Florida unemployment rate heavily affecting SWFL, claimants remain frustrated

As expected, Florida’s unemployment rate skyrocketed in April to 12.9%. That was up about 8.5 percentage points from March. Much of Southwest Florida was hit harder than most of the rest of the state.

  • Charlotte County is at 15.6% unemployment
  • Lee County is at 14.6% unemployment
  • Collier County is at 13.4% unemployment
  • Hendry County is at 10.5% unemployment

We looked at how these numbers have impacted the region Friday.

Simply put, a lot of people are out of work, looking for work or struggling to make ends meet.

And, then, there’s Florida’s unemployment system.

While the governor claims the state has paid 95% of eligible applicants, that does not account for so many of you who reach out to us every day to say you haven’t been paid in full. Or, worse, you’ve received nothing.

Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said getting people back to work is at the top of his mind.

“I’d like to see the economy bounce back as quickly as possible,” DeSantis said. “But I also just know it’s not that simple.”

What else isn’t simple is getting unemployment benefits to Floridians.

Christina Ohleyer of Naples told us she submitted a paper application in early April and hasn’t heard anything since. Plus, she can’t log on to the website without a pin number. When asked if she thinks she may be lost in the system, she said “probably.”

Ohleyer said she wants to go back to working full time as a cook, but she can’t find job offering enough hours. And The last eight weeks of waiting have drained her.

“I can’t go much longer,”” Ohleyer said. “I mean, I’m already borrowing money, digging myself in a hole even more to pay some of the bills that I have.”

We’ve sent more than 8,200 of your names and concerns to the state. The state said it would reach out to you directly.

This week, the state responded to some of our questions on what to do if your application has an error or you don’t have a link to apply for pandemic unemployment assistance or PUA.

Ultimately, it was more of the same: Call if you need help.

“I mean, you can only stay on the phone for so long before you want to throw it,” Ohleyer said.

Friday the governor said he hopes the federal government will move forward with a lump sum payment to people who lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

“If they are entitled to certain amount of money, over however many weeks, just give it to them and then let people go back to work,” DeSantis said.

He said that will help anyone who he thinks may want to keep collecting unemployment instead of returning to work.

Now that the unemployment rate is at nearly 13% as of April, state law requires weekly benefits be extended to a maximum of 23 weeks. WINK News reached out to DEO about how and when they plan to do that.

A spokesperson responded via email saying:

“The review of the number of weeks (and determining if there should be an increase) for Reemployment Assistance in our state can happen once a year. This calculation is based on the average unemployment rate of the third calendar quarter. So the calculation will be based on the unemployment rate of July, August, and September.”

MORE: Florida’s April Employment Figures Released

For ongoing updates and information on unemployment, follow WINK News Investigative Reporter Sara Girard on Twitter and Facebook.

She also updates the WINK News FAQ: Unemployment Resources page as information is received.

Reporter:Sara Girard
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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