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More than 432,000 jobless claims filed in Florida last week

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida had the most new unemployment claims of any U.S. state last week as more than 432,000 Floridians filed for jobless benefits in the latest sign of damage to its economy caused by coronavirus -induced lockdowns that closed theme parks, shuttered restaurants and halted travel.

The U.S. Department of Labor said Thursday that 432,465 initial claims for jobless benefits were filed in Florida last week, down slightly from the previous week's more than half-million claims.

Nationwide, more than 3.8 million laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits last week as the U.S. economy slid further into a crisis that is becoming the most devastating since the 1930s. Roughly 30.3 million people have now filed for jobless aid in six weeks.

Unemployed Floridians have complained widely about the state's online system for registering claims making the process of filing for benefits extremely difficult. Others have criticized the system delays in getting a payment once their applications are accepted.

After waiting almost six weeks since she first filed a claim, waitress Sandee Ballard finally got money Thursday. Initially, she had been deemed ineligible with no explanation, but she refiled and included paycheck stubs and her tax filings. Her fiancee, who drives cargo vans, also lost his job a month ago and his application for jobless benefits has been pending for several weeks.

“My only hope is that they start helping others that have been caught up since March," Ballard tweeted.

Before the coronavirus crisis, Florida had more than 10 million civilian workers in its labor force.

More than 2 million jobless claims have been filed in the state since mid-March, and more than 916,000 claims have been verified by state workers. More than 416,000 workers have been paid almost $580 million, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Given the dire economic environment, with theme parks closed across the U.S., Comcast's CEO said Thursday that the company was delaying construction on its fourth park at Orlando Universal Resort. The Epic Universe theme park was announced last year to great fanfare.

“There is no doubt that our theme parks will reopen," Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said on an earnings report call. “And when they do, I believe they will benefit from strong pent-up demand."

The latest jobless numbers come as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis this week announced baby steps toward reopening the state's economy. Florida’s restaurants and retail stores will be allowed to reopen Monday at 25% capacity, if the local government allows it, the governor said Wednesday.

DeSantis' order will also allow hospitals and surgical centers statewide to restart nonessential, elective procedures — but only if they have sufficient medical supplies and agree to help nursing homes and assisted living facilities prevent and respond to coronavirus outbreaks. Parks, golf courses and other outdoor recreation areas already began reopening in some counties Wednesday.

Excluded from the order are hard-hit, heavily populated Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. DeSantis said their businesses will begin phase one when it is safer.

In Miami, a federal judge declined Thursday to release at-risk inmates at a Miami-Dade jail where dozens have tested positive for the coronavirus. U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams instead extended a previous order another 45 days mandating that authorities at the Metro West Detention Center provide inmates with soap, masks, cleaning supplies and make every effort to achieve social distancing. The county has already filed a notice of appeal.

As of Thursday morning, Florida had almost 33,700 coronavirus cases and 1,270 deaths from the virus.

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Associated Press writers Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale and Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg contributed to this report.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.