Furloughed Epcot worker waiting for unemployment benefits living on canned vegetables, help from friends

8 weeks later DEO unemployment application still pending

A furloughed Disney employee has been unable to get unemployment benefits and is relying on help from friends.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Dan Crowder’s wait for unemployment benefits has turned into a 8-week test of endurance as the furloughed Disney worker waits for his first check from the Florida Department of Employment Opportunity.

“It’s taking too long” Crowder said. “There’s no rhyme or reason.”

Crowder moved to the Orlando area from Ohio and was hired for the Starbucks kiosks located in Epcot and Hollywood Studios in early 2019.

Rumors of layoffs and furloughs started swirling in April due to the coronavirus causing all theme parks to shut down. By April 19, an estimated 43,000 Disney World employees were out of work with health benefits still covered by the entertainment giant.

Disney employees furloughed due to closures were automatically enrolled in Florida’s unemployment system known as CONNECT.

Crowder said his savings was depleted in weeks and his friends took up a collection and went grocery shopping to help him out.

“I was actually living on canned vegetables that I got from a charity pantry,” he said.

Crowder recently received a call back to work from Disney but that will not happen until July 15 leaving him with more weeks to go without an income.

Crowder said the Florida Unemployment system seems to be frazzled because some are receiving benefits and have been for weeks while he and others have yet to receive a single payment.

“There’s people that have filed after me that have gotten money right away (and) people that filed before me are still waiting," he said.

Crowder’s wait for benefits seems to reflect the frustration hundreds of people have reported their benefits are “pending” without explanation.

“There’s no monetary values,” he said. “They haven’t told me anything is wrong, I haven’t gotten mail or email.”

State Rep. Amy Mercado, of Orlando, filed an escalation form with the DEO on Crowder’s behalf but the written response was more form letter than real action.

Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis said he has been talking to people across the state facing similar issues.

“Every state in the union has had some type of problem," Patronis said. “I’m willing to open a dialogue.”

Patronis said the state system is getting a “double whammy” of congestion because people returning to work want to send benefits checks back to the DEO.

More than 2 million people in Florida have filed for unemployment since March, according to the DEO.

“You’ve got people trying to inform the system I don’t need a check anymore," he said. “At the same time people asking why haven’t I gotten my first check.”

Anyone who has gone back to work and no longer needs unemployment benefits simply needs to not log into CONNECT to claim their weeks.

Crowder said the entire experience has been frustrating.

“Now they’re saying some people have been overpaid, then some of us haven’t received anything," he said.

If you would like to help Dan Crowder or you have an unemployment issue email us at makeendsmeet@wkmg.com.

About the Author:

News 6’s Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter Mike Holfeld has made Central Florida history with major investigations that have led to new policies, legislative proposals and even -- state and national laws. If you have an issue or story idea, call Mike's office at 407-521-1322.