ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — More than 180,000 workers in Florida filed claims with the state’s overwhelmed and struggling unemployment system last week, raising the state’s total seeking jobless benefits to over a half million people since many parts of the Sunshine State went under lockdown last month.
The U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday almost 181,300 Floridians filed for jobless claims, raising the total number of Floridians seeking unemployment benefits over the past three weeks to more than 520,000 workers.
And that only counts the out-of-work employees who were able to file for claims with Florida’s beleaguered unemployment system. Many of the state’s hundreds of thousands of newly jobless have reported problems with filing applications or getting help from hotlines. They’ve had their online applications disappear in front of their eyes when the computer refreshes or they’ve gotten bumped out of the system while filling out the forms, forcing them to start over.
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday named Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter to oversee the unemployment payment system after weeks of saying it was turning the corner only to find most progress to be a mirage.
“His mission is very simple: Get assistance out as quickly as you can,” DeSantis said.
Danielle Priebe’s husband was laid off from his job as a restaurant manager after eight years on March 15 and her hours managing a beauty supply store were cut from 40 a week to 16. The Priebes applied for unemployment right away, but their applications still haven’t been approved.
They’ve called more than a hundred times, but can’t get anyone on the phone and despite lengthy waits are eventually disconnected.
“The governor keeps saying that, ‘we’re doing this, we’re doing that,’ but we’re not seeing it on our end. We’re getting nowhere. It’s like we’re spinning in circles,” said the 50-year-old Melbourne mother of three.
She watches DeSantis’ daily press conferences with growing frustration, saying he skirts the issue.
“We need answers … we’re kind of all freaking out,” she said. “We look to our leaders right now to lead and they’re not doing it. None of them.”
“We applied for food stamps right away but that still hasn’t come,” she said. “Everything is being held up.”
The state has had more than 22,800 confirmed coronavirus cases, at least 633 deaths and 3,300 are hospitalized.
Among the sick are 30 patients and staff members at a Tampa Bay area nursing home — some of the patients have been hospitalized.
Other residents at the Freedom Square Seminole Nursing Pavilion will be tested and the facility is being cleaned, Pinellas County Assistant Administrator Lourdes Benedict told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday.
Statewide, there are 1,332 cases in Florida long-term care facilities, according to the latest state data released Wednesday. Earlier this week, DeSantis said nearly 100 of the state’s 4,000 nursing homes have had coronavirus cases — but his administration has refused media requests for a complete list of the homes.
DeSantis announced this week more aggressive state efforts to inspect nursing homes to detect infected patients and staff. He ordered the Florida National Guard to create 10 teams that will visit long-term care facilities to test employees and residents, with a focus on hard-hit Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
The state’s nursing home associations have asked DeSantis to give the industry a waiver from lawsuits stemming from the coronavirus outbreak.
According to the Miami Herald, J. Emmett Reed , executive director of the Florida Health Care Association, would allow the nursing home industry to provide care “without fear of reprisal … during this difficult time.”
DeSantis said this week he is considering it, but hasn’t made any decisions.
Associated Press writers Freida Frisaro and Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale contributed to this report.