Synergy at WorkSource Central Basin helps homeless veterans

By Luis Torres, WorkSource Central Basin

Within minutes and fewer than 20 footsteps, veterans seeking help at WorkSource Central Basin can receive life-changing support.


Jennifer Semanko and Luis Torres surround brothers Yancarlo and Alex, taking a moment to enjoy their success at getting these veterans into stable housing.

On any given day, you can visit this WorkSource office and find Jennifer Semanko and me speaking over cubicle walls, strategizing about customers who need our support. We have become a formidable team, battling homelessness among veterans. Our goal is to achieve “functional zero” in Grant and Adams counties, which is as close as you can get to eliminating homelessness. We’re accomplishing it by embracing the “housing first” philosophy, which maintains that having stable housing is a prerequisite for getting a job.

Jennifer works for HopeSource, a WorkSource partner organization. She specializes in housing veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. I work for the Employment Security Department (ESD) as a Disabled Veterans Outreach Program case manager, helping veterans with significant barriers to employment to become job ready.

Since September 2015, Jennifer and I have helped 47 veterans come out of homelessness, move into their own house or apartment, or helped them keep their current housing. Eighteen of the 47 also received case management services to overcome their barriers and return to work.

Brothers Yancarlo and Alex Figueroa are two combat veterans who came to WorkSource for help in their job search. After I spent some time with them, I determined that these two young men needed housing.

“I could live in the woods if I had to,” said Yancarlo, and Alex said, “I could dig a foxhole if needed.” True, their training had prepared them for either. But I told them HopeSource and Employment Security could help them, and we did. Twenty-two days after stepping into WorkSource Central Basin, the brothers now share an apartment and are aggressively looking for work!

We’re not always that fast. Currently, Jennifer can enroll and find housing for a veteran in approximately 54 days.  But Yancarlo and Alex are good examples of how we help our customers by working together. Our proximity and collaboration allows us to assess our customers, then guide and deliver the veteran to the other. The veterans build a strong rapport with us as we provide access to housing and support from other partner organizations.

HopeSource works with the Department of Housing and Urban Development – Veterans Administration (HUD-VA) Supportive Housing Program, which is a joint effort between HUD and the VA to move veterans and their families out of homelessness and into permanent housing.

HopeSource also helps with emergency housing and money for rent, deposits, utilities, child care, rental arrears, vehicle repairs, clothing, tools for work and basic household items. Where Jennifer’s program drops off, others pick up. The Grant County Housing Authority helps find landlords willing to rent to our target population. The Grant County Veterans Coalition provides support with food, gas, utilities and other services.

Once our customers are housed, we start helping them overcome other barriers, such as substance abuse. Once again, we work within the case management system and the network of organizations developed though community outreach.

The ultimate goal is to prepare veterans for employment — like Employment Security’s vision statement says — “the right job for each person, every time.” I believe our work is an example of “being the bridge” — the phrase ESD’s Commissioner Dale Peinecke uses to describe our work connecting job seekers to jobs and training.

Author Luis Torres works at WorkSource Central Basin in Moses Lake.


Local Area Monthly Summary: January 2016

Kennewick-Pasco-Richland Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)

Ajsa Suljic, Regional Labor Economist
Tel: 509-734-5928 or Email:

Kennewick-Pasco-Richland Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) added 4,600 new nonfarm jobs, on a preliminary, not seasonally adjusted basis, from January 2015 to January 2016. The local unemployment rate, at 8.4 percent, increased from a December 2015 revised rate of 7.8 percent and decreased from a January 2015 revised rate of 9.0 percent by six-tenths of a percent each, respectively, according to the estimates by the federal Bureau of Labor statistics (BLS).

The Benton County unemployment rate was 7.7 percent, while the Franklin County unemployment rate was 10.1 percent in January 2016.

The state’s unemployment rate remained at 5.8 percent, the same as revised employment rate for December 2015 and the same as one year ago in January 2015. The U.S. unemployment rate dropped slightly to 4.9 percent for January 2016.

The labor force expanded in January for Kennewick-Pasco-Richland Metro and across Washington state. The resident labor force rose from 127,714 people in January 2015 to nearly 131,621 in January 2016, which is a 3.1 percent increase over-the-year. The labor force is the total number of people, both employed and unemployed, over the age of 16.

Kennewick-Pasco-Richland MSA’s unemployed workforce increased to 10,994 in January 2016. The Employment Security Department paid unemployment insurance benefits to 4,842 unemployed residents in amount of $5.5 million.

The two-county area nonfarm employment has increased year-over-year for 34 consecutive months. January’s nonfarm growth was higher by 4.5 percent or 4,600 jobs when compared to the same time in 2015.

New job growth was driven by industries across the spectrum including: administrative and support services, food services, retail trade, private education and healthcare services, manufacturing, and financial activities.

When we look at the cluster of industries in trade, transportation, warehousing and utilities, we can see growth of 1,000 jobs over-the-year. However, the majority of that growth was coming from retail trade, which grew by 600 new jobs. Most of this growth reflects the continuous expansion of retail trade offerings throughout the many cities in this two county area.

Other industries that had job expansions over the year include:

  • Administrative and Support Services (800);
  • Food Services (600);
  • Government (600);
  • Manufacturing (400);
  • Private Education and Healthcare Services (400);
  • Accommodation Services (200);
  • Financial Services (200); and
  • Professional and Technical Services (100).

The construction industry job offerings were unchanged over-the-year in January 2016.

For more details you can call 509-734-5928 or email at



Tidbits and beignets: Unemployment benefits vary (a lot!) across the nation

By Chad Pearson, Employment Security Department Communications Office

Beignets and jazz are traditional in Louisiana culture, but if you want to overdose on either of them and you’re receiving unemployment benefits, you’d be better off buying them in Boston than in New Orleans. That’s because Massachusetts provides up to four times the amount of weekly benefits than Louisiana.

dataThose who like to nerd out with lots of statistics and information might enjoy the newest comparison report of unemployment agencies released by the U.S. Department of Labor this week. In all, the report compares unemployment data from 53 agencies from all the states, Washington, D.C., the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. I was surprised at how differently each agency handles unemployment benefits.

  • Tidbit 1: If you are going to be unemployed, hope that you worked in the northeast part of the U.S.

    Massachusetts weekly benefits are almost five times larger than Louisiana’s: $1,047 vs. $284, and the two states represent the highest and lowest benefits in the country. In Washington, the weekly benefit maximum in 2014 was $637. (Currently it’s $664.)

  • Tidbit 2: Short-time compensation programs, such as Washington’s Shared Work Program, can be used only sparingly in some states.

    Wisconsin allows employers to use the program only for six months in any five-year period. This makes Wisconsin the most difficult state in which to use program if an employer has an extended layoff. Some states, including Washington, have no restrictions on how often it is used.

  • Tidbit 3: Federal unemployment benefits were extended for the longest time ever during the Great Recession.
    Unemployment compensation was 100 percent federally financed for a record 67 months ending in January 2014 — almost twice as long as the previous record of 36 months ending in 1978.

    Plus, it surprised me that since the inception of the Special Federal Extension program in 1958, now named Emergency Unemployment Compensation, funds have been available more than a third of the years between 1958 and 2015.

Since all the agencies that administer unemployment insurance programs are independent and subject to changes by local lawmakers, they vary hugely across America. Read the report to see how Washington is helping the unemployed and what it’s like to be out of work in the other parts of the nation.

chad-pearsonAuthor Chad Pearson is the Shared Work marketing manager in the Communications Office.

YouthWorks connects young people to jobs

By Melissa Connaughton

Betzy Villa interns at the Dispute Resolution Center of Yakima and Kittitas Counties. The 90-hour internship is the culmination of her participation in YouthWorks — a partnership between Employment Security and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Betzy Villa interns at the Dispute Resolution Center of Yakima and Kittitas Counties. The 90-hour internship is the culmination of her participation in YouthWorks — a partnership between Employment Security and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

High school senior Betzy Villa has been entrusted with a huge responsibility: identifying local attorneys who may be interested in working on a special project for the Dispute Resolution Center of Yakima and Kittitas Counties.

Working on a 90-hour internship organized by Yakima’s YouthWorks summer jobs program, Villa is getting a glimpse at what it’s really like to work in an attorney’s office. This internship at the Dispute Resolution Center is far more than just answering the phone; it’s an introduction to a career, providing mentoring, career exploration and work experience for youth interested in a legal career.

“I’ve gotten to observe the actual dispute resolution process and see how mediators help both sides come to an agreement about what works best for both parties,” Villa says. She also has acquired some hard skills, such as creating Excel spreadsheets and organized records.

Continue reading