often.

“Disagreements with my colleagues are a source of frustration. But it’s not just with Senator Manchin,” Blumenthal said. “I want to emphasize that we are an equally divided Senate. Every single Republican voted against the American Rescue Plan. Senator Manchin voted with us. As a result of the American Rescue Plan, we have some of the workforce development programs I mentioned earlier ... It’s only when every single Republican opposes us that Manchin even becomes an issue. It happened on voting rights so far as the filibuster is concerned.”

During Friday’s event, Blumenthal touched on inflation and gas prices. He suggested two possible solutions: lowering prescription drug costs and investing in public transportation.

“I’ve heard the arguments from our great pharmaceutical companies that they need to invest in research and development, but we can still cut the costs,” he said. He highlighted a proposal that would reduce insulin prices significantly to $35 a month maximum.

s.spinella@theday.com

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