Merced and Madera counties will receive grant to put people back to work

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- Two North Valley counties are getting more than $1,000,000 to help put people back to work. Merced and Madera counties have both been hurt by large layoffs, including the AT&T call center and Chukchansi Resort and Casino. Now there's a lot more money available to help them find new jobs.

The closure of Chukchansi casino in October left more than a 1,000 people suddenly out of work. It also put a financial strain on the Madera County Workforce Investment Corporation. The department first spent extra money on staffing and materials to host huge resource seminars and help hundreds of employees apply for unemployment insurance.

Elaine Craig said, "Their immediate thought is funding and financing to maintain their homes and their lives."

But Executive Director Elaine Craig says that focus began to shift toward the end of the year.

Craig explained, "As the time went by and it became abundantly clear that the casino would be closed for a longer period of time than hoped or anticipated, they began to access my business and career staff."

The department is now helping many of the workers train for new jobs, and it's contracted with the Madera Adult School to provide classes for about 60 of them who don't have high school diplomas.

Craig added, "We buy an instructor and materials and the classroom to have just those students in there studying for the GED."

All of those expenses have drained the agency's regular funding, but it recently received a $500,000 grant from the California Employment Development Department to recoup those costs. The Merced County Workforce Investment Board was also awarded nearly $1,000,000 to help with the layoffs of more than 400 AT&T call center employees and more than 90 workers from Mi Pueblo Market in Atwater.

Deputy Director Shermaene Roemhildt said, "We've already had 125 people coming in, many ATT people have come in since December. We're getting them refresher training to get their skills back up to marketable skills and we're going to get into jobs."

Worknet of Merced County says a lot of the AT&T workers are taking classes to update their computer and accounting skills since the programs they used were very specific. The grant money can also be used to help pay for classes at a new truck driving school that's set to open soon.

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