With forecasts that more than a half-million people could lose their jobs because of Hurricane Katrina, the Labor Department announced Tuesday that it is releasing up to $75 million in emergency assistance for storm evacuees who are now living in Texas.
The grant to the Texas Workforce Commission is expected to give employment to 37,500 people. They will be hired to help provide food, clothing, shelter and other humanitarian assistance to other storm victims.
Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said the new emergency grant followed the release by her agency of $62.1 million for creation of temporary jobs in Louisiana, $50 million in Mississippi and $4 million for Alabama.
"We are very focused on the fact that people do not have a paycheck at this point. We want to get money into their pockets so they can make their own decisions on what they want to do," Chao said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The emergency grants to create jobs are in addition to two other Labor Department programs — the regular unemployment insurance benefits that people who lost jobs can receive and disaster unemployment assistance available for people who don't qualify for normal jobless benefits.
The disaster assistance is aimed at the self-employed, who are not covered by regular unemployment benefits, and people who have not worked at a job long enough to qualify for regular benefits.
The normal requirement that laid-off workers go to their state unemployment offices to apply for jobless benefits is being waived in the case of those displaced by the hurricane.
People can apply for benefits where they are located and by calling a nationwide toll-free number that the Labor Department has set up to take applications — 1-866-4-USA-DOL. Applications can also be made at the department's Web site: http://www.dol.gov.
To people who can't get to a phone or the Internet, Chao said: "We are going to try to find you. We have teams of people canvassing neighborhoods and visiting churches and relief centers."
She said the hope is that the benefit checks will be delivered within three or four days after the application has been made. The checks will be delivered to wherever the applicant is staying, including huge shelters such as the Astrodome in Houston. "You tell us where you are and we will get the checks to you," Chao said.
Private forecasters said the number of people laid off because businesses have had to shut down could range from 500,000 to 1 million.
But Chao said she believed the impact on jobs would be temporary. If past hurricanes are a guide, a year from now, employment along the Gulf Coast will be higher than it was before Katrina hit because of the tremendous amount of rebuilding activity that will be required, she said.
Chao noted that the number of people employed in Florida had risen to 7.8 million in July of this year, up from 7.5 million people who were working before Hurricane Ivan hit the state last year.