CLEARFIELD – The Clearfield County Commissioners welcomed U.S. Senator Robert Casey for a discussion on issues important to rural Pennsylvania.
Casey was traveling through the area while going from Pittsburgh to Scranton and made time to stop with his Regional Manager Kim Bierly and meet with the commissioners.
The first item on the agenda was the Community Development Block Grant/CDBG program. It is on the list for potential cuts or elimination in the budget proposed by President Donald Trump.
Commissioner Mark McCracken shared with Casey a list of projects compiled by the Clearfield County Department of Planning that tracks the projects in Clearfield County that have received CDBG funding since 1999.
The majority of projects in Clearfield County over the last 18 years have concentrated on upgrading and expanding public water and sewage systems to meet state and federal mandated requirements along with community development projects to clean up blighted structures.
The statistics show that the CDBG program has been very valuable to Clearfield County with $6.2 million in funding, which impacted more than 46,000 county citizens through the projects that were funded.
McCracken stated to Casey, “The CDBG program is one of the few federal programs that actually gets funding directly to very small rural communities and makes a difference in the quality of life for citizens who live there.”
Commissioner John Sobel, who serves on the Clearfield County Heroin Taskforce, spoke with Casey about the opioid crisis and how it is impacting Clearfield and surrounding counties.
Sobel noted that the problem is causing costs to rise for the county through increased crime, which leads to higher costs for the county court system and higher inmate populations in county prisons.
Casey offered that he and his colleagues in the U.S. Senate are working on ways to fund viable treatment options that will end addiction.
Commissioner Tony Scotto addressed issues that are impacting veterans in Clearfield County.
Specifically, Scotto noted the difficulty in providing transportation services to veterans who need to get to medical appointments, mostly in Altoona, but also to other VA locations.
While the VA provided federal funding to purchase a vehicle for transport, there is no federal funding to hire drivers and the county VA office has to rely on volunteer drivers.
Scotto suggested the transportation program could be more viable if the VA medical centers were coordinating the transportation as part of the medical appointment rather than push ride services out to the counties to coordinate.
From the Washington side, Casey said he was very impressed with the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulken and feels both Secretary Shulken and the Senate are committed to improving the quality of services available to veterans.
All three commissioners noted that county Veterans Affairs Director Betina Nicklas has a good working relationship with the federal VA office in Pittsburgh, and she is having good success getting benefit applications for Clearfield County veterans processed in a timely manner.
To conclude the discussion, the commissioners asked Casey for an update on what legislation is likely to come out of the U.S. Senate that will have direct benefit for Clearfield County.
Casey said he feels there is bipartisan support to get a transportation and infrastructure funding bill done this year.
One of the main components of the transportation bill will be to fund repairs of structurally deficient bridges including several that are located in Clearfield County.
Transportation and infrastructure repair is something President Donald Trump has signaled a commitment to, both during the 2016 campaign and in his recent speech before Congress.
Casey also noted there is a strong desire in the Senate for a long-term budget deal that will fund commitments both domestic and foreign and to address tax reform in a bipartisan manner.