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Unemployment claims continue to rise in Florida and beyond

Another 1.54 million Americans applied for unemployment compensation last week. In Florida, another 110,520 displaced workers filed claims.
A small group of demonstrators protested the Florida unemployment benefits system on Wednesday at Lake Eola Park in Orlando. Many Florida unemployed workers are still trying to apply for and receive unemployment benefits from since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
A small group of demonstrators protested the Florida unemployment benefits system on Wednesday at Lake Eola Park in Orlando. Many Florida unemployed workers are still trying to apply for and receive unemployment benefits from since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/John Raoux) [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]
Published Jun. 11, 2020
Updated Jun. 11, 2020

The U.S. unemployment rate unexpectedly dropped in May, but claims for unemployment assistance have continued to roll in during June.

Another 1.54 million displaced workers nationwide applied for unemployment benefits last week, the U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 44 million workers have sought relief after being laid off, furloughed or seeing their gig work evaporate.

In Florida, another 110,520 filed claims for unemployment assistance last week, down from nearly 208,000 the week before. Through Tuesday of this week, the state Department of Economic Opportunity said more than 1.9 million people had applied for unemployment assistance.

Of those, 1.3 million have received a total of $4.95 billion in state and federal aid.

Still, problems remain for many applicants who struggle to use a balky state unemployment website and then wait for the money to start arriving. Some say they’ve received partial aid without any explanation why.

Related: Florida's unemployed still haven't been paid, and they don't think it's their fault

Debbie Keslar of Safety Harbor was furloughed in March from her job as a registered nurse at a surgery center, and has since received a total of $275 in state unemployment benefits and $600 in federal unemployment benefits.

It took her two weeks just to reach someone at the state who could change her personal identification number from a previous application in 2014 so she could file a new claim.

Debbie Keslar
Debbie Keslar [ Photo courtesy Debbie Keslar ]

“I called over 200 times one day just trying to get through,” said Keslar, 68. “Then you go to the next step where you’re trying to get on the site, and of course, it’s the same thing. You may actually get to log in, and then it would throw you out. Maybe you would get to put a couple of things in. You could never even complete one task at a sitting. You just had to keep trying and trying and trying. That took a couple of weeks."

More recently, the state instituted a “virtual room” that limits the number of applicants allowed on the unemployment claims website at any one time.

Related: Florida's unemployed must now wait in 'virtual room' before logging in, frustrating many

“I can’t just sit there at the computer,” said Keslar, who has since returned to work and is seeking compensation for the weeks when she was furloughed. “It doesn’t tell you how long it might be or anything. So if you walk away, and it happens to come up, you lose your place in line and you have to start over again.

“It’s even worse than it was," she said.

In May, the nationwide unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent, down from 14.7 percent in April, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For a second month, the Labor Department acknowledged making errors in counting the unemployed during the coronavirus outbreak. As a result, it said, if the misclassified workers were included in the calculations, the unemployment rate would be about 3 percent higher.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve said unemployment could remain above 9 percent through the end of the year. Economists at Stanford University and the University of Chicago estimate that more than 40 percent of recent layoffs will result in permanent job losses.

Meanwhile, the recession, which officially began in February, before the shutdowns to curb the spread of the virus, continues to hit Florida’s hospitality industry, where temporary cutbacks are turning into something more permanent.

Tampa Bay area layoffs and furloughs that were made public this week by the Florida Department of Economic opportunity include:

• 488 employees at the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club. The temporary furloughs, layoffs and reductions in hours affect all but five of the resort’s staff. They began in mid-March, but Vinoy human resources director Viviana Leyva said in a letter to the state this month that they could extend beyond six months.

• 209 employees at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay. Of those, 110 are scheduled to be laid off permanently on Friday. Another 23 last week saw their furloughs, which included the continuation of their benefits, converted to temporary layoffs without benefits. The rest remain on furlough with benefits.

• All 152 employees at the Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel. The reductions began March 21 as a mix of layoffs, furloughs and reduced hours, but the hotel said they could last for more than six months.

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