ORLANDO, Fla. — In the latest saga of Florida’s problem-plagued unemployment system, frustrated Floridians say the CONNECT program is continuing to keep them locked out.
What You Need To Know
- CONNECT program locking out frustrated Floridians, viewers report, keeping them from benefits
- State blames "high volume of traffic" as potential cause
- Not clear what Florida Dept. of Economic Opportunity is doing to fix the problem
- RELATED: Florida Unemployment Benefits: Changes Explained
The delays are costing many timely receipt of unemployment benefits. The state blames “high-volume of traffic” as a potential cause.
“It’s been very difficult, I’ve been struggling the last month,” LaKeyshia Palmer said.
With more than 13 years’ experience in medical bill and coding, LaKeyshia Palmer was laid off in March.
She said when she applied for benefits she ran into a fraud issue, told someone had already tried to collect benefits in her name.
“The security questions it was asking was not matching, but I was like this is me,” Palmer said.
Weeks turned into months of what she describes as endless circles trying to get her claim troubles cleared up and to receive benefits.
Since her layoff, Palmer said she has yet to receive a single payment. Owed nearly 15 weeks’ worth of benefits, Palmer said she has since drained her savings and 401K to make ends meet.
“I haven’t received a determination, I haven’t received a letter, I haven’t received an email from them,” Palmer said.
She is among countless Floridians frustrated with what they describe as constant barriers.
In recent weeks, hundreds have reached out to Spectrum News about CONNECT’s website kicking people off the site and not allowing people to claim benefits or register work search information.
A Florida Dept. of Economic Opportunity spokesman told Spectrum News this week the website troubles may be due to “…a high volume of traffic on CONNECT, so claimants may experience wait times.”
It’s not yet clear what the agency is doing specifically to address the problem.
The concern for many is that without access to the website, they can’t file claims, submit work search information, or provide other required information needed to receive benefits.
Spectrum News asked DEO what it would do to ensure individuals would not be penalized because of the site glitches.
In a statement to Spectrum News, DEO said individuals can reach out through the Reemployment Assistance Help Center to upload work search information.
The online assistance center remains another source of frustration, as some say they have yet to receive any response from DEO despite repeatedly submitting information for help.
The Help Center is believed to see an increase in demand as DEO recently ended a third party call center contract, growing to a surge in complaints about individuals not being able to get through to DEO.
DEO has yet to answer Spectrum News’ repeated and extensive questions about assistance operations, including how many agents are actively fielding calls and address claim troubles.
DEO did say in June that it will be using a share of $92.5 million in appropriated state and federal funds to begin hiring 435 additional Reemployment Assistance staff members to help with call center support and processing claims.
Desperate for help, Floridians have turned to Spectrum News, employment lawyers and advocates, and state lawmakers.
“It puts us in a difficult place because we can not fix claims alone, we have to work with DEO and the agency is definitely lacking transparency, and struggles to give us clear answers on the problems we’re facing,” said Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando.
Eskamani said her office continues to receive hundreds of calls and emails and pleas for help each week, but like the public, is finding DEO limiting information it releases about problems and fixes.
“The reality is a lot of folks who call us are just a day away from becoming homeless and we do everything we can to prevent that from happening, but having a partner in DEO has been tough,” Eskamani said.
Full DEO Statement
Regarding Submitting Missed Work Search Information:
“If a claimant missed the opportunity to request benefit payments due to a Department error or they were unable to access CONNECT, they should visit the Reemployment Assistance Help Center. In the Reemployment Assistance Help Center, claimants should select "I am a Claimant," and then select "Benefit Payment Assistance," then select the next series of options that match their issue to notify the Department. The request should only be submitted once and claimants should allow the Department time to process the request.”
“If claimants did not have the ability to enter required weekly work searches, or previously were unable to enter work searches, when requesting their Reemployment Assistance benefits in CONNECT, they now have the opportunity to provide the Department with their weekly work searches through the Work Search Form found in the Reemployment Assistance Help Center.”
“It is important to note, in order to complete the Work Search Form, claimants must provide their claim specific “Issue ID.” Issue ID’s can be found in correspondence from the Department or in CONNECT. For more information about how to locate an Issue ID or guidance on completing the Work Search Form, click here. The Department encourages claimants to enter their required work searches if prompted in CONNECT.”