Emergency hearing outlines unemployment issues, ruling continued

A judge in Tallahassee held an emergency hearing Tuesday on unemployment compensation to address an injunction filed on behalf of more than 200,000 unemployed Floridians. The marathon hearing went from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

WINK News investigative reporter Sara Girard live-tweeted what happened. Read her summary:

The plaintiffs are demanding the Department of Economic Opportunity give people their benefits immediately.

Ultimately it will come down to whether the judge believes he has the authority to order the state to pay people immediately.

The plaintiffs presented evidence for multiple scenarios that hundreds of thousands of Floridians are facing, like system glitches and wrongful ineligibility that’s preventing people from receiving all or some of their benefits.

Attorneys argue the state is not “promptly” paying people and that’s breaking the law.

Among the 13 witnesses were a former call center employee and a man who said he has had to trade diapers for food.

The state called one witness, a representative from the DEO. Chief Financial Officer Damon Steffens said that people are getting paid and that the state has been addressing problems mentioned in prior years’ audits. He said the state is “constantly” improving the unemployment system to get people paid as quickly as possible.

RELATED: Audit reveals DEO knew about unemployment website flaws

In reference to the old audits, attorney Marie Mattox asked Steffens, “You did not know that delays in fixing the system could have a dramatic effect on hundreds of thousands of Floridians, who are unemployed and couldn’t get money? You didn’t know that?”

Steffens responded, “I didn’t know COVID was going to happen to cause this massive increase. Fixes were being scheduled.”

Judge John Cooper decided he won’t be able to give a ruling Tuesday night. He still needs to review case documents, hear the plaintiffs’ cross-examining and both sides’ closing arguments.

He will take up the issue again at 1 p.m. Thursday and then give his ruling.

For ongoing updates and information on unemployment, follow WINK News Investigative Reporter Sara Girard on Twitter and Facebook.

She also updates the WINK News FAQ: Unemployment Resources page as information is received.

Reporter:Sara Girard
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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