With lock-downs in place, many people are unable to go to work everyday. For some, they are lucky enough to continue receiving paychecks, but that is unfortunately not the case for everyone. For others, they are stuck at home without incoming paychecks and no end in sight. As everyone struggles to determine their new roles in this economy, thousands of people are filing for unemployment to pay bills and make ends meet for their families.
How is Florida Doing with Unemployment Claims?
Unfortunately, Florida has been one of the slowest states to process an influx of unemployment claims. Over the past five weeks, over 26 million people have filed for unemployment in the United States. About four million of those claims were new as of just last week.
For Florida, these numbers paint a stark picture of questionable delays and faulty technology. It has been reported that Florida has had roughly 850,000 pending unemployment claims and only about 117,000 of those have been paid. Another way to look at this is less than 16% of the people who filed before March 15 have received their money, while people in most other states are experiencing a return on average of about three weeks from the time they file.
The stress of waiting is taking its toll on citizens everywhere. One former employee of the Fort Lauderdale airport describes staying up late at night for a week straight as he tried to complete the claim process online. It took him multiple days just to be able to log in to the program so that he could begin the process because of how backed up the service was with so much traffic. For someone in this situation, the stress is cyclical because you can’t afford to give up trying. He admitted a new hobby of his has been driving around alone so that he can feel the stress freely without having to control his facial and physical reactions as he considers his next steps to provide for and protect his young family of five.
Michelle Evermore, an unemployment insurance expert at the National Employment Law Project, said Florida’s unemployment trust fund currently has more money in it than it did almost two months ago. The funds are there, and they are increasing as other states have nearly run out because they are sending out relief checks as quickly as possible. It seems Florida is sitting on a growing unemployment fund that isn’t being used simply because the website is too outdated to support the amount of traffic it is experiencing.
What Steps are Being Taken to Improve the Process?
Governor DeSantis has acknowledged how slowly the claims are being processed. To help move it along, he has appointed Jonathan Satter to be the unemployment czar over the claims. DeSantis has also waived some of the requirements to help the frustrating situation.
The waivers include the following:
- Governor Ron DeSantis has suspended the biweekly “actively seeking work” reporting requirement. This means claimants do not need to recertify your weeks bi-weekly to receive your Reemployment Assistance benefits.
- Governor Ron DeSantis has Waived the waiting week, which means that working Floridians will be eligible for benefits for the first week of unemployment.
- Governor Ron DeSantis has waived work registration and work search requirements for working Floridians who have applied for state Reemployment Assistance benefits between March 15, 2020 and May 2, 2020.
Florida’s unemployment website has been so overloaded that the state has agreed to accept paper applications. However, the state has supposedly put out a new version of this website that now works faster and smoother than ever before. Major news outlets recently showed footage of lines of citizens snaking around businesses waiting for these paper applications. It seems like either way, online or with paper, Florida citizens are having to wait an unreasonably long time to get the same help the rest of the country is getting. DeSantis has also vowed to increase the number of phone operators by 1,000 workers to better service the unemployment hotlines.
Another change worth noting is that self-employed citizens are now eligible for benefits after normally not being eligible for state benefits. This type of citizen would include non-profit workers, contractors, and gig economy workers. These workers can now apply for $600 weekly through the CARES Act.
Where Can I Find More Information About Filing?
The U.S. Department of Labor has a website with plenty of information for this unusual situation. Click here to view a breakdown of the Unemployment Insurance Relief During COVID-19 Outbreak, and glance through the frequently asked questions to review some common concerns we all have had. As a Floridian, you will want to click here to start the filing process. You can also call the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity at 1-800-204-2418.