In the past three weeks, Miami Beach’s COVID-19 Resource Center has helped nearly 700 individuals and businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Amy Mehu, the City’s Assistant Economic Development Director, said most of the concerns involve navigating the unemployment application process followed by how to access loans for small businesses. Sometimes, it’s just lending an ear in a difficult time.
At the end of March, the City Commission directed the Administration to redeploy staff whose duties had been curtailed by the COVID-19 shutdown to a resource center for those impacted by the closures. A total of 17 employees have been working since the beginning of April answering incoming emails and proactively calling the City’s 5,000 businesses to address needs.
Mehu said after hearing about the difficulties encountered by various call centers and hotlines, the City decided to try an inbound email system as the first touch with those needing help. Feedback they had gotten indicated those centers were overwhelmed with callers forcing people to wait on hold for long periods of time and often disconnecting them. When callers did get through, in order to clear the phone lines, often they would be rushed to finish.
With email, City staff can respond back via email or place a call allowing them to take the time necessary with each individual who contacts them. They’ve provided information on unemployment, housing assistance, food assistance, small business loans and paycheck loans. Between emails and phone calls, the average service time is approximately 45 minutes, Mehu said.
While there are the immediate needs, the “new normal” will also require help, she said. For individuals, that may mean a continued need for food assistance. The City is looking at how to “fine tune” its resources to provide information on food distribution and access to food assistance in a centralized place so it is readily available and as complete as possible.
For businesses, she said, “Our industry sectors are going to be changing how they operate… How do we help these businesses change their trajectory, what they were doing to how they can stay afloat and survive and become something different? How can the Resource Center help with that?” At the same time, job placement services will be needed for staff members who have been laid off as well as job training to help workers successfully navigate the changes in how industries will operate going forward. Those are the questions the Economic Development Department is now asking.
While the stories can be difficult, Mehu said, the work is rewarding. One unemployed Miami Beach hotel worker was having difficulty navigating the online Florida unemployment system which continually crashed on her halfway through the process. She made several other contacts before getting in touch with the City’s Resource Center which connected her to United Way’s Pandemic Response Fund to get her emergency food assistance. They also provided her a paper unemployment application which was then filed with the State. The woman was very emotional at the start of the call but, Mehu said, after about an hour she was relieved to have found someone to talk to.
“I think people are feeling they’ve been left out alone in all this. We can’t necessarily give you the money that you need. We can’t help you go through these processes any faster, but we can be somebody that just makes sure you’re okay,” Mehu said.
The team at the Resource Center has been “proactive in trying to look for creative ways to help people,” she added. Some have personally dropped off meals and purchased gift cards. “They went above and beyond to help people out of their own goodwill and that’s been the most touching thing for me… a group that has never worked together has come together to make sure that people are getting what they need.”
It’s emotional for the staff as well as those most directly impacted by the crisis, she said. “We’ve even gotten calls for assistance from our own employees who have been furloughed.” The reality of those hits home. “Someone that we know and love is going through the same heartbreak of uncertainty.”
The uncertainty, she said, is the hardest part.
You can reach the City’s Resource Center via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Miami Beach Resource Center Has Provided COVID-19 Assistance to Nearly 700 Individuals and Businesses
Miami Beach Resource Center Has Provided COVID-19 Assistance to Nearly 700 Individuals and Businesses:
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