Floridians remain frustrated with state unemployment system

Widespread problems are coming from Florida Department of Economic Opportunity as people continue to battle the unemployment system.

The state promised things were getting better, since the pandemic overwhelmed the website and kept people from their payments.

It might feel like a broken record at this point, but the question remains: How is this still happening?

In an email, a woman wrote us she tried to log on to the website hundreds of times and never got on. Another woman we spoke to told us she’s missing 17 weeks of backpay.

Countless people have reached out to us saying they’re waiting hours on the phone for help only to be hung up on. They say the website won’t stop crashing, causing them to have to wait in the queue, start all over and delay their benefits.

Sandra Wurm is grateful to be back to work now, but she says she needs that backpay to catch up on her bills.

“This is overwhelming. I was so scared I was gonna end up living out of my car,” Wurm said. “I want my money that is due me. I paid into that. That was what that was for. For in case something like this was to happen.”

Keep in mind, the department just received nearly $100 million in funding to make improvements that DEO says it’s been making since last year.

We asked DEO and the governor for concrete answers about how and when these issues will end.

The governor’s office responded and told us to contact DEO, and the department said it’s doing its best.

Below is the full response from the Department of Economic Opportunity:

Hi Sara,

Thanks again for reaching out.

You may view the number of unique claims received each day through the Reemployment Assistance Dashboard, here.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department has worked diligently to modernize the CONNECT system to process claims more efficiently. You can see the timeline of events and technology expansions in the presentations Secretary Eagle presented in front of both the House and Senate committees, here.

This past Legislative session, the Department  received $92.4 million in state and federal funds as part of the state’s 2021-2022 budget for continued operations and to continue modernizing the state’s unemployment system. This funding will allow DEO to provide a more user-friendly experience for claimants applying for Reemployment Assistance benefits, as well as hire an additional 435Reemployment Assistance staff members to assist with call center support and processing claims. However, fully enhancing the overall Reemployment Assistance system involves detailed coordination, discussion, and processes that take time. The Department has been and remains committed to this improvement for a more efficient program for all Floridians.

Currently, the Department has more than 1,300 Reemployment Assistance staff working to make sure all eligible claimants are paid the benefits they are owed as quickly as possible. Utilizing internal DEO employees, instead of contracted call center staff, will allow these employees to better assist claimants with any issues.

Regarding work-search issues, if the claimant was unable to enter their required weekly work searches in CONNECT, the Department will provide direct communication to the claimant with directions to complete the required work searches. Once the claimant receives the communication with their Issue ID, they will be able to provide their weekly work searches through the Work Search Form found in the Reemployment Assistance Help Center. Claimants can also access their Issue ID in CONNECT. For more information about how to locate an Issue ID or guidance on completing the Work Search Form, click here.

If claimants already verified their identity with ID.me and their CONNECT account remains locked, claimants now have the ability to notify the Department. Claimants may visit the Reemployment Assistance Help Center to notify the Department that their Reemployment Assistance claim is locked. In the Reemployment Assistance Help Center, claimants should select “I am a Claimant,” and then select “Account Login Assistance,” then select the next series of options that match their login issue to notify the Department.

The Department remains committed to making sure all eligible claimants are paid the benefits that they are owed.

If you are aware of any other issues claimants may be experiencing, please let us know.

Reporter:Sara Girard
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
Do you see a typo or an error? Let us know.
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