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Corona Economics

Frustrated out-of-work Floridians tell DEO: Fix the unemployment benefits website

Claimants are unable to get through to operators.

Tweets posted by the Department of Economic Opportunity are drawing angry reactions from Floridians frustrated by the process to file their unemployment claims. It comes as the U.S. Department of Labor reported an explosion on new unemployment claims nationwide.

DEO officials tweeted an apology Wednesday for the inconvenience people were experiencing with the system. They said they were working on it that afternoon, and they encouraged people to try again in the evening.

Agency spokeswoman Tiffany Vause said the department had made enhancements to its system to allow it to serve more Floridians at the same time. The department has seen historic spikes in the number of claims being filed because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The agency received 222,054 applications for unemployment benefits for the week ending March 28. That was up from about 74,000 for the week before. Vause says they got more than 21,000 applications in a single day on March 29.

State unemployment claims are likely under-reported simply because of the number of people anecdotally saying they’re unable to file their claim. And it’s unlikely that the pace of unemployment claims will slow down anytime soon. Thursday saw the national unemployment claims hit 6.6 million, a record high. It’s double the claims were last week.

Vause said the department is trying to hire an additional 250 representatives for the Florida Reemployment Assistance Call Center to deal with the significantly increased volume of claims being filed, phone calls and online activity. DEO expects to add at least 50 employees this week and officials are continuing to interview people online.

But many people are responding to DEO’s tweets with frustration. They’re letting their feelings be known through social media, lawmakers or Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office.

Many people are irritated about being unable to reset their PINs and most of them say their messages and emails have had no response. Robin from Tamarac wanted to know who was answering the agency’s email because she has emailed them her Social Security card and driver’s license several times. She said to “just give me a damn job and I’ll just help everyone myself.”

Anna from Ocala asked why they couldn’t change the website so they didn’t need a PIN. 

Other responses to DEO’s tweet include complaints that individuals are unable to verify their identity. Sean Kelly from Orlando said he continued to call the 800 number to verify his identity, but couldn’t get through. Others also complained that the calls keep getting dropped. 

Rob from Miami said he’s asking DEO for help because he needs to confirm his identity, begging the agency to help. 

“I am hurting because of this, please help!!!!!!”

Ashley Saylors has also called hundreds of times over several days trying to prove her identity. She says she has a six-year-old child and is worried about having enough money for groceries. She blames DEO and DeSantis for what she says has been their slow response to fix the system’s problems.

Written By

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to sarah@floridapolitics.com.

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