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New Fayette Co. coalition aims to tackle pandemic unemployment concerns

The Workforce Coalition of Fayette County aims to identify ways to get people back to work as the COVID-19 pandemic starts to come to a close.

FAYETTE COUNTY, Texas — Across Texas, people are still looking for jobs coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. To help their residents find those jobs for which they qualify, Fayette County launched a new coalition to identify barriers to employment.

"As far as hiring, I didn't have applicants coming through the door. One thing I would always brag about is I never have run an employment ad," Missy Rusek, the owner of Texas One Stop in La Grange, said.

Rusek needs to fill positions for her gas station/general store. Lately, she's turned to WorkForce Solutions Rural Capital Area looking for new employees. Earlier this year, WFSRCA connected her with David Valdez, whom Rusek hired through their On the Job Training Program.

Valdez, who was laid off during the pandemic and forced to find "side jobs ... to keep a roof over my head," has worked consistently for Rusek in every facet of Texas One Stop except cashier – his next goal.

"Missy opened the door for me a bit, you know, and start going through the program," Valdez said. "It took a little time but, eventually, everything started falling [into place]."

Fayette County's Workforce Matters Coalition brings together the county, WFSRCA, and local business leaders to identify the barriers to employment and how to overcome them.

RELATED: Employee shortage hitting businesses of all sizes and sectors

"That's going to include kind of bigger picture things like access to housing, access to child care, access to transportation and broadband," Diane Tackett, the Chief Operations Officer for WFSRCA, said.

Other state leaders say another obstacle to getting people back to the workforce has been unemployment benefits. Starting Saturday, June 26, Texans will no longer receive the additional $300 in federal unemployment benefits initiated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Gov. Greg Abbott joins nearly 20 other governors ending the program early in their state. As part of the American Rescue Plan, the additional funds were set to expire in September.

RELATED: Local resources to find a job as $300 federal unemployment credit ends in Texas

"There's a lot of different support and community partners that work to make that employment connection and help job seekers be able to be aware of what those employment opportunities are there," Tackett said. "We wanted to make sure that [jobseekers] were positioned so that they could be kind of really proactive in their job search and be at the front of the line when an employer is hiring so that they're not they're not competing with everybody else."

"I know that people have, you know, maybe been motivated to stay home because they're getting a lot in unemployment," Kim Newton, a leader in the La Grange Economic Development Corporation, said. "That could be one of [the reasons for slightly higher unemployment], but on the other hand, the employers need to be able to pay a living wage. So it's kind of always a you know, like both sides kind of maybe need to give a little bit."

While the coalition is just getting underway, members hope to have started the process of overcoming those barriers by the end of the year.

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