ORLANDO, Fla. — Floridians, fed up with the state’s problem-plagued unemployment system, took their frustrations beyond social media Wednesday to a series of small statewide protests.
What You Need To Know
- Protests in Orlando, Tampa and Tallahassee
- FLORIDA UNEMPLOYMENT: Your Questions Answered
- Contact Your State Lawmakers: Florida Government Guide
- RELATED: Some Unemployed Floridians Report Federal Benefits Mysteriously Stopped
About two dozen people turned out to Lake Eola in downtown Orlando, with other groups in Tampa and Tallahassee.
“I have a grievance with the way payouts have been coming,” said Christopher Smith.
Smith, like others, say they have seen few payments, if any at all.
“It’s the fact that the communication to find out where those payments are does not exist,” Smith said. “The best I have experienced is they don’t know what’s going on, the worst is just being hung up on.”
The state hit a record high rate of unemployment in April.
A survey of more than 1,000 people Tuesday night illustrated a mass group of people waiting to be paid in full from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
“I haven’t received a dollar, nothing, nothing coming up on three months now,” said Jennifer Kane of Melbourne.
The furloughed behavioral therapist said it has taken months to even get in an application with no results so far.
“Long story short, all of the money isn’t there,” said Rich Oakes.
Oakes is among those who say federal benefits seemed to have just stopped last month.
Many have reached out to Spectrum News asking why $600 federal payments have not been received since May 19.
A DEO spokesperson originally told Spectrum News a few weeks ago that missing payments could be tied to a change in bi-weekly payment distributions.
Pressed further, an agency spokesperson told Spectrum News in an updated statement Tuesday that the agency had later found “two technology concerns” that could explain the missing payments.
“After reviewing several claimant IDs, the Department has identified two technology concerns that may have prevented an individual from receiving their Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payment over the last few weeks,” the DEO spokesperson said.
DEO described the two concerns as the following:
- "Individuals who requested that their claims be backdated were not included in recent payment files for the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments. We are working diligently to ensure these claimants are made whole as quickly as possible. At this time, claimants do not need to do anything but should continue to request benefits as long as they are unemployed or partially unemployed. The department anticipates having the issue resolved quickly and being able to provide these payments to eligible claimants."
- "Additionally, the department has identified that some claimants were not paid their Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payment for their waiting week. The department has identified these individuals and should have them paid their $600 federal payment within 5 business days."
The agency says it is continuing to provide benefits and process claims as quickly as it can.
DEO points out on its unemployment benefits dashboard that it has distributed $4.9 billion to more than 1.3 million claimants, but continues to not answer how many Floridians have been paid in full, meaning they have been paid all of the benefits they’re entitled to currently.
The agency has also not answered how it is progressing on reviewing the more than 476,000 claims deemed “ineligible”, of which many people say they were wrongly deemed ineligible.
“I kept calling and calling and calling, find out the status of my paper applications. After six weeks they did nothing with it,” said Kevin Bates.
Bates says he has been told to fill out one application after another after being furloughed from his machinist job in March.
“It starts with stress and then you try to move forward, but you can’t,” Bates said. “You have to go back and start all over and I’m out of time. I’m going to lose where I live, the landlord just started calling this week, I’m already three months behind.”
A survey of Floridians share many common frustrations, including unable to get through to DEO nor get any firm answers.
Problems with Florida’s unemployment system are well known. Many claimants say they are out of work, out of money, and out of patience, squarely blaming Governor Ron DeSantis for what they say is a lack of action and a lack of empathy.
“He’s not living in the same world the average American or average Floridians is living in, and he doesn’t see that,” Bates said. “He says he does and says he’s doing a wonderful job, but he’s just lost all faith.”
Democrats in the U.S. Senate this week called for an investigation into how Florida was handling unemployment payouts from the CARES Act.
Democratic State Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez of Miami testified Tuesday before the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, calling for change.
“I’m calling for them to amp up their oversight. The amount of waste or just bureaucratic hurdles people have to go through, it’s a nightmare,” he said.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity insists it is paying out claims as fast as it can, but its system is backlogged.