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Florida unemployment numbers triple, and state is struggling to handle the filings

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – The numbers are sobering.

More than 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week — twice as many as the record high set one week earlier. That means nearly 10 million people have been laid off in recent weeks.

In Florida, jobless claims tripled to 227,000 last week as more of the state shuts down during the coronavirus pandemic.

And yet the most recent numbers from the Labor Department may not even be capturing the full picture, as many Floridians continue to have trouble even getting through to the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity.

On Thursday, the state DEO’s executive director Ken Lawson apologized for the technical issues that so many are facing, saying the system was never set up to handle this level of need.

Email after email are coming to Local 10 News from South Floridians who cannot get through to the DEO.

Error pages. Login fails. Issues resetting login pins.

One man said he makes 40-50 calls per day trying to get through.

Lawson is looking to hire hundreds of additional workers, and an outside call company, to handle the large volume. The DEO also says it will distribute paper applications because the website is overloaded.

In the community, as social distancing is the new reality, the layoffs continue.

“Because of the sales, we can’t afford paying for a big crew,” said Leo Garcia of Mauro’s Pizza in Hollywood, who had to let go of nearly half his staff. “Even though we want them, we’ve just got to let them go.”

Dana Gallup, a South Florida labor attorney, says the national unemployment rate “could reach anywhere from 20-30 percent, and if it reached more than 24 percent, that was the amount of unemployment we had during the Great Depression in 1929.”

Lawson on Tuesday signed an order to temporarily waive the one-week wait period before people can receive unemployment benefits.

But receiving those benefits requires getting through to the DEO.

A mother of four who lost her job as a restaurant server said she’s been trying to file for unemployment for two weeks.

“I’m stuck. I haven’t had an income for the last two weeks," said Paulina, who asked to not be identified by her last name. “Our bills are still coming in. The lights still need to stay on. My children still need to be able to eat. And I haven’t been able to get a hold of anybody.”

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