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Lawmakers release bill proposal to fix Florida unemployment problems

Lawmakers released a bill proposal Thursday to fix the problems you faced with the state unemployment system during the pandemic and before.

Meanwhile, people like Donna Spreitzer who’s been out of work since March 17 calls the last seven months a living nightmare.

“My savings is depleted,” she said. “Do you pay your credit card bill or do you buy food? Do you pay your mortgage or you know, you let your car payment go?”

She admits there were issues with her unemployment account, but call takers promised her it would only take a few weeks to fix.

Now, by her calculations, she’s missing roughly $22,000 in payments.

She says she’s deferred her car payment three times, maxed out her credit cards, and had to borrow from her family to pay her mortgage.

Without that help, “I would be out on the street,” Spreitzer said.

Stories like Spreitzer’s aren’t rare, and that’s why multiple lawmakers are proposing new legislation to fix the broken system.

READ THE DRAFT BILL

Their proposal includes in part:

  • Increasing maximum weekly benefit amount to $500 (from $275)
  • Extending maximum duration to 26 weeks (from 12)
  • Modifying base period to allow more people to be eligible, making space for self-employed and agricultural workers
  • Expanding accessibility so people can apply other ways than online
  • Setting a three week deadline for claimants to receive their eligibility status
  • Establishing a public advocate to oversee the DEO and make sure it’s delivering benefits in a timely manner

Representative Anna Eskamani of Orlando is one of the sponsors.

“Those are just some of parts of the bill,” she said. “But our intention is to make the unemployment system work for the people of Florida and create more access points to apply.”

Spreitzer says she fought nearly every day just to get something from the state and says at least they need to improve customer service.

“You’re waiting, and every time something new pops up, it takes weeks and weeks and weeks. And every time you call, you get a different answer,” she said.

Eskamani says that’s part of the plan.

“We want to create the dynamic way if we need to walk into an office to get to support you can do that. Versus now when people are waiting for hours on the phone still not able to get to someone who can help,” Eskamani said.

But a few big questions remain, like where will the money come from? Will Governor Ron DeSantis sign off on it, and when?

Eskamani says the money is there, the state just has to reprioritize and diversify its revenue streams. She’s also unsure whether the governor will support it. WINK News reached out to DeSantis’ office about it and he never responded.

The representative hopes there’s enough pressure to call for a special session and vote on the bill now instead of waiting until next session in March.

“This bill could be heard at any moment, if the legislature leadership wanted to hear this bill, they could,” Eskamani said.

Because people like Spreitzer have waited long enough.

“You feel like you just, there’s nowhere to turn. Because nobody is out there to help you,” she said.

Eskamani says while there’s no explicit call to switch to a new software, meeting this bill’s requirements should lead to changes to the online unemployment system, including the possibility of creating a new one.

No Southwest Florida lawmakers provided a comment on the proposed legislation.

You can read the draft of the bill proposal here.


For ongoing updates 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
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