TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The latest numbers out this week show the United States economy might finally be on the mend from the coronavirus, at least for now.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Friday 2.5 million new jobs were created in May, as some states and cities begin to re-open.
However, the Sunshine State is still suffering from pandemic complications. Nationally, Florida is facing the biggest spike in unemployment claims, and applicants are still fighting to get their benefits.
More than 206,000 unemployment claims were filed in Florida last week, a 31,000 claim increase compared to the week before. In other states, the number of claims is trending down.
Part of Florida’s increase can be attributed to the Department of Economic Opportunity making headway on a severe backlog of claims. Gov. Ron DeSantis reinforced in a press conference Wednesday that they’ve made vast improvements to the system.
The DEO keeps creating new tools to cut down on the backlog but some applicants say those tools are just backfiring.
That includes Kim Ferris, a single mom in Spring Hill. Ferris is fighting two battles on two fronts.
She wrapped radiation for breast cancer in early March, only to then lose her job over coronavirus. With a compromised immune system, continuing to work as an in-home nursing assistant simply was not an option.
“I want to work but there’s no work from home,” she said. “I can’t bring patients into my home.”
Ferris tells 8 On Your Side she went to file to unemployment right away but, like so many others, faced a CONNECT site that kept crashing, delaying her claim.
“Mentally, I’m exhausted,” she said. “I look into my checking account two to three times a day. I’ve maxed out all my credit cards.”
The state says its CONNECT site can only handle 80,000 users at a time. With more than 2 million applicants who need to access the site to claim weeks and adjust other information, that’s a problem.
Earlier this week, DEO launched a new “virtual waiting room” limiting how many people can log on at a time – first come, first served. But Ferris explained that brought problems of its own because, after hours of waiting, she only had ten minutes before it booted her off again.
“And then you have to go back in and start all over again,” she said.
With bills piling up, Ferris can’t wait anymore. Her claim wasn’t even processed until mid-May and, to date, she’s received one payment of $226. At this rate, she’d rather take her chances with cancer again, she says, rather than this tumor of an unemployment system.
“You have anxiety every day,” Ferris said. “Am I going to get something? You look at the computer, like, are you going to get paid?”
While some long-waiting claimants are finally starting to see payments, they’re not going to see them as frequently now. Initially, the DEO was paying out claims as quickly as possible. It has now scaled back to a bi-weekly schedule, which was how benefits were paid pre-COVID19.
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