22 working in area disaster recovery program; more start this week

Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Scott County Highway Department workers Don Freeman, Kay Holmes and Oscar Patterson, from left, repair asphalt road damage caused by the spring's heavy rains and flooding along County Road 212 in Kelso, Mo., on Tuesday. (Kristin Eberts)

Under a scorching summer sun, with the heat index hovering at 100 degrees, Don Freeman and Oscar Patterson slap shovelfuls of asphalt onto Scott County Road 212.

It's hot, hard work.

But after months of standing in unemployment lines, they say it's work they are grateful to have. They're proud to be earning a paycheck again.

Freeman and Patterson are part of a state program putting the unemployed to work repairing flood damage across 13 Southeast Missouri counties.

Along with Kay Holmes, Freeman and Patterson are working with the Scott County Highway Department through the Missouri Disaster Recovery Jobs Program. There are 22 people working in the program, which started earlier this month, and 23 more people are scheduled to start Thursday, said Scott Sattler of the Workforce Investment Board of Southeast Missouri, which manages the Missouri Career Center for the state.

About 200 jobs will be available as part of the program, working on more than 20 flood repair projects in the counties designated federal disaster areas.

First priority is given to applicants who became unemployed as a result of flooding, and second priority is given to workers who have been unemployed more than 15 weeks.

Holmes, of Sikeston, Mo., worked as an over-the-road truck driver for more than 35 years but has been looking for work since October.

"I've been going to the unemployment office every day, looking for jobs on the computer and doing a lot of cold calling," she said.

She's hopeful this job, although it only lasts six months or 1,040 hours, whichever comes first, will lead her to full-time employment. She's looking forward to learning how to operate some of the highway department's heavy equipment.

"Just getting up and going to work is a good feeling," she said.

Patterson moved home to Sikeston after he lost his job at a St. Louis auto-parts manufacturer that moved its operations to a right-to work state where union-only workplaces are prohibited. He's been looking for work for months.

Freeman, a Sikeston construction worker, has had a hard time finding a job since home construction hit bottom. He's been mowing lawns and doing any odd job he can find to help support his wife and two children, ages 9 and 12. They've been depending on his wife's income from her job at Walmart to get by while he looks for work. Local construction companies just aren't hiring, he said.

Norman Brant, supervisor with the Scott County Highway Department, said Holmes, Freeman and Patterson have been a huge help as the county repairs nearly half a million dollars in damage to its roads as a result of this spring's flooding and storms.

"They just want a good job, and they are working hard to keep it," Brant said.

Trying to recover from flooding while undertaking routine summer road maintenance projects would be overwhelming without the additional staff from the Missouri Disaster Recovery Jobs Program, Brant said.

He's expecting three more workers to start soon, for a total of six employees added to his normal summer staff of a dozen. The program is also providing temporary trucks, equipment and tools for the disaster recovery workers to use.

About 10 disaster recovery workers have been helping clean up debris and clean out ditches in Morehouse, Mo., according to Mayor Pete Leija. His normal city maintenance staff is just four people.

"We'd be a long time getting ourselves back in shape without this program. With that many people we can do a whole lot more," Leija said.

The Missouri Disaster Recovery Jobs Program started in June to clean up tornado damage in the Joplin, Mo., area but was expanded in July to include 34 Missouri counties that sustained flood damage this spring.

It's being funded by $19.7 million of federal Workforce Investment Act funding. Statewide, it will employ 850 people, with 500 of those being in the Joplin area.

To apply, people should go to their local Missouri Career Center.



Pertinent address:

County Road 212, Kelso, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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