Florida unemployment system issues persist for workers affected by COVID-19

A letter signed by 17 state senators called Florida’s online re-employment assistance application “inaccessible.”

A letter signed by 17 state senators called Florida’s online re-employment assistance application “inaccessible.”

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Florida Democratic Caucus is calling for Gov. Ron DeSantis to make the state backpay unemployment benefits to people who’ve been unable to apply for benefits because of technical errors with the state’s online application.

A letter signed by 17 state senators called Florida’s online re-employment assistance application “inaccessible.”

“As you know, a provision in Florida’s unemployment law mandates that the eligibility period begins with the date of an applicant’s successful submission, an impossible restriction given that the website for submitting these applications has largely been inaccessible,” the letter states.

Floridians continue to report issues with the online application, CONNECT, saying the website continues to crash and customer service representatives are unreachable over the phone.

PDF: Download a printable version of the reemployment assistance application

Kitty Cox is a traveling nurse based in Jacksonville. She’s been out of a job for more than a week after elective and non-emergency surgeries were canceled in Florida to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Cox says she received her last check last Friday and has been trying the entire week to apply for re-employment benefits. She’s managed to get submit her claim, but technical errors with the website have prevented her from moving to the next step.

“I made 76 phone calls this morning to try and get through between 7:30 a.m. and 8:45 a.m.,” said Cox. “76 and it’s either a busy signal or you get through to the automated system and it says we are unable to offer a call back number at this time and our phone lines are busy and it hangs up."

Cox’s unanswered calls came a day after DeSantis announced the unemployment system is now up to speed.

The Department of Economic Opportunity said in a release published Tuesday they are working to fix the website after historic increases in Floridians filing for assistance.

The Department of Economic Opportunity has not returned requests asking why the website continues to malfunction after the department addressed issues with the online application.

The Department of Economic Opportunity claims that beginning April 7, more than 500 individuals will support the Reemployment Assistance claims process through contracts with customer call centers, CareerSource center staff and state employees.

The state says by next week, that number will more than double when additional contracted staff, state employees and local workforce development boards are added to the team.

DEO officials said in the release they installed 72 new servers from the state’s back up data center in Winter Haven to increase capacity. The system can now handle up to 120,000 simultaneous connections by individuals filing claims. This allows for greater capacity than the 20,000 simultaneous connections that the system has been experiencing recently, according to the DEO release.

DEO officials claim an additional 10 servers are being installed to assist the CONNECT system this week.

Despite the changes, Floridians continue to share their unsuccessful attempts to receive re-employment benefits.

“Yesterday I was actually able to get through on my third try. I got through to the hold music. I was on hold for three hours and then I had to hang up because I had a phone interview,” said Cox. “I got my car note deferred to the end of my contract, but I don’t know what I am going to do the next payment or when rent comes up.”

Beginning this week, CareerSource locations across the state will provide paper applications and will assist with submitting re-employment assistance applications, according to a release from DEO.

A Jacksonville Career Source location tells News4Jax paper copies can be found outside their offices. You can visit www.CareerSourceFlorida.com for information and center locations.

Councilmember Brenda Priestly-Jackson is also printing limited amounts of copies and setting them outside libraries at Brantham Brooks Library and Charles Webb Wesconnect Regional Library.

FedEx is offering free printing and mailing of paper applications at more than 100 storefronts across the state, according to DEO.

Applications can be downloaded at www.FloridaJobs.org/COVID-19. The applications should be mailed to:

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity

P.O. Box 5350

Tallahassee, FL 32314-5350

About the Author:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.