Workforce Board Gets Major Grant
LOWELL — The MassHire Greater Lowell Workforce Board has received a $2.45 million federal grant to help 150 individuals impacted by the region’s opioid crisis.
The National Health Emergency Dislocated Worker grant is provided by the U.S. Department of Labor through the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development (EOLWD). The exact amount of the grant is $2,450,295.
“It’s to provide services to approximately 150 individuals that have been impacted by the opioid crisis, in that they’ve been dislocated from the workforce,” said Peter Farkas, executive director of the MassHire Greater Lowell Workforce Board, which covers a cluster of communities like Billerica, Dracut, and Tyngsboro. “The main goal of the grant is to get these 150 people back into the workforce.”
Farkas led the press announcement Monday morning at the MassHire Lowell Career Center, 107 Merrimack St., Lowell. The workforce board is part of the commonwealth’s workforce development system under the EOLWD. The board also oversees the MassHire Lowell Career Center, which provides a variety of services to both jobseekers and employers.
Farkas spoke about how opioids have impacted both workforce unemployment rate and labor force participation. He said people with substance abuse disorder aren’t looking for work. Part of the work through this new grant will focus on how to get these individuals back into the workforce with a living wage, he added.
The grant funding has been broken down into different areas — $500,000 will be dedicated to occupational skills training and $600,000 will go to subsidized addiction and recovery related employment. There will also be a focus on career readiness training & job placement and community partnerships.
Farkas said the board’s community partners have shared that there are people in recovery who need extra support to reenter the workforce. Some of these partners include The Phoenix, Lowell House, and Life Connection Center. Farkas said they will help by referring people in need of support to the MassHire Greater Lowell Workforce Board.
Speakers at Monday’s ceremony included Lowell Mayor William Samaras, U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan, EOLWD Secretary Rosalin Acosta, City Manager Eileen Donoghue, and state Rep. Tom Golden.
Samaras said it was a day of celebration.
“This can really work. This is something that the city needs,” Samaras said of the work promised through the grant funding. “This is something that I believe every town and city in the commonwealth needs.”
Donoghue recalled being in her new role as Lowell city manager for about a month when there was a commotion just outside City Hall. Someone had overdosed on a bench and was revived.
“It brought home the point that this is happening everywhere, and it’s a very frightening thing. I can venture to guess that there isn’t anybody out there today who is suffering from addiction that wants to be addicted,” Donoghue said. “They didn’t get there by choice, necessarily, but they’re stuck there and it’s a tough thing to overcome and it’s these types of efforts and grants that can make this success actually happen — to get a job, to keep a job, and this is going to make a difference for hundreds of people. That is so, so huge.”
Acosta acknowledged that a lot more resources are needed to combat the opioid crisis, but she described the grant as an “incredible beginning.”
“This can really go a very, very long way — 150 people now guided towards workforce placement, but guided in a very caring way,” she said. “And guided in a way that is really a holistic approach so that we really give folks the wraparound services they need to not just get a job and then say ‘goodbye,’ but get a job and then follow it through because we know that this transition period is so important.”
State Rep. Tom Golden said the opioid epidemic was not discussed at one point in time.
“If you really wanna think about it, it was ‘those people over there’ — ‘them,’” Golden said. “At one point in time, people didn’t... I don’t know if they cared. I don’t know if they were afraid to talk about it.”
With time, Golden said, people realized that ‘those people’ and ‘them’ were their brother, sister, mom, dad, friend.
“What’s happening today? People are listening. People are paying attention,” Golden said. “MassHire is saying ‘Welcome back. We’re here to support you.’ That’s what we should be rooting for.’”
City Councilor Rita Mercier, who sat in the audience, was moved to tears by Golden’s speech.
“We all experience that in our families,” Mercier said.
After the program, Farkas said he was excited to have received this grant.
“Unfortunately there’s a need within the Greater Lowell region,” he said.
Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.