TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Only a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands of Floridians who filed unemployment claims in the last month have received a payment and to make matters worse, the state’s unemployment website is now offline.
The Department of Economic Opportunity took the CONNECT system offline Friday, and it will remain unavailable to Floridians until Monday morning in order to reduce the massive backlog of claims.
Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter, who was put in in charge of the system last week, says the agency will be working all weekend to process applications that have already been filed, adding staff can do more quickly when the website is down.
“We needed all the processing power we could get, to process payments. We have a number of large batch jobs that were ready. Rather than place a lot of drain on the system today and over the weekend, we said ‘let’s take it down’. Let’s process as many payments as we can,” explained Satter.
“This weekend, one of the purposes of taking the system down, in addition to running a bunch of batch jobs and payment queues, is we are doing some software retooling to make things a lot more efficient,” Satter added.
With the main site down, the state has made a second system available for people to apply and DEO is still accepting paper applications. However, claimants will not be able to check for updates to their status this weekend.
“Wait times are declining, and we are getting more and more of those folks answered. So, there absolutely will be some long wait times Monday and Tuesday, but we are starting to see those wait times decrease. Quite frankly, the more checks we issue, the less questions we’ll have,” said Satter.
The state has now processed nearly 220 thousand claims, out of 700 thousand unique submissions. In total, about 154 thousand claimants have been paid nearly 160 million dollars.
Florida’s unemployment agency announced Friday that it has processed more than 31 percent of unemployment claims, with payments of up of 275 dollars a week going out to 22 percent of the applicants. However, residents continue to express frustrations about being cut off from the state’s online CONNECT unemployment system and not being able to get through to call centers for assistance.
Governor Ron DeSantis on Tuesday called the unemployment system a “jalopy” that cost the state $77 million.
DeSantis, who called the filing problems “totally unacceptable” directed the department to provide paper forms that residents could download and mail in. Or they could go to CareerSource locations, which can provide the application and assist Floridians in filing it. FedEx is also offering free printing and mailing of the forms at more than 100 storefronts across the state.
Don Walkley is one of those frustrated residents who found themselves having to print applications after being unable to file claims online or by phone, even though the state has added dozens of new servers and hundreds of staffers and has contracted with customer call centers. He donned a mask and dropped off his application at FedEx last week.
The Palm Beach Gardens resident was furloughed from his part-time job designing closets at The Container Store earlier this month. His wife, Micky, is about to start a three-week furlough from her position at an air conditioner manufacturing company.
Walkley, 70, hasn’t heard anything about his application and said there’s no way for him to follow up to see if it arrived.
“My question is ‘So now what?’ ” said Walkley, who has started to cut back on food shopping to avoid dipping into savings. “I assume it’s there. When does someone actually work on it, process it, do whatever they have to do so benefits can start being sent out? I’m not optimistic.”
Democratic state and federal lawmakers have pummeled DeSantis, demanding he improve the system.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat representing the northern Orlando suburbs, posted an online survey and has gotten thousands of responses from people who either can’t complete their applications online or by phone or can’t determine the status of their claims.
“The crime and the shame in this is that they built a system that wasn’t functioning in normal times,” Murphy said, “and now, in a crisis, are having to scramble to figure out how to compensate for the fact that there are all these workers who are out of work through no fault of their own and try to get them the benefits that they need.”
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