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KUER’s Southeast Utah Bureau is based in San Juan County. The Southwest Utah Bureau is based in the St. George area. Both initiatives focus on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues, faith and spirituality and other topics of relevance to Utahns.

Moab's Unemployment Numbers Are Down For Now, Along With Housing And Food Assistance Needs

Two tourists window shop on Main Street in Moab.
discopalace via Creative Commons
Grand County has had 35 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since a ban on tourism expired on May 1. The total number of cases confirmed in the county is 38.

Over a quarter of Grand County workers lost their jobs this spring because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to unemployment claims filed in April. But many county residents went back to work when tourists returned to Moab, and the need for food and housing assistance has declined. 

Liz Donkersloot at the Moab Valley Multicultural Center, a resource center for low-income residents, said the amount of people who used their food bank in June was around 700, down from 1,550 in April.

“We’re guessing that’s because Moab has reopened,” Donkersloot said. “People are back to work and are receiving unemployment, and the stimulus checks have really helped.”

Many unemployed workers in Moab also received help from a local housing relief fund, which raised $43,000 between April and June. The fund was launched and managed by a group of government agencies and nonprofits, including the Multicultural Center, and paid rent for 61 families. 

Organizers prioritized applicants who were ineligible for unemployment benefits because of their citizenship status, according to Jenna Whetzel with the Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah, who helped manage the fund. Almost all of the recipients fit that description, she said, and most have now gone back to work. 

“Things are open, and the tourist season seems just as busy as the past three years,” Whetzel said. 

But she said the need for assistance will likely return again this winter, when seasonal workers usually live off their savings. The need could be even greater this year because the tourist season was shortened by the pandemic. 

“If something changes and the community needs our help again, we will start raising more funds and giving them out,” she said. 

Despite the decrease in immediate needs, Grand County’s unemployment rate — at 8% — is still double what it was last summer. That could be because some people can’t go back to work in person because of COVID-19, according to Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus.

“People who are high-risk are not going to jump back into the workforce,” Niehaus said. “Finding solutions to longer term unemployment is my focus right now.” 

She said she is looking at ways to use CARES Act funding to help people who are taking care of high-risk family members. The mayor is also working with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development on programs that will help people find work that can be done online, including providing a scholarship to a coding course to residents of Moab.

Kate Groetzinger is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southeast Bureau in San Juan County. Follow Kate on Twitter @kgroetzi

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