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DEO recoups unemployment checks, Democrats propose reforms

DEO won’t reveal how much money it incorrectly paid out

Hundreds of unemployed workers demanding change for DEO benefits system
Hundreds of unemployed workers demanding change for DEO benefits system

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity says it wrongly overpaid unemployment benefits to Floridians and is now attempting to recoup the money.

Florida Democrats are condemning the Department’s actions and have unveiled their plan to fix the state’s unemployment system ahead of the 2021 legislative session.

DEO won’t reveal how much money it incorrectly paid out, or how many people are being asked to pay back their unemployment benefits.

Democrats in a virtual press conference Thursday said the Department should be focusing its energy elsewhere.

“1.992 million people that still have not gotten an answer, not gotten paid. This is completely unacceptable,” said State Senator Annette Taddeo.

In the press conference, Democrats unveiled their plan to improve the system.

“We’re trying to set the bar as to what we ought to do as a state with our unemployment system,” said State Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez.

Their bill would raise weekly benefits from a max of $275 to $500 and increase the number of eligible weeks from 12 to 26.

“That would put us roughly a little bit above average in terms of how we would compare with other states. So it’s not that ambitious a goal,” said Rodriguez.

Democrats' plan would also allow self-employed and gig workers to receive benefits.

It also would expand eligibility to people who leave their jobs due to illness, domestic violence, changes in their schedule, extended commutes and unsafe or unhealthy work environments.

“We want to make sure that this is fair for everyone, fair for the employees, and we want to provide the guidance on ‘good cause’,” said State Senator Lori Berman.

The bill also requires DEO to make a determination on a person’s eligibility within three weeks of applying for unemployment and creates an ombudsman position at DEO, that would be responsible for streamlining the unemployment system.

Despite a plague of issues at the start of the pandemic, DEO has paid more than $17 billion in unemployment this year.

Last year, the number was just over $300 million.