Douglas County welfare office keeps busy
Layoffs at two Stateline casinos, a drop in tourism and a nationwide recession have meant a significant jump in requests for welfare assistance in Douglas County.
“In the past three months, I’d say we’ve seen hundreds of people, most of whom we haven’t seen in a long time,” said Karen Goode, director of Douglas County Social Services.
While hard numbers weren’t available, but Goode suggests about a 20 percent assistance request increase over last year.
Unemployment in the third quarter for Douglas County rose to 4.2 percent from 3.8 percent a year ago. October labor statistics show Nevada took a full 2 percent jump in unemployment, from 4.1 percent in October 2000 to 6.1 percent in October 2001.
“We’re seeing people who have been holding down two jobs suddenly not knowing how to pay the rent,” Goode said. “We’re seeing working people come in saying ‘I never thought I’d come into your office.'”
The shift came following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent layoffs at Harveys Casino Resort and Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. Between 250 and 300 employees were given pink slips when the casinos merged July 31.
Elsewhere in Douglas County, businesses dependent on tourism have scaled back their operations by either laying off employees or cutting back their hours, Goode said. The hotel and time-share industries, for example, have cut or scaled back catering, house cleaning and food and beverage positions, Goode said.
“We never really had time to analyze how much of the tourist industry is reflected in our work force until now,” she said.
The ripple effect of layoffs, seen largely at Lake Tahoe resorts, also is seen outside the gaming industry. Goode said there have been layoffs and employees getting their hours cut back in Carson Valley industries as well.
Food assistance has become in such high demand that Social Services extended the voucher period from two to three weeks. Typically, families can sign up for food vouchers in two-week intervals. The reason for the extension, Goode says, is to provide some relief to caseload workers. In fact, the department made a part-time position full-time to cover the increased caseload.
Carson Valley Community Food Closet reports a jump in requests and a decrease in donations. With the busiest time of charitable giving in full swing, Food Closet volunteers report a “significant” increase in food vouchers and a dwindling supply of canned and dry foods donated through annual drives.
“I don’t think we’re at a critical point yet, but there’s definitely more people in need and less food coming in,” said Food Closet Director Diane Malone.
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