Thousands of Floridians file for unemployment as hotline calls increase 700%

Hotline calls increased 700% as 21,000 people filed for unemployment Monday.

About 21,000 Floridians filed for unemployment on Monday and calls to the Florida unemployment hotline have increased by 700% in a week.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has had to bring in there more servers for web traffic, hire 100 more staff, and move the call center to seven days a week.

This is just the start of what is shaping up to be a wave of unemployed Floridians looking for assistance from a system not ready for a sudden explosion of claims.

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“It was all very sudden when everyone was laid off. We weren’t prepared for it. We kept getting told that everything is going to be OK and we’re going to get warned in advance, but no,” said Orlando resident Zeyad El Mashak.

El Mashak is one of about 400 people laid off from their jobs working for a food vendor at the Orlando International Airport last week. He spent all day Monday, just trying to fill out DEO’s online form.

“When you go to the website, it just keeps resetting your information once you get to a certain point, when you press an X, it takes you to the same page again; sometimes doesn’t load, just starts from scratch deleting all your information,” El Mashak said.

Those now turning to this safety net program are discovering Florida provides a very small net.

The state caps payments at $275 a week, fifth-lowest in the U.S. The state also limits unemployment to only 12 weeks, and until the rule was lifted by the governor, required people to be actively looking for work to get their money.

“Most people there were living paycheck to paycheck, so once this pandemic hit all the people are worried about just this month, it’s not about the month after, it’s about just this month for now,” El Mashak said.