Servers file for unemployment for 2nd time this year

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Without a paycheck once again, local servers and bartenders find themselves filing for unemployment benefits for the second time this year. 

It comes as the latest coronavirus restrictions shut down indoor service at bars and dining rooms across the state. 

“I wanted to cry,” Kiara Anderson told News 8 back in March as she waited outside the Unemployment Insurance Agency office on Plainfield Avenue NW in Grand Rapids.  

The office has since been closed, moving its services online due to the virus. 

Anderson, a server at a local Chili’s restaurant, was among the last people to file a claim in person at the Grand Rapids location.  

News 8 caught up with Anderson on Friday, just days after she filed an unemployment claim for the second time this year.  

“It really turned out to be a lot worse than I thought it was going to be,” Anderson said about what it was like to be unemployed earlier this year. 

She said just the thought of having to go through this again feels like a nightmare.  

“Am I going to wake up?” Anderson said. “And it’s like nope, it’s still reality. I don’t really know how to take it. I think I’m traumatized, honestly.” 

Even with the bolstered unemployment benefits offered during the first shutdown, Anderson only brought in half of what she’d make while serving.  

“I’m just still dumbfounded it happened again,” said Michele Armour, a local bartender for nearly three decades.

Armour also talked with News 8 outside the unemployment office back in March.  

“(It’s) stressful because everybody wants the same thing — money,” Armour said about filing an unemployment claim the first time around.  

Armour said she eventually got the unemployment benefits she filed for that day, but it also wasn’t near the amount of money she’d take home bartending 50 to 60 hours a week.  

“I think it’s going to be worse off this time,” she said Friday. “Especially if it goes longer than three weeks. You just don’t know what to expect (and) you don’t know when that money is going to come in.” 

Armour’s coworker, Angela Holton, is going through this process for the first time. 

Holton, a mom of two young kids, took a serving job in September after her husband was laid off amid the pandemic.  

Now, with no tables to wait on or tips to be earned, Holton said she can only hope the unemployment benefits will be enough to get her family through. 

“You have to decide on whether to buy diapers and food or pay your rent and your light bill,” Holton said. “It’s hard because you don’t know what’s coming next. You don’t know if this is going to last another three weeks or another four, five, six months.” 

Earlier this week, News 8 talked with one of the top officials at the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency about improvements made to the filing process. Those changes have included increasing their workforce and redesigning the website.