Florida Government Pressured to Make Filing for Unemployment Claims Easier

Long lines for food distribution, unemployment forms show how fear and desperation are growing in South Florida. Photo: www.clickorlando.com

Governor Ron DeSantis and other Florida government officials are feeling the heat as pressure mounts for help in making the filing of unemployment claims a lot easier than it currently is.

The state’s newly unemployed continue having problems filing claims with the state’s unemployment system. The Florida unemployment website is still having issues, despite 72 new servers being installed on Monday, April 6 that were supposed to bring the state’s unemployment application system back up and running.

it remained unclear how quickly the state could begin issuing checks to hundreds of thousands of Floridians left without jobs and income because of virus stay-at-home orders and the economic downturn.

And Florida’s congressional Democrats called on Gov. Ron DeSantis last Tuesday, April 7 to extend unemployment benefits beyond the current 12-week limit and raise the $275 a week cap, which is among the lowest in the country. Department of Economic Opportunity Director Ken Lawson said he was looking into the matter. 

Director Lawson has been under fire recently due to the failures faced by the department in handling the current situation caused by the coronavirus shutdowns.

Under state law, the clock generally starts ticking on the day an applicant files a claim, not necessarily a person’s last day on the job. Photo: David Carillet/Shutterstock.com

Florida’s 12-week cap on benefits matches that of North Carolina’s as the lowest number of weeks of eligibility in the nation. Only nine states offer fewer than 26 weeks of unemployment benefits.

The total of those who have applied for unemployment since March 15 was quickly approaching 600,000. Despite assurances from the governor and state officials, people are reporting problems with filing claims online or getting help on phone lines. Unemployed workers are now being told by the state officials that the system should now be able to handle the increased volume.

Oxford Economics released a study recently naming Florida among the states most economically vulnerable to the pandemic due to a combination of an older than average population and a state and local economy heavily dependent on retail and tourism.

“Lockdown and containment measures are the key determinants of first-round economic impacts of the coronavirus, but structural economic vulnerabilities determine the severity of second-round impacts,” Oxford lead economist Oren Klachkin wrote, according to Reuters.

Frustrations have been building around an overwhelmed state unemployment system.

Tampa area workers have reportedly told their local news station that they wait for hours on hold and then are disconnected whenever they try to call the Florida unemployment hotline. Some have called hundreds of times without being able to get through at all still. 

Some workers say they even get asked for a pin number that they never received when they try to access certain information on the unemployment website.

They also report getting conflicting information from the state website. For example, some requirements or exemptions have been done away with by the federal government but still aren’t showing up on the state website.

Despite assurances from state officials that new staff is being hired to help with the problem, some lawmakers think time is being wasted and not enough is being done.

State Representative Anna Eskamani (D) from Miami says she is taking calls daily from frustrated workers who were laid off and are running out of money. Eskamani and Democratic colleagues participated in a telephone news conference on Monday (April 6) morning.

Officials with Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity recommend people keep trying, vowing to keep working to make the system work better.

Lawmakers recommend any and all unemployed workers currently experiencing trouble with the website to please reach out to your state representative so that they can keep the pressure on the state.