Frustration mounts as unemployment website crashes during COVID-19

State audit report shows Gov. Ron DeSantis knew about the state’s broken unemployment website last year and did nothing to fix it

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As layoffs accelerate in face of coronavirus, U.S. unemployment claims hit 6.6 million -- another record high -- according to numbers released Thursday by the Labor Department.

The consequences of state officials failing to fix Florida’s unemployment website are being felt by possibly hundreds of thousands of taxpayers in the wake of an unprecedented wave of unemployment claims.

Due to coronavirus-related job losses, more people than ever are filing for unemployment benefits. The State Department of Labor will release new numbers today and is expected to break the record.

A Reuters survey estimates 3.5 million claims had been filed. Goldman Sachs released a larger estimate, expecting 5.5 million claims.

The true number could be even larger because not everyone who wants to file, has been able to. The Tampa Bay Times reported if the state can’t fix the website hundreds of thousands of Floridians thrown out of work could, at the least, be forced to wait weeks for unemployment relief.

Could this have been avoided?

A state audit report conducted last year found more than 600 system errors, some of which had been identified since 2015. Problems include glitches, error messages and other problems.

State officials did not attempt to fix them, however.

What happens when you go to the website now?

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has this warning when you go to its website:

Important: The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is currently experiencing higher than average wait times when contacting the Reemployment Assistance Program. We apologize for the inconvenience. Click here for information on how to file your claim online. Thank you for your patience during this time.

The CONNECT system has also gone down several times over the past week. You can monitor the outages on the agency’s Facebook page.

So what is the state doing now?

The Governor is urging patience.

“This is something that there was a shock to the system," Governor Ron DeSantis said in a news briefing Wednesday afternoon.

“...and I think we’re going to continue to see an increase in people that are seeking unemployment compensation and particularly given the shock that this is.”

A News4Jax viewer who identified herself as an out of work dental assistant said she emailed Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity 21 times and she called them 131 times. She told us she never got through to a person.

Florida offers some of the lowest unemployment-compensation benefits in the country, up to $275 a week for 12 weeks.

The federal stimulus law is slated to provide an additional $600 a week, for four months, to people who qualify for jobless benefits

Ken Lawson, the Executive of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity said, he plans to make recommendations to fix some of the issues with the reemployment website, but not until the current crisis is over.

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