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State Layoff Victims Starting to Seek Help

"Not to be too clichéd," says Michael Salster, a spokesman for the state Department of Human Resource Management, "but hope begins here."

The room is buried deep within the DMV's headquarters on West Broad Street. A few signs on white paper say "State Employee Job Transition Center," with arrows.

McClenney and her team have been called to this room to help some of the 1,850 state workers being laid off because of the budget crunch. Gov. Mark Warner is struggling to cut nearly $900 million from the state's expenses. About 800 of those laid off are expected to be in Central Virginia.

This office, open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, and another one in the Monroe Building on North 14th Street, is staffed with transition specialists from the Virginia Retirement System, the Richmond Career Advancement Center, the Capital Area Workforce Investment Board, and so on. Soon, they plan to hold workshops on interviewing, job searches and the like. A support group may be formed.

McClenney, who works for the Virginia Employment Commission, has worked for 10 years setting up other Layoff Centrals for private companies that have decided to fire large numbers of people.

"Reynolds, Westvaco — oh, so many," she says. "Sometimes we get 24 hours' notice."

On a recent morning, Cynthia B. Bethea comes in to type her resumé and print it on nice paper (free). Bethea, a 34-year veteran of DMV who worked in accounting, is reasonably cheerful about the whole thing, considering. She used to work on the personal-property tax, which former Gov. Jim Gilmore used to call the car tax before he abolished it and helped make the state budget worse.

"Ironic, isn't it?" Bethea says, and smiles a little tightly.

So far, business here is slow. About 10 people a day have visited during the two weeks the room has been open. The low turnout is "typical" of the early days of a layoff, McClenney says. "They're apprehensive and their feelings are hurt right now," she says. "They need time. A little bit of healing takes place."

"Help is here," Salster adds. "Really, this can be an exciting time for people rather than a downer." — Greg Weatherford

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