Coronavirus is Crippling Florida’s Unemployment System
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered all restaurants to close dining and move to take-out or delivery only on Friday, March 20, 2020 because of the coronavirus outbreak. (Scott Keeler/Tampa Bay Times)
Allison Harris knew the layoff was inevitable. An assistant manager and a server at Baba in St. Petersburg, she wasn’t surprised when she and her colleagues were laid off on Thursday.
But when she sought help through Florida’s unemployment assistance website Friday morning, the site kept kicking her off. When she called, the line went straight to a recording saying the lines were busy.
Without any income, the single mother estimates she can last two weeks, maybe a little bit more.
“I’m freaked out right now,” said Harris, 40.
She’s not alone. The coronavirus is testing Florida’s unemployment assistance program, already stingy and unreliable, like it’s never been tested before.
As Florida’s economy ground to a halt this week, Floridians flooded the program with calls and website requests, jamming the lines and crashing the website.
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This story is part of a collaboration with the Tampa Bay Times through FRONTLINE’s Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.