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Extended Jobless Benefits From Stimulus Package Becoming Available For Floridians

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) -- Extended unemployment benefits included in the latest federal stimulus package are starting to become available for Floridians out of work because of the coronavirus pandemic, the state Department of Economic Opportunity said Monday.

Meanwhile, the weekly average of first-time jobless claims over the last two months of 2020 continued to exceed totals from 2009 and 2010, the last time the state faced a major recession.

Department of Economic Opportunity spokeswoman Paige Landrum said Monday the agency has started to implement benefit extensions while "working diligently to fully implement program updates."

"We recommend that claimants continue to log-in to their CONNECT account every 48 hours to see if there are any additional steps they need to take on their claim," Landrum said in an email, referring to the state's CONNECT online unemployment portal.

The package President Donald Trump signed Dec. 27 is slated to provide up to $300 a week in federal benefits. The federal assistance will run through March 13 and involves different programs.

The Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program provides an additional $300 per week for Floridians receiving state or federal unemployment benefits. The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program offers up to $275 a week for people who have exhausted state unemployment assistance. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, for gig workers and people who are self-employed, also provides up to $275 per week in benefits.

The extension is expected to increase the number of unemployment applicants.

"A major benefits cliff has been averted, and the number of workers collecting PEUC (Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation) benefits --- down 20,000 (nationally) last week, as people started to roll off the program --- is likely to increase as additional weeks are added to the accounts of all those who ran out of PEUC and who reach out again for aid," said Andrew Stettner, an expert on unemployment insurance and senior fellow at The Century Foundation. "The same is true for PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance), which dropped by 800,000 from December 5 to December 12."

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With the state's tourism-sensitive economy bearing the brunt of pandemic shutdowns, Florida had a 6.4 percent unemployment rate in November, reflecting 651,000 Floridians qualified as unemployed. December numbers are slated to be released Jan. 22.

In an economic overview released last week, the Legislature's Office of Economic & Demographic Research noted the pandemic caused unemployment to spike from 2.8 percent in February to 13.8 percent in April, surpassing the 11.3 percent mark reached in the last major recession.

"The change was breathtaking," the report said. "Over the space of two months, the unemployment rate shifted from a near 50?year low to a near 50?year high."

The report looked at real gross domestic product, personal income, the expanding wage gap between the state and nation and an anticipated slowdown in growth.

"Several industry groups have already predicted that (tourism) will take at least two years to reach recovery from this pandemic," the state report stated. "Current expectations are that leisure driving vacations will recover first, and then --- in order --- business travel, domestic air travel, and international travel."

Travelers to Florida dropped from nearly 130 million in fiscal year 2018-2019 to less than 108 million in fiscal year 2019-2020, with the pandemic taking hold in March, during the fiscal year's third quarter. The pandemic cut tourism more than 60 percent in April, May and June, the fourth quarter of the fiscal year.

The overview follows the legislative office projecting revenue in November at $277.3 million above a forecast that was revised in August to reflect pandemic conditions.

The November collection was also $54.3 million above an initial forecast for the month made prior to the pandemic.

"In this respect, overall collections in November 2020 were 2.1 percent above the collections in November 2019," the office's monthly revenue report said.

The improved revenue numbers have come amid Gov. Ron DeSantis' efforts to reopen the economy. But they also have come as the state has faced a surge in coronavirus cases.

Despite the improved economic outlook, an estimated 23,053 first-time jobless claims were filed in Florida during the holiday-shortened week ending Dec. 26, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The number was down from 28,609 claims during the week that ended Dec. 19.

Since the second half of October, the state has averaged 27,773 new claims a week, according to the federal agency.

In the last major recession, weekly first-time claims averaged 24,746 a week for all of 2009 and 21,478 in 2010. The peak of new claims was 40,403 during the week that ended Jan. 17, 2009.

The 2009-2010 recession peak wasn't matched or exceeded again in Florida until the week ending March 21, 2020, as the pandemic took hold in the state and 74,313 first-time unemployment applications were submitted.

For 2020, including the weeks before the pandemic, the weekly average of new claims stands at 82,833.

Since mid-March, the state has averaged 103,579 new claims a week, with initial applications cresting at 506,670 during the week that ended April 18 and 433,103 the following week, which overwhelmed the state's CONNECT system.

After DeSantis moved the majority of Florida into the first phase of economic reopening on May 4, the weekly average is 72,9129. The average is 52,939 a week since a second phase of reopening was started on June 5.

Once Florida was considered fully reopened, on Sept.  25, it has had an average of 31,386 new claims a week, including weeks of 47,904 claims and 40,070 in the first half of October.

(©2021 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida's Jim Turner contributed to this report.)

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