ORLANDO, Fla. – Initial jobless claims in Florida dropped by more than half last week compared to the prior week, according to figures released Thursday, as unemployed Floridians continued facing problems receiving benefits because of difficulties with a computer system.
Florida had 173,191 initial claims for unemployment benefits last week, compared to 433,103 initial claims in the week prior, according to figures released by the U.S. Department of Labor. In the week before that, Florida had more than a half million new claims.
The drop indicates that Florida is on the downward slope of the spike in new jobless claims that started rising in mid-March as businesses closed their doors to stop the spread of the new coronavirus. But the unemployment rate still hasn't reached its peak, said Hector Sandoval, an economics professor at the University of Florida.
Florida's unemployment rate in March was 4.3% but that did not reflect the full impact of the business closures in the second half of the month. As a comparison, Florida had almost 4,700 jobless claims in the last week of February, before the crisis started.
“This is still a huge number," Sandoval said of last week's jobless claims. “It's just that in the first few weeks we just saw these increases in huge amounts."
Nationwide, nearly 3.2 million laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits last week as the business shutdowns caused by the new coronavirus outbreak deepened the worst U.S. economic catastrophe in decades.
Unemployed Floridians have complained widely about the state’s online system for registering claims making the process of filing for benefits extremely difficult. Others have criticized the system delays in getting a payment once their applications are accepted. The computer system for checking the status of claims often goes offline at night and on weekends.
A class-action negligence lawsuit brought by Florida residents who were unable to get their jobless benefits was dismissed Wednesday. Judge Angela Demsey in Leon County said the unemployed workers did not meet a legal standard for seeking an order to get the payments.
“The system design and/or implementation is a failure," the lawsuit said.
Nicole Boddie, a 48-year old kitchen manager at a private school in Delray Beach, was furloughed in mid-March.
She received two payments from the state unemployment system. The first was for $233, about a month after she was furloughed, and the other 20 days later was for another $233. She then received one deposit from the federal CARES Act money but hasn't gotten anything else.
Boddie has sent emails to the unemployment agency, asking various questions, but has received no responses. The online portal doesn’t function much of the time, she said, and she blames Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for not doing enough to fix the problem.
“Every single time I’ve called unemployment, I get disconnected,” Boddie said. “I should have gotten a heck of a lot more money by now. There’s no rhyme or reason.”
Before the coronavirus crisis, Florida had more than 10 million civilian workers in its labor force.
More than 1.8 million Floridians have submitted unemployment claims since mid-March, when businesses started shutting down around the state because of the spread of the virus. Because of the difficulties in signing up for the benefits, many have submitted two or three claims, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
The agency says more than 1.1 million claims have been confirmed, and of that number almost 481,500 claimants, or 43%, have been paid more than $1 billion, as of Tuesday.
About a quarter of the claimants were in the accommodation and food service industry. About a third of the claimants were in three tourist-reliant counties: Miami-Dade; Broward, home to Fort Lauderdale; and Orange, home to Orlando.
Florida, with the fourth biggest economy in the U.S., will take some time to recover from the economic damage, according to a forecast released this week.
The value of goods produced and services provided in Florida will shrink 5.2% in 2020, and it won't reach pre-pandemic levels until the third quarter of 2021, according to the forecast from the Institute for Economic Forecasting at the University of Central Florida.
As of Thursday, Florida had more than 38,800 confirmed cases of coronavirus and at least 1,600 deaths.
AP writer Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg contributed to this story.
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