Florida working to fix overloaded unemployment website after receiving slew of claims

Gov. DeSantis has signed executive order in hopes of addressing the issue

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Natasha Toman has tried for two weeks to file for re-employment assistance.

The Ponte Vedra Beach chiropractic office she works for closed its doors on March 15, just five days before Gov. Ron Desantis prohibited health care practitioners in Florida from providing medically unnecessary procedures.

“We’re not going to take any clients in because people have been canceling in fear of catching or spreading COVID, so for the past two weeks we haven’t been coming into the office, and it’s been closed until we know for sure when we are able to take in clients and not, you know, transmit COVID to them,” said Toman.

Toman said she’s tried since then to file a re-employment claim with Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity multiple times with no success.

“I’ve been attempting to log in to the website. It will either kick me out before I can log in. I have to log in multiple times or If I am lucky to get in. I will submit everything, request the benefits for the week and then it crashes, and I have to start all over again,” said Toman. “I have attempted five times so far and I have to start over every single time. So, I am frustrated. I am started to feel a little bit defeated.”

The Connect system, where people can apply online for re-employment assistance, warns it’s currently experiencing higher than average wait times. At one point, the website was completely down for maintenance.

Figures released by Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity show the week after an executive order mandated a limitation on restaurant services and gyms, the number of applications for re-employment assistance more than doubled.

DeSantis said during a news conference Thursday that in the last two weeks, it’s received 348,511 claims. In 2019, there were 307,701 claims, he said, during the entire year. Additionally, the governor said he is signing an executive order to address the issue.

What is the state doing to help?

The Department of Economic Opportunity says over the weekend it made significant technical enhancements to the Connect system to allow more people on the site at once and to track services for individuals impacted by COVID-19.

The director of the DEO signed a contract with customer care and technical support company Faneuil on Friday, according to a spokesperson for the DEO.

The contract will add up to 250 additional representatives to the Florida Reemployment Assistance Call Center.

This comes after some complained of not being able to reach anyone at the department’s customer service line when the site crashed.

“I even woke up at 7:30 a.m. to call in, you know right when they open, and there was already a queue. They said sorry we can’t put you in queue. Sorry, call back at another time and the lines are always busy,” said Toman.

The department is evaluating companies to provide a mobile-friendly site for Floridians to apply for re-employment assistance on their mobile devices and anticipate signing a contract this week, according to the DEO.

Who qualifies?

Gov. Ron Desantis signed an executive order waiving the requirement to wait a week to receive reemployment assistance benefits through May 8, 2020.

In a statement, the Department of Economic Opportunity said the “The waiting week has been waived so eligible Floridians may receive the support they need to help recover from the current economic impacts of COVID-19.”

People filing for reemployment assistance also do not have to register in Employ Florida or submit information on a biweekly basis regarding the employers that they contacted each week, according to the DEO.

Individuals who are eligible for Reemployment Assistance may include:

• Those who are quarantined by a medical professional or a government agency,

• Those who are laid off or sent home without pay for an extended period by their employer due to COVID-19 concerns, or

• Those who are caring for an immediate family member who is diagnosed with COVID-19.

People who apply for Reemployment Assistance whose employment was negatively impacted as a result of COVID-19 will follow the same application, review and payment process as all applicants for Reemployment Assistance in Florida, according to the DEO.

Natasha Toman is hoping at some point these changes mean she’s able to successfully apply for re-employment as the next few weeks, even months, are uncertain.

“I even thought about taking another job to make ends meet. But with the state shutting down on Friday, that’s not going to an option,” said Toman. “Money that I have saved, I am stretching it as far as I can go. But, we don’t know how long COVID-19 is going to last and the money is going to run out soon if we have nothing coming in.”

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