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Grant to help Butler County workers, employers fight opioid epidemic

The Butler County Workforce Investment Board is getting almost $500,000 from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services over the next two years to help employers and unemployed workers overcome issues related to the opioid epidemic.

The state agency is granting a total of $8 million to 16 of the hardest hit counties in the state, to support employers who hire individuals in recovery, to create an addiction services apprenticeship at community colleges, and to provide job training and other services to help unemployed workers overcome their addictions and find jobs.

RELATED: Butler County has boosted its help for job seekers

“Drug addiction and overdose deaths have become the most pressing public health issue and workforce challenge facing Ohio,” said ODJFS Director Cynthia Dungey. “This grant will help businesses rebuild their work forces and individuals rebuild their lives. We’re excited to partner with local workforce professionals, community colleges and businesses to address the workforce challenges created by the opioid epidemic.”

Butler County is part of the southwest region — Butler, Clermont and Hamilton counties — that is sharing $1.8 million. Hamilton County was awarded the highest share with $937,937, Butler will receive $490,535 and Clermont $371,527. The Workforce Investment Board for Butler, Clermont and Warren counties (WIB) will determine how the U.S. Department of Labor dislocated worker funds will be spent, through the Ohio Means Jobs centers, according WIB Executive Director Stacy Sheffield.

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“The feds have limited us to working specifically to dislocated workers who have been directly of indirectly affected by the opioid crisis,” Sheffield said. “Our goal is to work with various community partners out there to get people into our system, so that we can connect them with employers, or to provide any support services… case management, employment services, education and training resources…”

The grant will pay for services that will be tailored to local needs but may include any of the following:

• The testing of innovative approaches to combat addiction issues — for example, by supporting employers that develop second-chance policies and hire individuals in recovery.

• Job training, career services and supportive services to individuals affected by the opioid epidemic. Supportive services can include anything from health, mental health and addiction treatment to drug testing, help purchasing work clothes or transportation assistance.

• Building the addiction treatment, mental health and pain management workforce, including a new addiction services apprenticeship at two-year colleges.

MORE: Butler County seeks creative ways to get people off public assistance

Butler County JFS already has a program that offers some of those services to people who have been unemployed for a long time, or never worked because of barriers like transportation, substance abuse and other issues. The Employment Success Program offers substance abuse and mental health counseling, employment preparation programs to identify and help bring down barriers to employment. JFS also partners with Supports to Encourage Low-Income Families (SELF) for their “Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’ by World” and JOBS NOW programs, which offer life lessons and help with interview skills, resume writing, job searching online and “what to wear” for an interview tips, among other things.

The new program that began earlier this year also brought job-seeking services to Middletown through Access Counseling Services, for people that have trouble getting to the OMJ office in Fairfield, where the majority of the new services are provided.

The program started serving clients on public assistance in February and has expanded to include Children Services, and dead beat parents on dockets in the Juvenile Court and felony non-support docket in Common Pleas Court. JFS has served 175 people through this program.

Sheffield said she doesn’t think the money can be used to expand the JFS program, since it is to specifically be spent on displaced workers. But they are meeting next week with a number of potential partners, including JFS.

“We are going to be meeting with all relevant partners in order to discuss the existing structure, the OMJ structure and how do we lay those two on top of each other in the best service of our participants,” Sheffield said.

She said there is another grant application in the works right now that could be used for the JFS program and also include Warren County in the funding stream.

JFS Executive Director Bill Morrison said he hopes some of the money can be spent to create a much needed — and lacking in Butler County — day addiction treatment program. He said there is a gap between residential treatment and intensive outpatient services, both of which are not conducive to holding a job.

He said people in those programs — there is one for women in Cincinnati — spend six hours in treatment and then work second shift jobs and live at home.

“It allows them to kind of work through life issues while they’re in treatment rather than in residential where you’re kind of displaced from the real world for a while,” he said. “Often people get clean and sober while they’re in residential treatment, but when they come out the other side and have to start dealing with all the things in their lives that were always there, it can trigger a lot of stress and then subsequent relapse.”

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