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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.
Jeff is committed to helping constituents deal with problems related to federal agencies and ensuring that every Oregonian receives the government benefits they are entitled to.
Paul Ley reached out to Jeff when the Social Security Administration (SSA) failed to update his address after he had moved from New Mexico to Oregon in September 2016. As a result, he no longer received payments from his Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Paul was assigned a hearing slot before an Administrative Law Judge, but the hearing was to be held in New Mexico. Jeff’s team set to work moving the hearing to a more accessible location. Ultimately, Mr. Ley was able to have his hearing moved to the first available slot at the SSA hearings office in Eugene. Shortly after his hearing, Mr. Ley called Jeff’s team to inform them that he had once again successfully obtained his SSDI benefits.
Jeff understands that Social Security benefits are essential to many Oregonians, and he and his team members are happy to aid constituents like Mr. Ley with navigating the bureaucracy to access their benefits.
Jeff recognizes the sacrifices that veterans have made for this country, and strives to serve them with the excellence they deserve. Mark Woods retired from the Army in September 2005 with the rank of E6 (Staff Sergeant), but believed he was entitled to the rank of E7 (Sergeant First Class) based on his service. Mr. Woods had submitted a request to the Army Grade Determination Review Board (AGDRB) to correct his rank several months before, but his case had failed to move forward in their process.
Mr. Woods attended a Merkley town hall meeting in Josephine County in January 2017, where Jeff reminded people that his office could help with issues related to federal bureaucracy. There, Mr. Woods explained his request for a correction to his U.S. Army rank and the issues that he was dealing with. Jeff and his team went to work to help resolve the issue.
Jeff’s office contacted the AGDRB, pointing out that Mr. Woods’ request adhered to Army regulations, and urged them to pull his request out of bureaucratic limbo and act on it.
Not long after, Mr. Woods contacted Jeff with good news: AGDRB notified him that they would be correcting his grade to E7. Mr. Woods said that the intervention and advocacy on his behalf by Jeff and the team was responsible for getting his rank corrected.
Mr. Woods will soon be starting a new job as a wildland firefighter.
Jeff understands that dealing with bureaucratic agencies can be cumbersome and at times frustrating. That’s why it is a priority for him and his team to help constituents navigate red tape.
Diane Roelandt contacted Jeff’s office in March 2018 after unsuccessfully trying for over a year to resolve an issue with the Connecticut Teachers’ Retirement Board. The Retirement Board was mistakenly sending her retirement account statements, although she had never lived nor worked in Connecticut. Jeff’s team helped her get in touch with the right people in Connecticut and also connected her with the Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC) in Oregon. Within half a day, Diane’s problem was addressed and she received an explanation as well as an apology from the Retirement Board.
Ms. Roelandt said she was “rather astonished” that Jeff’s office would be so helpful on such a minor issue, but Jeff knows that even small errors can have a significant impact on people’s lives, and that it can be difficult to get in touch with the right people to fix them. Jeff is glad to help Oregonians like Ms. Roelandt resolve frustrations with bureaucracy.
David Kaye lost his wife to a tragic snorkeling accident in the Caribbean in March of 2018, and through his mourning was tasked with handling all of her affairs. That’s when he encountered issues trying to claim his wife’s life insurance policy.
The life insurance company refused to accept the Consular Death Report of a U.S. Citizen Abroad (CRDA) as official proof that his late wife had died. The company insisted on obtaining an original death certificate from the Netherlands, the nation governing the island where Mrs. Kaye passed away, and refused to accept a photocopy of that certificate along with the CRDA. The company even refused to explain why they wouldn’t accept any documentation besides the original death certificate, only telling Mr. Kaye that it was “company policy.”
After this months-long correspondence with the insurance company, Mr. Kaye contacted Jeff’s staff for help on the issue. Jeff’s staff discovered that the company was a subdivision of a larger insurance company with headquarters in Minnesota. The staff reached out and connected with the Minnesota Department of Commerce, which regulates Minnesota-based insurance companies, and requested that they look into the issue on Mr. Kaye’s behalf. The Department of Commerce immediately looked into the problem, and after researching the matter, confirmed that a CRDA would be sufficient proof of death under Minnesota law.
After a few weeks, the company processed the life insurance claim and offered a sincere and heartfelt apology to Mr. Kaye and ensured that they would look into their foreign death claims process. Mr. Kaye was grateful that Jeff’s staff was able to lend their expertise and time to fix the situation.
Emily and Jamie Williams contacted Jeff’s office in late May 2018, after their young daughter, Grace, had been diagnosed with DIPG, an aggressive and terminal brain cancer.
However, earlier in the spring of 2018, Grace had been accepted into a potentially life-saving clinical trial at the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF), scheduled to have begun at the end of May. But with only a few days remaining before the trial was scheduled to start, the drug used in the clinical trial was impounded on the way to UCFS and transferred to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—a standard protocol, but one that threatened Grace’s life. If the clinical trial wasn’t able to start on time, it would be several weeks, or even months before the family could re-apply to be a part of the next trial. Given the diagnosis, it seemed unlikely that Grace would live to see the next trial.
Jeff’s office immediately contacted the FDA with an inquiry about the status of USCF’s request for the shipment. Jeff’s office wanted to make sure that UCSF had applied for one of several exemptions which could help expedite the shipment for the clinical trial. Less than six hours after the initial inquiry to the FDA, Jeff’s office received word that the FDA released the hold on the crucial drug, just in time for the clinical trial to begin on schedule for the Williams and their daughter.
Thanks to quick work from Jeff’s office, Grace survived and is continuing to undergo treatment for her brain tumor.
Helping veterans and their families navigate the Veterans Affairs system is one of Jeff Merkley’s top priorities.
In the spring of 2017, Oregon constituent Susan Gilman had been unable to receive payments from the Survivors Benefits Plan (SBP) that had been arranged by her husband. She was scheduled to receive funds beginning in April, but when she contacted Jeff’s office on August 22, she still had yet to receive any payments. Ms. Gilman had submitted all of the required paperwork correctly to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) which manages SBP, but was still facing issues receiving her annuity. When she had called the DFAS, she was reassured that her paperwork was being processed and that she would begin to receive the annuity soon. Still, when she still was not receiving the annuity in August, she contacted DFAS again and learned that nothing had been done regarding her paperwork.
After learning the details of Ms. Gillman’s case, Jeff’s team was able to get in contact with DFAS. On September 4th, Ms. Gillman informed Jeff’s office that she finally began receiving payments, including payments dating back to April.
Jeff is happy to have had the opportunity to help Ms. Gillman, and other Oregonians, receive the VA benefits their families have earned.
One of the reasons Jeff decided to run for the Oregon State Legislature was to work towards building a better education system for his children. Jeff understands that a critical pillar of this system is ensuring that working families have affordable access to institutions of higher education and that these institutions receive the funding they need.
As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Education, he works hard to make sure federal money goes into the hands of institutions of higher education like the University of Oregon. Just recently, the U of O’s Center for Applied Second Language Studies received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education which will provide funding for innovative solutions to improve language learning in foreign, secondary, and heritage contexts. This small but prestigious grant award sends positive signals to grant-awarding foundations who then can amplify the funding activity.
Jeff will continue to use his influence on the appropriations committee to ensure that institutions like the University of Oregon are able to receive the critical grant money that will help the next generation of Oregonians succeed.
Summer 2017 saw a flurry of opportunities for Oregon’s workforce development. This last July, the Economic Development Administration invested $3 million in funds to renovate Treasure Valley Community College’s Career and Technical Education facility in Ontario, Oregon. The newly expanded facility will open the door for workers within the local economy to receive training and education necessary for their professional advancement. Treasure Valley Community College’s career programs aim to supply able workers to firms requiring refined skills sets, ultimately leading to higher paying employment opportunities within the Oregon economy.
More specifically, the community college hopes to invest in their vocational-technology departments, redirecting funds towards agricultural, crop science, and welding programs. Vocational-technology programs are the forefront of worker growth, something Treasure Valley has been quick to recognize. The newfound funding further enables Treasure Valley Community College to bolster their partnership program with local school districts, enabling high school students to pursue dual credit opportunities.
Jeff is thrilled by the investment opportunity. The expansion signals a new terrain for Oregon’s workforce – one of skill and education. The power of career education for creating workforce opportunity is essential to Oregon’s progress. Programs such as the Treasure Valley Community College’s Career and Technical Education deserve support because they build up what matters most, Oregon’s home front.
The Veteran Affairs office provides aid and services to America’s heroes. Jeff is honored to assist Oregon veterans as they pursue the benefits their service guarantees.
Last fall, Oregon veteran Lloyd Murders contacted Jeff and requested help redeeming the VA disability benefits he had been awarded earlier in the year. Evidently, Mr. Murders’ veteran service representative informed him in June that his disability benefits had been approved by the VA; however, by September Mr. Murders still had not received the decision letter detailing the amount of disability pension he could expect to collect. Without that letter, Mr. Murders could not access his benefits and was left with nothing in hand. After learning of Mr. Murders’ circumstance, Jeff’s team contacted the VA and raised the alarm on Mr. Murders’ case.
According to Mr. Murders, the Jeff’s team’s efforts “lit a fire under the VA.” With the office’s assistance, Mr. Murders received his decision letter along with $77,000 in retroactive pension payments.
In the case of Mr. Murders and so many other veteran constituents, Jeff is glad to be able to facilitate successful dealings with the VA. Ensuring that Oregon veterans have access to the benefits they’ve earned is a top priority for Jeff and his team.
Jeff Merkley understands the importance of detailed consideration when calculating veteran disability pensions. He is honored to provide advice and aid to Oregonian veterans as they maneuver the VA system.
Jeff took action to help veteran constituent William Goldman redeem his disability benefits last summer when Mr. Goldman informed the Senator that the VA had erroneously slashed his monthly pension by $15. Apparently, Mr. Goldman had received notice from the VA earlier in the year stating that they would be reducing his pension payment despite Mr. Goldman’s continued need. With aid from a county veteran services representative, Mr. Goldman was able to appeal the reduction. However, after six months of waiting Mr. Goldman still had not received an updated monthly payment amount. Jeff’s team spoke to the VA on Mr. Goldman’s behalf and prompted the agency to amend their error. Within a few weeks, the VA restored the $15 a month they had taken, and increased Mr. Goldman’s pension by an additional $10 a month in light of the evidence he provided.
Jeff is happy to have the opportunity to give Mr. Goldman’s case its due diligence. This success highlights the value of Jeff’s dedication to his constituents. Every case matters and Jeff is proud to do what he can to help Oregon’s best.
When it comes mortgage management, Oregonians warrant the utmost diligence and consideration from their banks. Jeff understands the importance of procedural evaluations and attention to detail while determining people’s financial standing. Ensuring that Oregonian’s receive the consideration they deserve is a primary concern for Jeff and his staff.
Oregon constituent Wendy Miller spent months lost within the Citibank system. In January 2017, the bank took action to foreclose Ms. Miller’s home. Disturbingly, Citibank refused to acknowledge the nuances of Ms. Miller’s finances and despite detailed documentation of her unique condition, they failed to reevaluate their decision to foreclose her home. Ms. Miller exerted considerable effort to negotiate with Citibank, yet, the company remained stagnant in their demonstrative decision.
As a graduate student and mother, Ms. Miller needs her Portland home to remain financially stable. This, mixed with Citibank’s erroneous miscalculation and inability to communicate openly with Ms. Miller prompted Jeff and his team to investigate the case further.
After learning the details of Ms. Miller’s case, Jeff’s team was able to coax Citibank into reevaluating the circumstances and granting Ms. Miller a Trial Payment Period. Alleviating the stress of foreclosure and allowing Ms. Miller to pursue her studies.
Ms. Miller’s dealings with Citibank highlight the value to detail-orientated evaluation. Jeff’s efforts to turn Citibank’s attention towards Ms. Miller’s cause is just one example of his dedication to Oregonians in their pursuit of financial justice.
Navigating Veteran Affairs health care can be difficult. Jeff strives to ensure that the men and women who served their country receive the benefits they deserve.
Last April, veteran Don Davis contacted the Senator in need of help getting VA authorization for dental care from a non-VA dentist that was located near his home in Salem. Mr. Davis has a military service-related disability that makes it difficult for him to travel several hours to the Portland VA — the closest Veterans Affairs dental provider to his home. Considering Mr. Davis’s unique circumstances, Jeff’s office took immediate action to facilitate a conversation between Mr. Davis and the VA. After months of communication with the VA on Mr. Davis’s behalf, Jeff successfully won approval for Mr. Davis to see a non-VA dentist. Jeff’s efforts enabled this Oregon veteran to receive the care he needed.
However, the case was not settled yet. In July, after receiving an assessment of his condition and projected expenses, Mr. Davis learned that the VA would not approve the dental care plan proposed by the non-VA dentist. The non-VA dentist proposed a focused, sensitive targeted plan that would place several crowns in Mr. Davis’s mouth in order to save his teeth without causing further damage. The VA preferred that all of Mr. Davis’s teeth be removed and replaced with dentures. Again, Jeff fought for Mr. Davis’s right to take control of his own health care and choose the procedure that was best for him. Ultimately, Jeff’s office convinced the VA chief of dentistry to approve the non-VA plan and provide Mr. Davis with quality, compassionate care.
Jeff knows that veterans fought for their country, and so he’ll never stop fighting for their right to receive quality health care.
The safety and security of Oregonians is one of Jeff’s top concerns. Proper equipment, staffing, and funding for local fire departments can make all the difference in ensuring Oregonians’ protection from fire and other natural dangers.
Recently, Jeff took initiative to help the Clackamas Fire Department receive essential funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for six new firefighting and paramedic positions. Located in the Boring and Eagle Creek area, the newly funded positions will ease the workload of surrounding fire departments and ensure that the community receives close by, local protection. The FEMA grant further empowers the communities of Eagle Creek and Boring to develop strong aid capabilities – building Oregon’s network of emergency protection.
Jeff values Oregon’s first responders’ efforts to protect Oregon’s citizens. He is proud to champion fire departments across the state with the tools and staffing necessary to safeguard Oregon’s communities.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is intended to provide basic necessities to disabled, sick, and aged low-income Americans. Jeff recognizes the program’s ability to enable those with difficult life battles to continue living their life to its fullest.
In December, Senator Merkley’s staff took action to assist Kaytlin Lucas and her daughter River Imholt on their journey to access Supplementary Security Income benefits. Ms. Lucas had recently stopped working in order to provide full time care for her disabled daughter and needed SSI benefits in order to maintain financial stability. While Ms. Lucas’s decision was right for her family, it left her and her daughter in a financial crisis. Unfortunately, the first time Ms. Lucas applied for SSI, she was found ineligible for the benefits due to the considerable donations from friends and family she had saved in her GoFund Me account. As those savings dwindled, Ms. Lucas reapplied for SSI but received no response from the Social Security office. Ultimately, Senator Merkley’s office was able to intervene and ensure that Ms. Lucas and her daughter’s application was approved and the family received the aid they needed. Furthermore, Jeff’s team was able to arrange for the family to receive retroactive benefits in order to alieve their immediate financial dilemma.
Jeff hopes that SSI can continue to be a realistic tool for families and individuals to financially sustain themselves in times of crisis. The necessity and regular use of SSI and other social programs remind Jeff who he’s fighting for – Americans in their pursuit of happiness.
Each time a constituent reaches out with a personal concern, Jeff takes the opportunity to see how he can help. When Audrey Keller and Bruce Shelquist of Milwaukie contacted Jeff’s office in August and explained that they had still not received their 2017 tax return, Jeff’s team took initiative to investigate.
Jeff’s office contacted the IRS on the behalf of Ms. Keller and Mr. Shelquist and learned that the couple’s tax return had been unnecessarily held up. Navigating the bureaucracy, Jeff’s office notified the IRS of the error. Within a few weeks, Ms. Keller and Mr. Shelquist received their tax return.
Jeff is proud to serve constituents like Ms. Keller and Mr. Shelquist and help them navigate what can be complicated government agencies.
Jeff knows that native tribes in Oregon have faced challenges in getting the resources their communities need to thrive.
That’s why he fought to ensure programs critical to Oregon’s tribes were funded, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Special Diabetes Program for Indians, and the HRSA Health Center Program.
“Please thank Senator Merkley for us for his amazing work during these extremely challenging times to take care of the people of this country and our state,” said Jackie Mercer, Chief Executive Officer of the Native American Rehabilitation Association of the Northwest (NARA-NW), which provides integrated health, mental health, substance abuse treatment, and social services to Native American and Alaska Native people who are homeless or have low incomes.
“I can only imagine the extra, extra efforts that it is taking,” she continued. “I know the fight isn’t done but I want you to know the children and families and elders are so much better off for all his hard work.”
When Mr. Greg Bechtel approached Jeff last month and asked for his help getting emergency veteran assistance, Jeff was quick to assist. Mr. Bechtel, a disabled veteran, survives on a monthly VA disability pension. After moving to Cambodia, Mr. Bechtel noticed that his October pension payment was not properly deposited to his bank account. Worried, Mr. Bechtel reached out to the VA and asked them to resolve the issue. The VA was slow to respond and in the interim Mr. Bechtel’s landlord threatened to evict him and his family. With Jeff’s assistance, Mr. Bechtel was able to postpone the eviction for a week and pursue his pension payment. Going further, Jeff contacted both the Portland and Pittsburg VA offices, hoping to identify the cause of Mr. Bechtel’s strife. With a bit of sleuthing, Jeff discovered that there was a clerical error in the VA’s benefit system and Mr. Bechtel’s bank account number had been mistyped. Jeff alerted the VA and the error was corrected.
Because of Jeff’s dedication to Mr. Bechtel’s case, the Veteran was able to pay his rent. While thanking Jeff, Mr. Bechtel remarked, “I very much appreciate your help. I messaged all of my state reps, and only [you] responded, so [you] can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned and [you’ve] got a lifelong supporter/campaigner when we [Mr. Bechtel and family] come back to America in a few years.”
Jeff is proud to serve Oregon’s veterans. By championing their causes, Jeff is able to ensure Oregon’s service men and women collect the benefits they deserve.
“I very much appreciate your help. I messaged all of my state reps, and only Sen. Merkley responded, so please pass on to the Senator he can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned and he's got a lifelong supporter/campaigner when we come back to America in a few years.”
The United States has one of the most convoluted visa application processes in the world. Petitioning for a visa and entrance into the country can take months, and sometimes the application isn’t even approved.
Portland resident and Oregon constituent Erika Kushtan recognizes firsthand the difficulty of America’s visitor visa application process. Ms. Kushtan’s mother-in-law and brother-in-law are citizens of Ukraine, and the complex legality of the U.S visa system has kept the family apart for years. Despite early visa application rejections, Ms. Kushtan pushed heavily for her family’s visitor visas – hoping her mother-in-law and brother-in-law would be able to meet her two young children. After struggling alone, Ms. Kushtan turned to Senator Merkley for aid. Senator Merkley’s staff was able to petition the Kyiv Embassy for the family’s reunion. In a letter, Merkley’s team advocated that Ms. Kushtan’s family’s applications for visitor visas be given full and fair consideration under the law. Senator Merkley’s staff’s efforts eased some of the application tension and enabled Ms. Kushtan’s mother-in-law to acquire a visitor visa.
Jeff understands the frustration associated with family visits, international travel, and visitor visa applications. He aims to alleviate Oregonian’s stress, both on a personal and political level, to ensure the visitor visas are accessible to those who need them.
With too many hoops and unnecessary obstacles in the way for veterans in crisis to receive help, Mr. Dan Davis called the Veterans Administration (VA) and the FCC with a recommendation to simplify the suicide hotline telephone number.
Under the former system, military veterans seeking help and suicide prevention assistance called a 1-800 VA number to only then be redirected to call another number specifically for suicide prevention.
With about 22 veterans committing suicide each day, Mr. Davis recognized that veterans in crisis needed an easier way to call for help.
After not receiving an answer from the VA, Mr. Davis turned to Senator Merkley to help get the job done. That’s when Jeff’s team went to the VA to follow up on Mr. Davis’ recommendation. Due to the efforts of Mr. Davis, and with the intervention from Jeff’s office, the VA notified Mr. Davis that they would be implementing his recommendation in August 2016.
The new system – Option 7 – will give callers faced with a suicide crisis the ability to get help by pressing one number after dialing the 1-800 number instead of having to redial an entirely different number.
Thanks to the work of Mr. Davis, military veterans in crisis can more easily get the help they need.
Military veterans have displayed courage and bravery to protect our nation and freedom. They stood up for us, and we must stand up for them – especially when veterans are in times of crisis.
Read more about Jeff’s efforts to help get a new veterans crisis line: http://www.mailtribune.com/article/20160601/NEWS/160609958.
Despite working in the cybersecurity industry and having knowledge about identity theft, Mark Ertle wasn’t able to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft himself.
When Ertle filed his taxes a few years ago, he found out that his refund had already been given out to a criminal who filed a tax return under his name. Ertle was forced to undergo an extensive process to prove that he was a victim of identity theft. He was eventually able to collect his return – but the repercussions of the identity theft did not stop there.
Later, when Ertle was trying to purchase a new home, the bank requested tax information from the IRS and received the fraudulent return filed by the identity thief instead of the legitimate return sent by Ertle. He was then denied the loan and left unable to purchase the home. Looking for help, Ertle turned to Jeff’s office.
Jeff’s staff were able to help Ertle get the necessary information and contacts from the IRS he needed to clear up the mistakes and to ensure that the proper tax information will be used for loans in the future.
In April, Senator Jeff Merkley hosted a press conference regarding tax identity theft where Ertle spoke about his own personal experience and how this issue can affect everyone.
Read about the press conference and how to protect yourself from identity theft at the link below:
In the summer of 2015, Allison Johnson was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic melanoma with metastases to the liver, gallbladder, and lymph nodes – she was advised that she had about six months to live. Despite living with a terminal illness, she was denied Social Security Disability, without which she would have been left in a financial bind making her unable to enjoy her remaining days.
After hearing her case, Jeff stepped in right away and had his staff contact the Portland Office of Disability Adjudication and Review and advised them of Allison’s dire and urgent needs by pointing out that she met the criteria for both a terminal illness claim and compassionate allowance claim. The Senior Attorney then made an on-the-record decision to approve her claim in January 2016 to get her the benefits she deserved.
After months of being denied appropriate help, Ms. Johnson was now being properly cared for and could focus on enjoying her days with her 16-year-old son.
Jeff believes that every Oregonian should receive the service and resources they deserve, and that’s why Jeff and his staff are committed to cutting the red tape to get the help all Oregonians deserve.
For over 20 years Oregonian Troy Bachmann has been running businesses in Mexico exporting produce, and one day he discovered that employees had been stealing from him. He reported it to officials and in turn, Bachmann was arrested. He was accused of not paying his employees and faced an eight month prison sentence in Mexico.
Upon learning of Bachmann’s case, Senator Jeff Merkley and his DC and Portland offices worked tirelessly, for weeks, to bring Bachmann home, including meetings with the Mexican ambassador and numerous calls to local and state Mexican officials.
According to a KATU report on Bachmann’s case and the effort to get him home, the commitment from Senator Merkley’s team was the turning point to help Bachmann.
Jeff’s commitment to Oregonians goes beyond just the environment, economy, and general welfare of Oregonians. Jeff looks to ensure that each and every Oregonian is safe and can live a full life, whether they are at home or abroad.
Below is a news report from KATU detailing Bachmann’s return home from the Mexican prison and the efforts Jeff and his staff:
Due to a massive rainstorm in December 2015, the Wheeler Post Office was forced to shut down, leaving the community unable to send or receive mail. The only option for residents was to go to the post office in Nehalem, but it proved too inefficient as the community could only get their mail between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. It became an obstacle for shift workers and elderly residents.
With the community facing an undue burden, the Mayor of Wheeler called Senator Merkley’s office to help reopen the Post Office. Jeff’s office jumped right in to help.
In order to alleviate some of challenges of the stop-gap solutions, Jeff’s team helped implement a system where the Postal Service would pick up mail from a box placed in front of the Wheeler Post Office. With a new system in place, the community could finally send out daily mail.
While trying to fill in the holes while the Post Office was closed, Jeff’s team continued to advocate for the Post Office to be re-opened. Jeff visited the Post Office while on a tour of the city of Wheeler and met with the mayor and city officials to learn why the Post Office had not been re-opened.
After seven months of advocating for a re-opening of the Post Office and temporary solutions by the community and Jeff’s team, the Wheeler Post Office re-opened on July 29. Read more about how Jeff helped the community of Wheeler: http://www.tillamookheadlightherald.com/news_paid/oregon-senator-visits-wheeler-tillamook/article_62770ccc-5236-11e6-ad0a-7f446d359525.html
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 Jeff Merkley's office for help getting answers and money from PPC.
Jeff’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 Jeff’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.
When Echanis Distributing, a beer, wine, and water distributor in Ontario, Oregon, was approaching the verge of bankruptcy, the office of 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 Jeff Merkley.
Oregon needs more local businesses, not fewer, so this case became a high priority for Jeff 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.
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 Jeff 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 Jeff. 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 Jeff’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 Jeff'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.
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 Jeff Merkley.
Jeff 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, Jeff'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.
In August of 2012, a private Medicare contractor owed Ron Mogel of Ashland several thousand dollars, and, when he contacted the office of 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."
Jeff'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, Jeff'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. Jeff 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.
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 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, Jeff’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.
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, 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. Jeff vowed to help avoid another crisis.
Making good on that promise, Jeff 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, Jeff 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 Jeff persuade a Republican colleague who had once served in the House with Walden.
The funding Jeff 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.
Jeff 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.
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 Jeff Merkley’s annual town hall in Coos County, Jeff 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 Jeff 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.
In July of 2011, Jeff 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, Jeff 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 Jeff 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. Jeff agreed that having hands on STEM education in all areas of the state is crucial to providing the best education for our students. He 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 Jeff, and are grateful that the students in Umatilla now have the opportunity for hands-on education and training in STEM education.
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 Jeff 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, Jeff's office responded.
Jeff'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 Jeff and his staff for their help and kindness. Without them, Mr. Fitzhugh and his family may still be waiting for a determination of benefits.
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 Jeff 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.
Jeff’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.
In November 2011, Alta Lynch, a longtime volunteer for veteran causes in Columbia County, chatted with 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 Jeff could provide the park a new flag.
Four months later, in February 2012, Jeff 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.
Jeff 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.
After touring the wharf in the Port of Garibaldi with Port Manager Kevin Greenwood, it was clear to Jeff 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. Jeff was pleased to support the Port of Garibaldi’s request for a TIGER grant and an Economic Development Agency (EDA) grant.
With Jeff'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.
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 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, Jeff'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 Jeff's staff working with Oregonians and the federal government to solve a problem and find a solution that benefits everyone.
In late 2012, 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 Jeff 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. Jeff 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. Jeff 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.
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 Jeff Merkley’s office in 2011 for help.
Jeff’s staff 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 Jeff’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.
Before Jeff 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 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 Jeff'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. Jeff strongly believes that no students should be excluded from following their dreams and furthering their education.
In the summer of 2013, Carol Beeston suffered a serious heart attack and -- though doctors had repaired some damage to her heart -- she needed yet another surgery. In September, her doctors asked the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to approve their use of a new medical device that would save Carol’s failing heart.
Carol, her family, and her doctors expected the FDA’s decision within the usual 30-day time frame. A specialist from the University of Washington planned to travel to Portland to assist in the procedure. Meanwhile, Carol’s health continued to deteriorate. When the government shut down in October, Carol’s doctors still had yet to hear from the FDA. Carol’s life was in danger.
As soon as Jeff Merkley heard Carol’s story, he and his staff jumped in to help. Carol’s medical team needed the FDA’s decision by 5pm on Friday, October 18th; otherwise, the medical team would need to postpone Ms. Beeston’s surgery. Jeff’s staff contacted the FDA immediately and made sure a representative picked up Carol’s application and reviewed it that same afternoon. The FDA approved the application, and doctors successfully performed surgery on Carol the following Monday.
This is an exceedingly fortunate outcome. Had the government shutdown lasted even one day longer, Carol’s life would have been seriously jeopardized. The cycle of political brinksmanship carried out by a few extremists in Congress can cause real harm to real Oregonians. Jeff believes we must end the cycle of brinksmanship that has Congress governing from one manufactured crisis to another and get back to the real work of building a country that works for the middle class.
When Jeff Merkley learned that Environ-Metal, an environmentally conscious small business in Sweet Home, Oregon, was in danger of having to halt manufacturing, close its assembly line and plant, and furlough 18 employees due to delays caused by the federal government shutdown, he stepped in to help.
Each year Environ-Metal submits an application to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) for permission to import materials from overseas, materials used to produce its custom, environmentally friendly shotgun shells. The business always submits its application to BATF well in advance of the deadline to keep plenty of these materials in stock. But when BATF informed Environ-Metal President Ralph Nauman that the application’s renewal would last several months longer than usual due to the government shutdown, Nauman sought Jeff’s help.
As Environ-Metal risked running out of stock of the shotgun shell materials, the senator’s office contacted BATF and asked the bureau either to expedite consideration of Environ-Metal’s application or let its current license continue until the application renewal cleared. The bureau expedited its approval of Environ-Metal’s application, which allowed the small Sweet Home business to stay open for business and protected 18 employees’ jobs during the peak holiday season.
This story shows one more way that Jeff and his staff help small businesses across Oregon navigate bureaucracies and reduce time spent cutting through red tape.
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 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.
In December of 2012, Val Valfre, representing the Washington County Housing Authority (WCHA), contacted 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.
Jeff, 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 Jeff’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. Jeff 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.
A letter of support from 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, Jeff 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 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 Jeff’s office for help dealing with the red tape at the Defense Logistics Agency who was in charge of the SAM system. Jeff'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.
When Salem’s mayor Anna Peterson learned that the town’s Social Security office would be moving from its easy-to-access downtown location to an industrial area of South Salem with limited public transportation, she voiced her concern to Jeff Merkley.
In response, Jeff himself drove to the South Salem site and agreed that it did not offer enough accessibility for an office that would serve the public. Located on a busy street, this new location lacked a sidewalk, and the closest bus stop sat over a quarter-mile away. As a result, Oregonians seeking help from the Social Security Administration – many of whom are disabled – would have had to walk or wheel themselves to the office on a road with cars passing at 40 miles per hour.
Jeff drafted a letter to the regional Social Security administrator to explain why this new location posed problems for the many residents of Salem who rely on the city’s bus system as their primary source of transportation.
In response, the City of Salem paved a sidewalk (meeting standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act) that links the bus stop to the new office and painted a pedestrian crossing on the road nearby. While Jeff would have preferred to see the office rebuilt in a different location, he is pleased the city took safety measures to ensure that Oregonians who need to access the Social Security Administration can do so safely.
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 Jeff's office. Once Jeff'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. Jeff'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, Jeff’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.