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Sens. Randolph Bracy and Linda Stewart urge Gov. Ron DeSantis to make changes in unemployment program. Image via Renzo Downey.

Coronavirus in Florida

Expired unemployment filing waiver causes confusion for recipients

DEO now requires applicants to return every two weeks to claim those weeks as unemployed.

Poor communication between the state agency in charge of unemployment claims and recipients has caused some unemployed Floridians to miss out on weeks of benefits, Senate Democrats say.

In mid-April, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) waived a rule that jobless benefit recipients must return to the department’s unemployment portal every two weeks to “claim their weeks.” But suspending that rule apparently violated federal law, and the department reinstated the requirement last week.

“To comply with federal law, weeks beginning May 10, 2020, claimants will be required to return to the CONNECT system every two weeks to request their benefits or ‘claim their weeks.’ In so doing, claimants will confirm that they are still unemployed and acknowledge that you are able and available for work,” according to a notice on DEO’s website.

But that change wasn’t directly communicated to applicants unless they checked the website or portal, say Orlando-area Democratic Sens. Randolph Bracy and Linda Stewart.

“What it has done is created confusion among people not sure whether they need to claim their weeks or not,” Bracy said during their online press conference Thursday. “What I believe is it hasn’t been communicated effectively to the people as far as their need to claim the weeks. There are people who have not claimed the weeks and they have stopped receiving payments, they’re not sure what to do.”

When the department let the two-week recertification waiver lapse, it extended a separate order that let people receive unemployment benefits without searching for work. But despite Secretary Jonathan Satter telling the Senator that applicants were notified, Bracy contends that there was no email or correspondence alerting applicants to the change.

The deadline for some to claim weeks since the rule restarted then may have passed, he added.

“The Governor needs to really outline what happened, how was it not a requirement before where he was able to waive it, and now, supposedly, the federal government is saying it’s required,” Bracy said. “I think we need some answers on that front.”

Stewart tried to offer her own explanation to the confusion.

“I think there was a communication problem between the federal and the state, and when they discovered that that was not possible, they did talk to the federal, and I think they gave them a two-week grace period or something,” she said. “But it’s still a requirement and they still have to do it and I think that’s not getting communicated well enough for people to know that.”

Stewart also questioned the number of claimants that have been paid, now nearly 986,000 according to the department. Several applicants received initial claims but stopped receiving payments at some point, according to reports, and she wondered whether those people were listed as paid.

“It’s like, you have a friend, you owe your friend $200 but you give him 20 in one week,” Stewart said. “Are you paid? No. So we need to get that straightened out.”

The Senator sent the Governor and Satter a letter with recommendations to improve the unemployment debacle as the concern shifts to manually fixing the problematic applications. That requires the applicant to get ahold of a customer service representative, sometimes after hours waiting, and reaching a representative with access to the unemployment portal.

“We need more people that can actually go online with that person’s application and ask them the pertinent questions that they feel were not answered correctly, answer them and put it up on the computer to make them eligible,” Stewart said.

She is also asking, along with several Democrats and the Florida AFL-CIO, for the Governor to extend the Re-employment Assistance period from 12 weeks to 26 weeks. Many Floridians have already exhausted those weeks, and more will run out soon with the state now 10 weeks out from the first brunt of unemployment claims.

And after being notified of a data breach at the department by a reporter’s question, Stewart sent a separate letter to Satter seeking additional information about the security of applicants’ personal data.

“This information was not shared with me from you or DEO, nor was it posted on DEO’s website, begging the question of transparency and a possible breach of duty to disclose to the people whose personal information was entrusted to your care,” the Senator wrote.

“Given the agency’s track record with processing unemployment applications, I’m sure you will understand the great concern I have that all remedies have been quickly taken and that Floridians can be assured that their personal information is now secured and will be protected from future attacks,” she added.

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 the Texas House of Representatives for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Harvey

    May 21, 2020 at 6:20 pm

    it just gets more confusing every day. The Connect system is still largely unstable and you would think email or text messaging blasts would be a better way to communicate.

    a couple of glitches that friends have noticed recently

    1) when the state waived the need to apply, benefits were not delivered two days after the claimant’s usual submission date and in one case, their direct deposit was somehow converted to a debit card without their approval and benefits were not delivered.
    2) now that people are again applying every two weeks, it is still unclear how to apply without putting in the 5 job contacts

  2. Salvador

    May 22, 2020 at 1:53 pm

    Today after 4 days and 467 calls I was able to speak to three different DEO telephone numbers . I asked about the federal benefits ($600) that they owe me and I got the same answer -there are federal money and they don’t know anything about that,they only have info about the state ones.. Does anybody in this state know about this? May be the governor?

    And what about PEUC?

    • cyber dude

      May 22, 2020 at 3:57 pm

      THE GOVERNOR IS FULL OF IT SNAFU. The people you are speaking wasting your time are people to help with dialogue answers anything else requires you to look on the website which has nothing or try another routing number next time. The moron you spoke with that said they have only the state info should of let you know he is not qualified to answer that. The States DEO is the one over seeing payment for those federal funds.

      As far as Desant-ASS/Desantan is concerned he bames you for everything and others never taking responsibility for what is going on or what was going on. He’s had over 2 month to fix things and here we sit with the same issues and him blaming everyone else for things he should have fixed. If the data was imputed incorrectly then why can’t the claimant just get on the phone and rectify the answers.

      As for the 2 week confirmation on work, those idiots can’t get their answers straight. Desant-ASS/Desantan says one thing the DEO says another. And no one so far that I can find has specifically noted what federal law that is making the requirements. And as far as claiming your week, the website today notes that info, but also has closed the login button to access login. What’s wrong with these people.

      And desant-ASS/desantan claiming they paid out over 2 billion as if he’s been diligent, but if you really think about it its been 2 months and that money is money owed for a insurance claim.

      The data breach is a Joke a real Joke, you have people working on the system and adding servers for what? Data breach and less than 100 claimants data stolen? this is the world of high speed and tech. As far I know like target breach they had ton of data stolen in a short period of time. The Data breach is just another excuse for delays and answers to clarify their in ability to get the job done.

      They always have system maintenance to prevent more applications from being filed.

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