Grants pay unemployed workers for storm-related jobs

Staff Writer

 This South Bath Avenue beach access point was destroyed during Sandy and was rebuilt by workers hired by the city with grant funding. The federal funds pay the salaries of unemployed workers for storm-related remediation projects.  KENNY WALTER staff This South Bath Avenue beach access point was destroyed during Sandy and was rebuilt by workers hired by the city with grant funding. The federal funds pay the salaries of unemployed workers for storm-related remediation projects. KENNY WALTER staff Municipalities still recovering from the superstorm are taking advantage of a federal grant program that pays the salaries of unemployed workers hired for Sandy-related work.

Eileen Higgins, executive director of the Monmouth County Workforce Investment Board, said in a June 20 interview that the National Emergency Grant, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, covers work related to the Oct. 29 storm.

“It [provides] funds for municipalities and nonprofits to hire workers that are unemployed to do work in the municipality that is related to the storm,” she said.

“So, the regular municipal workers can do their regular work. They would have this other work pool who could work on the storm, and the funds are 100 percent reimbursed through this grant,”

Higgins said the program comes with strict stipulations because the work must be Sandy-related.

“The biggest thing is [that] you have to demonstrate the work they are doing was — and continues to be — Sandy-related,” she said. “They can’t be doing any other work for the municipality.

“We monitor it on a regular basis to make sure the work they are doing is hurricanerelated.”

According to Higgins, there are several different jobs the grant money could fund.

“It can be physical labor, it can be clerical work, as long as it is hurricane-related,” she said. “They can bring project managers on to oversee the work that’s being done — especially in the Shore communities that have the summer to worry about and their regular business, [and] would want someone to oversee the work being done after [superstorm] Sandy.”

According to Higgins, 35 municipalities and nonprofits have been awarded funding through the program. These include Long Branch, Union Beach, Sea Bright, Highlands, Keyport, Keansburg and Red Bank.

Long Branch has been awarded more than $200,000 through the program, and employs about 10 people to help with the Department of Public Works (DPW) workload.

“[We hired] a lot of people in public works to do repairs to the entrances to the beach that got wiped out,” Business Administrator Howard Woolley Jr. said. “They were able to expand the public works staff so that we can do a lot of that stuff in house.”

According to Woolley, the city constructed temporary beach ramps on 14 of the 15 beach entrances, and is in the process of completing the final access point on Brighton Avenue.

“We’d be back at six or seven [entrances] if we didn’t have that manpower,” he said. “It’s been a godsend for us.”

“We focused on getting the beach entrances back, and once we get that done then we can move on to the other issues,” he added. “It’s been a tremendous program for us to help us get back and running.”

Higgins said most of those being employed in Sea Bright and Union Beach are doing labor-intensive work.

“Primarily, Sea Bright and Union Beach have been skilled laborers who are working on rebuilding the boardwalks, cleaning up the beach area so they would be open for Memorial Day,” she said.

One of the local nonprofits to receive funding through the grant program is the Gateway Church of Christ, which meets in Holmdel.

Lead Evangelist Carl Williamson said Gateway currently has 14 employees and has received approximately $700,000 from the workforce development grant program.

According to Williamson, these workers are involved in post-storm work.

“Right now, all the employees that we have that are working through the workforce development grant are working to unload trucks of supplies,” he said. “We are getting sheet rock and insulation and things of that nature.

“They also organize all the trailers of tools, and organize all the volunteers that come here.”

Williamson said Gateway would have approximately 1,000 volunteers per week over the course of the summer, and the new hires will be responsible for filing paperwork and helping to organize the volunteers who will be arriving to work on storm-damage projects.

The church is working with several towns in the Bayshore, specifically Union Beach, Keansburg and Highlands, on debris removal and some lawn maintenance issues with properties, he said. “Each week, we’re doing about 25 houses that require skilled labor for anything from sheetrock or more skilled [tasks],” Williamson said. “Then, we are doing about 50 jobs, which include debris removal, tear-outs from houses, and basic yard work or tree-removal type of things.”

Another benefit of the program is that it could possibly help the unemployed workers to secure full-time jobs.

“The idea is to get unemployed people reemployed. If they are good, maybe someone will pick them up,” Higgins said.

“Or at least they are getting some work and getting something they can put on their résumé and get out there to the next job. “

Higgins said the grant is funded through the U.S. Department of Labor and administered through the county. Initially, the grant funding was to expire six months after the storm, but the program has been extended through Jan. 29, 2014.

In total, $15 million was awarded to the state, and the county received $1.2 million. Higgins said the county has requested additional monies.

County officials have referred unemployed workers to municipalities and nonprofits, according to Higgins.

“We have a pool of people who have been to open houses, who we know are receiving unemployment or have used our services in the past,” she said. “We come in and certify that they are eligible, and then we refer them to the municipalities.

“The municipalities can also identify someone that they know in their municipality that’s been unemployed.”

Higgins said she has met with several municipalities impacted by the storm to identify what work could be included in the program.

“The Division of Workforce Development has gone out to every municipality and spoken to the mayors and DPW, and they just come back with the paperwork and show us what they need done,” Higgins said.

Each worker employed through the program is eligible for six months of employment, up to $24,000 in wages.

Once a worker’s eligibility is exhausted, the municipality can hire another worker for the same position.

“If they needed an administrative assistant and the person is coming close to $24,000 or six months, they can bring another person on,” Higgins said. “They can keep the position; it just wouldn’t be the same person.”