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Despite fewer claims, Florida’s unemployment system will get another surge

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – First-time unemployment claims in Florida dropped nearly 25% last week, partly attributed to bars and craft breweries serving drinks again as Gov. Ron DeSantis moved the state into Phase 3 of his coronavirus economic-recovery efforts.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimated Florida had 29,360 first-time unemployment claims during the week that ended Sept. 26, down from 39,028 the prior week.

But as Thursday marks the start of 2020′s fourth quarter, an estimated 400,000 receiving unemployment benefits must check back in with the state to confirm they are still jobless. It will be another test of the Department of Economic Opportunity’s troubled CONNECT re-employment system. State leaders admit some glitches still plague the system that couldn’t keep up with the surge of claims after the pandemic cost the jobs of millions of Floridians. At the peak of the job losses in April, more than 900,000 claims were filed during a two-week period

The quarterly check-in is required by federal law. In a video available online, DEO walks claimants through the process.

By all accounts, the technical part of the system is working, unlike the last two quarterly check-ins, when the system was overwhelmed. But people like shuttle bus driver Caroline Carnegie still report having trouble getting answers they sign on.

“And I tried numerous times up until about 8 o’clock at night. And I just could not get in there to locate my weeks that I have been missing,” Carnegie said.

Carnegie plans to serve as a poll worker during early voting and on Election Day to pick up a little income to help make ends meet.

On Tuesday, Walt Disney Co. advised the state that 6,700 non-union employees at properties in Orlando, Lake Buena Vista and Celebration will face layoffs in December.

Disney, along with SeaWorld and Universal Orlando, have all reported lighter attendance than anticipated since reopening this summer after being closed because of the pandemic.

The state Department of Economic Development recently posted a 7.4 percent jobless rate in August for Florida, reflecting an estimated 753,000 Floridians out of work. A September rate is scheduled to be released Oct. 16.

News Service of Florida contributed to this report.