During a pandemic it can be hard to decide what to do.  Do I stay home?  Do I go back to work?  When is is truly safe?  Every step of the process is important.  Below is a great read from our Gov. Pete Ricketts on getting back to work…

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Since the early days of our state when pioneering women and men plowed the prairies and cut grain by hand, Nebraska has been known for its industriousness.  Our love of growing things and making things has helped our state power through even the most difficult times.  Just last year, we experienced historic flooding and now a pandemic.

As coronavirus restrictions have eased, Nebraskans are getting back to work.  Recent data has shown that, so far, Nebraska’s economy has been one of the least impacted in the nation by the coronavirus.  We also have one of the lowest unemployment rates.  Even so, we have experienced historic joblessness and unemployment rates.  To help Nebraskans find a new job or career opportunity, we have deployed three programs.  The State’s reemployment program, SNAP Next Step, and Workforce Retraining Initiative (WRI) are all helping Nebraskans find a new opportunity.

A few years ago, Nebraska became the first state in the nation to launch a reemployment program.  Led by the Nebraska Department of Labor (NDOL), this free program connects Nebraskans searching for a new opportunity with job coaches, tools to create an online searchable resume, and other valuable resources.  People receiving unemployment benefits participate in these services to help them get back to work more quickly.  Since mid-March, teammates at NDOL have assisted with more than 75,000 requests for employment services.  You don’t have to receive unemployment benefits to access these great resources.  NDOL’s job centers are open to anyone.  They stand ready to connect Nebraskans to tens of thousands of employment openings.  For more information about services available through the job centers, visit dol.nebraska.gov and NEworks.nebraska.gov.

One great way our reemployment program at NDOL has been making a difference in people’s lives is through a partnership with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.  For the past few years, these agencies have teamed up to help families who rely on food stamps find new opportunities that give them greater financial independence and flexibility.  This initiative, called SNAP Next Step, provides families with employment services such as creating a virtual resume, preparing for a job interview, and helping participants enhance their skills.  On average, participants who complete SNAP Next Step increase their income by about $1,200 a month or $14,500 per year!  For example, Jenni was out of work when she enrolled in the program.  SNAP Next Step helped her find full-time employment at an engineering firm.  Her new monthly income is $2,284, eliminating her need for SNAP benefits.

In addition to improving their financial situation, SNAP Next Step participants are enhancing their quality of life.  Many are now working more predictable hours, allowing them to spend more time together as a family.  For example, a single parent was working the second shift, including weekends, before she started SNAP Next Step.  Now, she has a job working 8:00am to 5:00pm and can spend evenings with her children.  In another instance, a single mother working as a waitress made just over $900 a month with no health benefits.  After taking part in SNAP Next Step, she now earns almost $2,700 a month with full benefits, a pension, and potential bonuses.

Right now, SNAP Next Step is active in the following cities and their surrounding areas: Columbus, Grand Island, Hastings, Kearney, Lexington, Norfolk, North Platte, Scottsbluff, and Sidney.  Given the success of the program, we’re in the process of expanding it statewide.  Nebraskans interested in SNAP Next Step can learn more by visiting dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/SNAP-Next-Step.aspx.

Recently, the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, NDOL, and I announced a new initiative that invests federal coronavirus funding into helping Nebraskans find a new career path.  Through the Workforce Retraining Initiative (WRI), Nebraskans whose employment or income has been affected by the pandemic can apply for a scholarship to gain new skills to grow their earnings.  Six of Nebraska’s community colleges are participating in the program.  Each college has designed training courses to help scholarship recipients achieve industry-recognized certifications in career fields with a high demand for qualified workers.  In addition to skills training, the colleges also offer career coaching to help students match their skills and interests to job opportunities.  Every participant in WRI will engage with at least one potential employer during the training process.  This allows students to build relationships with companies that are looking to hire.

Most WRI scholarships cover the full cost of the training program.  Participants who were receiving unemployment benefits before being awarded a scholarship may continue to access the benefits, provided they are receiving training in a program approved by NDOL.  Participating in approved training fulfills the work search requirement for people receiving unemployment benefits.

All of the WRI programs begin this fall.  Most end by December, though some may continue into the spring.  Nebraskans can apply for dozens of programs in career pathways such as nursing, health care, business administration, welding technology, truck driving/CDL, and criminal justice.  A full list of training programs, along with information on how to apply, can be found at getnebraskagrowing.nebraska.gov/workforce-retraining-initiative-scholarships.

While the impact of coronavirus has been dramatic,  Nebraskans are resilient and resourceful.  With the help of these initiatives and the industriousness of our people, we will get back to work and get our state growing quickly.  In the coming months, we will keep working to create more great opportunities for folks to build a better future for themselves and their families.  If you want to know more about our work to get Nebraska growing or any other matter, feel free to email me at [email protected] or call 402-471-2244.