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Florida's Unemployed Workers Call For Help

Men in orange vests load luggage coming off a plane.
Photo by Calle Macarone on Unsplash

Gov. Ron DeSantis has temporarily removed some requirements to file for unemployment, but the AFL-CIO believes major changes need to be made to the entire system. The group held an online press conference with recently unemployed workers to stress the need for an update.

Joseph Palma is visibly frustrated as he talks about the difficulty he’s faced applying for unemployment assistance. He was fired from his job at the Miami International Airport last week. Now, he’s joining the AFL-CIO’s press conference from his living room couch.

“It took me the whole week to process my unemployment application. It took forever to communicate it to the unemployment [office]. Sometimes it takes four hours. They put you on hold for four hours," Palma said. "And it’s very disappointing. I remember many years ago, six years ago, I was unemployment 2008, it only took me like a couple minutes.”

Palma worked for American Airlines at the Miami International Airport for two years before being let go last Wednesday. He says now his unemployment application is under review and he is worried because he doesn’t know how long that will take and he is nearly down to his last dollar.

“I’m going to get paid tomorrow, my last check is going to be less than $500. And less than $500 is nothing from, I have to pay my utilities I have to pay everything," Palma said. "So, I don’t know how I’m going to balance this."

Many other Floridians are in the same boat. Last week more than 70,000 people applied for unemployment. This week’s total could be even bigger. About 21,000 people filed claims Monday, and 31,000 people filed Tuesday. Wendi Walsh the Secretary-Treasurer for UNITE HERE, a hospitality union, believes the number of claims would be even larger if the system were easier to navigate.

"Filling out the application it is daunting. It’s overwhelming and there are a lot of workers who are just giving up on trying. And so I think there are many many workers who need to access these benefits who haven’t even been able to complete the process," Walsh said.

Walsh says the moves DeSantis has made so far, aren’t enough. She has a recommendation for what should be done in addition.

"Number one they have to waive the waiting period to access these benefits. Two we have to simplify the process which is taking two to three hours for most workers," Walsh said.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is hiring now to help assist with the overflow of applicants. The agency has also expanded call center hours to operate on weekends.

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.