Florida unemployment director promises fixes for broken system

For weeks, we've been hearing stories of frustration from people out of work, trying to apply for unemployment benefits through the state's overloaded website, only to run into errors that send them back to square one.

March 16, Dave Walegorski learned he was one of the millions of Americans out of a job.

"I was working at AMF University Lanes. I was a league coordinator there," he said. "Business definitely went down because of [coronavirus concerns]."

By April 2, he still had no luck applying online for unemployment assistance.

"A lot of times, you get kicked out of it and you have to start the whole process over again," Walegorski said.

With so many seeking help, Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity call center has been overwhelmed and understaffed, plus a broken website, full of glitches.

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"Last night, I was on for four hours trying to get on there and then I got to a point where the next button wasn't even there to be able to click it," Walegorski said. "Oh, it's very frustrating."   

Just a year ago, a state audit warned the DeSantis administration that the website had serious problems. Out of the 1.5 million calls to the state last week, a third were for PIN resets, numbers required to log in.

"From my heart, I apologize for what you are going through," said Ken Lawson, executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity.

Lawson called the PIN resets the biggest problem, one that's being addressed immediately.

"I signed a contract with a call center and we are training that call center to handle PIN resets," Lawson said, adding he's also signed a contract with a company to create a website accessible by cell phones and tablets.

He promised there would soon be a paper application that can be mailed in.

"I've got to be creative as possible because of where we are," Lawson said.

That paper application has not yet been created. As for the website, Lawson said that's also still a work in progress and asked for more patience over the next week or two.

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

Governor DeSantis has directed agency heads, statewide, to find workers to help with reemployment assistance efforts and call center operations. He also ordered the Department of Economic Opportunity to buy additional capacity software.

"I think this requires all hands on deck," DeSantis said. "We have a lot of state government functions that are generally important but just aren't as important now, given what we are dealing with."

Fortunately, Walegorski pre-paid his rent through April. But he worries about what happens after that.

"It'll work itself out," Walegorski said. "But at what time frame is it going to be? How far behind am I going to be on everything?"

"I'm hoping," he said, "but, I'm not really sure."

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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.

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