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Theme Park Workers See COVID-19 Response as Election Issue

KISSIMMEE, Fla. —  The pandemic put theme park workers in limbo, and the way the government handled issues like unemployment is causing some to reexamine how they vote. 

For Samantha Hirata, making jewelry is all about the details. “When I bake it, it becomes a hard plastic,” she explained.

Hirata started creating personalized pet earrings in June. They are inspired by her very own dogs.

“It sounds corny but I love making magic and doing special stuff,” she said. 

But this is not the kind of magic she’s used to making. She is furloughed from her job at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.

“Your resort is not opening. Your resort is opening… oh, but we’re not doing private dining. What am I supposed to do? Like when am I coming back? I haven’t heard anything,” Hirata said.  

Thousands of cast members are in the same predicament. For example, Charissa Ward started working at Disney 15 years ago. The last six months have been uncharted territory for her.

“(I am) uneasy, worried, stressed… All of the above,” Ward said. 

Ward is now relying on the income of her husband’s newly-founded stay at home business, with no guarantees.

“With the unemployment we get from the state it’s $275 a week max… It’s nothing,” Ward said. “It’s unrealistic to expect people to live off that.”

Ward feels like the unemployment system is broken and because of it, she is changing the way she’s voting this election.

“I am definitely going to vote. I am definitely ready for a change in administration and I definitely encourage everybody to vote,” Ward said.  

Hirata said she will continue selling earrings on Etsy as another source of income. She is hoping younger people her age will engage in politics now when it’s needed the most, she said.

“A lot of people have been kind of apathetic… Like, ‘whatever my vote doesn’t count. There’s like millions and millions of votes, like it doesn’t matter if I decide not to vote, I am too busy or whatever’,” Hirata said. “But now because of everything, people are saying it’s really important that we vote, we all need to vote, come on guys… Let’s all vote!”


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