Some Ohio residents who are struggling to pay health care costs after losing their jobs as a result of RG Steel's bankruptcy are receiving some help from the other side of the Ohio River.
West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Ohio Gov. John Kasich jointly announced a $1.2 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Labor that will help up to 500 displaced RG Steel employees pay for health benefits as they await acceptance into a federal program that pays for a large portion of those benefits - a process that often takes two months or more, according to United Steelworkers contract coordinator John Saunders.
Though this "gap filler" grant will aid Ohio residents only, it will be administered by WorkForce West Virginia, which has experience offering a similar program for displaced RG Steel workers in West Virginia.
The grant will assist displaced workers who opt to receive health care through the federal Health Coverage Tax Credit program, which is open to those who have lost their jobs due to outsourcing and retirees who receive pension payments from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. It pays for 72.5 percent of enrollee's monthly health insurance premiums in the form of a tax credit.
"It offers good benefits at a good price, at a time when people have lost their benefits," Saunders said of the program.
But, Saunders said, the application process takes time, and without this grant some families would have to come up with thousands of dollars per month to pay the premium while awaiting approval of their HCTC application.
"It was impossible for them to come up with that large amount of money," Saunders said, noting the grant allows applicants to immediately begin receiving the 72.5 percent benefit.
According to Saunders, the grant will affect those most recently laid off from the Wheeling Corrugating plant in Beech Bottom, the Mountain State Carbon coke plant in Follansbee and the administrative offices in Wheeling, in addition to workers from the Warren, Ohio, steel plant.
And United Steelworkers Local 1223 President Jerry Conners said it will help 50 to 60 of the workers he represents from the Yorkville cold rolling plant as they wait to be called back to work by Esmark, which bought the facility earlier this year.
"With workers in both West Virginia and Ohio being affected by recent layoffs at RG Steel, I know we have families in both states struggling to make ends meet. I'm truly grateful we have programs available to help our families afford their insurance premiums," said Tomblin.