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Wave of layoffs boosts Florida unemployment claims after steady declines

The Florida state flag flies.

(The Center Square) – For the first time in more than a month, Florida’s first-time unemployment applications increased last week as the state continues to battle a sustained surge in new COVID-19 cases.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported 129,408 jobless Floridians filed initial unemployment claims for the week ending July 11 – 62,467 more than those who filed first-time claims the week before.

More than 3.1 million initial unemployment claims have been filed in Florida since March, although some of those applications are duplicates and include many who have returned to work.

According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), which manages Florida’s unemployment system, the number of continuing claims, those filed by residents who remain on the state’s unemployment rolls, is 889,934, which is 307,982 more than the week before as the coronavirus surge stymies economic momentum.

The spike comes as the unemployment assistance package passed by Congress in March, which includes up to $600 a week in unemployment compensation, expires in two weeks.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin indicated this week continued unemployment compensation will be in a new aid package being deliberated by Congress.

The numbers reflect a wave of July layoffs across the state, including hotel groups Hilton, Rosen Hotels and Resort, Fontainebleau and The Diplomat Resort.

DEO’s Reemployment Assistance Claims Dashboard reported Wednesday it had processed 2.639 million of the 3.1 million unique claims filed and 1.72 million claimants have received $10.31 billion in unemployment payments.

In her daily Pay The Claims Now Florida Unemployment Benefits Watch, Florida Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said Thursday – “Day 130” – more than 1.187 million Floridians who have filed claims are “still waiting for payment.”

Florida’s unemployment system has been bedeviled and dogged by setbacks after its $77 million CONNECT unemployment website, installed by Deloitte Consulting in 2013, collapsed in March, leaving many without first payments for weeks and some still waiting.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has said the CONNECT website “the equivalent of throwing a jalopy into the Daytona 500.”

Since March, when the state’s unemployment rate nearly tripled to 12.9 percent – it was 14.5 percent in May – DeSantis has authorized at least $100 million to upgrade the website, purchased 72 servers, contracted with commercial calls centers to assist in fielding phone calls, reassigned 2,000 state workers to help and tapped Department of Management Services Secretary Jon Satter to manage it.

DEO severed ties last week with two commercial call center operations hired to assist the state in answering newly jobless residents’ questions.

DEO said it terminated contracts with Los Angeles-based AECOM and Miramar-based United Data Technologies (UDT) for poor performance.

The agency said it is “prioritizing vendors who have fully trained representatives to handle all claimant issues, are meeting or exceeding contractual performance expectations and providing high-quality customer service to Floridians.”

DEO contracted for 800 agents from AECOM on April 24 for $24.7 million and for 155 UDT agents April 8 for $12.4 million.

The agency still employs about 3,000 customer service representatives employed by Titan Technologies, headquartered in the Panhandle, and Faneuil, of Hampton, Va.

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