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Out of Work Floridians Still Struggle with Unemployment Benefits

James Robinson via Flickr

More than two months after the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity launched a new online application system for unemployment compensation benefits, job seekers continue to report problems with the site. 

When the DEO launched its new system for filing for unemployment compensation payments Oct. 15, many job seekers reported glitches with the website, including an inability to even log in.  Those problems were fixed early on, but other issues persist that are preventing job seekers from receiving payments. 

“The data transfers from the old system to the new system have caused old resolved problems to pop up again or have cause random erroneous information to show up in people’s online accounts,” said Florida Legal Services attorney Valory Greenfield.  “It freezes the account and prevents people from participating in the program and entering their job searches. “

Jacksonville resident Darren Davis is looking for work in computer development.  Problems with the site have prevented him from getting payments for more than a month.  “The system started telling me that I hadn’t done this, that or the other, which I had done nine months previous,” said Davis.  “Several hoops that I had to go through just to reinitiate my system and since the re-initiation, I’ve received one payment and otherwise, I’m waiting on six weeks of payment.”

Department of Economic Opportunity officials say hundreds of thousands of claims have been paid out since the launch of the new system, called CONNECT, but Davis’ story is a common one according to Greenfield.  “The vendor for CONNECT has still not fixed the problem for people who are in the adjudication stage, or in the appeals stage or in the continuing claims stage,” said Greenfield.  “That is people who were already found eligible and had already been collecting benefits before the October switchover.  They’re now stuck in a sort of limbo.”

The Department of Economic Opportunity is seeking a $4.5 million penalty from the contractor that built the CONNECT system.  The DEO has expanded call center hours for job seekers having trouble with their claims, but in comments on the DEO’s Facebook page, claimants still complain of long waits on hold with call center staff who still cannot resolve their problems. 

Problems for unemployed workers will be further exacerbated because Congress failed to pass an extension of federal long-term unemployment benefits before recessing last week.  That means 1.3 million Americans, including 73,000 Florida workers, will lose that benefit on Dec. 28th.  The Emergency Unemployment Compensation program had provided an additional 27 weeks of benefits to the unemployed once they’d exhausted the 19 weeks of state benefits currently available to eligible Florida job seekers. Worker advocates say the loss of benefits won’t just hurt the unemployed, but the economy as well.

“It, in fact, does create jobs because unemployed workers receiving these benefits are pumping those dollars right back into the economy,” said National Employment Law Project Senior Staff Attorney George Wentworth.  “Unemployed workers are not saving their unemployment benefits. They’re spending them on food, on mortgages, on rent; on basically all of those things that keep their local communities and economies bumping.”

The U.S. Labor Department estimates the loss of federal long-term unemployment benefits will cost about 240,000 jobs nationwide including 10,109 positions in Florida.

According to the National Employment Law Project 73%of workers in Florida who file for unemployment benefits exhaust state benefits before they find a new job.

Department of Economic Opportunity staff did not respond to interview requests in time for this report, but announced this month the hiring of 192 additional temporary staffers to help unemployed workers file for benefits.