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Left without benefits, travails increase for long-term unemployed in Jefferson, Lewis counties

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Job hunters who are among 175 people in Jefferson and Lewis counties who lost long-term unemployment benefits at the end of December say they have applied for job after job with no luck, and they worry employers will think their resumes have become stale.

Christopher J. and Hanna M. Reggie, Carthage, have been challenged to make a living since the end of December, when Congress declined to extend benefits for the long-term unemployed.

Mr. Reggie, 24, had collected unemployment benefits since October 2012, when he was laid off from a temporary production job offered through Kelly Services at Kraft Foods’ Philadelphia Cream Cheese plant in Lowville. Mrs. Reggie, 22, is a homemaker raising their two sons, Aidan M., 4 months, and Christopher J., 2.

On Friday, Mr. Reggie attended a seminar at The Workplace, 1000 Coffeen St., for people who are receiving benefits from the state Department of Social Services. Mrs. Reggie, who was seated in the lobby, said the couple have relied on transportation from family members since the start of January. When the weekly $232 unemployment check to Mr. Reggie stopped arriving, it compelled the couple to rely on DSS for rental assistance at Champion Apartments in Carthage.

“We haven’t had anything at all in January or this month, and my mother-in-law has been giving us money for gas to get around,” Mrs. Reggie said.

She added that the cost of diapers bought from Walmart, at $16 a box, and baby clothes has been an extra burden.

“It puts a lot of stress on us,” she said. “We’re stressed out. We do get food stamps and WIC benefits — thank God. He has a motorcycle, so once summer comes that will save us a lot of gas. And I have to use the car, because I can’t stay home all the time.”

Mrs. Reggie said her husband has been given advice on how to improve his resume and interviewing skills by professionals at the employment agency. He recently applied for manufacturing positions at New York Air Brake and Timeless Frames but has not been contacted for interviews. Sometimes the effort feels hopeless, Mrs. Reggie said.

“He’s tried and tried and tried, and it seems like no one wants him,” she said.

The cutoff in unemployment benefits came as Jefferson County’s jobless rate was among the highest in the state in December, tied for second with Hamilton County at 9.1 percent. Lewis County was the third highest at 8.9 percent.

Now, companies across the country are adopting hiring practices to address the nation’s long-term unemployment crisis, ensuring unemployed people aren’t unfairly discriminated against. Frontier Communications Corp., one of the largest employers in New York state with more than 2,400 employees, announced that it has reviewed screening procedures to ensure they don’t put applicants at a disadvantage from being considered for a job based solely on their unemployment status.

“Those who have been unemployed the longest have experienced greater difficulty returning to the work force during the current economic recovery,” Maggie Wilderotter, company CEO, said in a release. “Statistics validate that these potential workers have more experience and education than applicants who are hired quickly after losing a position. Frontier is committed to adopting and building upon best practices that will expedite the return to the workforce of those who have been unemployed for a year or more.”

Stream Global Services in Watertown already makes an effort to hire long-term unemployed people, because the company receives state tax credits for doing so, said Human Resources Manager Michael J. Hill said. Applicants at Stream fill out a workers’ opportunity form in which they are asked to specify their annual income and whether they have received public assistance, and the company takes that into account when making hiring decisions, Mr. Hill said.

“We’ve always been very aggressive” at hiring long-term unemployed people, he said. “I know a lot of employers, when they look at a resume and see a big gap of a year or 18 months, it becomes an automatic negative. But we don’t look at that.”

Though New York Air Brake has not implemented a new hiring policy to benefit long-term jobless people, the company is sensitive to the fact that unemployment is high in Jefferson County, President Michael J. Hawthorne said.

“I think that we have a good screening process that, regardless of your employment history, looks at your skills versus the skills we need,” he said. “We don’t find any disfavor with long-term unemployment.”

Another job seeker attending the Friday seminar at the Workplace was Alisha M. Keblin, 21. Ms. Keblin, who is seven months pregnant, had collected unemployment benefits since April of last year until they expired at the end of December. She was formerly employed as a dietary nutritional service provider at Mercy Care Center of Northern New York, but she was laid off when the facility closed last spring.

The single soon-to-be mother said she spends much of her time at the Workplace applying for jobs. But she believes her limited education has put her at a disadvantage compared with other job candidates.

“I don’t have my high school diploma or GED, so that’s holding me back,” she said. “I’m hoping I get a cashier job, but I’m applying for everything, for fast food and retail jobs.”

In the meantime, she relies on transportation from friends and lives in a two-bedroom apartment off East Main Street with a close friend. Under the temporary living arrangement, she pays her friend any disposable income that she has available to spend every month. And that payment now doesn’t include the $235 in week unemployment benefits that were cut off by Congress.

“It’s a little frustrating, because I was making a lot of money before I lost my job,” she said. “I was making $900 a month, but now I get help from DSS.”

At the latest, Ms. Keblin said, she hopes to find a full-time job this summer after she gives birth.

“I know they take you out of work for six weeks when you have a baby,” she said.

Though statistics show long-term unemployment benefits ended for a pool of 175 people in Jefferson and Lewis counties at the end of December, the Workplace has not seen a corresponding uptick in the number of people searching for jobs, said Cheryl A. Mayforth, executive director of the agency.

“I was anticipating that right after the first of the year we would have been swamped with individuals who were part of the ending of the extended benefits, but we haven’t seen that,” she said. “We’ve been receiving more telephone calls with people wondering when benefits are going to be renewed, and that’s been kind of a shock. You would think that people would continue to be interested in any kind of leads to become employed.”

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