TAMPA, Fla. - Hundreds of thousands of Floridians are out of work due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. They now depend on -- and are at the mercy of -- the state to help them keep their bills paid.
More than a week after the state announced major changes to its unemployment website and call center, difficulties accessing the system persist. For many, trying to log onto the website or get through to the call center has become a daily ritual.
Hillsborough County resident Dave Walegorski checks Florida's so-called reemployment assistance website every morning to see if, after a month of trying, he might have some money to count on.
"It still says 'pending,' under review right now," Walegorski said Monday afternoon, clicking through the Department of Economic Opportunity's website.
March 16, he was laid off from AMF University Lanes where he was a league coordinator. With each step forward in his attempts to get assistance, there always seems to be a roadblock.
"It made me try to list all the employers that I contacted. We're under a 'stay at home' order," Walegorski said, frustrated.
That question on the form about contacting five prospective employers used to be a requirement. However, Governor DeSantis used emergency powers to waive it.
"When is this stuff going to be fixed? This is crazy," Walegorski said.
Last week, the DEO said it had 72 new servers that would fix their website's capacity flaws and allow 120,000 people to be logged in at once.
The DEO also said 2,000 additional state employees would step in to help take some stress off of the bogged-down call center and speed up claim verifications. The office even launched a new mobile-friendly site, specifically for those who've not yet applied.
Governor Ron DeSantis says, yes, some checks have gone out, though how many is unclear.
"There have been claims paid and there's a lot in the hopper right now," DeSantis said Monday afternoon."Oh, I don't want to give you a number. I reviewed them this morning. There have been claims paid and they are escalating in terms of the claims that have been paid."
U.S. Representative Stephanie Murphy is now asking federal inspectors to investigate how Florida's unemployment system got to the point of near-collapse in the middle of an unemployment crisis.
"I’ve had people basically tell me they feel like the system was built for them not to get their benefits and I think that may be part of what’s underpinning this issue right now," Murphy said.
For Walegorski, every day that passes adds stress to an already stressful time.
"I need to some relief coming in," Walegorski said. "I need to know I have money in my pocket in case something happens."
FOX 13 asked the Department of Economic Opportunity what happens in cases like Walegorski's, when an applicant is left "pending" for a week or more. While press secretary Paige Landrum said they "cannot comment on an individual’s claim due to privacy concerns," she added that, "a pending status means a determination on an initial claim has not been made. With the added help from state agencies, specifically the extra help from Department of Revenue, more claimants should be able to see pending status removed and eligibility determinations made."
If you feel sick:
The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.
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