Fort Myers widow gets husband’s back unemployment pay

Reporter: Sara Girard Writer: Jackie Winchester
Published: Updated:
Judith Alves and Orlando Castellano (Photos courtesy of Judith Alves)

A Fort Myers woman who lost her husband to COVID-19 and was struggling to get by has received his missing unemployment payments after some help from WINK News.

Judith Alves said at first, the Department of Economic Opportunity told her “that money died with” her husband. Now, she’s finally finding peace.

“He’s always going to be in our hearts, but it’s really hard to get through this,” Alves said.

Together for 17 years, Alves and her husband Orlando Castellanos’ last moments together were shared over FaceTime.

“…They really didn’t say any chance for him to survive, that he would have no quality-of-life at all. So I had to make that decision. I know it was the right one, but it was a very hard one.”

Castellanos died at the end of July from COVID-19 at just 59 years old.

“Everyone will always remember him for smiling and whistling, he was a happy guy. Very hard worker,” Alves said.

When the coronavirus hit in March, Castellanos lost his job at a Fort Myers Beach restaurant and applied for unemployment.

“First week in June it just totally stopped,” Alves said. Suddenly, her husband’s benefits went on hold for seven weeks and they couldn’t figure out why.

Then, he got sick.

“I don’t know if there’s anything I can do about it, or what can be done,” she said.

She’s on disability and those payments don’t cover all she needs to survive.

“Who knows, if I don’t have enough money to pay the rent and the bills, we’re going to end up in the street.”

But two days later, after WINK News Investigative Reporter Sara Girard brought Alves’ situation to the DEO, her hope shifted.

“I was in shock, really. I mean, you don’t think it’s really gonna happen.”

One phone call and $3,122 later, “If it wasn’t for you, I probably never would’ve gotten that money.”

The feeling of stability in such unstable times is invaluable.

“It gives me a little more peace. My husband knows from up above that I’m being taken care of.”

Alves is still figuring out her next steps without her husband by her side, but for now, this money means everything.

The following is DEO’s response to our inquiry into Alves’ situation:

Please know that I have sent this case to our Reemployment Assistance team for immediate review.

Certain individuals may be able to obtain benefits due to the deceased individual at the time of their death. For the benefits to be considered due, the benefit weeks must have been requested by the claimant prior to the death and the claimant must be eligible for the benefits.

See statutory authority below.

Section 222.15(2), Florida Statutes, provides that DEO can pay RA benefits that were due to the individual at the time of their death. The benefits can be paid to the following in the following order:

Wife or husband
Children over the age of 18
Father or mother of the decedent

For ongoing updates and information on unemployment, follow WINK News Investigative Reporter Sara Girard on Twitter and Facebook.

She also updates the WINK News FAQ: Unemployment Resources page as information is received.

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