COLLIER COUNTY — Parking lots are empty and shops are closed across southwest Florida right now.
COVID-19 has put thousands of people out of a job, but now, many of them aren’t able to file for unemployment benefits. When you call the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity right now, you get an automated message.
"Due to Covid-19, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is currently experiencing higher than average wait times when contacting the reemployment assistance program."
But that may be an understatement.
Nancy Martin, who lives in Collier County, says she's been trying to file for the last week.
"The place where I do aesthetic work is closed down, and my property management income right now is very debatable, because a lot of my renters are out of work," said Martin.
Martin is just one of thousands who are scrambling right now because of COVID-19.
“All of a sudden, my husband got laid off of his job, all of our kids lost their jobs," said Martin.
We also talked to another woman, Nikki Swain, out of Sarasota. She posted videos to social media, show her trying to call the FDEO with three phones going at once.
“I tried calling this morning probably 40 or 50 times, and the phone call just ends up hanging up," said Swain.
She says she tried filing online, but it ultimately forced her to have to try to call.
“It’s saying it can’t verify my identity, and to call a phone number. And we’ve called that phone number hundreds of times, and it always ends up hanging up on you," said Swain.
Last week, we spoke with the Director of the FDEO, Ken Lawson.
“I recommend going online, so the system is not overwhelmed," said Lawson. But even that method may be getting overwhelmed.
Martin said, that’s something that needs to get fixed, fast.
“We’re hoping that the government and Governor Desantis fixes this, because if he doesn’t, he’s going to have a lot of homeless, hungry people," said Martin.
We did reach back out to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, but we haven’t heard back.
Another side to this is that Swain and Martin’s husband are both immunodeficient, which makes them more susceptible to the Coronavirus. That’s why they see unemployment benefits as their only option.