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Florida jobless claims fall, but economic uncertainty mounts

The number of new jobless claims in Florida again fell — dipping by 67,070 last week, according to federal data — as job losses from the coronavirus pandemic continued to slow. But there were fresh worries that the ranks of the unemployed could again swell as restaurants and other establishments re-close to stave off new infections.

On Thursday, Florida marked another grim milestone when it reported 120 new deaths from COVID-19, pushing the statewide total to more than 4,000. The number of new cases rose by nearly 9,000 to a cumulative total of more than 229,000.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of jobless Floridians could face deepening financial turmoil as their unemployment benefits run out.

Those filing for unemployment aid are limited to 12 weeks of benefits over a 12-month period, under Florida’s unemployment compensation program. However, the recently unemployed can apply for $600 federal payment until July 24 under the U.S government’s pandemic relief package. Some federal aid, including jobless benefits for gig workers, runs through Dec. 26.

As of Thursday, restaurants in Miami-Dade County won’t be allowed to serve patrons at indoor tables. Mayor Carlos Gimenez also ordered banquet halls and ballrooms to close until further notice, but he allowed gyms and fitness centers to remain open to customers who wear masks.

Meanwhile, Bank of America earlier this week shuttered dozens of its branches in central and South Florida.

But in a ray of sunshine amid the gloom, two of Disney World’s four parks are expected to reopen Saturday.

The majority of Florida’s roughly 229,000 cases of COVID-19 have been concentrated in Florida’s most populous regions, with the Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas among the state’s most intense hot spots.

Restaurants, bars and the hospitality industries have been especially hard hit.

“It comes down to our ability to survive,” said Sunil Bhatt, the chief executive officer of the Genuine Hospitality Group, which runs some of the Miami area’s most highly regarded restaurants. “Anybody who thinks that the crisis is going to be over in a few weeks is probably delusional.”

In a news conference Thursday morning, Bhatt joined others from the restaurant industry to push for a $120 billion federal bailout package to offset losses. The National Restaurant Association said more than 8 million workers have become unemployed because of the virus.

Bradley Kilgore, the chef and owner of the Kilgore Culinary Group, said he has had to close five of his restaurants and laid off more than 100 employees.

“It will be extremely difficult, as it already is, to look these people in their eyes,” he said, “and let them know that they don’t have a job anymore and we don’t have any answers.”

He called the recent restrictions a “nail in the coffin” for some restaurants.

Since mid-March, more than 2.3 million Floridians have sought unemployment benefits from the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity. The department said it has paid out about $9 billion in benefits on nearly 1.7 million processed claims, according to the state’s unemployment dashboard.

Nearly 199,000 Floridians are still waiting for their applications to be verified, while hundreds of thousands have been deemed ineligible under the state’s unemployment compensation program — although some might be eligible for help under the federal government’s pandemic relief package.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Author: The Associated Press
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