Unemployment soaring, state workers redirected to help

Between August 2018 and February 2020, Florida’s unemployment call center took 2.39 million calls, mostly from people out of the job needing assistance.

In the last week, they received 2.1 million calls.

The Department of Economic Opportunity’s (DEO) re-employment services are swamped as numbers rivaling the Great Recession flood into the system seeking help after losing their jobs to COVID-19. That’s the picture Gov. Ron DeSantis painted in a press conference Thursday.

He called the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic a major jolt to the state’s economy. In a state that was seeing unemployment dwindle, the recent lay off of hundreds of thousands of people was a shock to the system.   

“We are in a situation where this system is not handling the needs of the people of Florida in an adequate way. We need to do more to get relief to the people of Florida,” he said.

For weeks, people attempting to file for re-employment benefits in the state have reported the website crashing and unanswered phone calls due to overwhelming call volumes.

Under an executive order to be issued this week, state employees from multiple agencies will be redirected to the DEO to assist with the incoming volume. About 25,000 workers have either been directed to work from home or are not currently working due to COVID-19 concerns DeSantis estimated.

“We want to be able to utilize all the manpower that we have,” he said.

The order will also direct the DEO to purchase technology to expand capacity and to allow for paper applications for re-employment benefits.

In Florida, the requirement to provide proof that an individual is actively seeking a new job has been temporarily waived as of March 15 due to the total or partial shutdown of many industries under current state requirements.

Under state law, an individual is eligible for up to $245 a week through re-employment benefits. Federal COVID-19 response programs could amount to an additional $600 a week for laid off workers.

But getting those benefits requires getting an application processed, and DEO is currently processing more applications from the last two weeks than it did in the entirety of 2019. More than 348,000 people have applied for benefits in the past two weeks. 

DeSantis said they are redirecting resources to help get applicants through the process and get people the help they need.

Those seeking unemployment assistance due to a job loss can find information and the application portal at careersourceescarosa.com.  

Navarre Press will have a full unemployment resource list Monday.

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