WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — There were more calls Thursday to reform the state’s beleaguered unemployment system, including a petition sent to the governor urging immediate action.
Florida had nearly 222,000 first-time unemployment claims filed last week, according to numbers posted Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Lisa Cohen of Boca Raton said she stopped working April 2 from her job instructing at the Jewish Community Center.
She’s been turned down twice for benefits, including the latest denial coming this week.
According to the Department of Economic Opportunity, more than 332,000 people have been turned down for unemployment benefits.
“We are seeing every day the system is just not up to the task,” said Rich Templin of the Florida AFL-CIO.
In Tallahassee, over a Zoom news conference held Thursday, the Florida AFL–CIO said Cohen’s story is happening too often. It’s a troubled system that they say isn't helping and has too many people being turned down.
“It doesn’t matter how well people apply. If the law is set up so that all the cards are stacked against you from being deemed eligible, it doesn’t matter how they’ve applied. It doesn’t matter who did the application,” said Templin.
The organization said it digitally delivered a petition with 11,000 signatures to the governor to use executive powers to reform the system immediately.
In recent weeks, the governor has expanded the website’s capacity and added staffing to handle the crush of applications. But Cohen said her best hope now is applying for federal pandemic aid because the state's system isn't working for her.
“I would beg them to try to straighten out this website and get the claims paid to the people that are due the money it’s not right there are so many people at home that very, very stressed financially,” said Cohen.
In recent weeks, Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded capacity for the state’s unemployment website and added staff.
Those who have been rejected for state benefits may still qualify for federal pandemic insurance that can pay $600 a week, well above the $275 a week that Florida offers in benefits.
“It’s my understanding if you are denied for regular unemployment benefits in Florida then you should immediately apply for the emergency pandemic unemployment benefits,” says Karen Woodall, executive director of Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy.