Larsen updates Oak Harbor on projects

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen talked about healthcare, infrastructure and housing affordability.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen talked healthcare, infrastructure and housing affordability at a community coffee event in Oak Harbor on Tuesday.

Around 30 people attended the casual question-and-answer session, including several Oak Harbor city officials. Larsen said this meeting was the first of its kind on Whidbey since before the pandemic.

Larsen updated residents on work that has been going on in Washington D.C., particularly legislation that will directly impact Washington state and Whidbey Island.

In August, Congress passed a bill that will give Medicare the authority to negotiate lower prescription drug costs, Larsen said. As this is intended to reduce healthcare costs for seniors, it should prove beneficial to Whidbey Island’s significant population of older residents and help them stay afloat amid rising living costs.

Larsen also discussed last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which will deliver about $1.2 trillion in funding for roads, bridges, transit, broadband and more throughout the country over the next four and a half years. He said he will work with organizations in his jurisdiction to ensure they are aware of the funding that will be available — for example, Island Transit and the state ferry system may be eligible for these funds as they work on electrifying their fleets, he said.

Larsen assured Oak Harbor and other Island County municipalities that they will not be left in the dust as larger cities utilize their greater capacities to pursue funds. He said Congress is aware of the need for equity in the distribution of these funds and has released funds to help small communities hire the staff necessary to pursue grant funding.

Residents in attendance expressed concerns about inflation, especially as it relates to housing and utility affordability. Oak Harbor City Council member Shane Hoffmire pointed out that the Clean Water Facility’s $160 million of debt reflects in the rates that city residents pay and wondered what options were available for managing that debt service, such as state revolving funds.

Larsen said the infrastructure bill invests greatly in the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act, which is where the state departments of health and ecology receive some state revolving funds. He said he would have his staff coordinate with Oak Harbor city officials as they propose solutions to the debt problem.

Inflation is not an isolated phenomenon, Larsen said; it is happening all over the world. But despite larger ongoing issues such as the war in Ukraine and pandemic aftermath affecting global markets, legislation has been passed by Congress such as the aforementioned Medicare act and money allocated for safe and clean water through the infrastructure bill.