Help available for displaced area workers

Representative of Rapid Response Program gives overview during meeting

LEWISTOWN – Workers who suddenly find themselves out of a job, be it layoffs or business closures, are reminded there is help available.

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry relies on its Rapid Response Program to bring valuable information and services to those whose jobs go away.

During Thursday’s business meeting of the Mifflin County Commissioners, Thomas Werstler, a regional representative of the Rapid Response Program, was on hand to provide a brief overview of what the program is all about.

“Whenever there is a closure or layoffs, we are available to meet with the companies and employees to discuss options,” Werstler said.

Citing the recent decision to close the GE plant in Lewistown, Werstler said he immediately organized a meeting with employees. “The GE corporate offices were not really happy to work with us but the locals did,” he explained. Werstler said the meeting consisted of Rapid Response Program representatives, Mifflin County CareerLink, and representatives of Social Security, consumer credit counseling, the prescription assistance program and a healthcare navigator. “That’s just a few of the things we do at these meetings,” Werstler added. “We explain everything you need to do when you’re laid-off.”

Werstler said the program also offers re-employment training, dislocated worker transition services and tracking where the people go. “Are they getting jobs? That’s the sort of thing we want to know,” he said.

According to Werstler, 73 percent of displaced GE workers are now either working elsewhere, retired or in school. “That’s a pretty good number,” he stated. “CareerLink is still working with the other 27 percent. However, some of those people have either moved out of the area or just moved on.”

In addition to working with those who have lost employment, Werstler said the program also works for layoff aversion. “That’s an effort to save those jobs,” he said. Sadly, that is not always possible. “It’s nice to see you people today,” he concluded, adding, “I hope, for obvious reasons, not to have to see you again.”

In other business Thursday, the commissioners approved the 2018-19 Medical Assistance Transportation Program Grant Agreement and allocation for the Mifflin-Juniata CARS Program in the amount of $454,700. Allison Fisher, Mifflin-Juniata Human Services director, said this is the annual renewal for provision of the CARS transportation service. She added, however, there is deep concern that a recent legislative decision to push toward regionalization of the transportation program will hurt rural areas such as Mifflin and Junicta Counties. “In my opinion that would hurt rural communities tremendously,” Fisher stated. “We have been in contact with C-CAP (County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania) and they are contacting legislators to express their concerns. Any regional brokerage system is troubling. This was done in the midnight hours and is a complete shock to everyone. Nobody has been given time to think this through.”

Commissioner Stephen Dunkle agreed, noting, “A regional approach seems to be the direction the state is going to.”

In other business Thursday, Jeff Hackenberg, client relationship manager with Penn State Extension, was in attendance to provide an update of activities by that agency. Hackenberg said Extension recently hired an agronomy educator and a horticulture educator. He also introduced Emily Lehman, a poultry educator, who spoke briefly on participating in a conference on hatchery and animal welfare issues that took place recently in the Netherlands.

In other action, the commissioners:

¯ Approved exonerating a 2018 county real estate tax bill for a parcel in Derry Township that contained an error in the building value and will be re-billed. The county’s portion was $1,278.40.

¯ Approved a resolution authorizing Chairman Kevin Kodish to sign the Highway Safety Patrol Grant for sobriety checkpoints and expanded DUI/underage drinking enforcement.

¯ Approved an amendment to the Master Consultant Agreement with Delta Development to extend the agreement for an additional 12 months at a cost of $3,000 per month.

¯ Approved a letter of understanding between the county and Geisinger-Lewistown Hospital to provide treatment and services to the inmate population at the Mifflin County Correctional Facility.

¯ Approved the Mifflin County State Food Purchase Program agreements with the following agencies: Central PA Food Bank, $2,235; Salvation Army, $6,564.43; Hand of Grace/Grace Covenant Church, $22,641; Abuse Network, $6,000; Bible Baptist/New Life Church Food Pantry, $7,446; Bible Baptist/ New Life Church Soup Kitchen, $600; Calvary Bible Church, $21,000; and M-J-Human Services, $3,352.08.

¯ Accepted the resignation of Kyle Kenepp as a full-time corrections officer effective Aug. 6.

¯ Hired Jason Houser and Bruce Sumner as part-time corrections officers effective Aug. 20.