NAPLES — Just over a month ago, Governor DeSantis closed all restaurants, bars, and gyms, and hundreds of thousands of people have not been able to get their benefits that entire time.
20 days ago, we spoke with Chris Girard, who used to work as a bartender in a Naples shopping center. Since then, his situation has gone from bad to desperate, with no sign that help is coming anytime soon.
“We are literally withering on the vine here, and it doesn’t seem like anyone in Tallahassee is listening to us," said Girard.
Girard is losing hope in the state system, because after more than five weeks of waiting, his application status still shows that it’s pending.
“My restaurant was purposely closed, I was told to stay home. I did what I was told to do, and now I’m being penalized and I can’t even get my unemployment. Absolutely ridiculous," said Girard.
Girard used to work at Southern Style Kitchen serving high end drinks. Now he says he’s surviving of peanut butter sandwiches.
“I’m just at a point where I’ve been living off food banks and food pantries for the last five weeks," said Girard.
We wanted to learn more about why Girard’s benefits are being held up, so we spoke with an employment attorney.
“The data I’ve seen suggests that Florida is the worst state in the nation in dealing with these claims right now," said attorney Ryan Barack.
Barrack has been following the issues with the state website. He said these problems are nothing new, we’re just noticing now because it affects so many more people.
“The system didn’t work before, and they are trying to fix it, and they are trying to fix it now. They’re driving down the road, at 150 miles an hour, trying to change a tire," said Barack.
Barrack said only 25% of claims have been processed so far, and at the current rate, the state will have to continue processing them for at least another two months. We asked what someone like Girard can do.
“I would recommend, if someone is having issues, that they contact their state legislators. This is a problem that the state created by not having a proper website up and functioning," said Barack.
Girard said he’s left voicemails with his legislators, but never heard back. He said he has a better idea.
“I would hope that the, any state senator, state governor, or any state representative would maybe join us in our cause in unemployment and not take a paycheck for the next two to three months, or at least until 50 percent of the claims are paid," said Girard.
Barack said another concerning trend is that 26% of claims so far have been denied. He said, when that happens, those cases go through an appeals process, but he said there’s no way the state is prepared to handle the hundreds of thousands of appeals on the way.
For now, Girard will continue to wait, with the 75% of other people who filed, and hope he isn’t one of the ones who gets rejected.