Residents quiz state officials
Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director Richard Flinn and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell visited Tamaqua on Tuesday. Scan this photo with the Prindeo app to see the entire session. CHRIS REBER/TIMES NEWS
Residents turned out to hear from four state cabinet secretaries during an event in Tamaqua on Tuesday.
Usually if four members of the governor’s cabinet are in one room, there’s a good chance it’s somewhere in Harrisburg.
But the heads of four state agencies got together in Tamaqua on Tuesday to field questions from residents and officials from Carbon and Schuylkill counties.
Pedro Rivera, Department of Education; Teresa Miller, Department of Human Services; Patrick McDonnell, Department of Environmental Protection; and Rick Flinn, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, spoke about what their agencies have done since Gov. Tom Wolf took office in 2015.
Barbara Sipler, a teacher who retired from Weatherly Area School District after 42 years, asked Rivera how he would change “toxic” standardized testing which takes up instructional time and restricts what teachers can teach.
Rivera said Wolf has reduced the time that students spend taking tests by two days and moved testing days later in the year so teachers don’t feel pressure to teach only what is on the test.
Tamaqua Mayor Nathan Gerace took issue with Wolf’s proposal for a $12 minimum wage, suggesting that it would be better to first pay first responders rather than increase the pay for a teenager working a part-time job.
“I’m a firm believer that higher wage comes from higher education, or higher workplace training,” he said.
DHS Secretary Miller said the goal of increasing minimum wage is to reduce the amount spent on social services by helping adults, specifically parents, who work full time but still require government assistance.
East Penn Township resident Dorothy Eberts asked McDonnell how to prevent the use of sewage sludge, or biosolids, on local fields. McDonnell said that the state has a long-standing program including regulations on both the plants that produce the material, and the farms where it’s used.
“We have a program to make sure we are being protective in terms of the application of biosolids on lands throughout the commonwealth,” he said.
Others asked McDonnell about the impact of mining, past and present.
Paula Schuetrum of Tamaqua asked about the efforts to remediate mining sites in Schuylkill Township, noting the orange streams which can be seen in that area.
Lansford Councilwoman Marie Ondrus related a story from another resident concerned about blasting at a mine that was so loud she was afraid it damaged her foundation.
“She had a therapist there, and it was so loud he thought her furnace blew up,” Ondrus said.
Social services workers spoke to Miller about the need for more funding, and the need to stand up to those who belittle their profession.
A mental health professional from Schuylkill County defended the people she works with and criticized former Gov. Tom Corbett for saying that public welfare doesn’t generate wealth.
“How is your administration educating people that the recipients of DHS dollars are people with significant medical, mental disabilities, the elderly, children and drug and alcohol dependents,” she said.
Miller said stigma is one of the biggest obstacles that her department faces. She said only 30 percent of seniors who are eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance enroll, despite the fact that the program is federally funded and proven to lead to lower health care costs.
“Stigma is one of those issues that keeps coming up, it keeps people who need our services from getting them,” she said.