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COCONINO VOICES

Coconino Voices: Flagstaff Army veteran says Congress should act on bills

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When I came back to the states from my tour in Korea last year, I expected to hit the ground running with a good job and a place of my own. I took out a $20,000 personal loan and started looking for a place to put down roots. I never expected it to take a year to find work, or to be living with my parents and wife under one roof, but COVID-19 turned the unexpected into reality.

This whole time, it has felt like life is spinning out of control — and not just because of COVID. After months of applying for jobs in law enforcement and hearing nothing back, I had drained my loan and had no idea how I was going to pay it off. It was only supposed to help me get back on my feet — but instead, the loan dug me into a hole. If I had known it would take so long to find work, I never would have taken it out to begin with.

That’s why I decided it was time to take whatever was available to me: seasonal work with UPS delivering packages around the holidays to fill the gaps and pay the bills. It felt good to work again, but once the season ended, our financial situation just got more strained.

I’m tired of feeling like this, sitting and waiting for the world to get back to normal. I’m only 23 and I want to get out there and start building a life that is fully my own. I know so many Arizonans, especially young people, want the same thing.

But it’s not just COVID-19 that’s holding us back, it’s the fact that everything is simply too expensive. And costs never stop rising. Whenever it feels like you catch a break, there’s always a catch, whether it’s a bill around the corner, a new expense, an accident or some other emergency. Just a few months back, my wife’s car was totaled by local floods, we couldn’t afford to get it replaced.

Even now, I’ve got a game plan to attend flight school at Liberty University to train to be a pilot. When I graduate in two or three years, hopefully there will be no COVID-19 pandemic, and I’ll be able to get a job with a major airline once travel picks back up. But no matter where I work, it feels like there’s no escape from rising prices — healthcare, gas and utilities, rent, food. And with so few job opportunities right now, something bigger has to change.

I usually try to stay away from politics. I think of myself as more of a common sense person. Especially being in the Army, you say it how it is and if something needs to be fixed, it needs to be fixed. I voted for Trump twice, because he always said what needed to be said.

That’s why I think that politicians in Arizona and in Washington need to take a look at what’s actually going on in this country and focus on making the economy fairer and creating good jobs. Communities are struggling and young people like me don’t know what to do between paying for unaffordable bills and searching for work that pays too little. The budget and infrastructure bills that are being debated and are supposed to be voted on this week would do that. They would lower housing and utilities costs, make it so that more people can afford job training and education, and invest billions into fixing roads and bridges, and expanding internet access. Plus, these bills will make sure that we bring back the jobs that COVID took away, and keep them from going overseas, with “Buy American” provisions to ensure Federal dollars stay in our communities and by closing loopholes for big corporations that avoid taxes.

I know that for me, I’d definitely be able to find more work and make ends meet if these bills passed. Plus, the faster our communities are able to recover from the pandemic, the more likely I’ll be able to launch my career as a pilot and get back on track. That’s why I’m asking Congress — take this opportunity to help everyday people like me and my family. Show us you’re listening.

Dan Richards lives in Flagstaff and is a member of WorkMoney, a nonprofit advocacy organization.

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