Florida’s unemployment rate hits 12.9% as thousands struggle to receive benefits

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Florida's unemployment rate passed a grim marker Friday, shooting up to 12.9%, which is 1 1/2 point higher than it was at the height of the Great Recession.

For the hundreds of thousands still out of work, benefits will start to expire soon.

So far 1.7 million Floridians have applied for unemployment since the pandemic began.


READ: Less than 100 people affected by data breach that hit Florida’s unemployment system, DEO says

State officials said 1 million have been paid, and the rest are still waiting.

"As a state senator, I just want to apologize for the pain and suffering if it did impact you," said Sen. Joe Gruters, a Republican who represents District 23.

Gruters was one of the first critics of the broken site.

"At the end of the day, we have to make sure families are getting the help they need when they need it,” he said.

Right now, even those who got through aren't whole.

John Luers, a Disney cast member, said he was auto-enrolled in the system, but his claim is incomplete and the state can’t tell him when it’ll be made whole.

READ: As thousands wait to get unemployment payments, some Disney workers say they were overpaid

"I'm missing one week of state and two weeks of federal," he said. "…A lot of cast members are waiting for that money from the state, and we just don't have access to it and we have bills to pay."

While Luers expects to return to work soon, for others there's a bigger problem looming as weeks of paid benefits are about to expire.

Florida only offers 12 weeks of unemployment, which is the shortest period in the nation.

State law does provide for more weeks to be added if unemployment rises above 10.5%, which it did Friday. But there's a catch.

By law, those additional weeks won't start until the third quarter, which, in this case, is October

That means for those who are getting paid, there's a real chance their money will end before their job returns.

There have been calls for a special session to extend benefit weeks, but those calls have gone unheeded.

Meanwhile, for people who lost their jobs in mid-March, benefits run out in mid-June, and it’s unknown if jobs will be back by then.

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.