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State’s Promised Unemployment Fixes Not Showing Up Yet

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Florida’s unemployment system problems date back to 2013 when the state changed the process, shrinking benefits and making it harder for people to apply for them. Those changes were made under former governor and now U.S. Senator, Rick Scott. Now, Governor Ron DeSantis says he’s clearing the way for DEO to do whatever they need to fix the problems.

"Basically, my direction has been don’t spare any expense hire who we need to hire in order to be able to get this done," DeSantis said.

Department of Economic Opportunity head Ken Lawson says he’s started to do just that

“I’ve hired an outside call company just to bring up to 250 people to assist with calls, also I’ve hired 70 additional staff members to assists with calls," Lawson said. "I’m getting help from other agencies to assist with calls. I’m looking at upwards of about 500 people to assist with calls."

Lawson says the best he can do is ask people to give the agency more time.

"With the website and the calling numbers, I do ask for patience, knowing that patience is thin. But recognize that we are all in this together, and the 1,500 people who work for me at DEO are Floridians too," Lawson said.

As frustrations mount with the system, Florida is going old school, creating paper and pencil applications that can be mailed in. Those applications can be delivered to local CareerSource offices, but those workers would still have to upload them to the problematic system. There’s no answer yet on when those applications will be available. 

Sen. Annette Taddeo (D-Miami) wants DeSantis to allow applicants to receive unemployment benefits beginning the day they were fired instead of the day they apply. Recently unemployed hairstylist Cheyenne Dunnell agrees. She’s been trying to apply since March 19th.

“On the 19th I called 40 times, on the 20th I called 15 times, on the 21st I called 19 times," Dunnell said.

Dunnell says she’s heard the claims of hiring more staff but is worried about how long it’ll take for them to actually answer her call. She just needs to reset her pin, something she thinks should go a lot smoother.

“I feel like they should’ve implemented an option where you can reset your pin online or do like how you can reset your pin number for a bank card or something," Dunnell said.

Lawson says a third of the calls he’s getting is for pin resets, and one of the call centers will be trained specifically to handle those issues. Those problems were at the forefront of several recent conference calls with Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez (D-Miami) wondering what the unemployment numbers would look like if more people had been able to get through. 

“Director Lawson said that there were 130,000 new applications on Thursday of last week," Rodriguez said. "One of the things that I question is well if people can’t actually get through the system to apply how much higher would that number be?”

Nationwide 6.6 million unemployment applications were filed last week. Here in Florida, Lawson says the number of claims has ballooned.

“The week of March 7th I had 5,000 unemployment applications, last week I had 220,000 filed in one week," Lawson said “That’s no excuse but the reality we’re facing. And by virtue of the computer system we have, we’ve had problems where it’s crashed at times. But know this we’ve been committed and working hard every single day.”

Cheyanne spoke with WFSU on Monday. By Friday, when she checked in she said it’d gotten worse.

"Now you can't even get through the line because as soon as you call the number it’s a busy signal or it'll say all circuits are busy," Cheyenne said.

Copyright 2020 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Blaise Gainey is a Multimedia Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.