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Birmingham approves $1M to hire unemployed to battle COVID-19

By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times

On Tuesday, the City Council approved $1 million for the Birmingham Strong Service Corps, a newly formed program to identify and deploy workers to help perform essential duties that enable the city to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

The service corps helps workers who lost jobs because of COVID-19 serve on projects that can help the community endure the pandemic.

In a 13-minute meeting with councilors practicing social distancing in a near empty chamber at City Hall the funds were approved on the unanimous consent agenda.

The newly formed program is similar to AmeriCorps, “making sure people have access to service opportunities that could supplement their basic income,” Josh Carpenter, director of the city’s Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity, told the council’s budget and finance committee on Monday,

So far, he said, nearly 100 unemployed workers have “been redeployed to paid opportunities that support community needs,” such as phone screening public housing residents for virus symptoms and preparing and delivering lunches for Birmingham City Schools students.

Suzanna Fritzberg, Executive Director of Birmingham Strong LLC, which oversees the program, said it is similar to AmeriCorps in that people who are currently unemployed under the COVID-19 crisis are connected with paid service opportunities such as food delivery, meal prep and health screenings.

The Birmingham Strong Service Corps is part of the #BhamStrong Campaign launched to help those during the COVID-19 crisis.

One of the goals is to reduce unemployment for low-income and hourly workers, said Fritzberg.

“Where we see a need for transportation for folks to and from testing, food delivery . . . [we] may need a workforce to plug in and help them with that [and] help support our residents who are facing unemployment,” she said. “We know right now there are about 9,100 individuals in Birmingham that have claimed unemployment. We’re not going to be able to offer employment to all of those individuals but we hope the service corps model is something people in our community can rally around.”

Councilor Valerie Abbott, who chairs the council’s Budget and Finance Committee said, “there are a lot of people that are hurting that you don’t think about and they don’t have any work right now and want to be working. It’s important that we do everything we can to help. This is the strangest time I’ve ever lived through, so there are lots of needs out there and I think the city needs to do what it can to address it.”

For more information about the Birmingham Strong Service Corps or to apply, visit www.bhamstrong.com/general-2.