Janis Brooks says if people are voiceless, their complaints go unheard and the status quo prevails. So instead of complaining, Brooks, a nonprofit administrator from North Versailles, is doing something. She is running against veteran incumbent US Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pittsburgh for his 14th district seat in the April Democratic Primary.
She said though she and Doyle agree on most big-picture issues, he has lost touch with his constituents, especially those struggling to get by.
“I work with people in need on a daily basis. If you’ve never had to worry about paying the light bill or paying your property taxes, you don’t understand what people are going through,” she said. “We have record numbers of people slipping into poverty. What does that say about the people who were already poor?”
Brooks, who has earned a master’s degree in Urban Studies and Management and a PhD in Public Administration, is the director of Citizens to Abolish Domestic Apartheid, which has worked to assist at-risk youth and families since 1990.
She says the federal government needs to provide more job training and life-skills training to poor and minority residents because many have never had a job and have no idea what it takes to try to get out of poverty.
“We have people who need to be entirely reeducated because the workplace environment is entirely different from the street environment,” she said. “I am the first female African-American to run for congress in this district. I can write policy and analyze policy, and I work with people in need on a daily basis. Who better to represent them than someone with my background?”
Brooks said educational advancement is critical for moving people from poverty. Her children; a daughter who is a medical researcher formerly at the National Institutes of Health, and a son who earned advanced degrees in engineering and physics and trained NASA astronauts for duty on the International Space Station, exemplify her priorities.
Legislatively, Brooks said she would work to gain federal assistance for issues that are largely state concerns including mass transit.
“Poor people are in a Catch-22,” she said. “One woman I know got a raggedy car so she could work more hours at a better second job. But it cost $500 to meet inspection. She can’t pay the bill without working more overtime at her second job, but she can’t do that without a car because of the hours.”
In addition to working to provide more loans, grants and training for poor residents, Brooks sad she will strive to reduce the number of African-American males convicted of felonies via sentencing review boards; increase after-school program funding and eligibility for children up to age 18; increase income limits for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and more food, prescription and dental assistance for seniors.
She also wants federal resources to address the possibility that longtime homeowners will lose their houses to reassessments that triple home values.
“My income didn’t triple. Did yours? These senios here certainly didn’t get a raise to cover that increase,” she said.
Finally she wants federal assistance to help police and communities work together to eliminate violence in African-American communities.
“I’m tired of burying our young males,” she said. “I would work through the Department of Justice to provide grant founding for police to actually teach community people, and build better relationships. We need to build trust.”
Brooks said she knows she is fighting an uphill battle against a popular and powerful opponent, but she said something has to change.
“I’m the voice for people who are struggling and those who don’t want to fall into that class,” she said. “It’s time for the status quo change, time to do something different.”
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