Bartenders, servers flock to unemployment offices

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Thousands of workers have been suddenly laid off as measures aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus hamper or halt many businesses.

Many of those who showed up to seek benefits at the Unemployment Insurance Agency office on Plainfield Avenue NW in Grand Rapids worked in the service industry that has slowed to a crawl because of an emergency order banning dine-in service at Michigan bars and restaurants.

“This is the first time I’ve ever been unemployed,” Kiara Anderson, a server at a local Chili’s restaurant, told News 8. “(Seeking unemployment benefits) wasn’t the best feeling, I guess. But it’s not the worst. Right now, we’re all going through something.”

Anderson said she was told that she would collect just over $1,300 per month in benefits. It’s less than half of what she makes while serving, she said, but it will help her make ends meet while she is out of work.

Anderson said she’s still reeling from the governor’s announcement Monday that put her out of the job she loves.

“I wanted to cry. I did,” Anderson said. “Because I’m like, damn, I knew this was going to happen.”

The hours Jacky Schmidt put in as a bartender weren’t enough to qualify her for unemployment benefits. She left the office realizing she would need to seek other ways to deal with her loss of income. Still, she remained optimistic and understanding.

“I don’t want to get sick. I don’t want to die,” Schmidt said. “This is what happens. We just all have to do it.”

Schmidt and Anderson were helped at the unemployment office just before news came down that the offices would close to walk-ins statewide at 3 p.m. Wednesday. The closure lasts indefinitely and limits service at the office to appointment only.

It added frustration to an already difficult situation for some who came to the office because they couldn’t get help from the UIA in other ways. The agency’s website has been difficult or impossible to use due to high volume. The phones have been clogged, too. A recorded message encouraged callers looking to speak to a representative to try back later. A message online promised users that the state’s technical staff was working to improve systems to allow more traffic.

“It just says that they have technical difficulties,” Ed Miller said of the website as he drove away frustrated. He wasn’t able to get help. “I am struggling. No money. No job.”

“They’re telling you to check online,” Miller continued. “They said we will probably know more from you as the news media than what they know as employees of the state of Michigan because it’s changing hour by hour.”

Employers are also struggling, especially owners of small businesses, hoping their companies will emerge from the other side of this emergency and wondering how they’ll regroup after laying off staff.

That’s the case for Daniel Chudik, owner of Dan’s Diner on 28th Street in Cascade Township. 

“Nobody likes to get rid of people,” Chudik told News 8. “It took us a long time to find the really good people we have.”

>>TELL US: Restaurants open for takeout, delivery during dine-in ban

As required by the governor’s order, Chudik’s dining room is closed. He’s hoping his diner will be able to stay afloat with delivery service and to-go orders.

“I don’t know if this will sustain us,” Chudik said. “If it’s a week, it’s one thing, if it’s a week-and-a-half it’s another thing. If it’s two weeks or three weeks, I don’t know.”

Chudik said the situation and uncertainty has been stressful.

“I have my family working here today and we don’t know,” Chudik said as he fought back tears. “We just don’t know. We just don’t know what’s coming. We just don’t know. That’s the difficult part.”

There is comfort, those significantly impacted said, in the fact that they aren’t dealing with the situation alone. Many others are in the same boat and plenty of them are waiting to see how the government steps in to provide relief.


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