By LOU WILIN
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown met Wednesday with Findlay and Hancock County community leaders, seeking their views on how to address worker shortages caused by the addiction epidemic.
Brown, D-Ohio, also discussed his legislative efforts during the meeting at Blanchard Valley Hospital.
“We got a little bit in the budget to try to help grandparents now, who … are now raising grandchildren” because the parents have addictions, he said. “It’s become a problem in sort of lots of places now and (the grandparents) just aren’t ready physically and emotionally.”
Brown also has a bill to combine existing workforce and job training grants to address the worker shortages resulting from the epidemic.
Companies sometimes have difficulty finding workers who can pass a drug test. And sometimes people go through drug treatment for an addiction, but then cannot get a job because they lack the skills, Brown said.
Brown’s bill, the Collectively Achieving Recovery and Employment (CARE) Act, would address that.
“We’re trying to find ways to combine federal jobs programs with federal health funding, like Medicaid, mostly Medicaid,” Brown said.
But Brown also sought the views and suggestions of the 15 to 20 people gathered at the hospital. Findlay-Hancock County Economic Development Director Tim Mayle sought help with communication.
“Findlay is really fortunate … We have a lot of programs that can help people who have drug problems, but what we find is, they are not getting connected to those programs,” Mayle said. “So, whatever you can put in the CARE Act to connect the resources and make them known to the people.”
Brown seemed to think that was more the responsibility of the local community than the federal government. But Mayle continued.
Health care can be complicated, Mayle said. A person may need to see multiple specialists. Addicts can have complications involving transportation and housing, Mayle said. Improving communication about the resources available to addicts would help, he said.
Brown was also urged to give addicted pregnant mothers higher priority for federal housing subsidies. Right now they are treated like everyone else, said Precia Stuby, executive director of the Hancock County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services board.
“Mothers who are addicted who are pregnant are not a priority population for metropolitan housing vouchers,” Stuby said. “It seems to me like if they were, we would get a twofer because we would be able to help the mom and help the infant.”
Brown did not dispute that point, but said the federal government needs to be spending more money for housing assistance in general.
“Twenty-five percent of renters in this country spend more than half of their money on housing,” he said.
Those people are one car repair or one medical bill away from not being able to survive, Brown said. He was echoing a point made earlier in the meeting by John Urbanski, chief executive officer of United Way of Hancock County.
“I’m senior Democrat on the (Senate) Banking Committee,” Brown said. “If the Democrats were in the majority — which probably most of you wouldn’t like — but if we are … I’d be chairman of banking. It’s called Banking, Housing, Urban Affairs. I just think one of my major focuses will be, if I am in that position, ‘What do we do about housing?” Brown said.
Brown said Gov. John Kasich’s expansion of Ohio’s Medicaid program to cover more low-income people has helped in the fight against addiction.
“I want to thank the governor publicly and hope that however these elections come out this year and whoever wins these elections, keeps Medicaid expansion in place,” he said.
Findlay Mayor Lydia Mihalik said the community is making progress in dealing with addiction.
“I feel like we’re getting there. We have a little bit further to go where we recognize that addiction is truly a disease and not a moral failing,” she said.
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