FILE - U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio

(The Center Square) – The National Federation of Independent Business reported Monday that 76 percent of small businesses members nationwide have been negatively affected by the novel coronavirus as ad hoc shutdowns grind economic activity to a halt.

The Florida Division of Economic Opportunity (DEO) was busy Monday, however, as the first wave of an estimated 400,000 Floridians who lost their jobs last week began filing for unemployment benefits.

“By virtue of this crisis, we are seeing an unprecedented number of individuals applying for re-employment assistance. So I ask people to be very patient,” DEO Executive Director Dr. Ken Lawson said Monday during a Facebook Live appearance with Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park.

As many as 2 million workers across the state are estimated to be in job limbo and soon could be joining those already laid off in the wake of bar and restaurant shutdowns and hotel and theme park closures that have sent tourism, Florida’s top industry, into a sudden full-stop, leaving nearly one-fifth of the state’s 10.4 million employed residents jobless.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) said Thursday that Florida hotels, and businesses that support the hotel industry, have cut nearly 400,000 jobs in the past week.

The state, which posted a record-low 2.8 percent unemployment rate in January, is braced for the onslaught of unemployment filings. Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis waived a requirement that out-of-work people contact at least five possible employers every week to receive unemployment benefits, which are capped at $275 weekly, among the nation’s lowest.

DeSantis on Friday also enacted a $50 million Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan program, which allows companies with two to 100 employees to apply for short-term loans of up to $50,000.

Keeping them “solvent” he said, will decide “whether we can bounce back quicker, or whether this is a more prolonged economic struggle,” DeSantis said Monday, noting the state was dispersing the short-term, interest-free loans within three days.

“For government work, it doesn’t get any quicker than that,” DeSantis said.

“Providing support to small businesses throughout our state will help to expedite our recovery,” Lawson said.

“The Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan is designed to get cash into the hands of small businesses so they can keep their doors open during a crisis,” DeSantis said. “I am pleased to be able to provide our first loans to the small business owners who are in a tough time through no fault of their own. I look forward to other businesses following suit.”

Florida Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on Monday joined Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee in calling for $300 billion for small businesses as part of the $1 trillion federal coronavirus relief bill being debated in the Senate.

Under Rubio’s proposal, small businesses that employ fewer than 500 employees would be able apply for loans through existing Small Business Administration-certified lenders.

“They don’t have a few weeks before they run out of operating cash. They are (often tearfully) laying off workers all over the country, by the minute because they have no choice,” Rubio tweeted Friday. “Small/mid-size business owners are also employees themselves. The trauma this is inflicting on them, their employees and our country is severe. We don’t have the luxury of days to kick around ideas or try to one-up each other. We need to reach agreement and act.”