Florida's unemployment overhaul won't help those who fell victim to current system's failings

The Florida Legislature passed legislation to build a new and more efficient cloud-based unemployment benefits system. But that won’t help people who lost work during the pandemic and still can’t get benefits because of continuing issues with the existing system known as Connect. 

Margie Ramonas is a grandmother who lost her job at an insurance business in March. She discovered the hurdles and lengthy holds for assistance that many others have been dealing with for more than a year. 

"They would tell me I would be 81 in the queue (81 people ahead of me) before they can assign someone to chat with me. I said I’ll just sit here…  what else am I to do. The number changed to 83," she said. 

Margie had two problems. She faced difficulty and delays in working through the state’s ramped-up identity verification requirements.  

"I had to reset, take a picture of my drivers’ license. Send it to her. Answer some questions… Then they said they needed to identify me.  I said 'identify me?’ I’ve already identified myself. I went through the ID-Me online.'"

After repeated efforts to clear the identity verification checkpoints, she said the system would not recognize her Apple device, so she also had to purchase another computer.

She was locked out of her account because a crook had already tried to claim unemployment benefits in her name. She’s one of many who get locked out, because imposters filed in their names, and then go in circles through security that the state added after the bad guys already got in. 

"It’s punishing people who are doing everything right—locking them out of their accounts and re-locking them out of their accounts," said State Representative Anna Eskamani. 

Newly unemployed must submit previously abandoned work-search requirement

Anyone receiving unemployment benefits in Florida should get ready for a major rule change on June 1. New applicants must also apply for five jobs per week to get unemployment payments.

Margie Ramonas eventually received her benefits.

Others like Tara Still, who lost work last April, have waited for more than a year. 

"I had to send them my proof of income eight times. When I talked to them in November, they said there was a glitch in the system and they corrected all the errors. And so it should be going through," she said. "and every month they send me another letter telling me I’m eligible. It doesn’t translate to money."

For those like Tara who are still waiting more than a year, persistence can pay off eventually. In February we looked into the case of Scott Bedford. He lost his job in March of 2020 and still hadn’t been paid. On April 27th (13 months after he lost his job) he sent us an email stating he finally received all the money he was owed. 

The state said it’s aware of an issue that has caused unlocked claims to re-lock when users try to claim their benefits. The Department of Economic Opportunity said it has been working diligently to resolve that.