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Florida unemployment claims skyrocket as labor groups call for better benefits

'I don’t know what’s next'
Posted: 5:21 PM, Mar 26, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-26 17:21:46-04
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As expected, new numbers show Florida unemployment claims have skyrocketed.

The US Labor Department data shows more than 74,000 filed unemployment claims last week, almost 12 times the prior week's numbers. Claims even eclipsing the highest weekly totals from the Great Recession in ’09.

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COVID-19 restrictions are to blame, forcing thousands of layoffs particularly in the food and hotel industries.

“I don’t know what’s next,” Turner told us earlier this week. “If we can’t work then they need to make sure we’re still stable.”

Support here is tied to last year’s unemployment rate, which reached historic lows. At most, the unemployed can get up to $275 for 12 weeks.

The vast majority of other states offer higher weekly amounts for longer. Massachusetts at the top of the list with benefits maxing out at $823 for 30 weeks.

Rich Templin, political director for the Florida wing of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, says the state desperately needs to expand benefits amid COVID-19, as other states have.

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

“Florida’s unemployment insurance system is absolutely broken,” Templin said. “We’re watching this wave of economic collapse that the unemployment insurance system could be a vital force to keep that from happening, 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, Ken Lawson, 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.