Assisting with the “closing out” of the cancelled Rocky Fork Lake development grant was the intended purpose of Teresa Lewis’ visit with the Highland County Board of Commissioners Wednesday, but the discussion soon turned to the problem of what commission vice president Terry Britton referred to as “almost a disgrace” concerning unemployment benefits.
Lewis, regional director of the Peebles office of state Rep. Brad Wenstrup, appeared before the commissioners to help in the close out of the now-defunct Rocky Fork Lake grant, which commissioners abandoned in December 2018 after growing weary of dealing with an inflexible federal bureaucracy and governmental red tape.
Britton said the main sticking point in finalizing the termination efforts was locating back-up paperwork and records related to the grant, with commission president Jeff Duncan adding that most everyone that was involved “had moved on to something else.”
Lewis suggested that a new letter from the current board of commissioners be drafted so that Wenstrup could take it before the Department of Justice, and that he would be meeting with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources at Rocky Fork Lake on June 4 in an effort to speed up the closure.
The discussion soon turned lengthy about the current climate of employers being unable to hire workers due to competition from unemployment benefits.
Lewis said that in many cases, the amount of jobless benefits total more than what workers were earning on the job, and that “people just don’t want to go back to work.”
She announced that Wenstrup will be holding a series of “business roundtables” with owners and employers to address the problem and what can be done about it.
Commissioner David Daniels shared a recent conversation he had with a woman whose husband had been laid off due to supply chain issues caused by the pandemic.
“She said ‘I hate to say it, but I’m making more money today than I’ve ever made in my life,’” Daniels said, meaning her household was collecting the current pandemic-driven unemployment benefits. “Nobody is going to go back to work after somebody’s been off work for the last year since they lose both their desire and they’re will to go back.”
Lewis said the situation is going to continue to be an issue since the enhanced extended jobless benefits are being prolonged through September.
“My oldest son told me that there were grown men who were begging to be laid off when this all first happened,” she said. “With the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance at $600, they could all go home and easily get $1,000 a week with their unemployment and PUA. He said they made nearly $1,000 a week as truckers, and all they had to do was claim they were afraid of getting the virus and the company had to lay them off.”
She said the amount of money that had either been appropriated by Congress or was being proposed was only making the problem worse, with Daniels adding that a recent study he read on the current national level of debt now amounted to $753,000 per household.
“The new administration really thinks that this is wonderful, they really do,” Lewis said. “And we’re scratching our heads and thinking that the level of dependency it’s creating, with people more and more depending on the federal government, is totally what we didn’t want, we didn’t want that.”
Also Wednesday, commissioners met remotely with Jennifer Dovyak-Lewis, first vice president of Area Agency on Aging, District 7, and Nina Keller, AAA7 executive director, to receive an update on its efforts in the 10-county region the agency serves, which includes Highland County.
Following the update, the commissioners issued a proclamation in honor of May being Older Americans Month.
In other matters, seven resolutions were approved, with six being line item budget transfers and modifications, and the other awarding a chip/seal contract worth $475,000 to the Miller-Mason Paving Company for countywide road improvement projects.
Two contracts received signature approval, along with commission president Jeff Duncan executing a payment request for repair to the Rolling Acres Wastewater System, and entering into a sub-grant agreement with the Area 7/Greater Ohio Workforce Board and Highland County.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.