TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Much like the rest of the country, unemployment rates skyrocketed in Florida at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. And while the Florida unemployment rate has fallen somewhat to 7.6%, many in the state are still in need of help and may get it through a program called EB or Extended Benefits.
In October alone, more than 10,000 people applied for unemployment in the Tampa Bar area — including 7,338 in Hillsborough County and 3,799 in Pinellas County.
"We continue to see unemployment problems within our office; it's mostly coupled with eviction notices," said State Representative Anna Eskamani, a Democrat whose district covers the Orlando area.
Eskamani has fielded calls from Florida's unemployed since March.
"We need political back-and-forth to stop. The American people are in desperate need of relief," she said.
The regular 12 weeks of benefits for those unemployed only lasted until about mid-June. That's when many applied for PEUC, a 13-week extension that took extended benefits to about mid-September.
With the state's unemployment rate remaining above 5% for as long as it has, regular unemployment benefits were extended but haven't been made available yet.
"They're trying to integrate it into the connect system, which is why they're saying December it's going to be available," Eskamani said.
In order for Floridians to get extended benefits — or EB — their PEUC benefits must have been used up between June 7 and Nov. 7.
"I actually think the gap that's being sent by the US Department of Labor catches most people," Eskamani said.
It could, however, have an impact on Disney World employees, many of whom were furloughed or laid off amid an extended park closure. What happens for others seeking unemployment in 2021 is still unclear.
Eskamani says that by then, the state legislature should officially be able to file a bill that she and other lawmakers drafted in October, hoping to get claimants more money for a longer period of time.
"(I want to) increase the benefit amount to $500 — change the sliding scale of what's available to us at the limit of 26 weeks, which is the national average," she said. "Put in place time restrictions for when the (Florida Department of Economic Opportunity) has to get back to you on your eligibility status."
Eskamani also hopes to extend benefits to self-employed who are out of work and have the legislature's Oversight Committee hold the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity accountable.
She says once the bill filed, she hopes to push the bill into committee hearings. Lawmakers go back for organizational meetings in a week and a half.
This story was originally published by Heather Leigh on WFTS in Tampa, Florida.