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Career Center helps first-time filers navigate unemployment application process

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By Gerard Flanagan

Approximately three years ago, the possibility that Marion County would lose its Career Center seemed very real.

Thanks, however, to the combined efforts of the Marion County Fiscal Court and the City of Lebanon, the Career Center was saved.

Now, three years later, amid economic uncertainty related to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the Career Center is proving that effort is paying off in a big way.

As businesses have shut down to slow the spread of the virus, many are now being forced to file for unemployment, a process that can be frustrating and intimidating, especially for first-time applicants.

Luckily, however, those people can call the Career Center for guidance in navigating that process.

Gloria Benningfield has been the owner of Shear Delite for 30 years and has worked there for more than five decades. She has never once filed for unemployment. However, when Gov. Andy Beshear ordered all hair salons to shut down last month to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Benningfield was all but forced to apply for unemployment. Normally, she and her fellow hairdressers at Shear Delite would not have been eligible for unemployment. However, Gov. Beshear signed an order late last month that expanded unemployment benefits to self-employed individuals like Benningfield and many others. Benningfield said she thought she would be frustrated and overwhelmed by the process to file for unemployment.

“I got kind of nervous about it,” Benningfield said. “I’ve never had to draw unemployment. I’m thankful I could get it.”

Thanks to the Career Center, the process went smoothly for Benningfield.

“I called Terri [Thomas], and she talked to us about it,” Benningfield said. “She was so helpful and very nice. We’re lucky to have her.”

Since the coronavirus began delivering blow after blow to the economy, the Career Center’s phone lines have been ringing off the hook, according to Thomas, the director of the Lebanon/Marion County Career Center. Thomas said the Career Center, whose office is closed to in-person traffic, received 1,854 phone calls between March 24 and April 15.

“Most people come in our office,” Thomas said. “We’re not used to having that many phone calls. Since we’re closed to the public, the phone calls have increased a lot. We are on the phone from 7:30 in the morning and sometimes before 7:30, until 5 o’ clock Mondays and Tuesdays. We’re working over lots of times.”

Thomas said the process to file for unemployment can be daunting, especially for first-time filers.

“Some people have never filed before, so they’re not used to it,” Thomas said. “They’re not used to getting online to file. They’re scared. Some of the questions can be tricky. That’s why we’re here to help them learn how to file and what to say when they do file. We’re guiding them.”

Elizabeth Mattingly also works at the Career Center, and she said the current coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented situation for everybody.

“This is uncharted territory for everybody,” Mattingly said. “I feel for people who are struggling. I know a lot of people are scared, and sometimes when you’re dealing with the state, it just takes time. A lot of this process is time.”

Despite the pandemic, there are local businesses still hiring, Mattingly said.

“We’ve got a table of employers that are still hiring, so when the weather is appropriate, we put the table outside, so people that are looking for work, they can come by and get some applications,” Mattingly said.

Kelly Cecil had also never filed for unemployment until the coronavirus struck. Cecil, who works at Henning’s Restaurant, has been working since she was 15 years old, and she admits she was nervous and apprehensive when she filed for unemployment.

“I had a huge lump in my throat,” she said. “I never dreamed I would ever have to apply for unemployment.”

However, the Career Center proved to be an immense help to Cecil in navigating that process.

“I was one of the lucky ones that got to actually go there and apply before they shut down their office,” she said. “They were very helpful. If it hadn’t been for their help, I may have cried trying to figure it out. It’s a lot of questions and kind of frustrating.”

Cecil admits the coronavirus pandemic has still been hard on her, her husband Todd and their daughter, Ally.

“She misses her teacher and classmates,” Cecil said. “I have had to become a homeschool teacher, and that has been hard. As far as staying home, I do enjoy the time I get to spend with my family.”

Despite the trying times the coronavirus pandemic presents, Cecil said she’s counting her blessings.

“All I can say is I’m blessed,” she said, “because I have my health, my family and my friends.”

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