A new survey shows Florida families are continuing to struggle amid the COVID-19 pandemic and many say their financial situation is rapidly declining.
“I worked earlier this year as a dishwasher at a restaurant in Tampa. Due to the quarantine and the beach closures, my hours were reduced significantly to the point that I left the job. I applied for unemployment. The entire process of applying online and fighting with the system took over 15 hours. It then took another 5 weeks to get my first check,” Clearwater resident Nick DiDonna wrote in the survey.
“One of the frustrating things about the whole situation is that the weekly unemployment benefits from the state of Florida are significantly lower than my friends in other states that earned the same income.”
Among those who reported being financially impacted by the pandemic, 75% say they’ve had to make economic trade-offs on things like food, medication and rent to make ends meet.
Respondents included those from the Tampa Bay region. Locally, residents showed strong support for extending federal unemployment aid and economic relief. Of the respondents, 80% said they supported extending federal unemployment benefits and 83% support additional federal aid paid directly to states and local governments to aid in recovery efforts.
Fully 81% of respondents said the state should double its maximum unemployment benefit from $250 to $500.
“The Florida unemployment system is horrible. No one can live off $200 per week. I had no idea the benefits were so little – but now I’ve learned Florida has one of the worst unemployment systems in the country,” wrote Tampa resident Christi O’Malley. “If we hadn’t been able to get the extra $600 per week from the federal government, I wouldn’t have been able to pay my rent. I maybe would have been able to cover utilities, maybe my car insurance, but I wouldn’t have been able to pay all my bills.”
Tampa Bay area residents also showed strong oppositions to reopening schools in August with 70% rejecting calls from President Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis to return to brick and mortar learning next month.
Shannon Michelle, a St. Petersburg resident, explained in the survey how she and her son both suffer from a rare lung disease.
“I don’t want to send my son back to school because of his condition – we’re trying to keep him in virtual school,” she wrote.
However, the uncertainty with state and local reopening guidelines has her worried virtual school could cause her son to lose his seat at a fine arts program where in-person education is the most effective.
Pinellas County Schools’ reopening guidelines offer three options — in person, MyPCS online or Pinellas Virtual. The MyPCS option holds a students’ seat in schools, but is only a nine-week option at this point.
“I’m afraid that if I don’t opt in to send him back to school in person by October that he will lose his spot in the academy. That could be devastating to him and affect his college applications – and he would be the first in our family to go to college,” Michelle wrote.
ParentsTogether is a national, parent-led group with more than two million community members across the nation. The group’s membership is economically, socially and racially diverse and includes parents from all 50 states.