Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips announced Wednesday that the department has received a $5,824,000 grant from the United States Department of Labor to assist in recovery efforts following the wildfire in Sevier County last November.
The U.S. Department of Labor approved a National Dislocated Worker Grant, with $2 million released initially, to create disaster relief employment for individuals to assist in cleanup and recovery efforts following the wildfire that started on November 28, 2016 in the Great Smoky Mountains.
The wildfire spread to nearby Gatlinburg in Sevier County and killed 14 people, damaged 2,460 structures, 70 of which were businesses. Hundreds of workers were dislocated as a result of the wildfire.
“The department will receive the initial funding up-front, the remaining monies will be used as needed to assist in the recovery effort,” said Commissioner Phillips. “My team will work with leaders of the Local Workforce Development Area in Sevier County to identify which local programs will best utilize these funds.”
The department applied for the federal assistance in the weeks following the wildfire. The federal grant is expected to help approximately 200 Tennessee workers.
“This will allow the state of Tennessee to not only put people back to work, but it will also accelerate the cleanup and recovery process in an area of our state that saw so much devastation late last year,” Commissioner Phillips said.
The National Dislocated Worker Grant funds can only be spent on wages for temporary jobs (one year limit) on work performed by public and nonprofit entities that benefit the public through public use areas, general flow of commerce, or general humanitarian recover efforts. Funds may also be utilized for supportive services (clothing, transportation assistance, child support vouchers, temporary lodging, etc.) for eligible participants.
- Eligible participants are restricted to unemployed individuals living in Sevier County, or individuals living in other counties but currently unemployed due to loss of employment as a direct result of the fire.
- Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development will pass the funds to Walters State Community College (LWDA 2). Walters State will work in conjunction with our American Job Centers to screen and recruit participants.
- Walters State is working with and contracting with local governments, the National Park Service and nonprofits that will be overseeing and coordinating the work activities.
- Early communication and coordination indicate that Solid Waste will need significant help on disposing of debris. Local utilities need help restoring utility components, the National Park Service has indicated they will assign crews to help restore damaged areas of the park including trails, camp grounds, etc.
- The wages will range from $10 to $20 an hour depending on the job and skill set. 100% of the wages will be paid through the grant and through the contracts between Walters State and the local governments, National Park Service, and nonprofits.
- If any nonprofits in the county conducting restoration work are interested in participating, they need to contact LWDA 2.
- Recruitment should and will take place through the Sevier County American Job Centers and surrounding county American Job Centers.
Within 24 hours after the start of the wildfire, the department enacted an emergency response plan for dislocated workers. A day later resources and staff from across the state traveled to Sevier County and began helping dislocated workers apply for unemployment benefits, including Disaster Unemployment Assistance claims.
The department had six of its mobile American Job Centers at a disaster assistance center located in Pigeon Forge and Newport, Tenn. Hundreds of workers utilized the additional resources for more than two weeks. The department’s enhanced presence in Sevier County continued in Gatlinburg until January 17, 2017. Just over 1,000 workers dislocated by the wildfire are now receiving unemployment benefits.
Dislocated workers can still receive assistance at the American Job Center located at 1216 Graduate Drive in Sevierville. For more information about disaster relief employment call the center at (865) 286-6386.