Workforce development staff and partner agencies are highly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as 18,385 workers in the Upper Savannah Workforce Area have applied for unemployment benefits through May 9, according to numbers released by the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce (SCDEW).
Predictions indicate that about 18 percent of COVID-19 laid off workers will not be recalled to their jobs, representing more than 3,000 workers in the Upper Savannah Region.
The Upper Savannah Workforce System’s goal is to help those laid off workers quickly transition into new opportunities. Plans include helping workers identify transferable skills and build on to the training that they already have. But some workers will require training to make the move to a new career.
It is expected that workers without a high school diploma, those with a poor work history and those with a criminal record will have the hardest time finding new jobs as employers have a larger pool to pick from.
Some employers will have a difficult time recruiting in the short-term. Unemployment insurance benefits have been enhanced by $600 a week. Some workers are wary of returning to work because they earn more money drawing benefits. UI isn’t a long-term option so the workforce system has to get recipients to start planning their next move.
A higher unemployment rate exists at the same time that budget cuts have been proposed for the local workforce area. The U.S. Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act did not include additional funding for training and case management (Upper Savannah Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act) or the job matching system (SCDEW).
Plans are to re-open S.C. Works Centers to the public June 3 in Greenwood and Newberry counties and June 4 in Laurens County. Other centers will re-open in some form before July. To allow for social distancing more space will be leased temporarily. Service will be by appointment only initially. Centers will have security.
While centers have been closed, workforce staff have been working remotely communicating with job seekers and employers by phone and email. Upper Savannah Council of Governments has taken a leadership role in identifying businesses contributing to the recovery effort and helping them find staff.
The Upper Savannah Area Agency on Aging is continuing to be highly affected by the COVID-19 restrictions. But Operation Spread the Joy brought excitement for some area seniors and one Upper Savannah staff member earlier this month.
Operation Spread the Joy was a collaboration between the S.C. Department of Corrections and the S.C. Department on Aging (SCDOA). Inmates made cards and gifts for nursing home residents across South Carolina as part of an effort to lift spirits during the COVID-19 quarantine.
Hundreds of inmates drew cards, made jewelry, and knitted things like caps and footies, stuffed animals, bookmarks, blankets and other comfort items. About 2,000 items were delivered to nursing home residents across the state on May 7, at a time when visitors aren’t allowed into nursing homes or prisons.
“For many of our residents in the facilities, these cards and special items may be the only things they receive during this pandemic,” SCDOA Director Connie Munn said. “We are grateful for the partnership with the Department of Corrections and their efforts to reach out to spread the joy to our older residents.”
USCOG Ombudsman Ericca Livingston participated in Operation Spread the Joy. “It was wonderful being able to see and wave at my residents,” she said. “It made my day to see their faces lighting up with smiles when they saw what was made especially for them.”
Meanwhile, the Farmers Market voucher program for low-income Greenwood County seniors returns this spring. However, changes were necessary due to COVID-19.
Seniors 60 and older must apply online this year and $25 vouchers to eligible seniors will be distributed in June through a curbside pickup. While online registration will be a challenge for many seniors, the limit of exposure to COVID-19 is critical to the senior population.
Seniors can visit dss.sc.gov to complete an online application through May 25, 2020. Once on website, click on Assistance Programs and then Food and Nutrition Programs. After application completion, the S.C. Department of Social Services (DSS) will provide eligibility notification and voucher pick-up information for qualified applicants.
Each eligible person will receive $25 worth of vouchers that may be used to purchase fresh produce at participating markets. Upper Savannah AAA staff will be involved in distributing the vouchers during curbside pickup.
Upper Savannah assessors are doing a record number of assessments as the AAA continues to receive new referrals for all services. Clients are added to services based on a priority score. The AAA continues to add clients to home-delivered meal services, home care services and critical medical transportation services.
Also, additional funding has been received through the U.S. Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. These funds have been earmarked for home-delivered meals and additional supportive services in our region.
The AAA’s contracted providers for meal and transportation services are facing very difficult challenges, both financially and logistically. Staff has been furloughed and volunteer numbers have declined. Transportation reimbursement for group dining transportation has ceased due to temporary group dining center closures while transportation to medical appointments has declined. There is an increased burden on contractors to provide more home-delivered meals to seniors with fewer available resources.
“We applaud them for their dedication to continue to serve the senior population under difficult circumstances,” Upper Savannah Aging Director Linda McAllister said.
Social distancing requirements continue to affect the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) process as USCOG Community Development staff prepare applications for sewer improvement projects in the City of Clinton and in Greenwood and Laurens counties.
The S.C. Department of Commerce extended the CDBG infrastructure funding application deadline to June 15, 2020. This round of applications typically due in April requires door-to-door income surveys for qualification purposes, according to Community Development Coordinator Brittany Hallman.
Currently, entities and subrecipients are working to obtain the required surveys to meet the new deadline, while complying with the restrictions of COVID-19.
“We’re stilling working with the localities to collect data for the income surveys,” Hallman said. “So far we have one locality that was able to successfully complete their income surveys for their CDBG application. I’m working on finalizing the data for the application.”
Meanwhile, the Planning Grant deadline was extended to June 5, 2020. The new Planning Grant application has been submitted to Commerce ahead of schedule with award notice expected in July.
The yearly Planning Grant allows continued CDBG support to the Upper Savannah region. This allows CDBG staff funding assistance to work with local governments for project development, needs assessments and technical assistance in the CDBG program.
“The open Planning Grant (for FY 2020) is being prepared for close-out,” she said. “The close-out documents are finalized and waiting for the final de-obligation form from the SC Department of Commerce. Once we receive this form, the close-out package will be ready for Greenwood County’s signature.
Social distancing requirements have changed the way public meetings are held, and Government Services Director Rick Green said he continues to get phone calls about how to hold public meetings during these restrictions.
Green has advised that local governments work closely with their attorney for the best advice on how to run public meetings in their community.
The Census Bureau temporarily suspended Census 2020 field data collection activities in March. Steps are already being taken to reactivate field offices beginning June 1, 2020, in preparation for the resumption of field data collection operations.
The Census Bureau has extended the window for field data collection and self-response to October 31, 2020, so people can still fill out their Census form online at my2020census.gov, or over the phone at 1-844-330-2020.
Green is urging municipalities to continue to promote Census activities as correct Census counts mean more funding for their communities.
The Economic Development Administration (EDA) has published a Notice of Funding Opportunity related to the U.S. Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
This includes funding for various types of projects including infrastructure, revolving loan funds, planning and technical assistance. Upper Savannah is working with several potential applicants to develop and submit applications.
Meanwhile, the EDA funded projects in the Upper Savannah region continue to progress without interruption. However, the Economic Development Division’s Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) has been affected by COVID-19. RLF borrowers who need assistance due to economic slowdowns are getting help through short-term payment deferrals.