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Some seeing improvements in unemployment application, still many unanswered questions

After weeks of dead ends for people trying to file for unemployment in Florida, the state announced major improvements with the system. But are they working?

The state has hired hundreds of people to help field calls and 72 servers were added to handle increased traffic for people filing for unemployment online.

But many of you are telling us so far, not much has improved.

Former hairstylist Lizzie Blouir applied for unemployment.

“Yesterday was the first day that I could request benefits,” she said.

Meanwhile, 70-year-old rideshare driver Robert Kantor can’t even get that far.

“I’ve only been able to do step one, get a claimant number. And then it goes dead on me,” he said.

We checked in with five viewers and some say they’ve now been able to get through, but not without a hassle.

“I know from everyone else that I work with and all the people I know who are doing this, it’s just been difficult and frustrating,” Blouir said.

Even though the governor says he’s waived the waiting week for benefits and work search requirements, Bouir says the application hasn’t been updated.

“When you go to request the benefits for the next week, it asks you what five jobs did you apply to? Did you go to the office? If you could why didn’t you?”

Kantor also has questions. The Q&A on the website also has not been updated and it appears that independent contractors, like him, can’t apply.

He’s still going to send in an application since the president expanded those benefits.

The state says they’re working to update information.

Many of you who haven’t been able to apply are asking whether you’ll see retroactive benefits to include the weeks it’s taken for applications to go through because of website issues.

Governor DeSantis said he wants the DEO to look into that. “It’s not like they were just sitting on their hands, not doing anything. So hopefully they’ll be able to do that.”

The DEO says 10 more servers will be installed this week to help improve the online filing system.

Paper applications are now available for those who want to send their’s by mail and FedEx is offering to print those applications and then ship them for free.


PRESS RELEASES

Governor Ron DeSantis Announces Improvements to State Reemployment Assistance Program

Tallahassee, Fla. – Today, during a COVID-19 response roundtable at the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee, Governor Ron DeSantis announced actions the state is taking to improve Florida’s reemployment assistance program. The Governor was joined at the roundtable by Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) Executive Director Ken Lawson, Department of Management Services (DMS) Secretary Jonathan Satter and Department of Revenue (DOR) Executive Director Dr. Jim Zingale.

“A lot of people are hurting right now through no fault of their own,” said Governor DeSantis. “A flawed and bureaucratic reemployment system should be the last thing that prevents them from getting assistance. Last week, I directed DEO to take whatever means necessary to fix the system and since then they have made significant progress. I appreciate the many state employees that have been working around the clock to help their fellow Floridians.”

Last week, Governor DeSantis signed Executive Order 20-93, directing DEO and other executive agencies to take necessary actions to improve DEO’s Reemployment Assistance Program.

The following agencies have taken the actions outlined below:

Department of Economic Opportunity

  • DEO installed 72 new servers.
  • The system can now handle up to 120,000 simultaneous connections by individuals filing claims. This allows for far greater capacity than the 20,000 connections the system was having difficulty with one week ago.
  • DEO published a paper application over the weekend that people can complete and mail in. Before creating the paper application, people could only fill out an application over the phone or online.
  • The paper application and important information about Reemployment Assistance is available at www.FloridaJobs.org/COVID-19.
  • DEO hired a call center, streamlined the training process, and trained more than 200 people so that they can start answering calls today.
  • DEO will continue to train more than 700 more individuals throughout the week, so that by next week more than 1,000 individuals will be answering calls for Reemployment Assistance.

“I want to thank Governor DeSantis for taking extraordinary efforts to ensure that our agency can better serve Floridians during this global pandemic,” said DEO Executive Director Ken Lawson. “With additional customer call center support and critical technology improvements, DEO can assist more individuals and businesses during this unsettling time.”

Department of Management Services

DMS Secretary Jonathan Satter coordinated the Governor’s call-to-action for state employees to assist DEO with calls, data entry and citizen services.

More than 2,300 state employees have volunteered to help. DEO will determine the number and extent to which the employees will be utilized.

DMS is coordinating technology support and telecommunications capacity to handle a surge in calls and applications for reemployment assistance.

DMS is now working with DEO to establish virtual desktop support and workflow processes to serve an estimated one million Floridians impacted by COVID-19.

“Governor DeSantis is committed to promptly connecting Floridians with the benefits they need to get through this unprecedented time,” said DMS Secretary Jonathan R. Satter. “The personal commitment from state employees to help their neighbors get the assistance they need is remarkable. We will continue to allocate the technical and personnel resources necessary to provide Floridians the level of service they expect and deserve.”

Department of Revenue

In response to the Governor’s directive, DOR is mobilizing 579 employees to support DEO.
These employees have the work experience to assist with the verification of applications.
The employer identification process DOR will be assisting with is one of the final steps before payment is sent to the individual who has applied for reemployment assistance.
These 579 employees work in the Child Support and General Tax programs within the agency and will still be able to handle their normal responsibilities.

“The Department of Revenue is eager to assist the Department of Economic Opportunity in verifying the applications for reemployment benefits during this statewide health emergency,” said DOR Executive Director Jim Zingale. “DOR has nearly 600 experienced employees who are ready to mobilize for this all-hands-on-deck effort.”


Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Announces Actions Taken to Make Accessing Reemployment Assistance More User Friendly

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) announced multiple actions taken to improve the ability for Floridians to access the Reemployment Assistance program. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, DEO is seeing historic increases in Floridians filing for Reemployment Assistance. Last week, Governor DeSantis signed Executive Order 20-93, directing DEO and other executive agencies to take all necessary actions to improve the Reemployment Assistance program.

“I want to thank Governor DeSantis for providing my agency with the resources needed to assist Floridians as quickly as possible,” said Ken Lawson, Executive Director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. “It is imperative that my team can provide multiple avenues to Floridians who have lost their jobs and been impacted by COVID-19. We are all hands-on deck throughout the state working with every state agency and resource we have, and we will not rest until the issues are resolved.”

Additional Ways to Apply for Reemployment Assistance

As many Floridians do not have access to a computer at this time, Governor DeSantis has instructed DEO to make paper Reemployment Assistance applications available for Floridians.

Beginning this week, CareerSource locations across the state will be providing paper applications and assisting Floridians with submitting their Reemployment Assistance applications. Visit www.CareerSourceFlorida.com for information and center locations.

FedEx is offering free printing and mailing of Reemployment Assistance paper applications at over 100 storefronts across the state.

Applications can be downloaded at www.FloridaJobs.org/COVID-19. Once the application is complete, individuals should mail them to:
Florida Department of Economic Opportunity
P.O. Box 5350
Tallahassee, FL 32314-5350

Additionally, to make it easier for Floridians to receive Reemployment Assistance, Governor DeSantis waived:

The waiting week, so individuals can claim their very first week of Reemployment Assistance.

The work search and work registration requirements so individuals filing for Reemployment Assistance are not required to register in Employ Florida or submit information on a biweekly basis regarding the employers that they contacted each week while the state mitigates the spread of COVID-19.

Technology

DEO has worked with the Department of Management Services to dramatically enhance the capability of the online application system for Reemployment Assistance, CONNECT.

DEO has installed 72 new servers from the state’s back up data center in Winter Haven to increase capacity. The system can now handle up to 120,000 simultaneous connections by individuals filing claims. This allows for greater capacity than the 20,000 simultaneous connections that the system has been experiencing recently.

An additional 10 servers are being installed to assist the CONNECT system this week.

“Governor DeSantis is bringing all resources to the table to respond to an unprecedented volume of need,” said Jonathan R. Satter, Secretary of the Florida Department of Management Services. “Our DMS team is committed to supporting DEO in getting Floridians the assistance they desperately need at this time. We will continue to allocate the technical and personnel resources necessary to provide Floridians the level of service they expect and deserve.”

Providing Additional Customer Service Support

During these historic times, the Governor has supported DEO by making resources available to assist with helping more Floridians as quickly as possible. Last week, DEO had nearly 200 staff working on the claims process for Reemployment Assistance.

Beginning today, Tuesday, April 7, more than 500 individuals will be providing support for the Reemployment Assistance claims process through contracts with customer call centers, CareerSource center staff and state employees.

By next week, that number will more than double when additional contracted staff, state employees and local workforce development boards are added to the team.

The Florida Department of Revenue has provided DEO with 579 additional employees to begin processing Reemployment Assistance applications. This week, more than 2,300 state employees have volunteered to be available to answer calls, reply to emails and process applications.

“The Department of Revenue is eager to assist the Department of Economic Opportunity in verifying the applications for Reemployment Assistance during this statewide health emergency. DOR has nearly 600 experienced employees who are ready to mobilize for this all-hands-on-deck effort,” said Dr. Jim Zingale Florida Department of Revenue.

CARES Act Update

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, signed into law on March 27, 2020, expands Reemployment Assistance benefits. DEO is working diligently to incorporate the new provisions of the CARES Act to ensure all Floridians who are eligible get their full amount of benefits. DEO will issue additional information about Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Assistance as it becomes available. Benefits will be paid from the date they became eligible under the CARES Act. At this time, individuals who apply for Reemployment Assistance whose employment was negatively impacted as a result of COVID-19 will follow the same application, review and payment process as all applicants for Reemployment Assistance in Florida.

For more information about Reemployment Assistance benefits and how to apply, visit site www.FloridaJobs.org/COVID-19. Any Floridian whose employment has been negatively impacted as a result of COVID-19 to visit www.FloridaJobs.org/COVID-19 and watch a short video on how to apply.

Reporter:Sara Girard
Writer:Briana Harvath
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