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Justice Celebrates Successes in Jobs and Hope Program

Justice

CHARLESTON – Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, a program created more than a year ago to help people recovering from substance abuse find jobs and second chances celebrated several victories Monday.

Gov. Jim Justice praised Jobs and Hope West Virginia with program officials and partners during a virtual announcement Monday.

“It’s not going to be the single cure for this terrible, terrible problem … but it’s doggone helping, and it’s helping in a big big way,” Justice said.

The Jobs and Hope West Virginia program was rebranded more than one year ago at a ceremony in Putnam County on Oct. 15, 2019. Formerly known as JIM’S Dream, the program was first unveiled during Justice’s 2019 State of the State address to kick off the legislative session that year.

“We just had a basic idea … we had to be able to help our people and offer them free treatment — people who were struggling with this terrible drug issue that goes on all across our nation and world, especially in West Virginia,” Justice said. “This very thing could have cannibalized West Virginia completely.”

At that time, the Jobs and Hope program had 380 referrals and 250 participants. One year later, the program has 1,805 West Virginians enrolled and 182 people who have successfully found jobs through the program since July 2019.

The goal of the Jobs and Hope program is connecting those leaving drug treatment centers and those in recovery with transition agents who will help connect them with other state and private agencies to find job training programs and help with finding jobs.

The program has three components: substance abuse treatment, job training, and expungement of non-violent criminal records to help substance abuse victims return to the workforce. Part of the funding goes to the state’s career and technical centers for adult learning programs, as well as the National Guard for additional training programs. Other assistance includes help with driver’s license reinstatement, transportation and childcare.

“The main goal of the Jobs and Hope program is to eliminate employment barriers and put West Virginians back to work,” said Lorrie Smith, lead coordinator for the Jobs and Hope program. “West Virginians work together to solve problems, and Jobs and Hope is a great example of that.”

As of September, 193 participants had their drivers’ licenses reinstated. With the help of Good News Mountaineer Garage — a non-profit that helps people in need obtain vehicles for work — 19 participants now have their own cars to get to their new jobs. With the help of Legal Aid of West Virginia, one participant had her non-violent criminal record expunged.

“I’ve been an attorney for 18 years and with Legal Aid for 10 years and this is some of the most exciting work we’ve been able to do because of the affirmative good it brings to the lives of our participants,” said Marie Bechtel, a supervising attorney with Legal Aid of West Virginia. “We have other expungements in process … I can’t imagine more worthwhile and good work we could be doing in partnership with the Governor’s Office and Jobs and Hope.”

The program is a collaboration of 16 state agencies, as well the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and the West Virginia Legislature.

According to the West Virginia Health Statistics Center with the Department of Health and Human Resources, drug overdose deaths peaked in 2017 at 1,019, dropping to 903 deaths in 2018. Over a four-year period between 2015 and 2018, 3,547 West Virginians had died from drug overdoses. Most of the deaths are attributed to legal opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, and illegal opioids such as heroin and fentanyl.

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