Image via Pexels/ Andrea Piacquadio Many in Florida who applied for unemployment benefits at the beginning of the pandemic, are still waiting for their financial aid to arrive.
Image via Pexels/ Andrea Piacquadio

Among the hardest hit are hospitality and tourism workers, especially those living in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, still the hot zone for the coronavirus.

With a population of 21.5 million people –nearly half of California’s 40 million– Florida has surpassed the Golden State as the state with the most weekly unemployment claims. According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (FDEO), as of May 3 the state has received 1,025,657 unique unemployment claims.

Additionally, of the nearly 1.8 million unemployment claims submitted, about 270,000 workers –or 38%– have been denied. These include independent contractors, gig workers and the self-employed. However, the FDEO said that those denied unemployment benefits may be eligible for financial aid under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).

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The Most Vulnerable Workers

Among the hardest hit by the spate of business and restaurant closings mandated throughout the state are hospitality and tourism workers, especially those living in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, the area that remains the hot zone of the pandemic in Florida. At this time, the three densely populated counties are still excluded from Gov. Ron De Santis’ “reopening” of parts of the state for business, which began Phase 1 on May 4.

Patricia Com, a waitress in Miami-Dade county, has been laid off from a national restaurant chain for close to two months, with no sign of a return to work as of yet. But apart from the loss of her job, she has an additional concern.

“After this is over, I wonder if those of us who were let go from our jobs will be rehired, and if people will go back to eating in restaurants after the fear of coronavirus,” she told The Americano.

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Similarly, Ana Costaya, a hairdresser from Coral Gables who was sent home when her salon was closed nearly two months ago, told The Americano that she worries that even when it reopens, due to the social distancing requirements “we will only be allowed to have a certain number of people in the salon. This will limit the number of people we can attend, and will severely affect our earnings.”

A Glitch-Ridden Mess

But future worries aside, those who have filed for unemployment benefits in Florida and been qualified still have had to face a number of frustrating setbacks caused by the state’s understaffed agency and glitch-ridden $77 million CONNECT online application system.

According to the FDEO, of the 1,025,657 unemployment claims received, only 452,526 –less than half– have been paid so far.

Despite repeated efforts to fix the problem, including making a switch to paper applications and spending nearly $120 million to develop another website, the backlog continues to plague the system. Due to its lengthy verification process, at this time the state has nearly 300,000 claims in the process of being verified. This means that at least that number of Floridians continues to wait to receive their unemployment benefits.