MIAMI (CBSMiami) – With unemployment questions on the minds of so many South Floridians during the COVID-19 pandemic, CBS4’s Karli Barnett spoke with lawyer Laurie Yadoff, who shared some advice for those out of work.

Yadoff is the director of the Economic Advocacy and Community Health Project at Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida.

Q: Tell us a little bit more about this project and what it is that you will normally work on?

A: Well, good morning. We normally work on these issues. We normally do unemployment cases and health cases, and, you know, Social Security cases. So we’re just seeing a larger, huge number of people coming in for assistance.

Q: Now, many people, as we mentioned, are unemployed for the first time in their lives. So what is the first step that they should take?

A: The first step is to file it for unemployment, and I know that’s difficult in the system. But there are ways now to get an unemployment application into the state and it’s very important to do that, to get it in, and to make sure that your claim is in. The second thing I would do is look and see whether you’re eligible for food stamps or SNAP benefits. And the third thing to do would be to make sure that you have contacted your landlord and your mortgage company or whoever you need to talk to about your bills.

Q: Now, the state’s unemployment website, as we mentioned, is down this weekend, and people have had problems accessing it long before. So are there any other benefits available that maybe don’t come from the state?

A: Well, I think what It’s important to recognize is that the money is coming from two different sources for your unemployment. One is coming from the state and one is coming from the federal government legislation due to the CARES Act. The state has its own requirements for unemployment, which have pretty much stayed closely the same in terms of eligibility for even before this virus. So when you put your application in the state benefits are $275 a month maximum for a period of 12 weeks. The federal benefits, cover a longer period and add money to that amount. Some people may be eligible only for the additional federal money and not be eligible for the state money. So it’s important to, you know, not worry about a denial if you get one because you may go into the federal stack. And also to follow up on your claim if you get a call from the DEO or if you have any questions.

Q: So what are the options for someone who isn’t able to submit an application? And then what are the options for someone who maybe has been denied?

A: So if you have trouble submitting an application, you can do a paper application, which you can print off the website or you can contact Federal Express and they have one or we can send one to you. Your other option is to use the phone app, which is very easy to use, and I’d recommend that. And the third option, of course, is to apply online. You can also try to apply by phone, but it’s difficult to get through right now.

Q: Floridians no longer have to recertify their unemployment every two weeks. What is the significance of this?

A: So, obviously, if you have to put into Connect your status every two weeks, that’s really going to overload the system in addition to the number of people who are doing it and putting in new applications. As far as I know, Gov. DeSantis has done that up until May 2nd. So you have to wait and see whether or not he’s going to extend that. It’s important because it’s hard for people to do work searches right now, which is what’s required. You do five work searches a week and report them. But if it’s not required right now because it’s difficult to work that makes things easier.

Q: The Economic Advocacy and Community Health Project gives legal help to people who are often in a tough place. So what is your advice to people in a similar situation right now?

A: I really want people to understand that we’re there for them. That if you don’t have an income, if you’re struggling, please contact our office we’ll treat you with compassion and respect. We will do what we can to help you through this. Please also use your local services like 211 and United Way to help you. There are services available out there for people.

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Karli Barnett