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What’s being done to help small businesses and newly unemployed workers

What started as frustration is now anger. Thousands of people in Southwest Florida who’ve lost their job can’t go to the Fort Myers career center because it’s closed. And no one can get through on the phone for state unemployment benefits because the lines are jammed. And electronic filing can’t be completed because the website keeps crashing.

So what can you do?

We asked the people in charge of state unemployment benefits that very question.

Numerous people have told us about their recent inability to connect when they call the re-employment assistance number.

Darlene Felker sent us a screenshot from her call with the unemployment center that showed she was on hold for seven hours, only to get cut off.

“Let’s see; I’ve called like last week a total of over 1,025 times,” Felker told WINK News. “I’ve been on hold a total of like 56 hours only to be disconnected, and nobody returns the phone calls.”

She says the most frustrating job she’s ever had to perform is filing for unemployment.

“What do you do?” Felker said. “Where do you go?”

We shared those same questions with a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the state agency in charge of unemployment benefits.

We also asked what is being done to make sure Floridians filing for unemployment are receiving their benefits.

“Every night, we are working to increase our server capacity,” said Tiffany Vause, the director of communications with the Florida department. “We are working to increase the number of people who are able to get onto the website, and you are able to access the system … So I would encourage your viewers to try really early in the morning or really late in the evening.”

That might not be the most satisfying answer for Felker or anyone who has reached out to us demanding accountability from the state. But Vause said there is an effort to respond to everyone in need of assistance.

“We are working around the clock to get folks trained, so they can answer these calls, so they can help Floridians,” Vause said.

Anyone interested in positions available at the DEO call center can apply online on the state website.

Felker says she continues to call, and her claim is “pending,” so she still hasn’t seen a dime.

“Using one credit card to buy gift cards to get groceries just to survive,” Felker said.

A lot of people are feeling that same money pressure, especially at the start of the month when the rent or the mortgage is due.

The state did say, once you do get through, your benefits will be retroactive to when you lost your job. Then, when you’ve maxed out on that, you must call to say you can’t make the payment because you have no income.

And if you are a small business owner working hard to stay afloat in this difficult time— help is available.

Lee County has set up a recovery hotline and webpage that you can find here.

There’s even a flow chart to help you quickly see what types of loans are best for your situation.

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Reporter:Dannielle Garcia
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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