Normally bustling Lincoln Road Mall in Miami Beach, Florida, is seen nearly empty on May 8, with most businesses closed due efforts to contain Covid-19.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Florida residents are growing increasingly frustrated by the state’s lag in paying unemployment benefits — a drama unfolding as home and rental evictions may soon begin anew.
States have struggled to process an avalanche of jobless claims over the past two months.
More than 33 million Americans have filed for unemployment since mid-March as states shut down broad swaths of their economies to halt the coronavirus pandemic.
Florida has emerged as one of the country’s worst offenders when it comes to paying benefits slowly.
The Sunshine State has paid just 28% of the total 1.9 million unemployment applicants since March 15, according to the Department of Economic Opportunity.
Some claims may be duplicates, the DEO said. Not everyone who applies is necessarily eligible for benefits.
However, many residents who submitted applications two months ago are still awaiting an update.
“They have been waiting for eight weeks now,” said Anna Eskamani, a member of the Florida House of Representatives. “They’re in this purgatory.”
The delay in unemployment benefits comes as the state’s moratorium on evictions due to late rent and mortgage payments is scheduled to end May 17.
Gov. Ron DeSantis imposed a 45-day eviction moratorium on April 2.
It appears some landlords and creditors are already gearing up to kick people out.
“I have people with eviction notices who can’t pay for their medications,” said Laurie Yadoff, an attorney at Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida. “They’re living off credit cards, those that have them.
“They’re in dire straits.” she said.
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Yadoff said she has helped around 60 clients file for unemployment benefits in the state, some dating back to early March. None have gotten paid.
Many received stimulus checks from the federal government as part of the recent coronavirus relief package. Almost everyone used that money to pay their landlords, Yadoff said. Individuals were eligible for up to $1,200.
“People need to have this [unemployment] money,” Yadoff said.
The governor could extend the eviction moratorium. Some banks and landlords may establish lenient policies to help Florida residents.
Federal lawmakers imposed a national eviction moratorium through July 25 that supersedes state orders. However, it only covers properties with federally backed mortgages and public housing, among other properties.
But many are already struggling under the weight of their current financial obligations. Late housing payments could come due in one fell swoop, stressing an already challenging situation.
“Floridians aren’t in a place to pay their bills right now,” said Eskamani, a Democrat.
“We are continuing to be stuck in this super frustrating, stressful place and there’s nothing people can do except wait,” she said.
Spokespeople for the governor and DEO didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief law enacted in late March expanded unemployment benefits. It raised weekly jobless pay, increased the duration of benefits and extended them to previously ineligible groups like the self-employed.
The law, the CARES Act, boosted pay by providing a $600-a-week supplement, funded by the federal government, through July. That’s in addition to a recipient’s state benefit. The law allows states to make those payments retroactively to the end of March.
But even some residents who have received benefits feel they’ve been short-changed.
Sandra Speier, a Miami resident, waited more than a month for her unemployment application to be processed. She applied online on March 23 and was approved April 25.
Speier, a self-employed personal trainer, is getting $128 a week and received back pay for that amount dating to April 4. She also received one $600 payment, on April 28 — but hasn’t received any retroactive payments for that supplement.
Speier is afraid the little money she is getting will soon run out.
That’s because while the CARES Act allows jobless workers to get an extra 13 weeks of unemployment benefits, Florida has yet to implement that increase.
That leaves recipients with up to just 12 weeks of benefits — tied with North Carolina for the shortest duration, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
By comparison, other states are paying up to 39 weeks of unemployment, which is more than triple Florida’s duration.
“All in all, I feel lucky I am getting anything from Florida, but I feel we should all be getting what we are rightfully due under the CARES Act,” Speier said. “None of us in Florida should be having hardship.”
In addition, the governor re-imposed a requirement that Floridians log in at the state unemployment website every two weeks to “claim” benefits for prior weeks.
The requirement, previously waived, began again on May 10. If people fail to log in and confirm they’re still unemployed, they won’t receive unemployment pay.
Logging in may prove extremely difficult to do, however, given that the website frequently crashes or is under maintenance, observers said.