An Eastern Kentucky jobs program has been awarded $5.2 million to help laid-off coal miners get jobs.
The U.S. Department of Labor announced the grant to the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program on Monday. The program serves a 23-county area hit hard by a sharp downturn in coal production over the last year
Coal companies have laid off more than 2,000 miners in the area since January 2012, said Jeff Whitehead, executive director of the jobs program.
The program will use the grant for a variety of services, including helping miners assess skills they have that would transfer to other occupations, connecting them with employers, paying for retraining and doing seminars on how people can start their own business.
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Spouses of miners also will be eligible for employment services, including training, according to a news release from the federal Department of Labor.
When a family member loses a job, it often takes more than one person working to replace that income, according to the news release. That probably is the case in Eastern Kentucky because the mining jobs that have dried up were among the best-paying in the region.
It's not clear exactly how many people will be able to receive training under the grant. The cost to retrain a miner will vary depending on what he is pursuing, Whitehead said.
There's no question the grant will help put people back to work, however, Whitehead said.
"Getting the grant ... is huge for us to really be able to help our miners at a time when they're desperately in need of it," Whitehead said. "That's what these guys have been paying their taxes for."
There are not a lot of jobs in Eastern Kentucky, but there are opportunities in skilled trades, health care and telecommunications, Whitehead said.
"In Eastern Kentucky, it's not like there's one particular thing we can put 300 people in," Whitehead said.
It also might be that people will have to leave for jobs nearby, such as in Lexington and Cincinnati, or for work in the Western Kentucky coalfields, Whitehead said.
The grant was issued under an emergency program that the labor secretary may use at his or her discretion.
The Department of Labor will release $3.78 million of the money initially. The rest will be released if the Eastern Kentucky program shows a need for it, according to the news release.
The Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program started a special initiative called Hiring Our Miners Everyday, or H.O.M.E., late last year to respond to the wave of coal-industry layoffs in the region. About 500 miners and their spouses have enrolled in the program
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