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Unemployment system glitch keeps benefits from formerly incarcerated people

Another glitch in Florida’s unemployment system is keeping people from their benefits.

The Department of Economic Opportunity’s website is accidentally flagging thousands of accounts with holds. The system thinks they’re in jail, but they’re not.

“How is this relief package helping the poor people like me that’s lost their jobs during the pandemic?” asked David Bryant of Port Charlotte.

Bryant applied for unemployment right at the start of January. After a couple weeks, everything just stopped.

“It’s unbearable,” he said.

Like millions of people in Florida, Bryant has a record. And like millions in Florida, he’s also struggling with the unemployment system.

“This will be my fourth week without any benefit money.”

Last month, a glitch in the website flagged Bryant’s and thousands of other accounts with an “incarceration hold.”

“The lady said on the phone, oh, well, I’ll put in an emergency paper to the adjudicators, the head person or whatever. But nothing’s happened,” Bryant said.

Now, he’s missing at least $2,300, all because of his past that never should’ve caught up with him like this.

“I don’t see what that would have to do with one or the other. It doesn’t make sense.”

Bryan clearly isn’t in jail now. WINK checked his record, and in 2017, he spent a night at the Charlotte County Jail on a drug charge that was later dropped.

“Without the unemployment, there is no food at my house right now, or nothing.”

He says he’s gone to the food pantry every day, and bills are going unpaid while he looks for work and takes care of his mom.

“I want to die, man. It’s just terrible. It’s awful.”

He’s not sure how much longer he can go on.

“That’s all I have, that’s all I can do. Just pray that they pay us and they don’t make us suffer longer than what we’ve already suffered.”

WINK News let the DEO know about Bryant’s hold. They said they’re aware of the issue and are working to resolve it. There’s no timeline for how long until he gets paid.

HOW TO GET HELP

Miami-based unemployment advocate Vanessa Brito is helping people fight their incarceration holds.

Here are the steps she recommends taking if you have an adjudication message on your CONNECT account because of previous incarceration, arrest or probation.

  1. Contact DEO via phone at 1-800-204-2418 or online chat.
  2. Ask the CLAIMS SPECIFIC AGENT if your adjudication message is due to a previous incarceration (even if it was years ago or you’ve never been incarcerated)
  3. If yes, then you MUST ask that the incarceration/availability hold be voided.
  4. Ask if they have a Fact Finding for you on file for that incarceration/availability and CONFIRM IT IS PROCESSED.

Brito says holds are typically released within two days of performing the above steps.

If not removed or unsuccessful, she suggests writing an email with the following information:>

Subject: Incarceration Hold

Body of Email:

  • Name
  • Claimant ID
  • The only thing you should say in the body is “Please lift my incarceration hold. I’ve served my time.”
  • Attach any kind of documentation regarding your incarceration.

Here’s a list of contacts at the DEO she suggests you email.


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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