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Coronavirus in Florida

Nightmare of jobless benefits application emerges from Stephanie Murphy’s survey

Survey of 8,200 says: 98% had negative experiences; 97% did not get payments.

The vast majority of applicants for Florida’s unemployment benefits needed several weeks or longer to get approved, if at all, an informal survey from Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy reveals.

An astonishing 97% of more than 8,000 people who responded to Murphy’s survey reported not getting any payments yet from the state’s troubled unemployment insurance system.

An even higher number, 98%, said they had negative experiences with the state’s system, including 93% who described their experience as “very negative.”

The results, not necessarily all constituents of Murphy’s Central Florida district, represent one of the first outside, broad assessments of the state’s overwhelmed and underwhelming system to help newly-jobless Floridians. Though the survey is by no means a scientific poll, drawing responses only from people who wanted to tell Murphy about their experiences, the overwhelming nature of the complaints reinforce criticisms that the state’s program may be a catastrophic failure,

More recently, everyone is likely experiencing negative experiences, since the CONNECT system was shut down for three days on Friday. 

For at least six weeks, the system’s failures to meet the needs of Florida’s suddenly enormous pool of perhaps 2 million new unemployed workers have led to chronic struggles and a cacophony of blame targeting, most recently with Gov. Ron DeSantis essentially blaming his predecessor, Rick Scott.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity runs the site. Still, the problems were so entrenched that DeSantis stripped it away and put it under the direction of the Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter. Yet, problems persisted.

On April 14, Murphy set up an online survey and asked Floridians to let her know how it was going.

Terribly, just about all of the 8,200 respondents advised.

“These survey results are deeply disturbing and reinforce the conclusion that Florida’s [unemployment insurance] system is failing precisely when it is needed the most, causing incalculable economic damage and emotional distress,” Murphy wrote in a news release. “As Congress and the President prepare to negotiate additional COVID-19 relief packages, we must hold states like Florida accountable and do everything possible to ensure that federal support reaches the people who need it, as national leaders intended, and that it is not squandered or delayed due to incompetence or indifference.”

Murphy sent detailed letters describing the survey results to DeSantis and Florida lawmakers, President Donald Trump and other administration officials, as well as House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal and other key members of Congress.

Among the findings:

— 97% said they were terminated, laid off, furloughed, or otherwise separated from their job through no fault of their own.

— 56% said they were able to complete their application but had not yet received any unemployment insurance payments. Another 40% said they have not been able to complete the application, and 3% got their benefits payments.

— 93% said they had “very negative” experiences with the system, and 4% said they had “somewhat negative” experiences. Less than 1% said they had positive experiences.

— 62% of those who successfully completed an application said it took more than a month or a few weeks; 33% said it took about a week or a few days; 5% said it took one day or less.

— 79% of those who said they have not been able to complete an application said they have been trying for several weeks or more than a month; 19% said they’ve been at it about a week or a few days; 2% said they’ve been at it only a day.

— 93% said they had problems with the website portal crashing, freezing, or otherwise not loading; 47% said they had issues authenticating their identity; 45% said they were directed to the call center but could not reach a person; 19% said they had problems obtaining a PIN; just 1% said they had no issues.

Earlier this month, Murphy called for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Inspector General to conduct an independent federal investigation into Florida’s unemployment system.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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