12th District Rep. talks work benefits and unemployment

January 7, 2020
In The News

LEWISTOWN–On Monday, Congressman Fred Keller (R-PA 12th District) visited with business leaders and members of the community during a meeting of the Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce. Before addressing questions and concerns, Keller gave some background into his life and what his work as a member of Congress.

Living in Snyder County, Keller was employed at Conestoga Wood Specialties for 25 years, ten of which he managed the company’s Beavertown factory. Keller also worked in property management, residential remodeling and construction. “So, I do understand some of the struggles that people who have a small business have, running larger business and also just making sure our community has the education and training it needs for our workforce.” Keller said.

Keller represented Union and Snyder County for 8 1/2 years in the Pennsylvania General Assembly before being elected to the U.S. Congress. As a member of congress, Keller serves as a member of the education and labor committees. “I think they (committees) fit very, very well for our area. Of course we have the Mifflin County Academy, Triangle Tech and some other places that do training for the trades.’ Keller said, “Penn College is great. We also have Bucknell University, Susquehanna University, Lycoming College and, of course, our state-run system of higher education, so we have a lot of educational institutions , variety of places for our kids after highschool to get trained.” Keller is an advocate of the trades and believes they are the opportunity our students need to obtain family-sustaining jobs without accruing a lot of debt.

Keller highlighted the importance of trade jobs with a program that the natural gas industry arranged with Lackawanna College to train students for careers in their industry. “It’s interesting that up to ten percent of the nation’s natural gas is produced out of Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district.” Keller said, “It doesn’t sound like a lot but there are 435 congressional districts and out of this one we are producing ten percent. It just shows the opportunity there.” Keller also commented that it’s not just labor jobs the industry needs, but computer and tech jobs as well.

Keller also pointed to the massive importance of agriculture in the 12th District, the district’s number one industry. Keller said the passage of the United States-Mexcio-Canada Agreement from the House–if passed by the Senate–could mean up to 17,000 agricultural jobs in Pennsylvania and about 42,000 manufacturing jobs. “So a huge, huge opportunity.” Keller said, ” Mexico is the number one consumer of corn from us and number three in soybeans. So that agreement is really helpful in our trade of agriculture.” Keller said that after the passage of USMCA deal, China is now willing to agree to do phase one of the trade agreement with the United States. Keller also said the China deal is up to around $50 billion in agricultural products into China. “It also does present some opportunity.” Keller said, ” We were talking at the (Pennsylvania) Farm Show the other day with Chris Hoffman, the hog farmer of the year in the United States. We’re working with him and working on some things for infrastructure. He has some good ideas because it is going to require some infrastructure to make sure that if this does come to fruition with China and they do purchase much more agriculture. We are going to need the ability to process those agriculture products and get them to market and ultimately to shipping out of the ports.” Other important aspects of the China trade agreement, Keller said, was dealing with the currency manipulation and the intellectual property issues.

Kenton Stuck of Better Homes & Gardens Real Estate and In Home Services of Central PA, presented several concerns including the structure of Workman’s Compensation and what can be done about people who abuse the system. “Workman’s comp is broken.” Stuck said, “You hear that from the insurance industry, you hear that from medical people. It’s very much stacked against the employer.” Stuck also brought up the issue of benefits and drug testing for those who get benefits. Stuck also spoke about the need for a reporting system for unemployment. “We have people who schedule interviews. Do not show up. We have people who are hired. Do not show up for orientation.” Stuck said, “I’ve always wondered ‘Are you collecting unemployment benefits or are you collecting other benefits?’ because if you are, you should be denied because of your behavior.” Stuck stressed the fact that there needs to be some form of reporting system employers can report such people who don not call or show up for employment opportunities to try and change such behavior. “The only way we’re going to change this behavior is to start denying all this free money.” Stuck said. FinallyStuck brought up the need for caregivers to be certified.

Keller addressed the issue of registering and certification of people who deal in home healthcare. Keller said there is some work being done to make sure that if someone is providing care that they log in when they are in the home for benefits that are already paid for by the government. “It’s a matter of accountability that the person is paying for those people are getting the care they need.” Keller also said there are steps being taken by the Department of Human Services and Medicaid Services to make sure the people already providing that care are accountable and standards are in place so they get the care they are paying for. Keller said they will continue to work with people at the state level.

Keller went on to comment on people working for benefits. Keller said the administration put out a new rule that people 18 to 29 years old with no dependents and who are capable of working have to work at least 80 hours a month as a volunteer, at a job or in a job training program. “We’re trying to chip at some of these things with regulations that make sense.” Keller said, “We are going to continue to work on these kinds of things to get more people to work.”

Keller said when you see these programs and policies come forward it is a help to legislators to hear from the community. “We hear it from people who oppose it all the time. But it would be a help from the group if we hear ‘Hey this really makes sense. Let’s everyone support this idea.'”