Florida’s unemployment benefit system can’t handle skyrocketing claims during coronavirus crisis

Better Call Behnken

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Florida’s unemployment claims are soaring, but laid-off workers tell Better Call Behnken that they’re not being counted because the state’s computer system won’t take their claim.

Workers tell horror stories of waiting on hold for hours or getting to the final web page of a claim and then getting disconnected or kicked off the site.

“I need to get my benefits,” said Emily Trujilo, who recently lost her job as a secretary at a charter school. “I have bills coming.”

Emily and her daughter were both laid off from jobs working at local schools. Both of them had the same problem filing for unemployment: the final registration page of their application informed them that their social security number had already been used, sparking fear of fraud.

“The system asked me to put in another social security number,” Trujilo said. “I don’t have another social security number.”

She’s not the only one. Calls from frustrated job seekers have flooded the News Channel 8 newsroom.

One viewer wrote this to Better Call Behnken:

“I have persistently called every 1-800-number that I can possibly locate and contact someone. It’s either busy, you go on hold, it just kind of disconnects you completely.”

Investigator Shannon Behnken reached out to the state Department of Economic Opportunity. Spokeswoman Tiffany Vause said the department is aware of the problems, even the social security error messages.

Vause said funding for the department is based on the state’s unemployment rate, which was 2.8 percent in January.

“Overnight, millions of Floridians lost jobs,” she said, likening the state’s computer system to a business before Black Friday. “One day, there is not very much traffic, and the next day it’s overwhelming.”

Vause said they are working to improve the system by beefing up staff, extending hours and working with vendors to improve software.

“What we want your viewers to know, what we want everyone to know, is to be patient,” she said. “Continue to try, try at a different time of the day.”

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