After a surge in unemployment claims from the coronavirus recession downed the state’s Reemployment Assistance application site, the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) rolled out a mobile-friendly online application Wednesday.
Hundreds of thousands of Floridians have tried unsuccessfully to use the original application site, which had difficulty processing 20,000 applicants simultaneously. DEO Executive Director Ken Lawson has apologized for the system’s collapse.
“The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is committed to ensuring Floridians are able to receive the benefits owed to them during this global pandemic,” Lawson said in a statement. “The team is working around the clock to make the process for applying for Reemployment Assistance as easy as possible for Floridians.”
Over the weekend, he faced calls to resign over the system’s failure by Tampa lawmakers including Sen. Janet Cruz. ““I cannot in good conscience stand by the response provided by the Department to this economic crisis,” the Tampa Democrat said.
But after a Monday press conference, Lawson said he was focused on improving the application system for people out of work rather than his own job security.
“My job right now is to do everything I can to make the system work,” Lawson said. “Today, make the system work. Today, make sure people don’t lose confidence in the government.”
The new system appears to be the department’s latest attempt at a fix. Those applications will be open alongside the existing site and paper applications. Any Floridian who has lost their job due to COVID-19, is encouraged to complete a Reemployment Assistance application.
The state is working with FedEx to print paper applications free of charge. CareerSource Florida is also available to help people fill out and submit their applications.
As of Monday, DEO has added 72 servers to double the original website’s capacity to 120,000 simultaneous applicants with more servers on the way.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said that the week before, he was advised the online system was the “way to go.”
“And obviously it wasn’t ready,” he said.
During a Tuesday press conference in Miami Beach, the Governor confirmed he had asked Lawson to explore how the state might credit people who tried signing up for unemployment benefits for time lost because of the site crashing prevented them from applying.
DeSantis has asked agencies to work quickly and outside the box to make resources available for Floridians, even issuing an executive order for an “all hands on deck” response to the dysfunctional system.
CONNECT will be unavailable Wednesday night and Thursday morning from 8PM–7AM for necessary maintenance, according to a DEO tweet.
Congressional Democrats called on DeSantis to expand the availability of benefits by providing unemployment dating back to the loss of income and by expanding the availability of Democrats to 26 weeks.
The spread of coronavirus has sparked massive layoffs and furloughs in Florida, leading to a record number of unemployment claims crushing the DEO’s infrastructure. Officials report a backlog of hundreds of thousands of claims. An estimated 562,000 applications have come in since mid-March.
Meanwhile, citizens have complained not just about a slow response to applications but to difficulties using the site, such as having trouble resetting pins.