County News

Counties support the unemployed

Effingham County Case Manager Joanna Davies and Effingham County Case Manager Intern Blaze Harkte help individuals who are filing for unemployment in Effingham County, Ill. Photo by Kaitlin Cordes, Effingham Daily News

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With the nationwide unemployment rate at 11 percent for the month of June, millions of Americans are currently experiencing job loss because of the economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Effingham County, Ill., Case Manager Joanna Davies is hoping to help those who lost their jobs and have been impacted by the pandemic.

The Effingham Library launched the Case Manager Project, an outreach effort to help county residents file for unemployment claims.

Davies provides assistance for anyone who needs to sign up for unemployment, navigate the unemployment website or even locate stimulus checks.

Johnna Schultz, assistant director of the Effingham Public Library, said the project launched when the Illinois governor enacted the shelter-in-place order. She applied for a temporary grant to hire a case manager who will serve in the position through October.

“We are a very rural community and we know that many of our county residents don’t have access to technology and they might have a phone, but the Illinois Department of Employment Security website doesn’t work on a mobile device,” Schultz said.

Davies explained how she works with an intern and sets office hours at the library where any individual can drop by to receive help. During each visit, she performs an initial assessment, provides help with filing for unemployment and gives additional information on resources for finding jobs or for job training in the community.

The majority of people who stop by the library need assistance with signing up for unemployment. Many who are facing rent payments and bills feel a huge stress release after receiving help, she said.

“If people have applied for unemployment and they just struggled to get through the application and they just are really frustrated, they’ll come in here and it’s almost like we just unlocked the door they’ve been struggling with and when they get to the other side, there’s a pot of money there,” Davies explained.

She said they are available at the library for four hours each day and usually see about seven people each day.

“Considering how long looking into someone’s unemployment claim takes or to file one, it’s quite time consuming, so we’ve been pretty busy,” she said.

Davies created a countywide outreach schedule to identify other locations throughout the county to set up laptops, intake forms, referral sheets and meet with residents to help them sign up for unemployment.

In Alameda County, Calif., Workforce Development Board Director Patti Castro is also working to provide county residents with tools needed to find employment as they see little movement on hiring or “business as usual.”

She described the current situation in the county as “nothing like we’ve ever seen before.”

“Our unemployment rate is hovering around 14 percent,” Castro said. “Pre-COVID it was about 3 percent, so things are scaling up.”

Castro is encouraging county residents to utilize an online training platform called Metrix, which the workforce development board has previously used to help county residents obtain the necessary skills for certain jobs.

“This year because of so many people getting services virtually or trying to do things at home, we relaunched the campaign to boost our enrollments,” Castro said.

The platform features a variety of skills and over 500 courses. Users can complete self-assessments and look at different career pathways for in-demand occupations. Courses include soft skills, leadership management, IT, sales, customer service and other industry-specific certifications where users can receive badges for programs such as Cisco, Microsoft or Oracle, among others.

Castro said the most popular course is project management.

“You can do courses that are one-off just because you are interested in the skill or you need the skill or you can do a real program where at the end of a series you get an industry certification,” she said.

The program is available to county residents who are members of the career center or workforce system. While the county’s career centers are still closed, there are many events happening virtually and county residents can work with career counselors over the phone, Castro said.

“The Metrix system provides a nice alternative because not only is it accessible, it’s free to our job seeker customers, but it doesn’t cost as much as maybe going to private post-secondary school or enrolling in or paying for it some other way,” she said.

Last year, the Metrix platform served more than 200 people who registered and received online training.

“The economic situation is concerning to the counties,” she said. “Workforce is just trying to hang in there as best we can in supporting individuals who can move to other jobs to the degree they are available that they can transition quickly.”

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