The spread of the novel coronavirus in Florida has quickly turned many people’s lives upside down. Over the last few weeks, the state has gone from confirming a handful of cases to declaring a state of emergency, placing many lives on hold.
The closures have caused the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to see a historic number of Floridians apply for reemployment assistance.
In a news conference Tuesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said 21,000 people had filed for unemployment benefits on Monday alone. The day before, he said, 18,000 had applied.
And while it seems like the coronavirus disrupted lives overnight, FDEO spokeswoman Tiffany Vause says the department was not prepared to respond as quickly.
According to Vause, during the first week Florida saw its first few cases of COVID-19, over 5,300 application for reemployment assistance were filed.
On March 23rd alone, that number skyrocketed to more than 21,000. The following day, this past Tuesday, 31,000 Floridians filed applications.
Vause says the department has been working around the clock to keep up with demand and asks the public to be patient.
“We’re doing everything we can to serve everyone as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Vause says.
The reason FDEO has been so unprepared is because the department’s budget is tied to the state’s unemployment rate.
In January, Florida’s unemployment rate was at 2.8%.
“With historic lows, our team has been working with minimum staffing,” Vause says.
FDEO has been trying to speed up the process of responding to applicants by expanding its call center hours to operate on weekends, and by hiring new employees across the state. On Tuesday, Vause says, over 30 interviews were scheduled.
An executive order signed by DeSantis also rolled back some requirements for people needing unemployment benefits. Typically, an applicant would have to register with a state job portal and show proof that they’ve applied to at least five jobs.
That requirement has been waived.
For more information on unemployment benefits in Florida, visit the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity website.