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Labor woes come to Aspen forefront

The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

ASPEN, Colorado” As layoffs, wage freezes and reductions and staff cutbacks erode the prospects of the Aspen workforce, a group of officials has created a forum in which residents can sound off on the worsening recession and how it is affecting them ” and what kind of help they need to weather it.

Pitkin County Health and Human Services, Colorado Mountain College and Aspen Community Church have joined forces to plan a meeting, “Managing Your Life Through the Recession and Unemployment,” on Thursday at the church, 200 E. Bleeker St.

The meeting is scheduled for 9-10 a.m. And aside from giving workers a chance to get things off their chest, the gathering is intended to reassure attendees they are not alone in facing difficult times, said Nan Sundeen, director of the county health and human services department.



“We have been so busy with increased requests for food stamps and emergency assistance,” Sundeen said. “Every day I get a call from someone new telling me they have worked all their lives but find themselves unemployed now without food, gas or rent money.”

She said the county’s social services agencies have been “pretty much overwhelmed” by requests for assistance, largely from “people who have never asked before, people who have been self-employed or successfully employed all their lives.”



For example, 51 people applied for food stamps in January, compared to 20 who applied in January 2008, she said. Similar increases have been recorded in requests for help with medical bills, utility payments and child care, to name a few categories.

“They find themselves in situations where they don’t have money for food, gas money to look for jobs, or money to pay their rent or their mortgages,” Sundeen said.

Would-be workers, such as stay-at-home moms hoping to get a job to help pay the family bills, are finding there are no jobs.



The meeting hopefully will lead to a “comprehensive community response program” to deal with the dislocation and problems arising from the recession, Sundeen said.

“We want to do everything we can to keep everyone safe and healthy during these really difficult and uncertain times,” she said. “We need to get out in front of this.”

Colorado Mountain College already is working with the Colorado Workforce Center and Sundeen to come up with support programs, Aspen campus dean Joe Maestas said.

“This first meeting will help us get an idea of what people need so we can craft our programs accordingly,” Maestas said.

Rosemary Pettus, director of the Colorado Workforce Program, said representatives of her office will be there to both disperse information about job programs and talk with local officials about how best to deal with the recession’s impacts.

The church is hoping to assure attendees that they will not be facing hardships alone, pastor Jane Keener-Quiat said.

“This is not a time to be suffering in silence. We have a generous community that wants to help, and I hope we can create a network so people are not isolated,” Keener-Quiat said.

The meeting is intended to act as “a support group and a place for information, sort of a networking kind of thing,” she said; information will be available concerning public safety-net resources.

The meeting is open to the public.

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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