Mississippi "Jobs First" legislation breaks new ground in providing jobs for local people

By Ben Grossman-Cohen

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Jackson, MS-- International relief and development organization Oxfam America praised Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant’s signing of the “Mississippi Jobs First” bill, which encourages employers to seek local workers first when the state receives special funding in the wake of a disaster.  The new law opens a window of opportunity to local workers on public works projects, while providing important data on hiring, job trends and training for Mississippi workers. 

After a disaster strikes, funds flow into the areas affected, but they often fail to reach the people who are the most vulnerable and the neediest. In the effort to strengthen the Gulf economy and support real economic development, a diverse coalition of legislators and community groups has been encouraging the Mississippi legislature to pass the “Jobs First” bill.

“This is a very innovative approach that looks beyond the damaged buildings in a disaster to focus on the heart of the problem,” said Minor Sinclair, US Regional Director of Oxfam America. “We can replace the things that we lose but we need to revitalize a whole economy and the life of a community. This bill puts people back to work, which is vital to putting life back into the area.”

As the Mississippi Gulf Coast has been hit by several natural and man-made disasters in recent years, many people have lost homes, businesses, and jobs. This bill seeks to make sure the resources for restoration reach the right people in time to provide real means to recovery.

“I'm proud to be part of this landmark legislation which protects jobs for Mississippi residents,” said State Sen. Philip Moran (R), District 46, Hancock and Harrison who advocated for the legislation. “This legislation will strengthen our communities by making sure federal disaster dollars that come to Mississippi are spent here, creating real jobs across the entire state.”

Under the law, contractors are required to outline an employment plan in bid submissions for a given public work project. The plan may include such items as types of jobs involved in a project; skill level required; wage information; how the contractor will recruit disadvantaged, low wage and unemployed applicants. The state, through its appointed agency, can use this information to line up qualified workers, or start training workers for available jobs through workforce systems.

“After the oil spill, like after Katrina, we heard that Mississippi contractors were not getting awarded the cleanup contracts,” said Rep. David Baria (D), District 122, Hancock County. “We are committed to restoring the Gulf Coast, and putting Mississippians back to work. This bill is a good step in that direction.”

Oxfam America worked with legislators from the Gulf Coast region and community groups that represent diverse interests and constituencies to bring this law to life. The timing is fortuitous, as the region may soon see an influx of new restoration funds from sources such as the BP oil spill fines, as directed by the RESTORE Act, a federal bill that has passed the House of Representatives and the Senate and is currently in conference.

“As resources for restoring our coast begin to come into Mississippi, such as potential funds from the RESTORE Act, it is so important that local residents have access to opportunities that help our economy grow,” said Roberta Avila, Executive Director of the STEPS Coalition, which brings together nearly 40 local organizations.  “We thank Mississippi’s leaders for making this a reality.”

Kaitlin Troung, Executive Director of Asian Americans for Change, noted the long-lasting effects from the many disasters. “Fishermen and workers along the coast are still hurting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This bill will present an enormous opportunity for the under-employed workers to find new jobs in the restoration economy and recovery of our coast.”

Mississippi, plagued with social as well as environmental vulnerabilities, often ranks toward the bottom of nationwide programs. “It’s great to be first,” said Sen. Sean Tindell (R), District 49, Harrison. “Thanks to this effort, Mississippi is now one of the first states in the union to pass a statewide first source hiring law. It will help to ensure that disaster-impacted communities see long-term economic benefit through an increase in local jobs. This could mean thousands of new job opportunities on state projects.”

“This is a major victory for the region,” said Yumeka Rushing, Gulf Coast Policy Officer for Oxfam America, based in Mississippi. “Mississippi is so often among the last to get resources. Great thanks go to the delegation from the Coast who helped move the legislation along.”

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