More than 1 million FL workers file for unemployment, as pandemic continues and benefit system struggles

FL unemployment benefits system is overwhelmed and jobless workers can't get their benefits. Credit: FL Department of Economic Opportunity.

Nearly 1.2 million jobless workers in Florida have filed initial claims for unemployment benefits, with more than a half million filing in the week ending April 18, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday.

Florida was second in the nation with 505,137 workers seeking unemployment benefits in the last week, as the COVID-19 outbreak closed businesses across the nation’s third-largest state, the report shows. California led the nation with 533,568 initial claims filed last week for unemployment benefits.

Florida was the top state in the growth of jobless claims in the last week, with an increase of 324,718 workers over the prior week, when 180,419 claims were filed, the report shows.

The 505,137 claims filed was a weekly record for the state, with the previous high of 228,484 claims filed in the week ending March 28, the report shows.

Since March 15, 1,157,837 jobless workers in Florida have filed for benefits, out of a workforce that totaled about 10.3 million workers in March, the report shows.

The new federal data also underscores the continuing problems Florida workers have had in filing their claims through the state Department of Economic Opportunity, where the online application system and the phone lines have been overwhelmed by the mass of jobless workers seeking help.

The DEO has expanded its technological capacity, brought in more workers to help with the process and has even launched a paper application.

But state data shows the number of Florida workers receiving unemployment benefits continues to lag the number of workers filing claims or even trying to submit their claims.

Through Wednesday, the DEO reported that since March, nearly 1.8 million claims have been submitted, although state officials said that includes duplicate applications.

In the March 15-April 22 period, the DEO reported about 683,000 “unique” claims, with 31 percent of those claims — 210,000 – confirmed. Some 17 percent of those unique claims have resulted in payments to nearly 117,000 workers, the agency said.

Qualified jobless workers are eligible for up to $275 in weekly state unemployment benefits, with an additional $600 per week in federal benefits under the CARES Act.

Labor advocates and Democratic lawmakers continue to press for increasing the state benefits, while extending the state’s 12-week payment period. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has thus far declined to move on those issues, although he has said he is open to making the payments retroactive to the time the applications were filed.

The DEO reported that out of the 463,000 initial claims related to the COVID-19 outbreak, the largest number of jobless workers — more than 115,000 – were previously employed in the accommodation and food service industries, including hotels and restaurants.

The largest number of claims were correlated to Florida’s largest counties, with Miami-Dade at the top with nearly 67,000 claims, followed by Broward (52,000) and Orange (46,000).

Across the nation, the U.S. Department of Labor reported an additional 4.4 million jobless workers filed initial claims for unemployment benefits in the week ending April 18. It means more than 26 million American workers have sought unemployment benefits since mid-March, when the coronavirus outbreak began to shut down major segments of the nation’s economy.