Legislators talk economy, health issues at chamber-GROW breakfast

November 14, 2019
In The News

WELLSBORO — Legislators and a government administrator talked about influences on the economy and what is being done to address those at the annual Wellsboro Chamber of Commerce/Growth Resources of Wellsboro breakfast Nov. 7.

Congressman Fred Keller, state Rep. Clint Owlett and Matt Baker, regional director for the U.S. Department of Health, touched on the opioid epidemic, education and student loans, workforce development, agriculture, emergency responders and other issues.

Keller said that partnerships between colleges and industry is one way to make college affordable. An energy company in Susquehanna County partnered with Lackawanna College to offer a two-year course for people wanting to enter the industry. A 12-week course is available in Tennessee to train workers for the lumber industry.

Forgiving college loans for people who enter public service is another idea to be explored, said Keller. He would support states determining which occupations would qualify, as the need for certain jobs could vary.

He does not support the Higher Education Act because “it doesn’t make it more affordable. It just changes who pays the debt.”

Owlett also touched on workforce development for career and technical trades, noting that employers tell him jobs are available, but potential employees do not have the necessary skills.

He said the county’s public school superintendents are supportive of school-to-work programs, apprenticeship grants and partnerships with private businesses to provide job skills to students.

Owlett said legislation will not “fix” the drug and alcohol abuse issues. It is a cultural problem and lawmakers need to think differently about how to support and help people with addictions. Part of that, he said, is telling success stories to give hope to those who are struggling.

Concluding the talks, Baker said the opioid epidemic touches not only on health centers, but developing places for infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome and human trafficking.

The epidemic has financial repercussions, affecting the economy when there’s a lack of healthy workers and lost tax revenue, which totaled $638 million in Pennsylvania.

There are some positive indicators, he said. Overdose deaths have decreased by 5%, although Pennsylvania remains in the top tier of overdose deaths. The number of opioid prescriptions written is down by 30%, “but there’s so much more we need to do,” said Baker.

The federal DOH is looking at how to lower drug prices, get more information to consumers and decrease health care costs, such as allowing critical access hospitals to undergo a review process every two years rather than annually.