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Corona Economics

As Florida’s unemployment debacle continues, call hold times are the newest plague

Most people who have not been paid need to speak to a representative.

The state’s unemployment system is quickly processing claims, but the holdup for some people lies in getting on the phone with a customer service representative, which can take hours in some cases.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and Department of Management Services (DMS) Secretary Jonathan Satter, put in charge of the unemployment system, updated reporters Tuesday on the status of the unemployment crisis. But Satter lamented the long hold times people face when they need to talk to a representative from the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO).

“I feel very bad because the technology is stable, people can file an application as the Governor indicated, we can process a full, accurate complaint relatively quickly,” Satter said. “But the folks that are sort of stuck because they either did not provide a complete claim or it wasn’t accurate, we have a large number that we have to touch manually.”

To get detailed information on an account, an applicant may need to wait 139 minutes, or more than two hours, to get through to a customer service representative. That’s despite the state adding five customer service centers with 6,000 representatives and slashing training from four weeks to two weeks.

DeSantis says the reason some claims can’t be processed is that they are missing the required information, DEO can’t verify the applicant’s identity or the claim was locked for fraudulent activity.

Further, the Governor has said most claims brought to his office by reporters were ineligible. But Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo, who gave his own perspective to reporters after the conference, said most claims he has raised turned out to be eligible.

“At this point, there are enough alphabet soup acronym programs that everybody qualifies for something, so when I keep seeing about eligible, eligible, eligible, that’s a concern.”

The offices in Tallahassee have been accessible, he added. Democratic Sens. Linda Stewart and Randolph Bracy have indicated similarly.

But a confusingly worded question about whether people are available to work has caused several claims to be denied, Pizzo said. That’s just one hiccup the Senator identified.

“What we’re finding, if I’m asked directly, is the overwhelming majority of new names that I give end up being eligible.”

Early in the pandemic, it took four to five weeks at minimum for applicants to get paid. Now, the Governor says some who filed in the last 10 days already have their checks.

Nearly 976,000 applicants have received a combined $2.7 billion in unemployment assistance. That’s out of just shy of a million eligible claims the state has identified so far.

And DeSantis touted the fact that the system in the past 10 weeks has paid out more dollars than the past five years combined. But Florida had been the slowest state to process those claims.

“No unemployment system in the country is an ideal system,” DeSantis said. “There’s all kinds of things. There’s a myriad of rules and regulations, and there are people that can get caught up in that. That’s why I want them to be very proactive in reaching out, and they have done that.”

Pizzo’s fellow Senate Democrats slammed the Governor in their own subsequent press conference, questioning the rate of successfully paid individuals. But Pizzo, who has been in Tallahassee for a month seeking answers about the unemployment debacle, shared his personal angle on the way out of the Capitol.

“What upsets me the most is when the Governor makes a statement and I’m up till 4 o’clock in the morning telling people don’t walk into oncoming cars, and I’m sending Cash App money to people because they need to go buy medicine so that they don’t die,” Pizzo said.

Written By

Renzo Downey covers the Florida Legislature for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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