Ask Congressman Josh Harder what the biggest obstacle is for the Northern San Joaquin Valley obtaining federal help whether it is funding or dealing with regulations and his answer won’t be partisan politics.
“We are penalized because we are a region in a real large state that is also a rich state,” noted Harder, who is in his first term as Congressman representing the 10th District comprised of Stanislaus County as well as Manteca, Ripon, Tracy, and Escalon.
The 33-year-old Congressman can rattle off statistics that are all too familiar with San Joaquin Valley residents that run the gamut from shortages of doctors and nurses, and struggling schools, to higher unemployment than the state and national averages.
The plight of the San Joaquin Valley region, especially as you head south down the Highway 99 corridor, was showcased in a 352-page Congressional Research Service report issued in 2005. The report found that the per capita of the eight county San Joaquin Valley — San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Tulare, Kings, Fresno, Kern and Madera — was lower than in the 68-county Appalachia region. Welfare dependency was higher, access to medical care was lower, childhood and birth issues more prevalent, and housing substantially more expensive in the San Joaquin Valley than Appalachia, long viewed as the poorest region in the country. It was that study that prompted some to hang the “New Appalachia” moniker on the San Joaquin Valley.
The 2016 median household income figures compiled by DATA USA reflect what the region — and those representing the valley — is up against.
Manteca’s household median income is $3,800 shy of the state median of $71,805 and almost $8,000 more than the national median. Modesto, also in District 10, is $6,300 below the national average. Go south of District 10 to cities such as Madera and the median plunges to $40,704.
But the perception of California’s wealth is driven by the Northern California Mega Region — the second strongest economic region in the country — is centered primarily in the Bay Area and Sacramento where Manteca and much of District 10 is located on the outer edge. Forty-one miles from Manteca the median house income more than doubles to $138,269 in Pleasanton compared to $68,019 for Manteca.
And while the Tracy-Ripon-Manteca-Lathrop sub-region is the fastest growing region in the state in population and new jobs thanks to its strategic position to serve as both a distribution hub and affordable housing answer for the Bay Area, as you head south toward Modesto where they are getting Bay Area commuter checks as well, the jobs haven’t been growing as well.
The part of San Joaquin County along with Stanislaus County that Harder represents, is in the strongest economic position of the San Joaquin Valley thanks to its proximity to the Bay Area. And while Manteca, Tracy, and Lathrop — the two former are cities in his district — are booming economically and making strides, it is more of a challenge heading south into the valley.
District 10 is also arguably one of the most dynamic congressional districts in California if not the nation. Agriculture still rules as distribution and other jobs grow. Among those 80,000 plus who head over the Altamont Pass are people who work at one of the world’s foremost nuclear research laboratories as well as the “who’s who” firms that rule the tech world plus countless startups.
The district, as Harder points out, is the embodiment of the repertoire of cultures and ethnic groups that comprise California. And it is here that you will find various views — politically and culturally — that if they were sitting on a scale could easily tip either direction.
To try to secure what Harder believes District 10 needs from the federal government he is part of a House of Representatives group of 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans that meet Wednesdays for breakfast. On the menu is trying to serve up bipartisan solutions to issues that have direct impacts on the lives of constituents.
One such example Harder offers is securing more doctors and nurses in the underserved Northern San Joaquin Valley.
“The Bay Area has significantly more doctors than we do,” Harder said.
The big fight for healthcare is over insurance and coverage. Harder is part of that fray.
But what he is also looking to address concerns he hears constantly from constituents about simply being able to access health care.
One solution he is working on are programs the federal government funds through non-profit community health concerns that provide direct services to patients that helps attract doctors and other medical personnel to underserved areas by helping pay off their education debt load. That would involve getting language in place that accelerates and increases the payoff of student loans proportionately to how underserved the area is in terms of physicians and nurses.
Harder also has worked to step up having his office being as effective as possible at reaching out to constituents that are caught up in federal red tape.
It is something that congressional representatives have done since the dawn of the republic. It is also something his predecessor Jeff Denham was successful at doing.
To that end he has stepped up outreach efforts beyond those via the district office or at mobile locations around the district that staff conducts. Harder has staged 12 in person town hall meetings, 13 one-on-one office hour events, two telephone town hall meetings and a Facebook Live town hall during his first seven months in office.
That has resulted in over 600 people approaching his office that he has been able to help cut red tape. That includes securing $119,406 in federal benefits to district veterans, seniors, and other taxpayers that were being stymied by red tape.
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