All posts by samoneblair2020

Issues filing for Florida unemployment during the coronavirus pandemic

By Samone Blair
Medill Reports

Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) issued a statement Monday calling for the U.S. Department of Labor Investigator General to investigate the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s failure to implement unemployment benefits that were expanded by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020, citing that only 28% of requests for the benefits had been processed.

While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has dismissed Sen. Schumer and Sen. Wyden’s request as partisan, systems designed by the department have had difficulty processing the millions of unemployment requests filed by Floridians since mid-March. Gov. DeSantis even compared the system to a “jalopy” that tried to race in the Daytona 500.

Local officials like State Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-47) have dedicated their efforts to informing Floridians of how to file claims in this difficult time. “This governor has painted a very rosy picture of the unemployment process, blaming the people of Florida for any problems that are taking place,” said Rep. Eskamani.

Rep. Eskamani hosts a weekly Facebook Live briefing to answer questions about the unemployment process. Before a recent town hall, she received 11 pages of questions on a broad range of topics, ranging from technological issues with filing on the mobile site, to difficulty receiving backpay after waiting several months for benefits, and to inconsistent messaging about the requirements for independent contractors.

Rep. Eskamani has donated her legislative salary via Venmo and Cash App to Floridians whose unemployment claims have not been processed yet. “I felt like it was inappropriate for me to get paid when so many folks aren’t getting paid from their tax dollars,” said Rep. Eskamani

Photo at top: The wait queue to enter the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s CONNECT website, which is where Floridians file for unemployment benefits. (floridajobs.org)

Fort Myers NAACP Protest Calls for Unity

By Samone Blair
Medill Reports

Roughly 40 Floridians gathered Monday in downtown Fort Myers, Florida, for a protest organized by the NAACP of Lee County demanding justice after the police killing of George Floyd. A broad range of the community took to the stage to explain why they attended the protest.

Photo at top: A protestor encourages his mentee to carry the American flag while leading fellow protestors in a chant. (Samone Blair/MEDILL)

COVID-19: Stories from Across America

By Samone Blair
Medill Reports

In this May 18-24 special report, COVID-19: Stories from across America, Medill Reports looks at how the global pandemic is affecting veterans, families, local businesses, and athletes across the country.

From Chicago to Washington D.C., Michigan to Florida, and everywhere in between, see how Americans are reacting to the coronavirus pandemic.

Photo at top: A sign warns locals that COVID-19 tests are not available outside a hospital emergency room in Columbus, Indiana.(Samone Blair/Medill)

Possible Hertz bankruptcy could affect SW Florida

By Samone Blair
Medill Reports

Hertz, the rental-car company based in Estero, Florida, is in financial trouble amid the coronavirus pandemic. The SEC has given Hertz until Friday to restructure its debt.

According to Village of Estero Mayor Bill Ribble, Southwest Florida would miss the business, if it were to go out of business. Not only would Floridians working at the corporate campus be out of a job, but hundreds of homes would go on the market, partnerships with nearby Florida Gulf Coast University would end, and the local area would no longer benefit from the company’s altruism.

“They’ve been a part of a lot of the projects we’ve had in the area,” Ribble said. “Habitat for Humanity, they’re a big driver for the United Way, and certainly that’d be a loss for the non-profits.”

Update 5/24: Hertz filed for bankruptcy Friday evening. Hertz joins several other companies that have filed bankruptcy during the coronavirus pandemic, including J.Crew, JCPenney, Gold’s Gym and Neiman Marcus.

Photo at top: Flags fly at Hertz Global’s headquarters in Estero, Florida. (Samone Blair/MEDILL)

Naples faces challenges with re-opening beach

By Samone Blair
Medill Reports

The City of Naples re-opened its beach for the second time Wednesday after an emergency closure due to large crowds of beachgoers, many of whom were presumed to be from other areas of Florida. Naples City Council voted Monday to re-open the beach again but with new restrictions aimed to discourage visitors from Florida’s east coast.

The restrictions include closing the beach from 11 am to 5 pm on weekends and Memorial Day. Coolers and tents are not permitted on the beach at any time. Chairs and umbrellas are allowed on weekdays and chairs can be brought on the beach for weekend evenings to watch the sunset. In terms of parking, any car in the beach lots that doesn’t display appropriate city permits will be fined $200.

Photo at top: Beachgoers walk and swim by the pier on Naples Beach on its first day of being re-opened again. (Samone Blair/MEDILL)

Local organizing key to rent strikes across country

By Samone Blair
Medill Reports

Rent strike protests were among various demonstrations that took place across the country on May 1. Employees at companies like Amazon, Instacart, Target and Whole Foods also took to the streets while still practicing social distancing in honor of International Workers’ Day.

Organizers who align with Rent Strike 2020 are calling for the cancellation of rent, mortgage and utility bills for two months due to the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. A bill introduced by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) in April lays out legislation for similar payment cancellation.

Peter Meyer Reimer, a Rent Strike 2020 Organizing Lead, says it’s important to differentiate a rent cancellation from a rent freeze and eviction moratorium.

“I’m answering 50 to 100 emails a day from people saying, ‘Look, I know my landlord can’t kick me out right now but they’re going to evict me the second they can. They’re saying they’ll ruin my credit rating,'” said Meyer Reimer. “And so these people are living in fear.”

In order to be connected with a mutual aid organization in your local area to help out or for support, you can call 312-883-4677 or visit rentstrike2020.org.

Photo at top: A bike pulls a Rent Strike banner down a street. (@fivedemandsglobal/Twitter)

On the road again: Essential road travel during coronavirus

By Samone Blair
Medill Reports

Several states have ordered residents to make essential trips only during the coronavirus pandemic. But for those of us who need to hit the roads, what should we expect? With light traffic and low gas prices as positives, see what else to be prepared for.

Photo at top: A highway sign in Indianapolis alerts residents to only make essential trips. (Samone Blair/MEDILL)

Data accounting for prison COVID-19 cases projects 100,000 death increase

By Samone Blair
Medill Reports

The ACLU of Indiana released findings Wednesday stating that a new data model projects the national COVID-19 death toll could be 100,000 deaths higher than previously projected.

“We are likely facing massive loss of life — both in Indiana jails and in our communities — if dramatic steps aren’t taken to reduce our incarcerated population,” said Jane Henegar, ACLU of Indiana Executive Director.

According to the Indiana Department of Corrections, over 200 inmates and 100 staff in Indiana prisons have tested positive for COVID-19. Three inmates have died from the virus.

The ACLU of Indiana has written open letters to Gov. Holcomb and other local officials in Indiana’s 10 largest cities asking them to reduce the number of Hoosiers who are incarcerated during the pandemic. Afterwards, the organization submitted an emergency petition to the Indiana Supreme Court requesting immediate action to slow the spread of coronavirus in the state’s correctional facilities but the petition was denied.

Now the ACLU of Indiana is asking Hoosiers to sign a call to action urging Gov. Eric Holcomb (R-IN) to take steps to reduce Indiana’s prison population.

“We called on people and continue to call on people to contact Gov. Holcomb to urge him to take statewide action,” Henegar said. “After we heard from the state Supreme Court, we started calling for people to contact the governor so we could have them share their stories and their perspective. We know that a majority of Americans believe that reducing the jail and prison population is the right thing to do in the time of this crisis.”

Photo at top: Social distancing on a spring evening in Downtown Indianapolis. (Samone Blair/MEDILL).

Easter in the time of coronavirus: Memories of hope and togetherness

By Samone Blair
Medill Reports

Despite changes to Easter celebrations across the globe due to the coronavirus, Rev. Chris Wadelton of Columbus, Indiana, hopes his parishioners will remember Easter 2020 as a time of hope.

Wadelton, the Pastor at St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, sees silver linings in the health crisis both with charitable acts and increased family time.

“Sitting here in my office, I have huge windows to look out on the street and I see tons of people going by with their families on bikes and walking, more than I would’ve seen a month ago,” Wadelton said. “So I think there’s been some beautiful rays of light coming out of this, and I hope that that continues.”
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