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Published: Wednesday, 6/3/2009

Ohio to get $88 million in funds to assist laid-off workers


Ohio received an $88.2 million shot in the arm Tuesday when U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced additional funds for unemployment benefits to help laid-off workers here.

It is expected to be especially beneficial to the people who lost their jobs in the wake of bankruptcies by Chrysler LLC and General Motors Corp.

I see this as a beginning of a flicker of hope for the great residents and constituents who live here in the state of Ohio, said Ms. Solis.

The announcement came at Glasstech Inc., a glass-processing technology designer in Perrysburg, during the labor secretary s one-day tour that took her to four sites in southeast Michigan and the Toledo area. She was accompanied at the site by Gov. Ted Strickland.

She said, What it means is there ll be training opportunities. So while people are collecting their unemployment insurance, which is rightly due to them, they will also be eligible for training dollars.

But $49.3 million of the new money will be used for worker unemployment benefits or training funds.

The other $38.9 million has been earmarked for state jobless-benefits staffing and a new computer system to better expedite unemployment claims.

In January, a heavy volume of callers seeking to file unemployment claims caused a crash in Ohio s computer system and prevented jobless workers from going online to register for benefits and check in as required each week.

After her visit to Glasstech, Ms. Solis went to United Auto Workers Region 2-B headquarters in Maumee to meet with union officials, workers, and Maumee officials and to answer questions about the funds and future help the Labor Department plans to provide.

Earlier in the day Ms. Solis and Ed Montgomery, the Obama Administration s car czar, were at a GM plant in Romulus, Mich., along with Michigan state officials, and at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Mich., for a roundtable discussion.

In Michigan, Ms. Solis announced her department was providing an additional $49 million in federal aid to help Michigan workers who lose their jobs because of foreign trade.

In Perrysburg, the labor secretary said that Governor Strickland, a former colleague when the two served together in Congress, would be applying for additional Trade Readjustment Act aid for Ohio, and that she expected the state would apply for part of $500 million in green advanced technology funds that is to be announced in about two weeks.

The funds, she said, would be a perfect match for a place like Glasstech, which has its roots in auto glass production but is shifting more design work toward machines and systems that other companies will use to make energy-efficient glass and solar industry products.

While touring the factory, Ms. Solis saw a machine turn out tinted rear windows to be used in Volkswagen Passat autos, another make mirrored glass for buildings, and then tried testing the strength of glass by puncturing a sheet with a sharp object.

Mr. Strickland said an operation like Glasstech is exactly the kind of cutting-edge, innovative company that we believe is going to be a part of Ohio s economic recovery.

Afterwards, Mark Christman, Glasstech chief executive, said the visit by Ms. Solis and Mr. Strickland was more than just public relations.

The governor and Mr. Christman discussed Glasstech s application for grant money under a federal energy stimulus program to help the company purchase and build demonstration glass-making equipment that it sells to customers.

The equipment, which is expensive, is needed to show customers what Glasstech could provide for them. For now, the company must make do with videos and brochures.

We can sell it that way, but it s very, very difficult, Mr. Christman said.

Ms. Solis visit came less than two weeks after Mr. Montgomery, the federal director of recovery for auto communities and workers, visited Toledo and toured Chrysler s local Jeep assembly complex.

During his visit, he announced the availability of an additional $50 million in federal assistance to communities like Toledo with heavy automotive manufacturing to retrain workers for jobs in more environmentally friendly industries, such as renewable energy.

Contact Jon Chavez at:jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.

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