Florida unemployment claims skyrocket due to coronavirus

Thousands of people apply for unemployment as industries feel ripples of outbreak

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – An estimated 5,300 people applied for unemployment in Florida last week, and there were more than 75,000 calls placed to the state’s unemployment assistance hotline.

The wave of new claims comes as state and local officials have imposed new limits on restaurants, bars and hotels in an effort to curb the spread of the contagious disease.

And the staggering volume of calls is already overwhelming the system.

Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association CEO Carol Dover said the layoffs are taking their toll on the state’s workforce and economy.

“We’re having thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people,” Dover said.

Last week, the owner of a restaurant situated in the shadow of the state Capitol was hopeful his establishment could survive on carry-out business alone.

“I do not expect that to make up for the slowdown,” owner Paul Roth said at the time.

By Monday, the restaurant’s doors were closed. On the bright side, employees were still receiving their paychecks.

The restaurant industry is banking on a federal bailout sponsored by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

The details are still being negotiated, but the plan would let restaurants borrow money from the federal government, pay their employees for up to 10 weeks, and then receive reimbursement from the federal government.

“The salary portion of it is a federal grant, and so they don’t have to repay it,” Dover said. “Obviously, it does no good to have our members take out millions of dollars in loans when at the end of the day they’ll all…be close to bankruptcies.”

Unemployment assistance in Florida pays up to $275 a week for up to 12 weeks, and in some cases it can extend to 23 weeks.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has waived the requirement that job seekers must look for a job to qualify for unemployment during the public health emergency.