- Oregon Stories
Jeff’s first priority is to stand up for Oregonians. He has a whole team in Oregon that is working every day to help Oregonians cut through red tape and work with federal agencies. His office can assist you with securing Social Security benefits, answering Medicare questions, obtaining immigration information, inquiring about passport applications, navigating IRS issues and other federal matters. Included below are a few examples where Jeff has been able to help Oregonians or small businesses across our state get the assistance they need.
If you are interested in sharing your own personal story about the impact that Senator Merkley or his office has made, please click here.
Family Waiting for Answers from Private Company Gets Results from Senator Merkley’s Office
During the summer of 2013, Pacific Pipeline Connector company (PPC) performed a series of environmental impact studies and appraisals on Steve Prien’s property in Malin, Oregon. The company was interested in purchasing the land for a natural gas pipeline going from Malin to Coos Bay for the Jordan Cove export facility.
In the fall, thinking his home and property were in escrow because PPC had made verbal commitments, Steve considered it a done deal so he and his wife moved into a rental unit. Months later, he hadn’t heard anything from PPC. Losing money in both rent and heating bills for a house he wasn’t living in, Steve contacted the office of Senator Jeff Merkley for help getting answers and money from PPC.
Senator Merkley’s staff spoke with people at PPC, and eventually convinced James Goudreau at PPC to call Steve and talk things over. James promised to issue a check to cover Steve’s costs of moving. He also offered to relook at the sale/option for the property (resulting in an option sale contract and income for the Priens until the sale can be finalized) and to update Steve weekly on the permitting progress.
Steve and his family are grateful that Senator Merkley’s team took the time to help connect Steve with the right people at the company to solve this issue. It’s not always about passing legislation; sometimes making the right connections for Oregonians can make a world of difference.
Senator Merkley Rescues Family-Owned Business
When Echanis Distributing, a beer, wine, and water distributor in Ontario, Oregon, was approaching the verge of bankruptcy, the office of Senator Jeff Merkley acted quickly to help save the company.
Echanis Distributing is close to 65 years old and employs about 15 people whose livelihoods were in jeopardy when the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) prohibited them from driving their distribution routes, effectively shutting down the business. The company had overlooked a technical requirement within some updated regulations for travel logs, and had also failed to supply some required safety reports.
Echanis Distributing made a good faith effort to supply all the necessary information to both agencies, and ODOT was satisfied with the company’s compliance, but USDOT was not. That’s when business owner John Echanis sought help from State Representative Cliff Bentz, who directed him to Senator Jeff Merkley.
Oregon needs more local businesses, not fewer, so this case became a high priority for Senator Merkley and his staff. Working with Mr. Echanis and USDOT, the senator’s staff obtained and relayed the necessary information. Two days later, the USDOT lifted the driving ban and the company was back in business.
Senator Merkley Helps Port of Astoria Win Emergency Dredging Permit
During the federal government shutdown in October of 2013, the sediment buildup in the Port of Astoria was three feet short of being a serious problem. If not for Senator Merkley, the port might have needed to apply draft restrictions eliminating the Port’s ability to accommodate bulk carriers, resulting in millions of dollars in lost commerce.
Astoria is accustomed to dredging its port–sediment buildup accrues quickly there–but the shutdown had stalled the dredge permit in 2013, so the Port’s Executive Director, Mike Weston, sought help from Senator Jeff Merkley. The senator’s staff that was not furloughed at the time contacted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) pleading the port’s case. With Senator Merkley’s support NOAA was able to designate some resources to complete their review, bringing the port closer to earning the legal authority it needed to dredge.
In December, with other permits secured, the port still needed authority from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the emergency dredging. Again, Mr. Weston enlisted the help of Senator Merkley’s office. After three days and some phone calls, the port finally received the final permits necessary to dredge.
With the crisis averted, the port remained fully open to serve as an economic hub of the community.
Senator Merkley’s Office Saved Truck Driver’s Job
If Paul Regelin hadn’t obtained a medical waiver before April 6, 2011, he would have lost his job.
Mr. Regelin was a commercial truck driver and as a diabetic, he needed to obtain a medical waiver from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to maintain an Oregon Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). Without the license, he would not be able to keep his job.
He had completed all of the necessary doctors’ visits and had submitted all of his paperwork to the FMCSA and was awaiting review and approval of his waiver application. After waiting longer than he was comfortable, he contacted the office of Senator Jeff Merkley.
The senator has long emphasized the importance creating middle-income jobs, and he is just as committed to helping Oregon residents maintain middle-income jobs, so his staff spoke to the FMCSA to stress the time-sensitive nature of Mr. Regelin’s case.
In mid-March 2011, with no more word from the administration, the Senator’s staff ramped up their efforts, managing to obtain a temporary waiver for Mr. Regelin in time for him to keep his job. He obtained the full waiver in mid-April 2011.
Without this intervention, Mr. Regelin is confident he would not have received the waiver in time.
Senator Merkley Steps In to Solve Medicare Settlement Delays
In August of 2012, a private Medicare contractor owed Ron Mogel of Ashland, several thousand dollars, and when he contacted the office of Senator Jeff Merkley, he was in a financial bind. He was still paying out of pocket for treatment of injuries he sustained on the job in 2005, and he was dealing with a mound of past medical bills and the fallout from the recession.
Mr. Mogel had submitted the necessary paperwork to the Medicare Secondary Payer Recovery Contractor (MSPRC) in December 2011, and for nine months, the only thing they told him was that his case was "pending."
The senator’s staff stepped in and contacted Medicare right away, pointing out that Mr. Mogel’s nine-month wait was already eight months too long. MSPRC promised to complete his claim and to pay him within a month. A month later, when Mr. Mogel still hadn’t received his payment, the senator’s staff ramped up their efforts until his claim was actually completed ten days later.
Nearly eight years after his injury, Ron Mogel had finally received his compensation that he was owed. Senator Merkley believes that no Oregonian should have to wait this long to get the services and resources they deserve and that’s why he has a team in his office that is dedicated to helping Oregonians cut red tape and get the help they need.
Oregon Hero Recognized After Many Years
During World War II, Eugene resident Fred Selko served as a medic in France. He and others serving in the 100th Infantry Division field hospital managed to evacuate a French town located in an active war zone. His courageous actions saved countless lives, and the U.S. military awarded Mr. Selko with the combat field medical badge and two bronze stars for his actions in World War II.
Mr. Selko’s son Jamie Selko contacted the office of Senator Jeff Merkley in February 2014 inquiring to see if his father was eligible for additional recognition for his actions. Jamie was hoping to surprise his father with additional military honors at an event with the entire family.
By April, Senator Merkley’s office had succeeded in obtaining the French Legion of Honor award for Mr. Selko. The process took a few months of coordinating with the French government, but ultimately, the Legion of Honor --the highest award in France – was awarded to Mr. Selko. Once the paperwork was completed, a ceremony to award the medal was performed in Eugene. Mr. Selko’s family flew in from Texas and Idaho to celebrate his courageous actions during World War II.
Perhaps best of all, the award came as a complete surprise to Mr. Selko, who expressed his happiness at receiving the honor.
Senator Merkley Advocates for Farmers in Klamath Water Basin
In May 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared the Klamath Basin a federal disaster area due to drought conditions. The Klamath had struggled with drought in the past – limited water in 2001 led to a shutdown of the Federal irrigation system, harming farming families and tearing the community apart with protests. Subsequent water management hurt fish downstream and led to a massive die-off of salmon.
When the 2010 drought began, Senator Jeff Merkley met with local leaders who had been working together to develop a collaborative approach to managing the limited water supply and avoid conflict in the future. They communicated that another drought could mean family farms and ranches would have to shut down, leaving crops and livestock with little or no water, and that they were deeply concerned that another drought could again divide a community that was trying to work together. Senator Merkley vowed to help avoid another crisis.
Making good on that promise, the Senator worked with Senate leaders, Senator Wyden, and colleagues in both parties to get $10 million dollars for the Klamath Basin included in a Senate emergency spending bill. The day the bill was on the floor, Merkley cancelled his meetings and tirelessly shuttled from Republican senator to senator, addressing their concerns so they would allow the amendment to move. He even called Representative Greg Walden to come to the Senate Republican cloakroom and help the Senator persuade a Republican colleague who had once served in the House with Walden.
The funding Merkley secured was used for a land idling project so that farmers could receive incentive payments to avoid watering for the growing season. This allowed these farmers to pay their bills and avoid financial ruin while also allowing limited water supplies to be spread further.
Senator Merkley was pleased to come to the aid of farmers and ranchers during the 2010 drought. However, he was also keenly aware that the Klamath Basin needs a long term solution to its water management challenges in order to end the decades of water wars. He pledged to community leaders – irrigation districts, ranching and farming families, tribes who depend on stream flows to support native fish populations, conservation groups and fishing organizations – that if they could come up with a solution that they could all support, he would do everything within his power to make it a reality. In 2011, he introduced a bill to implement the community’s solution and is currently partnering with Senator Wyden to pass an updated version of the legislation.
Senator Merkley Helps With Mosquito Infestation in Bandon, OR
During the summer of 2013, Bandon, Oregon was swamped with mosquitos–literally.
As part of a large tidal marsh restoration project, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) had recently re-engineered channels to make sure that areas inundated by high tides would drain as the tide went out, but these channels proved insufficient for several areas of marsh, which promptly became massive breeding grounds for at least five species of mosquitos. The pests became such a problem that the county health director had to issue a health alert and nearby residents were miserable.
During Senator Jeff Merkley’s annual town hall in Coos County, Senator Merkley heard testimony from local residents about the swarms of mosquitos and even saw footage of bags full of mosquitos that had been caught. Soon after, he wrote a letter to the USFWS asking that they not only dig additional channels to address the problem, but also to compensate Coos County for the cost of immediate abatement to get rid of the mosquitos. This was a significant relief to the county, which was not financially prepared for such a burden.
Without the help of Senator Merkley and Congressman Defazio who also stepped up to ask the USFWS to take immediate action, the situation in Bandon could have only gotten worse. While there are still steps that must be taken to ensure the new channels are dug correctly so the marsh is restored and the mosquitoes no longer have a place to breed, Senator Merkley was pleased to help the local community get some relief from a very bad situation last summer.
Umatilla Robotics Team Achieves World Ranking, Credits Senator Merkley
In July of 2011, Senator Merkley held a Congressional field hearing to hear directly from local educators, teachers and even students about the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). During that hearing, Senator Merkley talked about his efforts to increase Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education in our schools and had a Portland area robotics team attend the hearing and show off the robots that they had built.
Heidi Sipe, the Superintendent of the Umatilla school district, who was at the hearing to talk about the effect of ESEA on rural school districts spoke with Senator Jeff Merkley afterwards about the impact that a robotics team would have on the Umatilla school district and how rural school districts are largely left out of these types of activities. Senator Merkley agreed that having hands on STEM education in all areas of the state is crucial to providing the best education for our students. The Senator encouraged Heidi to apply for STEM-related grants to launch her idea of a robotics club in rural Oregon.
In 2012, the Umatilla robotics team was born. In 2013, they made it to the national finals. In 2014, they placed 57th in the world robotics championship, an achievement of which the entire community is extremely proud. Heidi and the team attribute their existence and following successes to the Senator, and are grateful that the students in Umatilla now have the opportunity for hands-on education and training in STEM education.
WWII Veteran Receives Well-Deserved Benefits with Help from Senator Merkley
Harley Fitzhugh from Echo, Oregon lost his hearing in the Pacific Campaign during World War II, but had been denied disability and compensation benefits for years by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Veterans risk their lives for their country, and Senator Merkley believes that when our veterans stand up for us overseas, we’ve got to stand up for them here at home. When Harley’s daughter Penny Gavette sought help to get her father the benefits he deserved, Senator Jeff Merkley’s office responded.
Senator Merkley’s staff helped Penny appeal the decision, and eventually Mr. Fitzhugh was awarded 90 percent disability rating for hearing loss as well as a 100 percent rating for post-traumatic stress disorder. On top of that, he received back pay compensation. This was a huge relief for Mr. Fitzhugh and his family who had been turned away for years and was finally getting the benefits and services that he deserved.
The family is deeply grateful to Senator Merkley, and his staff for their help and kindness. Without them, Mr. Fitzhugh and his family may still be waiting for a determination of benefits.
Senator Merkley Saves Hometown Restaurant from the IRS
Billy and Laura Killion owned a Sizzler franchise in Ontario, Oregon. The restaurant employed thirty-two people (sixteen full-time and sixteen part-time), and the Killions had spent most of their lives working there. Billy had started working at the Sizzler in 1986 as a dishwasher, and Laura in 1987 as a salad bar attendant. They started dating and were married a year later, then bought the restaurant for themselves in 1997. Most of their employees have been with the restaurant for many years, some since the very beginning.
Billy contacted Senator Merkley for help with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The restaurant had gone through some very tough economic times from 2003 to 2005 and had built up a sizeable tax liability. They acknowledged the debt, but during those lean years, they had no choice but to delay paying some taxes – the only other option would’ve been to close the business. They were now prepared to pay the typical penalties and interest charges. Additionally, they had an offer for additional financing from a private real estate investor; they just needed the IRS to issue an official "offer in compromise" with the specific payoff amount. However, the IRS was unreasonably delaying action, despite the Killions extensive efforts to fulfill repeated and burdensome information requests from the IRS. The situation had been dragging on for a couple years, and the restaurant was approaching dangerously close to bankruptcy. Without that investment, the restaurant might have gone under, and the only thing standing in the way was the IRS.
Senator Merkley’s staff jumped on the case and cut through the red tape, helping the Killions and their tax attorney deliver all of the final pieces of information to the IRS. Next, they convinced the IRS to expedite preparation of the "offer in compromise." That offer was fully established and accepted about a month later.
Since then, the business has flourished. In August of 2012, they even dropped the franchise and re-opened the restaurant under their own name -- Killion’s Beef, Reef, and Buffet (currently at 4 stars on Yelp!). This is an excellent example of Senator Merkley’s commitment to supporting local business owners and helping cut through red tape.
Senator Merkley Brings American Flag to McCormick Park in St. Helens
In November 2011, Alta Lynch, a longtime volunteer for veteran causes in Columbia County, chatted with Senator Jeff Merkley’s staff at a Veteran’s Day event at McCormick Park in St. Helens, pointed up to the tattered U.S. Flag flying over the veterans’ memorial and asked if Sen. Merkley could provide the park a new flag.
Four months later, in February 2012, Senator Merkley arrived at the veterans’ memorial to deliver the new flag to Lynch and city leaders and thank Columbia County leaders and volunteers for their work serving veterans. The new flag once flew over the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
The Senator spoke at the flag-raising ceremony with about 45 community members in attendance, emphasizing the importance of helping veterans and thanking attendees for their service and sacrifice. Members of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) in St. Helens, VFW in Scappoose, American Legion in St. Helens and the St. Helens Garden Club all attended the event.
Senator Merkley Supports Revitalization of Port of Garibaldi
After touring the wharf in the Port of Garibaldi with Port Manager Kevin Greenwood, it was clear to Senator Jeff Merkley that the community needed help to rebuild the wharf and get the economy in Garibaldi running. Aging and damaged wharf infrastructure prevented businesses interested in locating in Garibaldi from bringing jobs to the community. Senator Merkley was pleased to support the Port of Garibaldi’s request for a TIGER grant and an Economic Development Agency (EDA) grant.
With Senator Merkley’s support the Port of Garibaldi was awarded both grants and able to start rebuilding their economy. As one of only four projects in the Northwest to receive funding under the TIGER V grant program, the Garibaldi wharf rebuild project combines local, state and federal resources to provide critical infrastructure to a rural, coastal community. The short-term and long-term jobs created from this project are an economic development boost for Garibaldi. Funds utilized to rebuild the wharf will allow for new business to operate, improve the safety of pedestrian traffic and grow the economy in Garibaldi.
Senator Merkley’s Staff Helps Preserve Campground, Opens for Public Use
When the U.S. Forest Service considered ending a legacy campground’s private operations permit, Clark Jackson and over thirty members of North Santiam Sportsmans Club contacted the office of Senator Jeff Merkley seeking assistance to keep the campground open. They shared stories of generations of families coming to this camping spot to enjoy recreation in the Detroit Lake area for the last 50 years. Families had spent countless hours making improvements to the area and thousands of dollars in contributions to the local economy.
Over months of negotiations, the Senator’s staff helped to facilitate an amicable agreement that allowed the campground to continue while opening more opportunities for public use. Staff met with leaders of the Sportsman’s Club, visited the camp, wrote letters to the district ranger, and attended meetings between the two parties to keep the permit application moving forward. This is an example of Senator Merkley’s staff working with Oregonians and the federal government to solve a problem and find a solution that benefits everyone.
Senator Merkley Intervenes to Save Jobs, Expand Help Provided by Local Housing Agencies
In late 2012, Senator Jeff Merkley learned that the Central Oregon Housing Authority (Housing Works) had mistakenly used erroneous data that was provided to them by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to respond to a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for the federal Family Self Sufficiency Program. As a result of using this bad data, Housing Works lost funding for two caseworkers and had to reduce their assistance to approximately 70 households in Central Oregon. This exact situation happened to similar agencies in Linn and Benton Counties, Northeast Oregon, Marion County and Yamhill County.
When Senator Merkley heard from Housing Works Housing and Resident Director Kenny LaPoint about local agencies being punished by bad data from the federal government, he stepped up to help. The Senator sent a letter to HUD asking them to fix the erroneous data and allow the local agencies to reapply for the funding using the correct data. HUD promptly responded and allowed the affected housing agencies to reapply. In the end, Housing Works was funded for the three caseworkers that they had before and was able to serve 129 families in Central Oregon with the funding.
Organization like Housing Works provide much needed assistance to families across Central Oregon, including helping families learn how to be self-sufficient and transition away from government assistance. Senator Merkley believes that local agencies shouldn’t be penalized for mistakes by the federal government and was happy to help step in and right this wrong. And now, more families in Central Oregon and across the state can get the assistance they deserve..
Senator Merkley Helps Hood River Keep Water Infrastructure Project on Track and Oregonians on the Job
In 2008, the City of Hood River received grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to upgrade the city’s 100 year old water infrastructure, however, after many round of back and forth between the local USDA office and the national USDA office, the USDA informed the city that portions of the of the project were ineligible for funding and would be revoking the funding. Frustrated by bureaucratic infighting and the loss of funding to help the community replace aging infrastructure, the City of Hood River contacted Senator Merkley’s office in 2011 for help.
Senator Merkley’s office provided guidance to the city and helped advocate on their behalf as they successfully appealed the USDA’s determination not once, but twice. In the end, the City of Hood River prevailed, was able to keep the funding and continue upgrading their badly needed water transmission line.
Not only does this demonstrate Senator Merkley’s commitment to fairness and cutting through bureaucratic red tape when necessary, but it underscores his commitment to making sure that we get Oregonians back to work by upgrading and replacing aging infrastructure across the state.
Senator Merkley Helps Oregon Students with Disabilities Qualify for Federal Student Aid
Before Senator Merkley’s office got involved, students in Oregon who were diagnosed with a learning disability and earned a modified diploma from high school were unable to apply for federal student aid to help them attend community college, a four-year university or a trade or apprenticeship program. The U.S. Department of Education did not recognize the modified diploma as a valid high school diploma equivalent, and as such, the individuals could not apply for federal student aid.
In Oregon that meant that over 1,700 recent high-school graduates were prevented this way from applying for financial assistance. Monica Dizick, concerned parent of Sara, a high school senior with a learning disability, contacted the office of Senator Jeff Merkley to bring this issue to his attention.
Over the next seven months, his office worked with the Oregon State Legislature, specifically State Representative Sara Gelser, as well as Governor Kitzhaber, and dozens of interested individuals, to garner letters of support in favor of allowing these modified diplomas to meet federal standards and allow students to pursue higher education.
In early April 2014, Representative Gelser and Senator Merkley’s staff met with the US Department of Education and learned that the Oregon State Board of Education could make minor tweaks that would allow the federal government to officially recognize these diplomas. State Representative Gelser then worked with the Governor and the State Board of Education on making the necessary changes that would allow the modified diploma to be accepted. The US Department of Education now officially recognizes the modified diploma as a valid high school diploma, and allows all students who have earned or will earn a modified diploma to apply for federal student aid.
This is a huge win for students in Oregon with learning disabilities who now have the opportunity to receive federal student aid to further their education. Senator Merkley strongly believes that no students should be excluded from following their dreams and furthering their education.
Senator Merkley’s Office Steps in During Government Shutdown to Make Sure Life-Saving Surgery Happens
Carol Beeston was struck with a serious heart attack during the summer of 2013 and while surgeries had repaired some damage to her heart, she was still in need of yet another heart surgery using a brand new medical device. Ms. Beeston’s doctors had asked the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) in September 2013 for approval to use this new medical device in order to save Ms. Beeston’s failing heart.
Ms. Beeston, her doctors, and her family expected a decision of some type within the usual 30-day time frame. A specialist from the University of Washington was coming to Portland to assist in the procedure and Ms. Beeston’s family was traveling in from out-of-state. More importantly, her health continued to deteriorate and her life was already in danger. Unfortunately, the government shutdown occurred in October 2013, and Ms. Beeston’s doctors had not yet received a decision from the FDA prior to the shutdown.
As soon as Senator Merkley and his team found out about this story, they jumped on this case. Ms. Beeston’s medical team was facing a deadline of 5:00 pm on Friday, October 18, 2013 for the FDA’s decision. If the decision had not been received by then, the medical team would have been forced to postpone Ms. Beeston’s surgery at least a week or two. Luckily, Senator Merkley’s staff was able to reach an FDA representative directly who made sure that the application was picked up and reviewed that afternoon. The FDA approved the application, and Ms. Beeston was able to have successful surgery on Monday, October 21, 2013.
This is an exceedingly fortunate outcome. Had the government shutdown lasted even one day longer, Ms. Beeston’s life and health would’ve been seriously jeopardized. We must realize that the cycle of political brinksmanship carried out by a few extremist Tea Party Republicans causes real harm to real Oregonians — sometimes putting their very lives at stake. We must end the cycle of brinksmanship that has us governing from one manufactured crisis to another, and get back to the real work of building a country that works for the middle class.
Senator Saves Shotgun Shell Supplier — Shutdown Shenanigans Subverted
When Environ-Metal of Sweet Home, Oregon, an environmentally conscious small business in Oregon, was in danger of halting their manufacturing, closing their assembly line and plant, and furloughing their 18 employees, Senator Merkley’s office came to the rescue.
Every year, Environ-Metal submits a form well in advance to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) so they can import components from overseas. The company uses these components in their custom, environmentally friendly shotgun shells. Ralph Nauman, president of Environ-Metal, sought the senator’s help when the BATF informed him that–because of the government shutdown–the renewal of the form would take several months longer than usual, preventing him from ordering more parts before running out of stock.
Senator Merkley’s office contacted BATF and asked them to either expedite consideration of Environ-Metal’s renewal application–given the emergency circumstances at hand —or allow their current license to continue until the renewal application went through. BATF considered and approved the application in time, so the company did not need have to shut down during the holidays. This is another example of Senator Merkley’s office helping Oregon small businesses cut unnecessary federal red tape.
Senator Helps Car Collision Victim Apply for Disability Benefits
Before Brian Norberg, a professional chef, was struck by a car in 2009, he didn’t know he had brain cancer. A brain scan performed after the collision revealed that he did.
After a series of surgeries that left him with a slew of side effects, he applied for Social Security Disability. After his application was denied twice in a row, he sought the aid of his elected officials, and began an online petition to get assistance.
His search for help ended in May 2013 at the office of Senator Jeff Merkley.
The senator’s office contacted Social Security, which took his application out of the queue for an Administrative Law Judge hearing and returned it to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) in Salem. In less than two months, DDS had reevaluated his application and approved him for benefits.
Senator Merkley Aids Homeless Veterans in Washington County
In December of 2012, Val Valfre, representing the Washington County Housing Authority (WCHA), contacted Senator Jeff Merkley’s office in search of more VASH vouchers, which provide rental assistance for homeless veterans. Washington County had quickly gone through its initial housing vouchers and was seeing a huge increase in the number of homeless veterans who needed help.
Senator Merkley, along with Senator Wyden and Representative Bonamici, sent letters of support to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. On May 1, 2013, Washington County was notified of the approval of 35 additional vouchers. With the help of the Senator Merkley’s advocacy, Washington County received the additional vouchers to aid in homeless veterans finding permanent residence.
These new vouchers mean that 35 homeless veterans will be able to finally get a home that they deserve. Senator Merkley is hearing from veteran groups across the state who are seeing an increase in the number of homeless veterans in Oregon and he believes that it is only right to get our veterans they help they deserve. They stood up for us overseas, and we must stand up for them here at home.
Oregon Manufacturing Partnership Receives Grant with Help from Senator Merkley
A letter of support from Senator Jeff Merkley helped bring grant resources to boost the Mid-Willamette valley and provide Oregon businesses with the tools they need to expand and create manufacturing jobs here in Oregon. In 2013, the Mid-Willamette Council of Governments, Strategic Economic Development Corporation (SEDCOR) and Job Growers, Inc. received a $1.7 million grant for the Marion, Polk, and Yamhill County region through the “Make It In America” Challenge. The funds are supporting business recruitment and expansion aimed at encouraging U.S. companies to keep or expand their operations—and jobs—here at home, and to train workers to meet the needs of those businesses.
Workforce development and training through Job Growers have helped companies such as Climax Portable Machining & Welding Systems in Yamhill County and AM Equipment in Marion County hire and train unemployed workers. Local manufacturers are also utilizing technical assistance and outreach programs through the Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
In 2012, Senator Merkley embarked on an ongoing tour of Oregon businesses who are manufacturing here in Oregon. His “Made in Oregon” tour has taken him to every corner of the state to see what’s working for Oregon manufacturers and where Oregon companies still need help. His commitment to strengthening Oregon manufacturing and our middle class families is what led Jeff to support the “Make it in America” grant application.
Willamette University Grant Funding Saved at the Last Minute
Willamette University had been having serious trouble getting their federal System for Award Management (SAM) number verified with the federal government due to a technical problem on the federal governments end and they were days away from their registration in the system expiring. This deadline would mean that the college would not be able to receive any federal grant funding — all because of a technical glitch with the computer system.
Exasperated, Willamette University called Senator Merkley’s office for help dealing with the red tape at the Defense Logistics Agency who was in charge of the SAM system. Senator Merklely’s staff jumped on the case and took the time to call around to finally find the right people to fix the issue and then spent over two and a half hours on the phone with technical support making sure that the problem had been solved.
Taking the time to hunt down the right federal official and spend time on the phone with technical support to make sure the problem is fixed might seem like a small victory, however, for Willamette University this made all the difference between receiving necessary federal funding and being denied funds because of a technical problem.
Senator Merkley Ensures Accessibility of Social Security Location in Salem
Salem’s mayor, Anna Peterson, contacted Senator Merkley’s office with concern when she learned that the Social Security office in Salem was planning to move from downtown to South Salem, in an industrial area without easy access to public transportation.
Senator Merkley personally drove by the new location and agreed it was not an appropriate location for an office that serves the public. The new location was on a busy street, with no sidewalk with the closest bus stop over a quarter of a mile away. That meant that Oregonians seeking help from the Social Security Administration, many of whom are disabled, would have to walk on the side of a 40 mph road from the bus stop to the new office.
Senator Merkley wrote a letter to the regional Social Security administrator to explain why this new location would pose a problem to many of the Oregonians whose only means of transportation is using the bus system in Salem.
In response, the City of Salem paved an ADA accessible sidewalk along the route from the bus stop to the new office and painted a pedestrian crossing near the new location. While Senator Merkley still feels like the new office location could have been planned in a better part of the city, he is pleased that at least there have been safety measures taken to make sure that Oregonians who want access to the Social Security Administration can get there in a safe manner.
Senator Merkley Cuts Through the VA’s Red Tape for a Blind Widow
Ms. Jarchow from Northwest Oregon is a widow who was receiving Aid & Attendance benefits from the Veterans Administration (VA) due to blindness. In order to qualify for Section 8 housing assistance, Ms. Jarchow and her family voluntarily cut off her Aid & Assistance benefits. Unfortunately, this plan backfired because due to Ms. Jarchow blindness and wanting to live on her own, she desperately needed this Aid & Attendance income to help her pay for assisted living.
The Clatsop County Veterans Service Officer (VSO) helped Ms. Jarchow restore her Aid & Attendance benefit. He facilitated her application and helped guide it through the VA system where it was eventually approved. However, due to a clerical error on a reporting form, the VA then immediately impounded her benefits due to a suspected overpayment from a simple mistake on a previous application. This mistake caused the VA to believe that Ms. Jarchow owed about $8,000 in overpaid benefits -- rather than being eligible for Aid & Attendance as she should have been.
The Clatsop County VSO attempted to iron things out with the VA, but was unable to do so. In desperation, he contacted Senator Merkley’s office. Once the Senator’s staff received all documentation he provided, they were able to figure out the original error and some subsequent procedural errors that further compounded the problem by diverting the application to the wrong office in the VA. The Senator’s staff was able to untangle the red tape, cut through to the base issues that needed to be addressed and corrected, and relayed all the right requests to the proper VA office. Once that was complete, Senator Merkley’s staff asked the Pension Management Center to expedite the request in order to prevent any additional stress (financial or otherwise) on Ms. Jarchow. The VA agreed to expedite the request, deposited the funds she was owed, and waived the reminder of her debt within a week.