Atlantic City casino crisis hotline

By Joanna Gardner

Yomary Blanco has a big smile, a big laugh, and a beaming positivity. It’s hard to believe both she and her husband both recently became unemployed when the casinos where they had worked for nearly two decades closed earlier this month. Yomary had been an employee of Trump Plaza casino for 18 years; her husband Felix an employee of Showboat for 22.

“I try to hold my tears because it’s devastating. My husband says, ‘Don’t worry we’ll be all right.’ We’ve got to keep being positive. What else can we do?” Blanco says.

Blanco and her husband are two of about 8,000 people who lost their jobs due to casino closings in Atlantic City since January. Four of the city’s 12 casinos are now closed, beginning with Atlantic Club casino in January, Showboat and Revel casinos in early September, and most recently Blanco’s employer Trump Plaza on Sept. 16. A fifth casino, the Trump Taj Mahal, which employs about 3,000 people, has filed for bankruptcy and may close on Nov. 13.

In response to the unemployment crisis facing the region, Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Camden has released a hotline number for anyone affected by the layoffs: 856-342-4145.

The agency formed a casino crisis team comprised of six members from its main and several branch offices throughout the region. The team aims to help the wave of newly unemployed tap into the resources it offers or direct them to help through other agencies. The team’s webpage, http://www.catholiccharitiescamden.org/casinocrisis contains an extensive and continuously updated listing of resources for those affected.

The hotline leads to a message in English and Spanish inviting callers to leave their information. Catholic Charities’ staff and interns from local colleges will collect the messages and return phone calls to screen callers and direct them to any applicable Catholic Charities programs. If the callers do not qualify for existing programs, they will be referred to other agencies, depending on their need.

Callers will be screened to determine if they apply for programs like Catholic Charities’ various homelessness prevention grants or their support services for veteran families grant. Those with a FEMA number and an immediate one-time need will be able to receive help from Catholic Charities through their Super Storm Sandy disaster case management program.

The hotline was unveiled at a meeting attended by the disaster team and members of the Atlantic City Long Term Recovery Group. The agency hopes to continue partnering with other local agencies mobilizing to offer aid to those affected by the crisis.

“We want to avoid a duplication of services by partnering with other agencies,” said crisis team member Miriam Tanguay, the agency’s Sandy coordinator and resource manager. Tanguay was personally affected by Super Storm Sandy and says this second disaster takes an incredible toll, especially on those in the region who were affected by the storm.

“Two years after the storm, people have lost their coping skills. People are already so drained and overwhelmed and taxed by the system. I can only guess what the emotional devastation is like,” Tanguay said.

Catholic Charities Family and Community Services center for Atlantic County, located in Atlantic City, has already seen an increased demand for food services through their food pantry, but Nora Kennedy, a case worker in the center and member of the crisis team, anticipates that the heaviest impact from the crisis will be felt in coming months.

“An unemployment crisis is different from a storm. The devastation isn’t right in front of them and they’re still receiving their last paychecks. But it’s getting colder and people are going to start thinking about their utilities and the holiday season coming up, and that’s when the disaster will really start to sink in,” Kennedy said.

Yomary Blanco and her husband are maintaining their positivity and trying to stay afloat. Blanco has been volunteering with the United Local 54 casino workers union’s help centers in Atlantic City and considering furthering her education. Her husband has found work at Bally’s Atlantic City casino, but at a fraction of his former wage.

On her last day of work, Sept. 19, Blanco said she would register for unemployment benefits and food stamps.

“I’m going to try and get as much help as I can,” Blanco said. “We’ve got to focus on doing something new and take it day by day.”

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