TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Democrats increased criticism of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic Thursday, as first-time unemployment claims in Florida were up last week from the holiday-shortened previous week.
The U.S. Department of Labor estimated 25,012 initial jobless claims were submitted in Florida during the week that ended Dec. 5, up from 23,063 claims during the previous week, which included Thanksgiving.
Last week’s Florida total was among the lowest for a seven-day period since pandemic-related unemployment exploded across the state and nation in March. Since the start of November, the state has averaged just over 26,000 new claims a week.
However, the weekly uptick in claims could reflect mounting pressure on businesses as reported COVID-19 cases and deaths have again been on the rise.
The report came as state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a Republican, continued a tour calling for liability protections for businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits.
Meanwhile Thursday, Democratic senators renewed pleas for the governor’s office to provide more data about the impact of the virus on the state’s health-care industry and to lift a limitation on the ability of local governments to enforce coronavirus regulations such as mask mandates.
“There’s more layoffs expected this month in tourism and hospitality industries, which creates a domino effect to all the other businesses down the line,” Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando, warned in a virtual call with members of the Senate Democratic caucus. “The governor can sketch the rosiest of pictures and manipulate all the data that he wants. But the word is out that he does not have this virus under control and has no interest in doing so.”
Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, said the state doesn’t need another mass shutdown of businesses, but simply “waiting for the magic of vaccines is not the answer.”
“We see a growing iceberg coming towards us and the lack of a coherent statewide policy has only contributed to the growth of this virus and the harm to our economy,” Farmer said.
DeSantis, who participated in a White House vaccine summit on Tuesday, has steadfastly maintained opposition to a statewide mask mandate, saying he trusts Floridians to be responsible. He also has prohibited local governments from fining people who violate mask requirements.
“I’m opposed to mandates, period. I don’t think they work,” the governor said Nov. 30 while in Kissimmee. “People in Florida wear them when you go out, they don’t have to be strung up by a bayonet to do it. Fining people is, I think, totally overboard.”
DeSantis has contended that lockdowns have not worked and has pushed to keep schools and businesses open. He also has called mask mandates in other states ineffective in curbing the spread of the virus.
“I would say that closing schools due to coronavirus is probably the biggest public health blunder in modern American history,” DeSantis said on Nov. 30. “Closing schools offers virtually nothing in terms of virus mitigation but imposes huge costs on our kids, on our parents and on our society.”
Florida is closing in on its 20,000th death from COVID-19 and has had more than 1.08 million cases of the virus.
Since the start of December, Florida has reported daily averages of 9,338 new COVID-19 cases and nearly 98 deaths tied to the virus. The daily average of cases is the highest for a nine-day period since late July.
Nationally, with pressure growing on Congress for another round of fiscal stimulus to combat the pandemic’s economic effects, 853,000 new unemployment claims were filed last week, up 137,000 from the prior week, according to the Department of Labor.
Two progressive groups, The Century Foundation and Employ America, project about 12 million Americans will see existing benefits expire before the start of 2021.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has paid out nearly $19.1 billion, mostly in federal money, to almost 2.13 million unemployment claimants since March 15.
Florida’s unemployment rate in October was 6.5 percent, with an estimated 659,000 people qualified as unemployed out of a workforce of 10.1 million.
The state numbers will be updated Dec. 18.
The Department of Labor initially estimated 20,787 claims filed in Florida the week of Thanksgiving, but a revision on Thursday bumped the estimate for the week ending Nov. 28 to 23,063.