George Brown, Sen. Rob Portman’s Northeast Ohio district representative, held an open office hour session Tuesday at the Richland County commissioners' boardroom for local residents and employees to present any comments or concerns they may have. He heard from Bob Zettler, the county’s workforce development specialist, and Bob Payne, a Shelby resident, on separate issues.
Sen. Portman has open office hours in each of Ohio’s 88 counties. Brown said, “It’s an opportunity for [Portman] to provide an additional avenue to get input from constituents across Ohio, so if individuals are having any concerns or thoughts that they would like to pass onto the senator, this is just another way for them to do so.”
During the open office session, Zettler addressed the Workforce Investment Act, saying that it needs to be revised, to which Brown said that the act is currently in the revision process.
“The question is what direction is it heading and how long will it take to get to a place where it might get a vote?” Zettler responded.
Brown then stated, “We’re hopeful that it’s going to happen soon before the recess.” He added that earlier this year, Portman crafted the Senate Republican Jobs Plan and among the targets of that plan is closing the workforce skills gap. Portman also co-sponsored the CAREER Act, Careers through Responsive, Efficient, and Effective Retraining Act.
Zettler said that he hopes to see an effective move made in the future with respect to workforce development. He believes that not enough attention is paid to the fact that many people that have work experience and have been laid off have decided to not rejoin the workforce. “You can hang that sign out there and say, ‘free training,’ and they’re not coming out,” Zettler said.
Zettler discussed the possibility of a “just-in-time training.” “For instance, folks could be trained for 80 hours on their skill and they could get back into the workforce pretty quickly; they don’t have to go through a two-year course to complete [training],” he said.
Brown said that hopefully through some of the reforms, such as the CAREER Act, some of the workforce development issues will be resolved.
He further noted that Portman has been to a number of career and technical schools. Portman recently started the Senate Career and Technical Education Caucus with Sen. Tim Kaine, “so career and technical education is definitely a pathway that he sees to filling a lot of the workforce issues,” Brown stated.
Payne approached Brown with a different topic—one that pertains to veterans affairs. He wanted to purchase a hearing aid, so he went to the VA for assistance, but they told him that he made too much money, he said.
“So I started asking around I called one of the other senator’s office and they told me if you make over $35,000, your wife and you both, you have got to go through these steps, but then they told me if you would have signed up before I think it was 2003, they would take millionaires,” Payne said.
He said he signed up for the military in 1968. “What did I sign up for in 1968? If you can answer that, I’ll be a happy camper,” Payne said.
Brown replied that although he didn’t have an answer for him, there is a veteran’s specialist on Portman’s staff that could provide assistance to Payne’s issue.
Brown ended the meeting by noting that residents are more than welcome to call Sen. Portman’s office at 216-522-7095 or visit www.portman.senate.gov to address their issues and concerns.