Six weeks without pay: Jobless Floridians see no end to unemployment nightmare

Hairstylists and other self-employed and sub-contracted employees grow increasingly concerned after being marked ineligible for unemployment by the state of Florida, despite the federal government allotted funds for them in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The problem lies with the state’s process for applying for unemployment benefits, but for those who need that money to get by, the reasons for the delay don’t matter. They just want it to be fixed.

It has been more than a month since hair salons across the state had to shut down. Stylists like Lisa Willaert have now gone for almost six weeks without a paycheck. Willaert applied for unemployment weeks ago, but Monday morning she was told her application was marked ineligible.

"I am not able to do anyone's hair and I have zero income and this is how I feed my children, pay my rent, pay my utilities," Willaert told FOX 13 News.

She applied for unemployment assistance back in March. Since then, her application status has read "pending" on the state’s CONNECT unemployment website, until Monday, when it said “ineligible.”

Hours later, she tried logging back into the site, but the site was down.

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"I'm just so frustrated because I'm not allowed to work and I have bills and children to feed and nothing’s happening," Willaert said.

Unemployment assistance typically isn't available from the state for self-employed, sub-contracted, or gig workers. That changed when the federal CARES Act was signed, allowing independent contractors to collect federal assistance, $600 per week, through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.

The CARES Act says states should collect applications and distribute funds for the PUA program. Florida’s unemployment website, however, is not set up to process applications for contract workers.

So far, at least 18 states have already started paying people who are self-employed through their PUA programs. Other states like Ohio and Arizona announced they are launching their PUA programs mid-May.

In Florida, a launch date is still unclear.

Governor DeSantis has vowed to get to the bottom of why the Rick Scott administration paid $77 million for the CONNECT website, which has been riddled with problems since the pandemic caused millions to lose their jobs.

The website was down all weekend in an attempt to catch up on all the claims that have been pending now for several weeks. It was supposed to be back online at 8 a.m. Monday, but users said they were unable to log in.

More than 1.8 million claims have been filed into the faulty system. However, only a small percentage of those who have filed have actually been approved for benefits. With more applications coming in on a daily basis, many people are frustrated, fearing they won’t be able to get the assistance they need. 

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LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

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