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Home --> Hurricane Katrina --> Politics --> Job Fair

Job Fair

Claim:   A Texas city provided Hurricane Katrina evacuees with free transportation to a local job fair, but no one used the service.

Status:   Multiple — see below.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, 2006]

"I ain't got no job. I've been looking & looking. Give me some money for . . . . . ahh . . . food. Yeah, that's it . . . . food."

This past weekend FEMA and the City of Austin, along with the Texas Workforce Commission setup a job training/hiring/interview/job fair for all the Katrina FEMA evacuees in the Austin area to be held at the ACC campus on Webberville Road in East Austin. Several of the evacuees said they had no transportation to get from the apartment complexes, private homes, hotels, motels, and inns where they are living.

So the city of Austin/FEMA/TWC set up transportation for each of them to ensure they would be able to partake of the benefit of job searching. The transportation consisted of nine buses and vans, to run from four locations in Round Rock, and five locations in Austin, in continuing shuttles back and forth to the campus to ensure that the hundreds of people looking for jobs would be transported in comfort. The vehicles were brought to their residences; drivers knocked on the doors; and every effort was made.

At the end of the day, the nine vans and buses transported a total of one person. Not one person per bus — one person total.

The bill to FEMA was $7800.

Origins:   The above-quoted message about Hurricane Katrina evacuees in Austin, Texas, spurning the opportunity to use free, city-provided transportation to a local job fair (after supposedly having stated that a lack of transportation was preventing them from seeking gainful employment) began showing up in our inbox in March 2006. It's quite similar to an item that was circulating in September 2005, just after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast:
My son talked this week with a school bus driver in the community where he lives. The bus driver was assigned to go to one of the shelters in Ft. Worth to pick up refugees and take them to a job fair that was being held by Ft. Worth employers. At the shelter, NOT ONE OF THE REFUGEES WOULD GET ON THE BUS TO FIND A JOB. The bus driver even went into the shelter and made an announcement about the job fair, with no takers. A lady, who was not a refugee, asked if she could take the bus to the job fair. She took the bus and she was thrilled that she found a job.

One of the employers told the bus driver that she had six jobs available, starting at $11.50/hour, but that none of the refugees would apply. In addition to the hourly wage, they offered to pick up the employee, take them to work, and return them after the workday. Still no takers. Another bus driver who went to another shelter had the same experience ... not a single one of the deadbeats would even take the bus to the job fair to apply for the jobs.

Federal support and welfare must be too good a deal to pass up!
The two versions have some distinctive differences: the scene shifts from Ft. Worth, Texas, to Austin, Texas; the former mentions one bus traveling to a single destination, but the latter describes a fleet of nine buses and vans making the rounds of nine different locations; and the earlier version has one person, a non-evacuee, getting on the lone bus and ultimately finding a job, while the later version has only one person (of unstated status) using any of the nine vehicles provided.

In reference to the more recent version of the rumor that places the story in Austin, the Austin American-Statesman noted that the story did have some truth to it, although not necessarily for the reasons implied in the above-quoted e-mail. An 18 February 2006 job fair held in Austin drew over 200 attendees despite poor weather, although only one of those attendees actually arrived there via the shuttles provided, possibly because a delay resulted in limited publicity of the "free transportation" aspect:
Actually, the resource fair, one of several that have been held in Austin since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, was held Feb. 18. And, according to city officials, more than 200 people showed on a rainy, 30-degree day, many commenting on how helpful the resource agencies were.

But the punch line of the heavily circulated e-mail is true: Only one evacuee took advantage of the free rides.

Officials could not verify if drivers knocked on doors, but they did say 12 shuttles were provided for evacuees who lived outside the Capital Metro service area including Round Rock, Cedar Park, Pflugerville, Marble Falls and Georgetown. The bill for transportation to the "Austin & the Gulf Coast: The Perfect Blend" event was just over $7,000.

City officials said publicity about the free rides was limited because they didn't get confirmation that FEMA would reimburse the cost until four or five days before the event. Going through the city's procurement process took time, which meant the shuttles weren't secured until day before.

Rebecca Giello, a City of Austin spokeswoman, said, "I wouldn't consider the (shuttles) a huge success."
According
to the Texas Workforce site, a job fair was held in Dallas/Fort Worth on 29 September 2005 at the Adams Mark Hotel in Dallas, but we haven't yet found information about attendance and job placement figures for that fair.

An earlier job fair was held in Austin on 12 September 2005, and about 700 people showed up at the Austin Convention Center for the fair hosted by Goodwill Industries of Central Texas and WorkSource Austin, the region's work force development board. More than 100 job seekers found positions that day, said Leanne James, spokeswoman at WorkSource. At the end of that day, an additional 408 applicants were being considered by potential employers, pending tests and reviews.

Likewise, a job fair held in Houston at the George R. Brown Convention Center on 6 October 2005 attracted 7,500 people looking for work. At that fair, about 200 companies were each offering between 10 and 100 jobs. That fair was open to evacuees of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita as well as other unemployed Houstonians.

Last updated:   4 April 2006

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  Sources Sources:
    Crowe, Robert.   "Fair Helps Evacuees' Job Hunt."
    The Houston Chronicle.   7 October 2005   (p. B1).

    Heinauer, Laura.   "Critical E-Mail on Evacuee Job Fair Mostly Debunked."
    The Austin American-Statesman.   31 March 2006.

    Zehr, Dan.   "Evacuees Lining Up to Find Work in Austin."
    Austin American-Statesman.   13 September 2005   (p. C1).