(NEW YORK) — When Brenda Eaden’s colleagues sent around headlines that Macy’s would be closing stores around the country, fear struck. Eaden, a sales associate for Macy’s Furniture Gallery in Tacoma, Washington, was soon informed that her store would be closing its doors for two weeks due to COVID-19.
“So that was rather shocking,” Eaden, 67, said with a laugh, adding that it would have been foolish of her to stress over missing two weeks of work. “And then two weeks comes along and they say, ‘Well, we’re putting everybody on furlough.’”
The day after her store closed its doors, Eaden contacted Washington’s Employment Security Department and applied for unemployment. Like many others, she thought she’d done everything right.
“The unemployment process has been this ongoing nightmare,” Eaden told ABC News. “Four weeks, that’s how long my application has been pending.”
This week marks one month without income for many Americans like Eaden who have applied for unemployment and have applications that are still “pending.”
More than 22 million Americans applied for unemployment in the span of one month. State labor departments nationwide are inundated with unemployment applications, and on Thursday Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) revealed just how slow the process has been.
Of the more than 800,000 Floridians who applied for unemployment the past month, only 33,623 have received an unemployment check. That is less than 5% of the total applicants.
“The stress is overwhelming,” said Christopher Imeson, a former caddie for a golf course in Ponte Vedra, Florida, Imeson lives with his young son, who suffers from type one diabetes. “I honestly don’t know how we’re going to eat next week.”
Imeson says he first attempted to apply for unemployment on March 16. Like many other Floridians, Imeson struggled to apply on the DEO’s website, claiming the site would constantly crash. Ten days later, Mark managed to successfully apply for unemployment, but then came a new problem.
“Every day since, after going through the endless error messages or being booted from the system, I get on to see ‘Pending’ in the corner of the page,” Imeson told ABC News, pleading for his state representatives to convey some sort of timeline for when he might be approved. “The US government approved the CARES Act to help us through this crisis, and my state’s government can’t figure out how to get it to me?”
Imeson says he is nearing the end of his rope, but is holding onto hope. He says a friend he hadn’t seen in nearly a decade sent him a hundred dollars. “That bought us another week of groceries.”
“The PGA just set up a fund for those of us in the golf world,” added Imeson. “Today was the first day of applying, and I don’t know the timeline, but it gives me hope. Florida unemployment does not.”
Last week, the DEO added 500 additional personnel and installed 72 new servers to increase website capacity, claiming the system can now handle up to 120,000 simultaneous visitors, compared with the usual 20,000. Imeson and others, however, have yet to see the DEO website or call center improve.
“It’s gotten worse”
“Nothing is changing with the website, said Danielle Hopson, a recently laid-off cocktail waitress in Delray Beach, Fla. “If anything, I feel like it has gotten worse.”
It has been over a month since she applied for unemployment, and her application is still “pending.” Hopson said she’s been unable to reach anyone at the DEO for answers. “It’s a heart-crushing feeling to know there is no one to help us, and no one seems to care,” she said.
A month without income, Hopson too is facing dire financial decisions.
“I have finally received my food stamp benefits, which will be a big help for groceries,” Hopson told ABC News. “I have had to call multiple companies about my bills to see if I can get extensions or if they’re waving anything to help us.”
Unlike Imeson, Hopson received her $1,200 stimulus check this week, but she says it may not be enough.
Twelve hundred dollars “is basically rent alone for one month,” said Hopson. “What about the next month and the bills I’m already behind on? My unemployment should have covered that.”
Back in Washington, Eaden will have to wait a little longer to receive her stimulus check since she is a Social Security recipient, according to the IRS. For now, she’s relying on the money she’s saved over the years.
“I just don’t like the idea of my savings being depleted, because how do you go back and replenish that?” asked Eaden. “Some of us are single, we have to pay all the bills. We don’t have anybody to split the mortgage payment with … we’re on our own.”
Today, Eaden woke up early and again tried getting in contact with Washington’s Employment Security Department via phone.
“I got through to put my Social Security number into the automated response,” she said. “But then, after getting through that whole process, it said the circuits were busy and I should call back at a later time.”
Another worry: returning to work when you work on commission
Eaden has another financial worry: returning to work. Eaden and her colleagues work on commission. Returning to work could mean making less money than they would receive in unemployment benefits.
“We’re all facing the reality that if the stores open in the first or second week of May, we’re not going to have customers,” said Eaden. “There is so much uncertainty when it comes to going back to work — and we haven’t had any communications from Macy’s.”
With nothing left to do, Eaden says she and her colleagues remain in a “wait and see” mode.
“What’s left to do?” she asked. “Well, I guess I’ll just stay optimistic.”
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.