Florida's Broken Unemployment System Is Causing Problems Statewide

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Florida's Broken Unemployment System Is Causing Problems Statewide
People across the state are complaining that the system to apply for reemployment assistance benefits is effectively nonfunctional.
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"You can't get through the website. No one answers your calls. And you know, you don't get responses back if you eventually find a way to send an email. So that is a huge problem here in Florida," state Sen. Oscar Braynon said.

Florida, like many states, is dealing with an unprecedented surge in unemployment applications. But people across the state are complaining that the system to apply for benefits is effectively nonfunctional. 

"It took me 12 hours to get the application done just because of the website crashing all the time," said Graca de Oliveira. 

Graca de Oliveira lives in Flagler County, Florida, with her husband and two kids. She worked in the tourism industry but was laid off because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

She applied for what Florida calls its reemployment assistance program. But the system needs her to verify her identity by phone — and that's where her application is stuck.

"So 15 days. And I've been calling from 7:28 in the morning all the way to 6:30 at night, Monday through Friday," said de Oliveira. 

She submitted her documents via email and eventually spoke with someone on the phone, but she says they weren't very helpful. 

"They didn't even verify that they had received my documents via email. They couldn't verify any information. They just said you have to wait until IT gets this under control," de Oliveira said. 

The Department of Economic Opportunity, or DEO, says it's aware of the problems.

"We're seven days a week. Increased hours. // We're looking at every single thing. Every single day. It may be incremental, but we're going to improve every single day to adjust to the new normal," said Ken Lawson, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. 

The maximum benefit in Florida is $275 per week. But people need to be registered with the state's program to get access to the additional $600 per week made available by the federal government's new stimulus package.

State lawmakers are pressuring the DEO to work faster to improve its system. But until that happens, thousands of Floridians like de Oliveria just have to wait.

"The only thing we can tell them is to keep trying. And they don't have a choice, given their economic situation right now. We need to, as a state, get our act together as quick as humanly possible. Otherwise, we're going to be hurting a lot of people," state Sen. José Javier Rodriguez said.