Struggles of Being Furloughed


Jessica Baliares

Filing for unemployment was a stressful process just trying to log in or getting to the home page to log in.

In February, I was juggling two part-time jobs, which accounted for about 20 hours a week, plus being a full-time college student at Chaminade University. Plus, I was already looking ahead for my fall part-time job as a cheerleading coach at Kalani High School.

Then Covid-19 struck.

Within one week, I was furloughed from both jobs. For the first time in five years, since I was a senior in high school, I was jobless and had only school to focus on.

But that doesn’t mean life was stress free. While much has been written about the full-time workers who have lost their jobs, it’s been tough for us college students too in losing our part-time jobs. As a college student, I use the money that I earned for spending and food when I go out. But I am also fortunate enough to be able to live at home and not have to worry about paying rent.

According to Forbes, Hawaii’s economy is heavily based on tourism and U.S. military. With the current Covid-19 pandemic happening, many businesses big and small have had to make various adjustments to work schedules, hours of operation, and in worst cases have even made the difficult decision to close their doors for good or have closed their doors for good.

In late March, the mandate closed all stores in the mall, including BoxLunch, which is where I work. Unfortunately for myself and my coworkers, we were unable to receive pay during our time away from the store like some other companies were offering their workers. They were just paying us from our last work period of two weeks which our managers relayed the message from our district manager saying that we should file for unemployment.

But what got me irritated was the lack of communication from my employer about when we would expect our last pay. It didn’t help that I had been temporarily laid off from the retail job not only once but twice.

When I heard that some of my friends and classmates who also worked retail were getting paid for a month or so, I thought to myself, how unfair it is for some companies to pay their employees for so many weeks and many of us who work for my company have to start to file for unemployment and we never know if we would be able to qualify and if the money would come in on time.

When I thought about filing for unemployment, I thought it was going to be a breeze, just sign in fill out all the paper work and boom get paid until I was able to go back to work. But boy was I completely wrong about that. Instead applying for unemployment was a nightmare.

When I started to receive letters from the unemployment office, I was confused because I got different letters saying that I was unable to qualify for unemployment; then I would get another and say that I was able to qualify. It took almost two months to get money, a call or letter from the unemployment office. I tried calling the unemployment office several times and every time that I called and an automatic response told me that I would have to try again another time. For other co-workers of mine, they have applied but they still never got paid from the unemployment office to this very day.

I was fortunate enough to have a place to stay and food to eat because I was able to live at home. Also being a very busy body, working two jobs, being a full-time student and a coach during the fall season, I was unsure of what to do with myself, so I decided to take an online summer course to keep me busy. I didn’t know what to do with myself except take one online summer class. Other than that, I tried to go out and shoot photos once a week or just go out to visit friends, following health guidelines.

During the Spring 2020 semester, we were asked to finish the semester online similar to many schools on island as well as the mainland. Every other school in the country. This meant that as a student worker, I would also not be allowed to return to campus because I was not considered one of the essential workers. At this point everything was okay because I will still able to work at my retail job and make some sort of income even though the pay was not great. It was something to get me through the pandemic or so I thought.

After returning to my retail job in late June and my on-campus job a week after, I was back at work for my retail job for a month before being laid off once again. This time I was grateful that I was able to still work on campus and get extended hours for three weeks before the mall reopened.

Now that I have been back at both my student worker position and my retail job, I have been happier that there has been two sources of income instead of one or none. My retail job will be able to return to regular mall hours, which will be in a few weeks and if we are able to stay open for more than a month, then I will be sure that we are staying open for a longer period of time with no possible closer anytime soon. But I am still waiting to see whether or not I would be returning as a coach for the upcoming cheer season because we still don’t know what safety guidelines will need to be enforced.