HAZARD — Several local organizations teamed up on Thursday to offer information about benefits, retraining and other employment opportunities during a benefits fair aimed at helping miners who were recently laid off get back on their feet.
Jeff Whitehead, the executive director for the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP), said that his agency has been working with miners since the layoffs began, and wanted to find a way to reach as many of them as possible about the benefits they can receive. Along with EKCEP, Mountain Comprehensive Health Care (MCHC) hosted Thursday’s fair at the Perry County JobSight on Roy Campbell Drive.
The idea for the fair came from a similar event held in Whitesburg several weeks ago by MCHC.
“Their idea in Letcher County was to let people know what all the benefits are that are available to them in a tough time,” said Whitehead.
A few agencies at that fair offered advice to around 180 people who came to the event. After seeing how much good the fair was able to do in Whitesburg, officials decided to host some of their own in Hazard, Harlan and Prestonsburg. They also added several more agencies and expanded with companies looking to hire and schools that can help with retraining.
“We have done a little more in terms of promotion and communication, and it has gotten bigger,” said Whitehead. “There are a lot more partners, a lot more agencies involved.”
Schools like Hazard Community and Technical College, the University of Pikeville and Eastern Kentucky University had tables set up to show what classes they offer. Organizations showing how to live on a budget, get help for mortgage, help with insurance, and even help starting a new business were also available.
While they are hoping to get miners back on their feet in Perry County, Whitehead said the main priority is to do what is best for the unemployed and their families. One of the businesses at this week’s fair was actually hiring and looking specifically to hire laid off miners from Eastern Kentucky. Hitachi of Berea is looking to employ around 75 to 100 people in the coming months.
State Representative Fitz Steele said he attended the fair to show support for the region’s laid off miners, and added that he would love to see them be able to stay in the area but understands that family and livelihood come first. Many of the jobs that are becoming available in coal mines and elsewhere for miners are out of the county, out of the region and even out of state in many cases.
“They will relocate and they will pay for them to relocate, and they will have to because if you have a family to feed and bills to pay they won’t have a choice,” Steele said. “They will have to go where the work is. History is repeating itself.”
Whitehead said offering services to get people training in other fields, or even just offering benefits until more coal mines open back up, is necessary to help avoid losing good people and good workers.
“If you think about it, all of the coal miners, they are working. They are raising families, they are going to church. They are busy with life and they don’t know the things that are out there for them because they have not been out looking for that,” said Whitehead.
The benefits fair will be coming to Harlan on August 15 and to Prestonsburg on August 28.