ORLANDO, Fla. — A proposed bill put forth last week by state Democratic lawmakers includes a three-week deadline for determining unemployment assistance eligibility from the time an applicant submits a claim to the Department of Economic Opportunity. There is currently no deadline in place.

A deadline for determining eligibility could speed up processing time for Floridians like Orlando's Stanley Shannon who say they have waited months to receive unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What You Need To Know

  • Currently, Florida has no deadline for determining eligibility for jobless benefits

  • Since COVID-19 pandemic began, some applications remain in limbo

  • Bill would set a deadline, increase payment amount and limit on number of weeks

  • The measure will be ready to be filed when the next legislative session begins

Shannon is just one of many who say their assistance application is in a state of eternal limbo.

“People with the unemployment [department], you know, they’re taking their time, when people are out here suffering,” Shannon said, sitting outside The Salvation Army of Orlando’s emergency shelter tent. 

Shannon is staying at the tent while he waits for some clarity on his unemployment assistance application. He said he lost his job back in March when he was so sick — potentially from the coronavirus — that he couldn’t show up to work. His unemployment assistance application has been stuck in limbo for more than a month, he said. 

Shannon said while he’s never been one to want to file for unemployment assistance, at this point, he has no other choice. He has been looking for work in the area but said so far he’s been unsuccessful.

“I can only wait right now,” Shannon said. “I can only go and try to find something that’s [within] walking distance. And a lot of things that are in walking distance, they’re not fully open for employment. So basically, I’m stuck until I can get some funds to help me out.”

The bill put forth by state Democrats would not only speed up application processing, but would also expand the amount and number of unemployment payments for which Floridians are eligible.

“We know that Florida has a broken unemployment system,” State Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez (D-District 37) said in a webinar held last week to discuss the new proposed legislation. “It is the stingiest in the United States, and from our point of view, it’s a self-inflicted wound that hurts Florida’s workers as well as our economy.”

The bill will be available to be filed during Florida’s next legislative session, unless a special session is called before then, according to the draft.

Molly Duerig is a Report for America corps member who is covering affordable housing for Spectrum News 13. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.