JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Another 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, according to figures released by the Department of Labor. Florida made up nearly 170,000 of those claims.
The state is overhauling its overwhelmed call centers and launching a new website to handle the thousands of people who have not been able to file an initial claim for unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.
David Rosene is one of the Floridians out of work due to the novel coronavirus. He said he was furloughed from his job on March 9.
“We were informed that we were being furloughed and we should go ahead and basically file for unemployment right away, so I did,” said Rosene.
Rosene said his claim has been pending for a month.
“There’s been no monetary distribution, no monetary judgments that it’s up to the point where I’m ready to request my second distribution. I still haven’t received my first, and they still haven’t fixed the pending issue,” he said.
Rosene said the state has not contacted him and that he has been unable to get on the phone with an agent.
Over a four day period at the end of March, more than 860,000 calls were made to Florida’s unemployment center. Of those, 8,935 were answered by an agent and more than 73,000 were answered by an automated machine, according to state data.
Of those calls, 771,605 were not answered.
The state is paying a contractor, Faneuil, $17.5 million dollars to help answer more phone calls, decrease waiting time and accelerate the process for approving unemployment claims.
In the last few weeks, calls to DEO increased to 27,000 calls per week. Officials anticipated more than a million calls would come in by the end of March 2020, according to a contract between the state and Faneuil.
Some Floridians who have already begun filing claims say they are being booted out of the website before they can claim weeks, are trying to figure out what to do next.
“Am I supposed to go in and file a new application on the new website or am I going to be guilty of fraud for filing a second claim?" Rosene said.
According to the Department of Economic Opportunity, the new website is for people who are filing a new claim for unemployment. People who previously applied and need to claim weeks are being directed to the old CONNECT website.
Tiffany Vause, the DEO Communications Director, is also addressing complaints that the new site still asks people to enter multiple employers despite the governor’s order, waiving the requirement.
“Floridians can just select no, and it’s not going to prevent you from getting claims because the governor has waived that requirement.”
The state told our Tallahassee bureau reporter that some checks have gone out, but the state did not specify how many.