Elkhart County spent much of 2009 with the highest unemployment rate in the state, peaking at 18.9 percent in March. The state attempted, through WorkOne, to help displaced workers, but things didn't always go smoothly. Here's what The Elkhart Truth's Editorial Board said throughout the year:
Jan. 16: Displaced workers got some good news Wednesday -- the Indiana Department of Workforce Development announced plans to expand services in Elkhart County.
As the county unemployment rate began its blistering run to 12.4 percent, the Elkhart WorkOne office saw nearly 800 visitors a week. ...
WorkOne hours expand beginning Tuesday. A department spokesman also announced plans to open a second Elkhart office, which could take three to four weeks. ...
The state also plans to extend its reach by placing WorkOne employees in the Elkhart, Wakarusa and Nappanee public libraries, where agency staffers can help the unemployed use computers to file for benefits. Displaced workers line up at the libraries every Sunday, the first day of the week they can file for payments. ...
Losing a job is hard enough. Displaced workers shouldn't be forced to wait in long lines, in the freezing cold and snow, just to apply for unemployment benefits. They deserve computer software they can understand -- and prompt, knowledgeable help if they struggle.
The state showed this week that it wants to help Elkhart County's unemployed.
* * *
Jan. 20: ... Gov. Mitch Daniels has done a laudable job funneling retraining grant money to displaced RV workers in Elkhart County. But there are more unemployed here than those in the RV sector. And the governor encouraged workers to retrain in a field for which there are no jobs here, but rather in Kosciusko County.
So what can the governor, state government and the Indiana Economic Development Corp. do to help create jobs here?
The IEDC lists 126 available properties in Elkhart County on its Web site. None are what the state considers "shovel ready" and we have no certified technology parks.
Let's start there. Can't the state help target specific sites to get them to "shovel ready" status? ...
The state makes available grants, loans, bonds, training and tax credits to companies interested in locating in Indiana. ... Why not offer additional incentives for locating in economically depressed areas such as Elkhart County? ...
So, we implore Daniels to use his power and influence to do more that will actually lead to job creation -- not in Marion or Hamilton counties, not in Indianapolis -- in Elkhart County. Your constituents need you in northern Indiana.
* * *
June 23: Things happen: Computer networks and Web sites will go down and people will be inconvenienced.
But when the Indiana Department of Workforce Development's Web site crashed Sunday -- the day people are supposed to file their unemployment claims in order to get benefits right away this week -- it went beyond simple inconvenience.
Then, when the site went down for a couple of hours again Monday, it started to reach crisis mode in some people's minds.
Even a day's delay in receiving unemployment benefits is an issue for people who are already struggling. For some, it may be a matter of putting food on the table for their family, paying a bill that will keep them in their home or getting vital medicine they need.
If the state is going to require benefit recipients to file online and to file on Sunday to receive funds by a certain date, someone should be available to assure the system is working properly. And to answer questions if there are problems. ...
DWD's computer system needs to be more reliable. ...
* * *
Oct. 2: More than 14,000 people were looking for work in August in Elkhart County. ...
Many of the unemployed, who've worked for years in the recreational vehicle industry, don't have computer skills, but the Indiana Department of Workforce Development is requiring them to file their claims online. A lot of them find it slow going.
On Sundays when the WorkOne office is closed, the unemployed flock to local libraries to file for unemployment on the computers. They often have difficulties. Some are simple issues easily solved by taking a free class offered at WorkOne. The problem is many of these folks don't have time for a class if they're out looking for work or if they're already going to school for retraining.
The Elkhart Public Library has responded to their needs by opening the Pierre Moran branch earlier and switching all of its computers to the DWD system for people to file.
But WorkOne announced a staff member assigned to Pierre Moran no longer would be available on Sundays, nor at the main library branch on Mondays.
Since that announcement, the library and WorkOne have negotiated a change to keep the employee at Pierre Moran, but remove employees from the Dunlap and downtown branches.
While the library is pleased with the agreement, it still leaves some of the unemployed in Elkhart County in need of assistance. ...
The state could make hundreds of lives easier if it continued to assist the unemployed on Sundays at local libraries.