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Many in SWFL still struggling with unemployment, financial insecurity due to pandemic; LeeCARES can help

The pandemic has left damaging impacts on our local workforce, although things are getting better as unemployment numbers drop.

Many of you are still out of work and struggling to manage your finances.

The number of people looking for work may be going down, but that doesn’t mean our friends and neighbors aren’t struggling. Lots of people still can’t find a job or enough hours to make up for what they’ve lost since the pandemic.

But, there’s good news. There’s hope for those of you trying to make ends meet.

We see the statistics. We hear what they mean. More people are going back to work, but don’t tell that to Helen Berkholtz.

“That’s not right,” she said.

Berkholtz is a worker without a job — someone willing to try her hand at anything to put food on the table.

“I’ve done a lot of things, I used to be in restaurants, I had a lawn service,” she said.

Now, like so many of our neighbors, she gets her meals from food distribution centers.

“So my income was basically like a handy person and so I’ve lost all of my income and my partner is retired, so all we have is social security,” Berkholtz explained.

She’s happy other people are finding jobs, but she wants you to also know there are still tens of thousands of people in Southwest Florida who need the help of others to stretch what little money they have.

“It fills in some of the gaps. Then you can have a little bit more money to spend on like laundry soap,” she said.

“I come here every week,” Edwin Carreras of Fort Myers told us. He says a food drive can be a real lifesaver. “Oh it means a lot, every little bit helps me out.”

Out of work the past nine months, he finally got the break he needed. Tuesday, he starts as a custodian for Lee County schools.

“It’s pretty hard as of right now, but I mean, it seems like it’s getting better,” Carreras said.

If you know someone in this situation, Lee County might be able to help. The deadline for LeeCARES assistance is Monday at 5 p.m.

The program helps people pay the mortgage, rent and utilities.

“I’m always wanting to get help from anywhere,” Carreras said.

How to apply for LeeCARES

It’s not too late to ask for help if you’re behind on paying some of your bills. The LeeCARES act deadline has been extended — now the last call is Monday.

You can apply HERE.

Assistance of up to $3,000 is available. If approved, LeeCARES makes payments directly to your mortgage company, landlord and/or your utility company.

To be eligible, you must be able to prove you lost your job or lost hours due to COVID-19 and you must fill out a W-9 form, which you can find here.

For people like Carreras, who moved to Lee County right before the pandemic, LeeCARES could be the boost he needs.

“It means a lot,” he said. “I mean, I have friends and family that need help and once I get the information out, I’ll spread the news. Like I said, I don’t know too much about Lee County yet. I’m still learning but it sounds like a great idea, really helpful.”

LeeCARES also offers help to small business owners, parents who need child care help and more. But again, the deadline for individual help is Monday at 5 p.m.

Reporter:Gail Levy
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