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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

As beginning of the month approaches, calls get more desperate on unemployment benefits



It's nearly the first of the month, time to pay rent, utilities and other bills.

So it's perhaps not a coincidence that the pace of phone calls and emails to the Buzz has only quickened in recent days as people continue having problems accessing their unemployment benefits through Florida's newly revamped $63 million unemployment website, called CONNECT.

The stories are growing increasingly desperate and emotional as people fret over the prospect of being evicted, losing electricity, or not being able to eat.

"I'm out of money for rent, food and gas to get to job interviews," said Margaret Weatherly, of Largo, a laid off X-ray technician. "Can you imagine not being paid for four weeks?"

Compounding the worries for many people, is a deep cut to the food stamps program that is expected to kick in Friday. Weatherly, 55, who usually gets about $250 per week in unemployment benefits and $47 per month in food stamps, said she has tried to access the unemployment website on her own and then tried to get help on the phone and at the walk-in centers, but state workers have been as helpless as she is to navigate an apparent glitch in her account.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson called Wednesday for the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate the problems with the site, and Department of Economic Opportunity Secretary Jesse Panuccio responded that he welcomed any suggestions on how to make the system better.

Meanwhile, Weatherly's neighbors are bringing her lasagna and Stouffer's frozen meals to tide her over until her benefits kick in.

"I've been working 40 years, my whole life, and I can't even feed myself," she said. "It's bad, it's sad."


[Last modified: Friday, November 1, 2013 12:07pm]


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