ORLANDO, Fla. — A sudden spread of the COVID-19 has led to widespread shutdowns and layoffs. Those closures have also created a surge of unemployment benefit applications that the state of Florida is now scrambling to tend to.

“We are asking Floridians to be patient as we take action to increase our ability to serve those whose employment has been negatively impacted by the mitigation efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Florida Department of Economic Opportunity said in a statement.

The agency oversees applications and distribution of unemployment benefits, or “reemployment benefits” as the state calls it.

Many tell Spectrum News the efforts to simply apply have been troublesome and hampered by various glitches.

“It took me 4 to 5 hours to finish one form,” Zeyad El Mashak told Spectrum News.

He was recently laid off from his food-service job.

“Multiple times I had to restart, multiple times kick out and had to enter information again. It’s really difficult,” he said.

Stephanie Shive, who was laid off from her pastry chef job at an Orlando-area resort, said she managed to submit her application, but it’s remained “pending” for 11 days now.

“I tried to call to get information and it gave me a runaround,” Shiver said. “I called and I was on the automated system for a few minutes, and then it said there was a high call volume and just hung up.”

Those now struggling to apply for benefits say they’re also struggling to simply figure out what their next step is. With uncertainty if they’ll receive benefits, there is little to know about how they will still make ends meet, with rent and other bills due in a few short days.

“It’s frustrating because I don’t know what’s going on with the situation,” I don’t have savings to pay my bills and it’ll be kind of hard,” said Yazmin Deida, who was recently laid off from her food service job.

Deida is a member of the Unite Here! Union, which is providing support to members to fill out applications, and for those without computer access.

An Oxford economic study estimates at least 305,146 people in Central Florida could face potential layoffs depending on the extent of the coronavirus closures.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced Thursday that 3.2 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits nationally last week, far more than the previous record of 695,000 applications set in October 1982. It is also the highest number of new unemployment benefit applications since the agency started recording figures in 1967.

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity says it is trying to hire 100 people for call centers in Orlando and Tallahassee to allow for seven day a week service.

Florida DEO says it is trying to address “historic increases” in applications for benefits.

The 103,298 applications for unemployment benefits filed this week alone overshadow previous weeks.

Applications for Reemployment Benefits:

  • Week Ending March 28: 103,298
  • Week Ending March 21: 74, 313
  • Week Ending March 14: 6,463
  • Week Ending March 7: 5,325

In a letter to President Donald Trump asking for an emergency declaration, Gov. Ron DeSantis said at least 6,617 businesses have laid off 40,438 people at this point due to a dramatic downturn in business. Of the layoffs, the state expects 31,246 to be temporary and 9,191 permanent. But those numbers also reflect just a portion of those filing for unemployment benefits.

Florida law also exempts self-employed and gig economy workers, such as those that drive and deliver goods using apps, from receiving unemployment benefits.