Area seniors were treated to free food and health screenings Thursday morning, as part of an annual Senior Fair hosted by state representative Mike Gerber (D-148).
Held in the west cafeteria of Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School at 9:30 a.m., the fair quickly filled with what looked to be about 100 attendees.
"We offer a wide variety of constituent services for seniors at the fair," said Shelly Waldman, legislative assistant to Gerber. "They get all of this information, we serve a nice lunch, and then [Rep. Gerber] speaks."
Among the various tables were government services such as the Montgomery County Department of Aging and the state Attorney General's office, along with a number of healthcare providers. Mercy Suburban Hospital provided free blood-pressure screening, while trained audiologists from Salus University offered free hearing screenings.
Now in its sixth year, Waldman says the fair is one of the most well-attended events the office holds.
"We have people coming from all over the district, and everything is donated or funded by corporate sponsors," Waldman said, adding that the food was provided by McGuire's Market in Blue Bell.
Gerber addressed the crowd after brunch, apologizing that he would need to leave to attend to business in Harrisburg. Gerber used the opportunity to talk about a number of key issues on his current legislative agenda.
"It's budget time, it's always budget time this time of year," said Gerber. "[Gov. Corbett] has said that he didn't want to raise taxes and wants to cut taxes for businesses. And in proposing to do that, he's also proposed to cut funding for critical programs; basic education, higher education, senior programs, programs for the disabled and mentally handicapped."
"So we've been working very hard to push back on the governor," Gerber continued. "And find a way to avoid those cuts and maybe not give such generous tax breaks to some of the corporations out there."
Gerber then discussed the ongoing debate around drilling in the Marcellus Shale, saying he voted against the bill that passed in February to establish a tax rate on extraction of the natural resources.
"The tax rate was very low, and I wasn't proposing a higher tax rate just to punish the industry," Gerber said. "In my view it was much lower than competitor states, and with that added revenue we could avoid some of these cuts that the governor is proposing."
Later, Gerber fielded questions from the audience. He answered one question about the privatization of the state's liquor stores by stating that the estimates of potential revenue were still too unclear for the legislature to move forward on a bill.
Another attendee asked about what the government was doing to protect programs such as social security and Medicare.
"My hunch is that folks in D.C. will do everything they can to protect the programs," said Gerber, clarifying that the programs are administered by the federal government. "My hope is that the partisanship in Washington will calm after the elections and they'll recognize that the solution can't just be raise new revenue, or can't just be cut back on programs."
Gerber predicted that any cuts would come to wealthy seniors who don't depend on the services.
"We have people who joke about their $25,000-a-year social security money being their wine allowance," Gerber said. "When you hear things like that you realize that they clearly don't need it if their investment income is more than a quarter million dollars a year or something like that."