Craig Eisele on …..

January 31, 2012

Study: Safety net misses many jobless in Nevada

Filed under: Uncategorized — Mr. Craig @ 10:17 pm

Study: Safety net misses many jobless in Nevada

Las Vegans Dylan Wikoff and Jorge Suescun Hijuelos know firsthand the downward spiral that occurs once you lose your job and then exhaust your unemployment benefits without finding work.

“I ended up homeless on Fremont Street,” said Wikoff, a 36-year-old Marine Corps veteran who was laid off more than two years ago from a sales job at a construction supply company.

“It was a slow downward spiral for me,” said Hijuelos, 51, a longtime union construction worker who had never been without work for more than a few weeks until the completion of the CityCenter project. “I sold my car, sold my bedroom set, sold everything to pay my rent. I went from a beautiful condo to renting rooms by the week. I slept in a couple of fields.”

These polite and bright men are not unusual. They actually are some of the lucky ones in the never-ending recession in Nevada. The men, interviewed by phone in Las Vegas, are now pulling their lives back together through Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada. Wikoff works at the charity program’s thrift store, while Hijuelos is a dorm monitor at the residential living center.

Like many of the unemployed, they found the safety net programs provided by the state were not enough, or not worth the trouble.

Just 27 percent of the Nevadans who exhausted their unemployment benefits turned to the state for assistance through the Medicaid, food stamp and welfare programs, a new study has found.

But the state Division of Welfare and Supportive Services study does not address what happened to the other 73 percent, people who could be without any means of support.

Officials who deal with the un­employed and other poor people, though, have a pretty good idea.

Some live with a spouse or partner who still is working and live off the one income.

Others move in with family members or friends, or move out of the state.

More than 30 percent are not aware that state and local social service agencies and charitable organizations can offer them help.

Some have cut their living expenses by just not paying their mortgages. They know they will face foreclosure and eventual expulsion from their homes but it is the best they can do for now.

And still others never have accepted help before and simply are too proud to ask.

Wikoff and Hijuelos received un­employment for 99 weeks, the maximum allowed, could not find jobs or enough benefits to stay afloat, and ended up homeless.

Wikoff said he spent too much time “chasing for programs to keep the lights on,” sold his car and belongings and still became homeless.

“I lost my sense of productivity. I chased my tail trying to get assistance and ended up a drifter. It was incomprehensive to me that I ended up on the street.”

“When you are on unemployment, it is only enough to sustain you,” Wikoff said.

“I got food stamps and a voucher (from the county) for $400 for rent,” Hijuelos said. “It was just not enough. The voucher was for one month. But I am persistent. I am super grateful to Catholic Charities. ”

RIDING OUT THE STORM

“This is far different than past recessions,” said Miki Allard, staff specialist of the state Division of Welfare and Supportive Services. “We are seeing people who never thought they would be in a welfare office.”

Allard said some unemployed people are simply “riding out the storm.” They don’t believe it’s worth the effort to apply for Medicaid, the free health care program for the poor, disabled and some elderly, as long as their health is good.

She pointed out that if members of an unemployed family suddenly suffer health problems, they still can apply for Medicaid. If they are approved, the program will cover medical bills starting up to three months before they were participants.

If one spouse in a family is working, she added, it might not be worth the time to apply for food stamps — now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

A family of four with no income could qualify for as much as $668 a month in SNAP benefits, but typically if one spouse is working, their benefit if any, could be less than $20 a month.

In the study, welfare officials looked at a list provided by the state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation of 1,643 people who exhausted their unemployment benefits between January 2010 and February 2011. They matched those names with names in their caseloads.

MOST DON’T SEEK STATE HELP

Twenty-two percent of the people who exhausted unemployment enrolled in the nutrition assistance program. Four percent were enrolled in the SNAP and Medicaid programs. And 1 percent were receiving welfare, SNAP and Medicaid benefits. But 73 percent were not enrolled in any of these programs.

They still could end up in the caseload statistics. The study found most of the people who exhausted unemployment waited seven months before applying for SNAP.

One of every seven people in the state now receives some sort of state assistance, according to Allard.

The latest figures show a record 303,814 people in Nevada are receiving Medicaid assistance, up 23,000 in the last year. SNAP help now is being given to a record 353,737 people, up 29,000.

Mae Worthey, a spokeswoman for the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, said the statistics on unemployed people exhausting benefits is not a true indication of how bad it has become for the unemployed in Nevada.

Of the unemployed, only about half received compensation in the first place, she said. People who quit jobs are not eligible for unemployment.

Worthey’s agency administers un­employment benefits and operates Job Connect offices where people can find what jobs are available.

CHARITIES OFFER FOOD, HELP

Jodi Pyson, research and public policy manager for the Three Square Food Bank in Clark County, said many of the people she sees today are former middle class people “who may not even know where to start” in looking for benefits.

They also may lack the transportation or be reluctant to apply for food stamps or other programs at the welfare office.

“They are overwhelmed that they are in such a situation,” she said.

Three Square, which provides food for poor people through nonprofit agencies, organizations and schools, has set up a bilingual team through a contract with the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services to help people fill out SNAP applications. They have enrolled about 7,500 people over the past two years.

Team members meet people in places such as libraries and grocery stores.

Catholic Charities spokeswoman Leslie Carmine said many of her organization’s clients are people who no longer or never qualified for unemployment benefits.

Catholic Charities runs many programs to help the poor, including the St. Vincent Lied Dining Room where meals are available to the homeless or anyone who walks in the door.

It also gives two bags of ready-to-eat food once a month to any Nevada resident who asks.

Tim Burch, interim director of the Clark County Department of Social Services, said his agency is the “bottom rung” for poor people who have lost unemployment benefits, sold their cars and depleted savings and could not find sufficient help from charities.

The department’s budget comes from property taxes, which have been declining. Burch said his agency has experienced a 26 percent cut in funds and staff at a time when the need is at a record high.

“We work with Catholic Charities and other community partners and try to cobble together the services needed to keep people off the street,” Burch said.

FRESH HOPE FOR JOBS

Wikoff and Hijuelos figure the storm is about over for them.

With the training he has received at Catholic Charities, Wikoff hopes he can now find a sales job that pays at least $15 an hour.

Hijuelos sees himself returning soon to construction work. He has kept up his union dues and now stands No. 10 on one callback chart. When he was laid off, he was No. 3,000.

Being a veteran isn’t enough, added Ryan Germain, 33, another trainee at Catholic Charities. After a stint in the Army and working in warehousing in Texas, he moved to Las Vegas last year thinking it would be exciting to find employment in the gaming industry. He never found a job. An alert police officer took him to Catholic Charities.

“Employers may want to hire veterans, but they get 500 people turning in applications for one job. I would take anything. I would shovel manure,” he said.

WHERE TO FIND HELP
■ Call 211 anywhere in the state to find people who can direct you where to find services you need. You also can visit the website: nevada211.com.
■ Visit the Nevada Division of Welfare and Supportive Services website: dwss.nv.gov. The site offers locations by ZIP code of welfare offices across the state, application forms in Spanish and English, and eligibility requirements for programs.
■ Visit the Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada website: catholiccharities.com. The website describes programs to help people, including senior citizens and families, and includes telephone numbers to call for more information.
■ Visit the Three Square Food Bank website: three square.org. The food bank provides food and grocery products equivalent to 16 million meals a year to nonprofit organizations and schools in Clark County and other counties in Southern Nevada. The site has a “get help” link that people can use to find food.

A new study shows that just 27 percent of the Nevadans who have exhausted their unemployment benefits turn to the state for assistance through the Medicaid, food stamp and welfare programs

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