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Florida tops 87,000 jobless claims last week

Of the 1.8 million claims that have resulted in benefits being paid, the state has distributed $12 billion in state and federal benefits

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – First-time unemployment claims in Florida fell below 100,000 last week, as the state has recorded more than 3.3 million jobless claims since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March.

The U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday estimated Florida accounted for 87,062 of the 1.43 million claims filed nationally during the week that ended July 25. The Florida number was down from 108,976 a week earlier.

Only California had more first-time claims last week with an estimated 249,007, which was down more than 40,000 from the prior week.

The first 28 days of July saw 523,565 unemployment claims filed in Florida. That’s more than were filed in all of May or June.

The number would likely be higher if some weren’t still having trouble using the state’s online Connect system.

“You get three quarters into the application process, so then it crashes, and you have to start the process all over again,” said Joseph Riopel, who has been unemployed since July 1.

The federal estimates came after the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity announced Wednesday that Gov. Ron DeSantis extended to Sept. 5 the waiver of a work search requirement for people seeking unemployment benefits. The requirement ordinarily calls for people to apply for five jobs during each of the 12 weeks they are eligible for state unemployment payments of up to $275.

Meanwhile, Congress continues to debate another round of economic stimulus, with Republicans and Democrats differing on whether to extend $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits. Republicans are pushing to lower the weekly payments.

Since March 15, Florida has processed nearly 3.09 million unemployment claims. Of the 1.8 million claims that have resulted in benefits being paid, the state has distributed $12 billion in state and federal benefits, of which $2.63 billion was state money. Of every $5 paid out, $4 was from the federal government. That leaves just $1.4 billion in the reemployment trust fund.

The state’s trust fund will likely be exhausted before the end of the year, forcing it to borrow money from the federal government to keep paying claims.

“It feels great,” said Scott Read, of Cape Coral, who recently went back to work after searching for 2 ½ months. “I’m not a guy to sit around. I like to be active. We also have a plan on how we want to live and move forward, so I had to get back on track, working read hard on it.”

Read’s wife, Kathy, hasn’t been so lucky.

“Three weeks ago, her benefits just stopped for no reason, so as of July 4, she hasn’t seen a paycheck,” Read said.

Florida employers can also expect to see higher assessments next year to replenish the reemployment trust fund.

Florida’s unemployment rate in June was 10.4 percent, and the July rate will be released on Aug. 21.