Friday, November 30, 2012

GUEST COLUMN: "It Has Been an Honor and a Privilege to Serve You"

Rep. Jean Schmidt
By: Rep. Jean Schmidt

The two case workers in my office estimate that they have received a total of about 6,300 requests for constituent services since I came to Congress in 2005. That’s not counting the hundreds of questions that the case workers have answered each year for constituents without having to open case files.

Responding to the needs of the people who live in the seven counties that make up Ohio’s Second Congressional District has been one of my top priorities as your representative in Washington over the last 7½ years.

My current term will conclude January 3. My Hamilton County and Adams County offices are wrapping up several cases involving constituent services, but future requests for such help will be referred to the offices of Ohio’s two senators, Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown.

My staff has done an extraordinary job of navigating the federal bureaucracy on behalf of the thousands of people who have telephoned or written to request help over the years.

Some cases, such as requests to expedite passports or visas, can be handled in a few days or weeks. More complex matters, such as those involving immigration, can take six months to three years to resolve. “It can be frustrating at times, but it’s always rewarding,” one of my case workers said.

Many times, my office has been the last hope for people facing financial difficulties. Common issues have included delays by the Internal Revenue Service in processing tax refunds, or demands for additional paperwork to process the payment of Medicare bills. In one case, we helped a constituent get long-overdue Social Security benefits that totaled $68,000.

Other times, my office has helped veterans or their families obtain the medals earned years ago for military service. My office has also cut through red tape to help veterans or their widows obtain tens of thousands of dollars in overdue VA benefits. Other times, my office intervened to help resolve pay or retirement issues for active-duty members of the military.

My case workers also have helped constituents with claims involving thousands of dollars in compensation and medical benefits related to the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act.

People who have waited on claims for months or even years have been amazed that something could be done to speed things up once a congressional office made a phone call or sent an email.

I’ve also worked closely with local and state officials to obtain federal funding for public works projects that have benefited residents throughout Ohio’s Second Congressional District, which encompasses Adams County, Brown County, Clermont County, Pike County, and parts of Hamilton County, Warren County, and Scioto County. These include the Interstate 275 interchange improvements in Eastgate and Cincinnati’s central riverfront street grid project.

I’m particularly proud that I was able to help line up federal funding for the Banks project along the Ohio River, which is a vital part of the redevelopment of downtown Cincinnati.

Other beneficiaries include Shawnee State University, the Parker House in Brown County, the Portsmouth Industrial Park redevelopment, Talbert House drug treatment programs in Warren County and Hamilton County, and the Cincinnati Police Department.

I’ve gone to battle for farmers in Southern Ohio, opposing undue regulations and pushing for programs that ensure that our nation has the safest and most stable food supply in the world.

I’ve pushed for reforms for the food stamp program, but argued against drastic cuts that would force many Americans to go hungry. Child-nutrition issues have been a major concern of mine.

I also have championed many projects related to jobs and getting our economy back on track, including the lengthy fight to prod the administration of President Obama to support the USEC uranium-enrichment plant in Pike County.

The importance of constituent services is something I recognized long before becoming the first woman to represent Southern Ohio in Congress. Previously, I spent four years as a state representative in the Ohio House, and I was a Miami Township trustee in my native Clermont County for 11 years.

For each of those 22 years, it has been an honor and a privilege to serve you.