It’s been a few days since Jason Suarez was laid off from his valet job at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport.
“I am lucky because I do not have kids, but many coworkers have kids and need to pay their rent, mortgage, cars,” Suarez said.
After his upcoming check clears, Suarez doesn’t know how he will pay his bills.
“Maybe I am going to be one of them (people) who has to apply for the government help,” he said.
Suarez is one of many people who will need unemployment benefits during this coronavirus crisis, as businesses across the state are shutting down.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) said it has seen historic increases in unemployment applications, with more than 5,300 last week. That's over 400 more than the week before.
DEO has also experienced a higher number of calls - with more than 76,000 from Monday to Wednesday this week. The department received close to 28,000 calls the previous week.
“We want people to apply (for unemployment) and realize we are going to use every tool available to help our citizens get through this crisis,” said DEO’s executive director Ken Lawson adding many people who have been laid off or impacted by COVID-19 may qualify for benefits.
But state Sen. Jose Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, says the increase in applications is challenging Florida’s already cumbersome unemployment system.
“It is extremely difficult to apply for re-employment assistance,” Rodriguez said adding changes need to be made, like waiving the current one-week waiting period and making the application process simpler for those in need.
“You didn’t foresee any changes to your work situation, and all of a sudden you are unemployed and also other members of your family, we need to waive that week requirement. There is no reason for it,” Rodriguez said.
NBC 6 Investigators found Florida lags behind other states when it comes to unemployment benefits.
In Florida, people can receive unemployment benefits for up to 12 weeks whereas most states pay 26 weeks.
The state also ranks in the bottom six for unemployment compensation. The most Floridians can get is $275 per week, compared to other states like Massachusetts and Washington where the unemployed can qualify for hundreds more.
“It’s not going to be enough,” Jason said referring to the state's unemployment compensation. “Maybe the government can make a plan to get more and that would be more helpful.”
For the time being, DEO is planning to hire more than 100 individuals statewide to help answer calls and speed up the application process. Beginning on March 23, the DEO’s call center will be open seven days a week and the agency says it will authorize overtime for its employees.
State officials say individuals who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 may be eligible to receive re-employment assistance if they are:
- Quarantined by a medical professional or a government agency.
- Laid off or sent home without pay for an extended period by their employer due to COVID-19 concerns.
- Caring for an immediate family member who is diagnosed with COVID-19.