Family of Furloughed Casino Workers Share Their Experience

The Connecticut Department of Labor has received 52,000 unemployment claims since Friday. That is 20 times their typical weekly load.

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The Cepeda family, like many across Connecticut, is settling into a new normal.

"It has only been about a day or so," said Christian Cepeda via Facetime. "As far as the future goes we will just have to wait and see."

Cepeda and his mother, Josefina, both work at Foxwoods Resort Casino. Cepeda's sister works at Mohegan Sun. All three family members are temporarily out of work due to a historic COVID-19 casino closure.

"We should all be worried because we don't know exactly how long this is going to last," said Cepeda. "At some point you don't know when things will pile up too high."

Cepeda has spent the last five years working at Monza World-Class Karting in the resort. Cepeda's sister is a dealer at Mohegan Sun and his mother, Josefina, has worked on the maintenance team at Foxwoods for 19 years.

"As you can imagine, her routine is all out of whack," said Cepeda.

The casinos are scheduled to be closed for two weeks. According to a spokesperson for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, all Foxwoods team members have been furloughed for the two weeks. They are able to utilize benefit time, with all benefits remaining in place.

The president and general manager of Mohegan Sun, Jeff Hamilton, said they have not done lay-offs due to the temporary closure.

"This is a difficult and arduous time we are in, though the top priority of our leadership is to return all affected team members upon a re-open, at which point we have ultimate confidence we’ll return as strong as ever in delivering an unmatched experience for our guests," Hamilton wrote in a statement.  

Cepeda said that his family is grateful that the casinos closed to keep everyone safe. Their time out of work so far has been filled with extra family time, enjoy each other's company.

Cepeda and his sister filed for unemployment and helped their mother file for unemployment as well. He fears for his coworkers who do not have access to a computer or understand how to file for unemployment.

"My mom is lucky because me and my sister are here," said Cepeda. "But there are plenty of other families, plenty of other immigrant workers and then come to find out they lose their job for an uncertain number of weeks. Some don't even know how to sign up for unemployment. You have to do it through online."

The Connecticut Department of Labor has received more than 52,000 unemployment claims since Friday, March 13. That is about 20 times the usual amount of claims. The DOL usually received 2,500 claims a week.

According to the DOL, they are continuing to shift resources to devote more staff to processing of new claims. The governor has also authorized the use of overtime for this purpose.

With more people across the state out of work, soup kitchens are getting ready to serve even more meals.

The team at St. Vincent de Paul Place in Norwich has made changes to make meals safer. They are exclusively serving meals in to-go containers and some of their older volunteers are staying home, but they are not slowing down. They are preparing for even more people in the area to need help due to an increase in laid-off workers.

"A lot of those folks maybe came to the food pantry once a month, they just needed a little bit to get over the hump," said Jill Corbin, Executive Director of St. Vincent de Paul Place Norwich. "Now that they are with out those jobs, we are going to see much more of them."

St. Vincent de Paul Place is asking for more volunteers to work in the kitchen and volunteers to help make sandwiches. The meal center serves breakfast and lunch to go every day. At each meal people can also take a sandwich to go.

They are also asking for supplies including to-go containers and sandwich bags. Pasta, pasta sauce, and jelly are just a few items that will help stock their food pantry.

The soup kitchen normally officers services Monday through Saturday, however, a community meal will be served grab-and-go style in the center's parking lot on Cliff Street this Sunday. The meal is usually served at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church. Because of COVID-19 concerns, the meal could not be hosted at the church. Community and faith leaders stepped up to host the community meal at St. Vincent de Paul Place instead this Sunday at 1 p.m.

Cepeda said that his family is doing well and they are grateful that they do not have to take advantage of the services at the soup kitchen at the moment. His family is concerned for their coworkers.

"She wants everyone to know that this is serious," said Cepeda, translating for his mother. "She hopes it gets back to normal because there are a lot of families that depend on their full check and now their life is completely flipped upside down."

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