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Florida rushes to improve unemployment system

Sunday alone 21,000 people filed for unemployment.

State of Florida makes applying for unemployment benefits relatively easy
State of Florida makes applying for unemployment benefits relatively easy

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The state continues to get hit with a daily avalanche of new unemployment claims.

The agency in charge of handling unemployment reports improvements to speed applications are being made daily and a new mobile app will soon launch as the Governor continues to waive requirements.

The state had 74,313 people apply for unemployment the week of March 21. Last week they tripled to just over 222,000. Sunday alone 21,000 people filed.

“Our system was designed to help our state during a hurricane, but not during a global pandemic,” said Ken Lawson, Executive of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Chery Regha and Lana Stokley, newly unemployed and frustrated at the inability to file online, showed up at the agency’s headquarters Tuesday morning.

“Because we are completely out of funds. I mean, we are fixing to be in trouble,” said Regha.

“There so many people that’s trying to get through the website, it's very difficult to get through,” said Stokley.

It didn’t help.

The building is closed to the public and all claims must be filed online. But help is coming. 70 of 100 new positions authorized by the Governor have been filled.

Lawson said that is just the beginning.

“We’ve hired an outside call center that will staff up to two hundred fifty people to handle uploads of calls. Also, I have my IT team work night and day to increase capacity. So when people apply online, there’s more capacity and bandwidth. Also, I reprogrammed people from my own shop to work with these issues,” said Lawson.

State law now requires you to be out of work for a week before you can apply for reemployment assistance.

The Governor waived that requirement Tuesday.

And we were told the contract to build a mobile app to speed the applications process would be signed by the close of business Tuesday.

First implemented in 2014, the computerized application system has had problems since the beginning.

Lawson said he plans to make recommendations about what to do about it, but not until the current crisis is over.