Kulongoski stumps for jobs plan

Mike Branson walked into the Employment Department office in Medford Wednesday, figuring he was going to fill out some forms and peruse online job prospects.

The 24-year-old unemployed father of a 10-month-old son did all that and more.

Branson walked in minutes before Gov. Ted Kulongoski arrived to make a pitch for his emergency jobs program, which could put 12,000 unemployed Oregonians to work starting in July.

Kulongoski proposed a program to fund temporary jobs paying $8.40 to $10 an hour last week and is touring the state to drum up support and visit its targeted audience. He suggested the Legislature would benefit from taking a break from its deliberations to visit the state's 80,000 unemployed as well.

At present there are fewer than 1,000 jobs listed in the state's employment system for people seeking entry-level jobs.

"We know we need a national recovery," Kulongoski said. "But there are things we can do locally; I'm trying to get the Legislature to embrace (the program) by July."

"I think people want to go to work and we have to provide jobs, cleaning parks and other environmental things."

That sounded appealing to Branson, whose work with a window and gutter cleaning firm evaporated a few weeks ago. The last two holiday seasons he's worked from September through December at Harry & David. However, such work didn't qualify him for unemployment.

"I've always held two jobs," said the former South Medford High School student, who is currently working toward a general equivalency diploma at Rogue Community College.

The idea of taking one of the governor's proposed jobs struck a chord with Branson.

"Beggars can't be choosers," Branson said. "Right now I'll take the help. I've got plenty of time to build a foundation for the future, but right now I have no foundation. It's nice to know that I can talk to the man who has the power to change things."

The governor chatted with several other job seekers as they searched online for work, including Patti Caster.

Caster, 50, once ran her own manicuring business in Santa Rosa, Calif. She later went to work for Hyatt Hotels and then found herself without a job in 2007.

When she lost her house, she moved north in January to stay with relatives in Glendale. Because her relatives work in Jackson County, she rides with them to Medford to look for job leads.

"I've sent 387 applications from Portland to Santa Rosa," said Caster as her most recent detailed cover letter remained on the screen behind her. "I'm here eight hours a day, five days a week — it was sad to see Saturdays go. Not working has been driving me nuts; this has been my job for five months."

She was retrained in California for affordable housing property management, but the economy swallowed up whatever opportunities there were in that sphere.

Caster's unemployment benefits are due to run out at the end of July, so Kulongoski's program would arrive just in time.

"If there is a job available," she said. "I will be in line."

The governor said the Oregon Food Bank will sponsor as many as 1,000 of the program's jobs, while the Oregon Youth Conservation Corps and Oregon forestry and agriculture departments will oversee another 500 of the positions.

Temporary workers will include those who clear trails, repair campsites, clean up watersheds and thin underbrush in forests. Local governments, community colleges and workforce development agencies would oversee hiring.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.

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