Dustin Buckley had to completely refund his customers when the NCAA Final Four tournament was canceled on March 12. All of his work and expected profit was gone.
The 29-year-old self-employed ticket broker said he had about $250,000 in sales in 2019. Now, his business of buying and selling tickets to events such as Coachella, Ultra Music Festival and the NBA Finals is shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I have no possibility for sales or income,” Buckley wrote in an email to The Alligator. “Even worse is that many of my sales from late 2019 were for events that were canceled in 2020.”
The unemployment rate in Alachua County rose to 8.8 percent in May, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Given the rise of unemployment amid the pandemic, more than 10 percent of the labor force in Alachua County has filed for unemployment benefits, according to the Reemployment Assistance Claims Dashboard. Residents have had issues applying for these benefits after a decrease in their hours and income, said Kristy Goldwire, Family Resource Center manager at the Southwest Advocacy Group (SWAG), a local organization that helps people in need by connecting them to local resources.
Starting at the end of March, Buckley said he had to apply three times for Reemployment Assistance through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity website. He said the first time he applied, he got rejected about a month later because the website was not set up to handle self-employed people yet. Self-employed were not eligible to receive unemployment benefits prior to the pandemic.
The second time, Buckley said he learned on a Reddit thread he had to be rejected again before he could apply for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, created for applicants who are ineligible for regular unemployment benefits.
According to a DEO website, claimants must file for state Reemployment Assistance before filing for PUA, and if they applied on or before April 4, they must submit another application: When claimants are determined ‘ineligible’ for state benefits, they will receive a message to file for PUA.
“The DEO is an unmitigated disaster,” Buckley wrote.
On March 27, President Donald Trump signed into law the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion relief package that provided economic assistance for American workers, families and small businesses.
The CARES Act gives states the option to extend unemployment benefits by up to 13 weeks under the new Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program. It also allows self-employed, independent contractors and other workers who are ordinarily ineligible for unemployment benefits to be eligible for compensation under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.
People can apply for Reemployment Assistance directly online at the DEO website or complete a paper application and mail it to the DEO.
The PUA program gives eligible workers up to $275 per week. Workers also get an additional $600 per week under the CARES Act Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), which is available until July 25.
Buckley said he has not received the full amount of compensation per week from PUA because his income in the system was reported wrong and the website hasn’t updated it.
Buckley, who has lived in Gainesville since 2009, said he knows of people who would get halfway through their applications, and the DEO website would log them out, which means they would have to start all over.
According to the DEO website, if you have never filed for Reemployment Assistance, you first file a claim for Reemployment Assistance online. After the application has been processed, claimants are directed to CONNECT, Florida’s Reemployment Assistance claims system.
Claimants are required to return to the CONNECT website every two weeks to request their benefits and confirm that they are still unemployed. The system is only available from 8 a.m. to 7:59 p.m. and has a virtual waiting room. CONNECT may be temporarily offline throughout the night and weekends to process payments and applications, according to the DEO website.
After requesting an interview with a representative at the DEO, Press Secretary Paige Landrum wrote in an email to The Alligator that they did not have interview availability, but said to look at their Reemployment Assistance claims dashboard, press releases and a guide to claim for Reemployment Assistance weeks on the website.
Usually, people on Reemployment Assistance had to register with Employ Florida, an online work registration system, and provide five work search contacts weekly in order to receive benefits from the DEO, according to the DEO website.
Since Mar. 20, Governor Ron DeSantis has repeatedly waived the requirements, the latest through Aug. 1. However, when individuals log into CONNECT to claim their benefits, answers to work search questions are still required. According to the DEO website, this will not impact claimants’ requests.
“I have never once been able to get someone on the phone at DEO,” Buckley wrote. “Without spending many hours crowdsourcing information from Reddit, Twitter and Facebook, I would not have been paid anything.”
The SWAG Family Resource Center has been providing unemployment help to the Gainesville community.
When the pandemic began, Goldwire said she saw a greater demand for its services, especially residents needing assistance addressing issues such as food insecurities and unemployment applications.
In May, the SWAG center assisted more than 900 Gainesville residents who had been looking for help amid the pandemic, Goldwire said.
Due to the pandemic, the SWAG Family Resource Center now limits the number of individuals who enter into the center, but are continuing to provide services such as faxing, printing, computer use and emergency food and toiletry pantries, Goldwire said.
Patty Carroll, Director of Communications and Engagement at SWAG, said they have assisted residents with pre-stamped envelopes and hard copy unemployment applications. They have also provided them a job board with updated positions throughout Alachua County as well as helped with creating or updating their resumes and cover letters.
“We know it's going to be a very long road to recovery as a community, state and nation, but we're here to assist in that,” Carroll said.