Federal stimulus funding reaches S.D. Experience Works programAs debates about the impact of economic stimulus funding continue in Washington, O’Lena Gooding and other older workers in South Dakota are reaping the benefits of a small portion of the money.
By: Seth Tupper, The Daily Republic
As debates about the impact of economic stimulus funding continue in Washington, O’Lena Gooding and other older workers in South Dakota are reaping the benefits of a small portion of the money.
Gooding, 59, has a temporary job at the Dakota Discovery Museum in Mitchell, where she is learning new skills that could help her transition to a full-time job elsewhere. Gooding is being paid by the Experience Works program, which receives federal funds funneled through state government. Because of stimulus funding from Congress, the program is serving more people this year.
“It’s been really good for me,” Gooding, of Mitchell, said while working at the museum Wednesday. “It’s given me a chance to reinforce to myself that I can do this kind of work.”
Until recently, Gooding was unemployed and was trying unsuccessfully to break into the clerical field. She is taking a step in that direction at the museum, where she is learning new computer skills, working with volunteers, waiting on customers and conducting other office tasks.
The federal economic stimulus package, known formally as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, included $120 million for the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP). In South Dakota, Experience Works administers the program on behalf of state government.
Todd Kolden, of the state Department of Labor, said South Dakota’s share of the SCSEP funding is about $165,000. That funding, which began arriving this week, will be added to the program’s regular yearly grant of about $720,000.
Kolden said the stimulus funds will allow the state’s program to help 18 to 20 more people than it otherwise would have. In total, he said, there are nearly 300 program slots available for qualifying seniors in the state.
Experience Works accepts people who are 55 and older and meet low-income criteria. As the economy has worsened, there has been a 70 percent increase nationwide in the number of people seeking assistance from the program, according to a news release.
Connie Moench, business and community liaison for Experience Works, said the influx of job seekers of all ages into the job market has made it more difficult for older job seekers to find work.
For some older workers, their last experience with job searching was 20 to 30 years ago, and they may not be familiar with modern résumé styles or online job boards. They may also lack technical and computer skills that are required in the modern workplace.
“With the additional money provided through the stimulus program,” Moench said in a news release, “we will be able to help more older workers re-tool and re-enter the workforce.”
According to a news release from Experience Works, the number of South Dakotans 55 and older in the workplace increased by 6,000 from December 2007 to December 2008. Some of those workers, according to Gooding, are just looking for a chance to prove their worth.
“Just because I’m getting older, that doesn’t mean I can’t do the job,” Gooding said. “I have a lot to offer, and I’m looking forward to putting those skills back into action.”