Grants from Merced County workforce investment department help unemployed, veterans


Jose Castaneda had been unemployed for about two years before landing a job in March at Garza Tire and Wheel in Winton.He received on-the-job training from March until June at the tire shop.

And he got the chance because of the county’s Workforce Investment Department.

Castaneda and many others who come into the department office could be ideal candidates to take advantage of four grants aimed at helping people who are unemployed, who have exhausted their unemployment benefits or who are veterans.

The department received three federal grants and one state grant, totaling $1.23 million, said David Heyer, a program manager with the department.

Castaneda was one of the people who was helped by grant money, learning how to work on vehicles. The 26-year-old Winton man said he hadn’t been receiving any unemployment benefits. “They basically gave me all the tools to get started, like the uniform, basically taught me some things,” he said.

“He turned out to be a really good employee,” said Yolanda Ventura, assistant manager at the shop. “We’re very happy with him.”

In June, the jobless rate for Merced County spiked to 18.7 percent. Merced County has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in California. The stateside unemployment rate is at 12.1 percent. Of a 107,100-person work force, 20,000 are unemployed in Merced County.

The grants last until June 2012 and will help prospective applicants from all over the county. The department has money to help a minimum of 350 people, Heyer said. “We’ve already started helping people and want to get the word out to let others know about it,” Heyer said. “If we can get more people, we can help.”

The grants help in two areas: vocational training, such as medical assistance classes, medical field-related jobs and work-based training, or on-the-job training (OJT). That’s when the department works with an employer who’s willing to provide new skills to an employee. The department reimburses the employer while the employer is providing training. For work-based training, the department can also help prospective employees get gasoline or clothes for an interview.

“Somebody who’d like to go to work, we want them to go to work,” Heyer said.

He said the department determines whether people are eligible, then the applicants go through orientation, testing and career exploration.

People interested in finding out whether they’re eligible for the grant money should go to the Department of Workforce Investment at 1880 Wardrobe Avenue.

Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or abutt@mercedsun-star.com.