James Whitten got laid off from the oil patch and is having a rough time making ends meet for his family, including sons Adam and Adrian. “I got a sick feeling in my stomach when I saw gas at $1.60 a gallon,” he said. (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

GILLETTE — James Whitten used to drive a water truck for the oilfields. He has medical bills, and when times were good, ran up debts on a new van and a trailer for his wife and sons — Adrian, age 7, and Adam, 4.

“I got a sick feeling in my stomach when I saw gas at $1.60 a gallon,” he remembered. Then in March the layoffs came.

Between his wife’s job and Whitten’s unemployment their income was too high for programs like food stamps or housing assistance. Instead, Whitten turned to Energy Aid, a program created by the local Salvation Army to help laid off energy workers.

Energy Aid gave Whitten $500, which went right toward his landlord for lot rent. He was months behind, he said.

Whitten is angry the state has not intervened to help those displaced by the energy downturn. Both Gov. Matt Mead and U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi attended Energy Aid’s first rally. Jenny Nell, director of the Salvation Army office, said there wasn’t much policy discussed, but “they each wrote a substantial check to Energy Aid, I will tell you that.”

Whitten said he’s going to start working as a used-car salesman. “I’m 50 years old,” he said. “I can’t give the oilfield another try.”

Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at andrew@wyofile.com, follow him @AndrewGraham88

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