HAZARD — Several Eastern Kentucky miners will be receiving help thanks to a federal grant aimed at helping to retrain and find work for laid off miners.
Helping Our Miners Every Day, or HOME, is a program through the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP) that will use millions of dollars in federal funds to help train local miners in hopes to keep them in the area and boost the local economy.
Statistics show that hundreds of miners in Eastern Kentucky are about to run out of unemployment benefits and will soon be both out of work and without any sort of income. “Just with the ones that we can document we know that there are over 400 of those miners that will lose unemployment benefits this month,” said Bridget Back with EKCEP. “And then another 800 will lose benefits in February.”
These statistics made it so important to start the program as soon as possible, Back noted. EKCEP hosted the first of three events informing miners about their options with the program in Hazard on Dec. 12. More than 100 miners and their spouses came through in the first 45 minutes.
Grant funds have been allocated to the program by the Department of Labor to help 700 miners. Owen Grise with EKCEP said that he expects more funds may need to be requested since they believe more miners will require assistance than the initial 700. “The Department of Labor has assured us that if we absolutely fill up and we over-subscribe, that demonstrates a larger need and we will be able to apply for more money,” said Grise.
Along with the event in Hazard, EKCEP is hosting events in Pikeville and Harlan. At these information sessions miners and their families can find out about the opportunities available to them in retraining and applying for jobs.
Back said that for many of the miners, they have never had to job search since they have worked in their positions for so long and will only need help in that area while others may have to go back to school.
“A lot of them have worked in the mines for so long that is all that they have done, that is all that they know how to do or think that they know how to do,” said Back. “They have worked for so long they don’t know how to go about how to look for another job.”
EKCEP will be able to help with interview skills, writing resumes, and job searching, and also be able to help employers with training costs for hiring a miner.
Grise said that since HOME will be able to shoulder the costs of training, hiring someone in the program is a good deal for employers. Because of this, EKCEP is asking employers that may be on the fence about hiring more staff to consider it.
“We are calling on the region’s employers to try and step up and take advantage of this opportunity to get a dedicated, proven, skilled worker who is committed to the area and for us to help with the cost of retraining them,” said Grise. “We are going to be able to do that through all of the on-the-job training as well, with help with a portion of these people’s wages.”
Grise also said part of the reason the program is called HOME is because they are hoping to keep miners from this region in the area. One miner who said he would prefer to stay here is Bart Mullins.
Mullins was laid off in the most recent TECO layoffs on Friday, Dec. 7. He and 155 other miners and employees lost their jobs in this layoff, and many of them came to the HOME event.
Mullins said that the layoff came as a total surprise to him, but it is something that has come to be expected in the industry. Because of this uncertainty, he said he would prefer to find a job in the area instead of moving to mines in other states.
“I would rather stay than relocate because the way mining goes, you could be there one day and then the next have to go all the way somewhere else, and then you could get laid off again,” said Mullins.
The miners that came to the event met with job counselors who will be assigned to help them find employment. “I set up a meeting to come back in and talk more about what is available,” said Mullins.
He said he is keeping his options open and just going to see what may be available to him.
More information about the HOME program and the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program can be found at www.EKCEP.com.