TAMPA, Fla. - As thousands of Floridians are laid off due to the coronavirus, state and local unemployment resource centers are working overtime to get them the help they need and get them back on the job.
But, just like many other businesses, as a precaution, almost all of that help must now be supplied on the phone or online, rather than in-person. And, industries like tourism which drive Florida's economy, are among those hit hardest.
In January, Florida celebrated an all-time low unemployment rate of 2.8%. Unemployment claims ranged from 250 to a thousand, per day. How quickly things can change.
"21,000 unemployment claims yesterday," Governor Ron DeSantis said Tuesday afternoon. "18,000 the day before. On March 20th, another 21,000."
Jobless claims are now spiking as coronavirus-forced closures impact bars, restaurants, theme parks and other tourism-related businesses.
Tuesday, the U.S. Travel Association projected nearly 6 million travel-related jobs in the U.S. will be lost by the end of April. It's sending people to places like CareerSource Tampa Bay for help.
Though all of their offices had to close, career services remain available, just exclusively online.
"We typically get about 160 calls in our line," said John Flanagan, CEO of CareerSource Tampa Bay. "And, we are averaging around 500 calls a day now. So, that number has essentially tripled."
"Most of the calls are really around how to apply for reemployment benefits and supplemental nutrition assistance program, SNAP," Flanagan said.
According to Flanagan, the majority of calls are from those in hospitality and tourism. CareerSource Tampa Bay working with the Hillsborough County Hotel and Lodging Association to get those workers back on the job.
If there's any silver lining, Flanagan noted, "We're starting to see some companies, particularly, Amazon, Walmart, Publix, CVS, Papa John's, Pizza Hut really starting to ramp up their hiring because is need there."
The state currently offers 12 weeks of unemployment benefits, topping out at $275 per week. The governor hopes to strike a balance between health and economic health.
"Clearly, we have to do something about the virus and there's no way a 9-month shut down would possibly be sustainable," DeSantis said. "Let's work to blunt the force of the virus, let's protect those folks who could be most in jeopardy of negative health impacts, but, let's also get society functioning."
Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity will release February's unemployment numbers this Friday.
If you feel sick:
The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.
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