ORLANDO, Fla. – Tens of thousands of Walt Disney World employees who were recently furloughed because their jobs are not considered essential during the coronavirus pandemic could be automatically enrolled in Florida’s already overburdened unemployment system.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said he’s working with theme parks and other large employers who are no longer able to pay workers to find a way to get those staff members benefits from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
Universal announced starting on April 20 nearly all of the team members will be paid at 80 percent of their pay and will have their scheduled adjusted. Some team members will still receive 100 percent of their pay, according to Universal.
Universal also announced they will furlough part-time hourly workers starting on May 3. The company said they will cover the cost of benefit plans for those employees who have them.
DeSantis said the idea would be to contact these employers, get the data for the furloughed employees and input that information into the DEO’s reemployment assistance program, likely in the early morning hours when the site doesn’t get as much traffic.
“I think it would make sense, I think it would probably be easier for everyone. Now, they wouldn’t get any special place in line, whoever has applied is going to go through that way, but I think when you know you’re going to have a massive amount of people from one employer and that’s announced, if you can work with them to get that information and get it through the system, I think that that will probably be better for everyone,” DeSantis said.
Even as countless Floridians report problems with the unemployment system, DeSantis said there have been “hundreds of thousands of successful submissions.” A report published Thursday noted that more than 472,000 reemployment claims have been filed in the past three weeks.
He also said residents could start seeing checks from federal unemployment money allocated in the CARES Act as early as Tuesday.
In the meantime, the DEO has spent $119 million trying to keep up with the demand caused by the negative economic impact of the coronavirus. That money has gone toward increasing call center capacity, developing a mobile-friendly application site, purchasing computer hardware and software and buying data management software, among other things.
Also on Tuesday, DeSantis addressed questions on what the process might be like to get furloughed and laid off residents across the state back to work. There’s no timeline on when restaurants, bars and other businesses will reopen but the governor said he’s working on assembling a task force to help determine how some of the current mandates will be loosened when the time comes.
He called that part of the pandemic “phase two” and said it could involve making testing more widely available so that employees don’t go to work sick and potentially infect others.
“We’re thinking about how do we leverage the infrastructure that we’ve already put in for kind of a phase two where we’re having more activity in society but still have to identify who is infected, isolate them and then trace the contacts so you don’t have an outbreak in some of these communities,” DeSantis said.
Florida Department of Health data shows that 205,413 people have been tested across the state thus far, 21,367 of whom were found to be positive for COVID-19.