HARLEYSVILLE -- Speaking at a Zoom candidates forum to attendees from non-profit and public sector health and human services organizations, three candidates from three area U. S. Congressional districts said they support increased federal funding for schools and child care.

"Education is incredibly important. We have to make sure that our schools are adequately funded. We have to make sure that our teachers have the resources that we need because the children need to have the resources that they need to have a high quality education," said Christina Finello, Democratic candidate for the seat held by Republican Brian Fitzpatrick in Pennsylvania's 1st District, which includes parts of Bucks and Montgomery counties.

"Any new stimulus package has to have more funding for childcare providers," Finello said.

She said she supports universal pre-kindergarten programs.

"We have to make sure that everybody has access to a quality education right from the start," she said, "regardless of where they live."

Madeleine Dean, the Democrat incumbent in the 4th District, which covers parts of Montgomery and Berks counties, said she also supports universal pre-kindergarten.

"If we invest more in education, I'm certain that is going to be the key to many of the other issues and ills that face our country," she said.

"I'm certain how we educate our children will not determine just their future, but our own," Dean said, "and I say that as a mom and as a grandmom. We have to rethink how we educate our kids and put our money where our mouth is."

In answer to a question about health care and the possibility of the Supreme Court overturning the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare, Mary Gay Scanlon, the Democrat incumbent in the 5th District, which includes parts of Montgomery, Chester, Delaware and Philadelphia counties, said overturning it would be devastating for tens of millions of Americans.

There is a mandate for universal healthcare, she said. 

"We still have a lot of arguments going on between people of good will about exactly how we get there, but we have a good basis to expand it," Scanlon said. 

"Health care should be universal," Dean said. "Health care should be considered an absolute right and we have to make sure that everyone receives it equitably. We're not doing that in this country." 

The forum, held the morning of Oct. 9, was hosted by the Bucks-Mont Collaborative, Pennsylvania Health Access Network and Public Citizens for Children and Youth. Sandra Shea, managing editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer's opinion pages, was the moderator. 

The three candidates in attendance are all Democrats. Fitzpatrick, 4th District Republican candidate Kathy Barnette and 5th District Republican candidate Dasha Pruett were invited to attend, but Fitzpatrick and Pruett declined, while Barnette was originally slated, but subsequently withdrew because of a scheduling conflict, an organizer said.

The full hour-long forum can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PDV3HQkDyE

In answer to a question about inmate services and efforts for former prisoners to be able to successfully re-enter society, Finello said, "We have to treat substance abuse and mental health at the same level of care and resources that we treat physical health. That is incredibly important. We need to ensure that insurance coverage is available for mental health treatment and substance abuse." 

"What is so clear is that our prison system has become a repository for people who are not being served elsewhere and it's becoming a repository for people suffering from mental illness, from trauma, from abuse, from addiction," Scanlon said. "Far from defunding the criminal justice system, we have funded that at the expense of all these other social services which could address these issues short of incarceration."

In answer to a question about Pennsylvania's $5.5 billion deficit as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Dean said the federal government has provided some assistance, but more is needed. 

"Pennsylvania families are hurting, Pennsylvania parents are worried about the education of their children, so what we need to do is, number one, get our hands around the pandemic, which the president, at the top, has failed to do, and, number two, boost our economy through federal support," Dean said. 

"As dark as these days are now, I am very optimistic that this election cycle will bring forth robust voices by way of our votes to redirect the direction of this country," Dean said later in her closing statement. 

"Get to the polls, vote and start a new day," Scanlon advised. 

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