Florida scrambles to manage overloaded unemployment claims system

Floridians laid off from their jobs because of COVID-19 are having big problems applying for unemployment benefits. The state of Florida's website and telephone hotline are overloaded, according to government officials.

“The system does not work. We call the phone numbers a thousand times and there’s no answer and they don’t have a call-back system,” said Marta Abreu, manager of the Dutch Village restaurant in Sarasota.

She says she was trying to help some of the 100 employees who were laid off from the restaurant file for unemployment benefits. Then, after she was laid off, she needed to file but despite hours of trying, she has been unable.

MORE: Governor DeSantis issues 'stay-at-home' order for Florida

In Tampa, laid off restaurant worker Jason Mejia tells a similar story and he’s running out of time.

“It’s the beginning of the month and I’m going to get behind on my bills soon,” he said.

Mejia stopped by Career Source Tampa Bay on Florida Avenue, which normally offers assistance to people applying for benefits, but its doors are closed because of 'stay at home' orders.

John Flanagan, CEO of Career Source Tampa Bay, offered advice to those having trouble with the state system.

“Be vigilant and make sure you call multiple times, you will eventually get through,” said Flanagan. “We’re also recommending you call in off-hours, maybe in the evening when traffic might be down a little bit.”

RELATED: DeSantis urges patience amidst criticism of Florida's unemployment registration website

Flanagan says his Career Source counselors are available by phone on weekdays from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. at 813-930-7400. However, they can only help you navigate the state system.

The unemployment website is www.floridajobs.org. The claims assistance toll-free number is 1-800-204-2418.

Officials say a new technical support company is being hired and over 200 workers will be added to the call center. It’s not clear if or when that will result in speeding up the system.

Officials say at the beginning of March around 500 people a day were applying. More than 25,000 per day have been applying for benefits in recent days, they say.

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 covid-19@flhealth.gov. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

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