Monday, January 26, 2009
Help Me Howard: Unemployment
It's the sad and sometimes scary reality of a recession. More and more people have found themselves out of a job. If that wasn't enough, many people are having a tough time getting their unemployment benefits. It's tonight's Help me Howard.
WSVN -- When you look at Jim Flanders, one frightening phrase pops into your head, "That could be me."
Jim Flanders: "It's hard when you can't find a job, and you are willing to work."
A year ago, everything was fine. Jim was the manager at a furniture store, able to use a phrase he always took for granted, I have a job.
Jim Flanders: "I mean, I love my job. I loved my employees. My employees were the best, and the company was good to me. I had no complaints with the company."
Then the economy headed south. The store shut down. Jim was laid off.
Jim Flanders: "Start looking for a job, immediately hit most of the major retail stores."
No one was hiring, so he applied for unemployment benefits.
Jim Flanders: "Every two weeks, right on time, you could count on them. If you have bills to pay, everything was smooth."
But, in November, the checks stopped.
Jim Flanders: "Didn't receive any money."
You cannot file for unemployment or deal with problems in South Florida. Instead, you are told to do it on-line or through a number in Tallahassee.
Jim Flanders: "The problem being is that you stay on hold for two hours, three hours, trying to talk to a representative."
Calling at all hours and getting the same results, nothing.
Jim Flanders: "After about the 30th try, you get through the busy signals, then you just get the music and the same recording for next two, three hours."
Jim is not alone. In the past few days I have been contacted by dozens of people trying to get their unemployment. Everyone says the same thing. They cannot get through to anyone in Tallahassee. Frustrating, and for people suddenly without a paycheck, frightening.
Jim Flanders: "It's just pressure, added pressure that you don't need when you are getting bill collectors. I'm at the point, I've worked all my life and never really had to face these problems before."
His car is falling apart. His wife needs medical attention. His life is a mess.
Jim Flanders: "Where is this money?"
The $275 a week unemployment check wouldn't solve all his problems, but it would help.
Jim Flanders: "I'm behind on my maintenance, my electric bill is due. We can go on forever."
But, if you are unemployed if you are entitled to benefits, what can you do to get them before you wind up homeless?
Howard Finkelstein: "If you are qualified for benefits the state has to give them to you. The tougher question is how you force them to do it. A court would force the state to do a better job of paying unemployment, but unemployed people don't have the money to hire lawyers. The next options are contact your elected state officials or do what Jim did, contact us.
I contacted the state about Jim's problem. The next day, he was told everything was taken care of. He would soon be getting a check for the five weeks he was owed, $1250. A spokesman couldn't discuss why he had to wait so long, but it's obvious. As of today, 750,000 Floridians don't have jobs. According to the state, unemployment claims are the highest in Florida's history, up 331 percent so far this year over last year.
To catch up, Florida has added 300 more employees and 345 lines to deal with the phone calls, but their suggestion, if you are applying, do it on-line. It's faster.
Jim will have a few dollars in his pocket to pay a few bills and buy some groceries, but he is still searching for what he really wants, a job.
Jim Flanders: "I'm willing and able to go to work. I don't mind work. I'm a good worker."
Jim Flanders: "I've always figured that I was a commodity, that people would want to hire me."
If you are drawing unemployment or having a problem getting it, you can call the Florida Unemployment office, but it's better to use the web page. Under unemployment look for the area that says "contact us." There are staff members there who can communicate with you and hopefully get your problem resolved quickly. Better yet, let's hope you can find a job and if you want to hire Jim, he's available.
A problem jobbing? Unable to employ a solution? Contact us. We can't hire anyone, but our work can benefit you. Hired.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Florida Unemployment Contacts
Help Me Howard
EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org (Please include your contact phone number when emailing)