Assistance after a Layoff

 - February 27, 2009, 12:27 PM

Wichita’s United Way of the Plains will be opening a one-stop help center for unemployed residents and area workers to provide a range of services, including budget counseling and access to government assistance programs. In extreme cases, it will also help unemployed workers pay housing and utility bills, according to United Way of the Plains president Patrick Hanrahan.

“Our intent is to make sure these people don’t fall into the welfare system or the social service system that exists in our community,” Hanrahan told AIN. “We want to try to help bridge them over these difficult months so they get back to work and become productive again.” Hanrahan said nearly 7,000 Wichita-area workers have lost their jobs in recent months.

Each visitor to the center will meet with a United Way case worker, who will assess each person’s individual needs and refer him to the right agencies and organizations for help. “Someone who’s never gone through this before might not know they’re eligible for food stamps,” Hanrahan explained. “This is a way to get them the information they need.”

Visitors will also be required to sit through a budgeting course to help them learn how to live within their means. “There are things you can do right away to save money,” Hanrahan said. “Look for ways you can start being more efficient and thrifty. Do you need a couple of cellphones when one land line will do? You might have to sacrifice cable or go out to eat less often.”

In some cases, United Way will also pay mortgage bills, rent or utility bills. “We don’t want people to have to give up their car or their house,” Hanrahan said. “We want them to be responsible and reasonable, but we want to help them where we can. We don’t want to create more homeless people.”

This is not the first time United Way of the Plains has opened a help center in Wichita. The organization opened the first center in 1983, following the recession that hit the previous year. United Way opened a second center in 1993 and a third following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The center remained open for 35 months following the attacks. “We were hard hit by the terrorist attacks,” Hanrahan said. “After 9/11, this United Way spent $1.26 million on assistance.”

The organization has not yet secured a location for the new center, but it would like to open its doors by late May or early June. United Way hopes to find a location in the center of Wichita, in an area that is easily accessible from all parts of the city. “We want to time it so that when things get really tough, we’ll be there,” Hanrahan said.

Donations can be made to United Way of the Plains’ Laid-off Worker Fund, Hanrahan said.