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With delays in payments, jobless Floridians facing coronavirus pandemic are scared, frustrated

PLANTATION, Fla. – Judi Hamelburg, of North Miami Beach, is among the many jobless Floridians who are running out of cash during the coronavirus pandemic.

The physical therapist said Thursday every single quarter she put money aside “into the unemployment pot.” She said she just assumed the government would be there for her when she needed it.

COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus, has killed 987 people in Florida. Hamelburg, who is also a certified rehab specialist who trains people with disabilities to drive, said many of her clients are at risk.

“When this all started, I would mask and try and disinfect the car on our training sessions, and then it just reached a point when I didn’t think it was safe anymore,” Hamelburg said.

Implementing public health officials’ guidelines to reduce COVID-19 cases in Florida has affected every sector of the local economy. As the partial shutdown continues, the number of unemployed keeps growing.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s latest data, more than 505,000 Floridians filed claims for unemployment insurance benefits last week. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity reported Tuesday the state had received about 1.7 million claims, but only about 16% of the applicants had been paid.

Florida Unemployment
Florida Unemployment (Florida Unemployment)

The data doesn’t reflect the reality in Miami-Dade County where many service workers are undocumented. Maria Rodriguez, of Little Havana, works cleaning apartments in downtown Miami and Brickell.

“We have three friends living with us now,” Rodriguez said in Spanish. “The union and our Christian church have helped us and my boyfriend has some work, but we are just waiting. My mom is running out of money in El Salvador and she needs me to work.”

The Miami Pandemic Response Fund, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Farm Workers COVID-19 Pandemic Relief Fund, and the Betancourt Macias Family Scholarship Foundation are among the organizations helping undocumented workers.

For the workers who are documented, Gov. Ron DeSantis has promised improvements to the state’s ill-equipped system. As the delays in payments continue, the lines at free food distribution centers keep growing in South Florida.

“We keep hearing all of these promises from the federal government and state government and nothing," Julian Castro said. “Sympathies, but no real action.”

Mason C. Jackson, the president of CareerSource Broward, said the federal and state government’s resources haven’t kicked in yet, so there are a lot of people in need who still need to be patient.

“They are scared. They are frustrated that they haven’t been able to file for unemployment,” Jackson said. “They don’t know what the future is going to bring.”


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