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Florida unemployment skyrockets as labor group calls for better benefits

Posted at 10:36 PM, Mar 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-26 22:42:51-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Florida's unemployment claims skyrocketed by almost 12 times more than last week.

COVID-19 restrictions force thousands of layoffs in the food and hotel industries. This is the biggest surge in the state's recent history, and some say not enough is being done.

The data shows more than 74,000 filed unemployment claims last week. It's the highest number since 1987, when the Labor Department started offering weekly reports.

"With claims eclipsing even the highest weekly totals from the Great Recession in '09," said Steve Turner a sous chef at Florida State University, until last week. "I don't know what's next."

Tens of thousands of Floridians now hoping to qualify for at least some state assistance.

"If we can't work,then they need to make sure we're still stable," said Turner.

Wen it comes to benefits though, Florida pales in comparison.

Unemployment support and benefits in the Sunshine State are tied to last year's unemployment rate - which was historically low.

At most, the unemployed can only get $275/weekly for 12 weeks.

The vast majority of other states offer higher weekly amounts for longer.

"Florida's unemployment insurance system is absolutely broken," said Rich Templin, American Federation of Labor-CIO, Florida politics director.

Templin says the state desperately needs to expand benefits amid COVID-19, as other states have.

His group has started an online petition and sent a letter to the governor demanding he ease qualifications, pay more per week and more than double the maximum allotted time.

"We're watching this wave of economic collapse that the unemployment insurance system could be a vital force to keep that from happening," Templin said. "But until the governor makes these changes, it's not going to happen."

DeSantis has made some effort to ease benefit access, no longer requiring those applying to show they're looking for work.

He's also told the director of Economic Opportunity to bolster call lines and web servers after a flood of claims clogged the system.

“I’ve given him the go-ahead to ramp things up,” DeSantis said at a news briefing, Wednesday. “This is a very sudden increase. But he is doing it.”

The federal stimulus plan is expected to boost all state unemployment benefits, if approved Friday. But critics point out, even with that help, Florida will still rank as one of the stingiest systems in the nation.