BUSI­NESS:

State con­tin­ues to strug­gle pro­cess­ing huge num­ber of pay­ments

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By David Lyons

De­spite Florida’s gov­ern­ment green light to start re­open­ing a coro­n­avirus-stricken econ­omy, un­em­ploy­ment claims in the state soared into six-fig­ure ter­ri­tory again, up more than 47,000 to 221,905, for the week end­ing May 9.

De­spite a gov­ern­ment green light to start re­open­ing Florida’s coro­n­avirus-stricken econ­omy, un­em­ploy­ment claims in the state soared by more than 47,000 to 221,905 for the week end­ing May 9, the U.S. Depart­ment of La­bor re­ported Thurs­day.

Na­tion­ally, 2.981 mil­lion claims were filed, sur­pass­ing economists’ ex­pec­ta­tions by more than 200,000. Nearly 36.5 mil­lion peo­ple have filed un­em­ploy­ment claims over the past two months, the big­gest loss in U.S. his­tory.

A record of 20.5 mil­lion jobs were lost in April alone as the eco­nomic shut­down sent the na­tional un­em­ploy­ment rate to an astro­nom­i­cal 14.7%.

State un­em­ploy­ment rates for April won’t be re­leased un­til May 22, but Florida’s rate for March was 4.3%, closely track­ing the U.S. level of 4.4%.

“An­other sick­en­ing punch to the gut,” said Mark Ham­rick, se­nior eco­nomic an­a­lyst at Bankrate. “And, we need to be braced for more in­com­ing body blows with re­spect to eco­nomic data.”

As more Florid­i­ans sought fi­nan­cial aid in May, the state’s Depart­ment of Eco­nomic Op­por­tu­nity con­tin­ued to strug­gle with pro­cess­ing pay­ments. As of Tues­day, the agency said it had paid 693,950 peo­ple more than $1.77 bil­lion since March 15. About two-thirds of the pay­ments are from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment au­tho­rized by a coro­n­avirus re­lief act signed into law March 27. But there are still roughly 700,000 peo­ple who have yet to re­ceive money, ac­cord­ing to the agency’s own fig­ures.

States across the na­tion have been over­whelmed try­ing to process an un­end­ing surge of un­em­ploy­ment claims over the past two months.

Florida is among the slow­est in pay­ing its un­em­ployed, plac­ing in­creased pres­sure on many out-of-work cit­i­zens whose sav­ings are close to run­ning out or have al­ready plunged to zero. The slow pace con­tin­ues as a mora­to­rium on evic­tions for home­own­ers with mort­gages and renters is sched­uled to ex­pire June 2.

Gov. Ron DeSantsi re­newed a waiver through May 31 that ex­cuses the un­em­ployed from re­port­ing their job search ef­forts to the DEO ev­ery week.

But the DEO, cit­ing fed­eral law, re­stored a re­quire­ment for in­di­vid­u­als re­ceiv­ing ben­e­fits to check in ev­ery two weeks to keep their pay­ments alive. “In so do­ing,” the agency web­site says, peo­ple “will con­firm that they are still un­em­ployed and ac­knowl­edge that you are able and avail­able for work.”

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