Aaron Regunberg: Don’t Close the Pawtucket Network RI Office

Friday, August 17, 2012


Last month, Governor Chafee and Department of Labor and Training Director Fogarty chose to allow a huge portion of DLT call service representatives to be laid off. The results, as predicted, have been terrible for the state’s jobless—I myself have spoken with seven or eight unemployed Rhode Islanders, all of whom have found it impossible (and by impossible I mean hours spent every day, multiple times a week) to get through to someone at the Department.

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As if that weren’t enough, life’s about to get much harder for Rhode Island’s unemployed, particularly those living in the northern part of the state. On September 7th—just a few weeks from today—the Pawtucket Network Rhode Island office is slated to close, in what can only be seen as one more slap in the face for folks who are struggling to survive in the toughest economy since the Great Depression.

Network RI offices are unemployment resource centers that offer a range of useful and important services, from free internet, computers, and printing to job counseling and job search workshops. There are five Network RI offices in different parts of the state, and while many of the Network services have been on the decline in recent months because of cuts at the DLT, these offices still offer critical assistance and an indispensable workspace to thousands of the state’s unemployed.

That’s why the scheduled closing of the Pawtucket office is such a concerning development. To learn more about the effects this will have on unemployed Rhode Islanders, I sat down with Lisa, a frequent-user of the Pawtucket office, to hear her thoughts.

Lisa has an associate degree in applied science as well as a bachelor’s degree from Bryant. She’s worked in the field of healthcare for the last several years, and has been unemployed since April. Since that time, she has found herself taking strategic advantage of the Pawtucket Network RI office. “It’s local and convenient,” she explains. “I don’t have a car right now—these are the things you sometimes lose or give up when you’re unemployed—and the Pawtucket office is the most accessible by public transportation. There’s no other place between Woonsocket and Providence that will accommodate people in Pawtucket, Central Falls, North Providence, Lincoln, Cumberland. A lot of the communities this office serves have the highest unemployment in the state, and there’s so many people who lack transportation to get to one of the other offices. If they close Pawtucket, there are going to be some people dropping off the scene, particularly if they rely on public transportation.”

“Having this space and these resources is really important,” Lisa continues. “So many jobs are online now, and I don’t have a computer or an internet connection where I live—again, I can’t afford it anymore. At Network RI, I can utilize their computers, their fax machines. And the workshops are very helpful. Sometimes you need someone to look things over, give advice. I’ve read everything I could find on interviewing, on resumes, all of that, but working with a real person with some training is important.”

Lisa is also very worried about where her counselor will go after the office is closed. “A lot of us have a counselor there who knows us, knows our situation. Maybe your counselor is helping you in a particular way, maybe they’re working on getting you into WIA [the Workforce Investment Act] so you can go back to school and learn a new skill, whatever it may be. But we have no idea if we’ll be able to keep that counselor—my counselor doesn’t even know where he’s going.” Lisa sighs. “Fogarty hasn’t helped us with any kind of transition. There’s been no acknowledgment of this counselor problem, and I’ve received absolutely no notice about it. Fogarty just doesn’t seem to care. I find it appalling.”

Lisa doesn’t have very many resources at her disposal to help with her job search. “I’ve got my stuff in storage,” she says. “I’m technically homeless; I don’t live in my own apartment. If the person I’m staying with should move or something should happen, I’d be on the streets. I can’t afford COBRA coverage, so I have no healthcare coverage right now. I don’t qualify for any housing or rental assistance. It’s really tough.” One of the only real resources she can lean on has been Network RI, and with the closing of the Pawtucket office, these few remaining services are about to become almost prohibitively inaccessible.

Rhode Island owes Lisa better than this. And the Department of Labor and Training owes the thousands of unemployed workers who live between Pawtucket and Woonsocket better than this, as well. It’s time that these communities—and all the mayors and state representatives and other elected officials who represent these communities—join together to call on Governor Chafee and Director Fogarty to do the right thing and keep the Pawtucket Network RI office open and doing what it was meant to do: helping Rhode Islanders as they struggle to get back to work.



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