Non-profit agency helps furloughed employees work off fines

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Some furloughed employees with no paychecks are keeping several South Mississippi job placement and non-profit agencies busier than usual. The manager of a staffing agency told WLOX-News more people are looking for temporary positions until they can go back to their regular jobs. And a non-profit organization in Gulfport is reaching out to those who've been furloughed, yet face outstanding fines.

While some people took time to de-stress and freshen-up their look, many others learned about products, services, and jobs available for the ladies. The "Lighthouse Business and Professional Women Expo" at the Biloxi Civic Center on Wednesday drew nearly 300-people.

That's where we found Bonnie Sine, an account manager with Nextaff. Sine told us she has seen an increase in the number of furloughed workers coming in to her Ocean Springs business.

"Quite a few more than we normally have, just walk-ins. They heard about Nextaff and know that we provide temporary jobs and they're looking for other opportunities to earn income," said Sine.

Sine said the government shutdown has also affected some of her current clients.

"Some of our employees are paid by federal funds and when those federal funds were eliminated with the furlough, those employees lost their jobs," said Sine.

With no income, some people are turning to Hands-On Mississippi for assistance. One program in particular is Volunteer Restitution, which allows people with misdemeanor charges like DUIs, traffic tickets, and drug violations to work to pay off their fines.

"We had a couple in recent weeks who have said, 'I've used by PTO. I'm still laid off. I don't want to go to jail. I need to pay these fines off, so can I do your program.' And we take them with welcome arms," said Holly Gibbs, Executive Director of Hands-On Mississippi.

People who qualify can volunteer at non-profit agencies or various city departments. They earn $7.25 an hour, which goes toward reducing their debt. Gibbs expects the need to grow if the government shutdown drags on.

"I think there's going to be a large influx for a short period of time of individuals who need the program. They may only need it for a couple of weeks and they can start paying their fine again. We want to help them keep their lives intact and not go to jail, because they can't pay their fines," said Gibbs.

Bonnie Sine with Nextaff said the furlough has some people thinking about switching to new careers.

"We've had a couple of people come in that are, to use their words, fed up with the government and the furlough and the uncertainty of it all and looking for something totally different, and just get out of the government system altogether," said Sine.

Sine also said it's not just furloughed employees who are coming in looking for work. Some of their family members are also searching for jobs to earn some extra cash to cover bills.

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