Disney furloughs threaten to strain system for unemployment benefits

More than 70,000 Disney cast members will be furloughed

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Walt Disney World has continued to pay most of its employees since its theme parks and hotels closed more than a month ago.

This will change on Sunday when more than 70,000 Disney cast members will be furloughed.

A wave of new jobless claims is threatening to crash down on Florida’s struggling unemployment benefits program.

For weeks, Floridians seeking unemployment assistance payments have been overloading the state’s website and computer system handling the claims.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity received more than 647,000 benefit applications between March 15 and April 11, according to the agency.

Yet the agency has only issued payments to about 37,000 people in that same period, records show.

To ease the burden on the DEO computer system, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state is working on a proposal to automatically enroll Disney workers for unemployment benefits.

Under the plan, Disney would potentially share employee data with DEO, which would enter it into the system directly, likely in the overnight hours.

Although the proposal might eliminate the need for Disney workers to file for benefits using the state's website or mailing paper applications, the governor insists those workers will not receive a FastPass to quicker benefit payments.

"We are working with some of the really large employers (like Disney) that have announced furloughs to try and just get the data internally and import it because it takes stress off the system," DeSantis said Friday. "But those folks would not be at the front of the line. The people that applied first are going to be at the front of the line."

Until the state confirms it will automatically enroll workers, leaders of Disney labor unions are instructing members to plan on applying for unemployment benefits themselves when their furloughs begin.

Disney officials referred questions about the auto-enrollment proposal to the governor’s office, which has not provided additional details.

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