New virtual unemployment ‘waiting room’ frustrates claimants

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity says it has a new feature to help you during your unemployment process, but people using the systems are only describing more frustration.

We’ve been getting mixed reviews on what you think of the new virtual waiting room. Some of you say it’s smoother once you actually log on. Others say the website is still a mess.

Either way, everyone who has reached out to us says more waiting isn’t what you need.

What people want are their payments.

Corinne Casazza of North Fort Myers waited for an hour and 45 minutes Monday morning to get on CONNECT to claim her weeks. We asked her if the process seemed to be improved.

“Well, it’s never very smooth, right?” Casazza said. “So it was as smooth as it has been. Yes.”

Her problem now? The system changed Casazza’s wages to zero, and she doesn’t know how to fix it.

“I don’t know if I’m going to receive payment because they are claiming that they don’t have my salary information now,” Casazza said.

Belinda Anderson of Port Charlotte waited 45 minutes to log on. But, in reality, she’s been waiting a lot longer for payment from the DEO.

Anderson’s claim has been pending since April 11.

“Nothing is changed on my status, and I have called endlessly,” Anderson said. “And it just hangs up on you. The DEO just hangs up on you.”

The new virtual waiting room has users watch as it loads. After dozens of you reached out with your frustrations, WINK News Investigative Reporter Sara Girard also tried it. She waited almost two hours for the progress bar to reach the end, only for the site to crash.

She reloaded the page and eventually the log in page appeared.

“I mean, you have no option other than to sit there and wait,” Anderson said. “And some people don’t have the time to keep your computer on, or keep checking back to do that.”

WINK News also found, if users aren’t watching carefully, they can lose their spot. One woman told us she waited two hours, only to get kicked out of line.

Keep in mind, the DEO has been limiting CONNECT users for a few weeks now. It says before the pandemic, only 1,000 users could be on it at once and it still run smoothly. That’s now up to roughly 80,000 people.

DEO Statement on virtual waiting room:

“DEO has launched a Virtual Waiting Room for the CONNECT system. When CONNECT was developed, it was designed to have 1,000 concurrent users at a time. With the system enhancements put into place over the last few months, CONNECT is now able to host 80,000+/- concurrent users and provide a positive experience for the users utilizing the system. The CONNECT Virtual Waiting Room allows claimants to reserve their place in line while other claimants access the system.”

However, the state has received more than 1.8 million unique claims since March. One piece of advice: The DEO says less people log on later in the day, so users might have better luck then.

The DEO recently updated its resource guide as of May 30. You can find it by clicking here.

WINK News has been working to get answers to your questions. Over the weekend the DEO responded to a list of inquiries on how you can better navigate the unemployment system. We’ve posted all of them on our FAQ: Unemployment Resources page.

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:Jack Lowenstein
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