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State announces job program for Southeast Missouri flood cleanup

Friday, July 8, 2011

Ten workers started cleaning up flood damage in Morehouse, Mo., Wednesday as part of a new state program to put unemployed Missourians to work.

The Missouri Disaster Recovery Jobs Program, announced last month in Joplin to assist with tornado cleanup, has been expanded to include 34 counties across southern Missouri, Gov. Jay Nixon announced Thursday.

"We're putting people to work pretty quickly," said June O'Dell, president and chief operating officer of the Workforce Investment Board of Southeast Missouri, which manages Missouri Career Centers for the state.

A total of 24 job sites have been selected in 13 Southeast Missouri counties, O'Dell said. She estimates 177 positions will be needed. Workers will be repairing and restoring public infrastructure including roads, ditches, parks and libraries. Area counties to benefit from the cleanup program include Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Dunklin, Iron, Madison, Mississippi, New Madrid, Pemiscot, Perry, Scott, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve and Stoddard.

Those sites were selected with input from county commissioners, city administrators and mayors in areas affected by flooding in April and May, O'Dell said.

The jobs, although full time, are considered temporary, and workers can work a maximum of 1,400 hours. Wages will be competitive based on the type of work and experience, O'Dell said. For example, someone who has experience and training operating road equipment would be paid the same rate a Missouri Department of Transportation worker is paid to do the same job, she said.

Workers must complete a drug test, physical, orientation and safety training. If they have not received a tetanus shot recently, the state will provide one for them, O'Dell said.

First priority will be given to applicants who became unemployed as a result of flooding and second priority will be given to workers who have been unemployed longer than 15 weeks, O'Dell said.

Mississippi County, where the U.S. Army Cops of Engineers intentionally breached the Mississippi River levee and flooded 130,000 acres of farmland, has the most claims for disaster unemployment assistance with 111, according to the state Department of Labor. In the 13 counties of the Workforce Investment Board of Southeast Missouri's coverage area, 187 people have filed for disaster unemployment.

O'Dell said she hopes the temporary jobs will lead to permanent full-time positions for some workers. For others, this is an opportunity to help them build their resumes and fill gaps in their employment history, she said.

"Our state was hit hard by devastating flooding and tornadoes this spring, but we are determined to rebuild our communities and help our neighbors recover," Gov. Nixon said in a news release Thursday. "Putting folks back to work is a crucial part of that process."

The expansion of the Missouri Disaster Recovery Jobs Program is expected to create 320 jobs statewide and is the result of an additional investment of $13.9 million in federal Workforce Investment Act funding. Last month, $5.8 million from the same federal program was received by the state. In addition to the 320 cleanup jobs across southern Missouri, 500 people will be employed in Jasper and Newton counties to assist with tornado recovery.

Missouri was eligible to receive the funding as a result of its federal disaster declaration this spring.

To apply, people should go to their local Missouri Career Center, O'Dell said.



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