hazard-herald.com

Benefits fair aims to help unemployed

Cris RitchieEditor

July 19, 2012

HAZARD – With unemployment rates in the region expected to jump in the next few months, one organization will host a benefits fair next week for unemployed people in an attempt to get them back to work or otherwise find assistance.


The Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP) is planning a series of three fairs beginning on Thursday, July 26 in Hazard, with two additional events in Harlan and Prestonsburg. The fairs will include participation from a variety of organizations that will be on hand to explain the different kinds of benefits available to the unemployed, which here in Eastern Kentucky will by and large consist of coal miners affected by recent layoffs in the mining industry.


So far this year, officials have been able to confirm that approximately 1,800 coal miners have lost their jobs in Eastern Kentucky, according to Bridget Back, monitoring unit manager with EKCEP, though the number of total jobs lost is likely higher than that. The 1,800 figure, she noted, was arrived at by examining the 60-day notices mining companies are required to issue in the event of large layoffs. That approximate number does not take into effect smaller layoffs that wouldn’t require notice, or layoffs in ancillary industries such as mine supply.


Regardless, there has been a large need for services, Back added, and next week’s benefits fair should answer many questions and provide much-needed information on issues including how to sign up for unemployment, obtain help with mortgages or even heating assistance during the winter months, and also with interview and job application skills.


“We’re trying to get everybody together under one roof so the miners can come in and talk to them and find out what there is,” Back said.


The Kentucky Housing Corporation, for instance, offers grants to help pay mortgage payments, noted Michelle Feltner, workforce coordinator for EKCEP, which is free money as long as the applicants keep their home.


Representatives from the unemployment office are also slated to participate, and will provide information on how to file for unemployment and what someone can expect once they begin receiving those benefits. Mountain Comprehensive Health Care will also be there to explain sliding scale programs for people with no insurance or low income, and also a prescription program that can help people obtain medicine at a minimal cost.


Feltner added that they hope to have employers who have job openings to attend, and representatives with Kentucky Teleworks will be on hand to explain the different work-from-home options.


“There are jobs available in Eastern Kentucky, it’s just sometimes it’s hard to know what jobs are available,” Feltner said.


Representatives with EKCEP will also be on hand to take surveys from miners who attend in order to learn what benefits would be most attractive to them. Back noted that once those surveys are completed, EKCEP can then apply for grants from the U.S. Department of Labor to help implement those benefits locally. Organizations in West Virginia recently were approved for similar funds due to layoffs there.


Though the fairs have been geared toward miners, Back noted that the events are open for anyone currently unemployed, which is a number of people she expects to increase as the year continues. At present, unemployment rates do not yet take into account hundreds of miners who recently received notice that their jobs would be eliminated. Since mine companies are required to issue the 60-day notice, Back estimated that in the next few months those miners will have completed that 60-day period and received any severance packages, and then begin singing up for unemployment if they haven’t found work elsewhere. Once they sign up for unemployment, they’ll be counted in local jobless rates.


“Right now, our area is up to over 11 percent unemployment rating, and we won’t even realize the full impact of the coal mining layoffs until the fall,” Back explained.


The first benefits fair will be held at the Perry County JobSight located at 412 Roy Campbell Drive in Hazard from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 26. But if you miss that event, there will be another chance during the second fair in Harlan at the Harlan County Extension Depot on Wednesday, August 15. The third event will be at the Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg on Tuesday, August 28.


For more information about the Hazard event, call 606-436-3161.