TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Commerce has not disclosed how many unemployment claims date back to the Covid-19 era when the state’s claim system bogged down, but a local lawmaker remains concerned about the agency’s efficiency.
8 On Your Side has heard from several Tampa Bay area residents who are still trying to solve problems that started in 2020 after the pandemic caused widespread unemployment.
Florida Commerce has yet to provide the number of COVID-19 era cases that are still active.
State Rep. Anna Eskamani, one of several lawmakers still trying to clean up the mess, said she has not received data about the backlog.
“That’s a great question. They have not given me any data either,” Eskamani said. “Anecdotally speaking, our office, much like your team, is seeing an increase in unemployment issues.”
Pamela Patrick of St. Petersburg is part of the backlog, no matter how big or small it is. She has been hit with repeated letters telling her she owes $12,000 and believes the backlog is in the thousands.
“Their excuse, every single time,” Patrick said. “There’s a glitch in the system.”
Laura Tweed was part of a Tallahassee statehouse protest three years ago. She was in a group of claimants dubbed “the unemployment dream team,” credited with helping thousands of people solve their DEO problems.
But she has not been able to solve her own issue involving a claim she owes the state $18,000 in unemployment overpayments.
“It’s a total joke,” Tweed said.
Rep. Eskamani called the situation embarrassing.
“It’s embarrassing to have cases that were connected to the beginning of the pandemic three years in,” Eskamani said.
Rep. Eskamani said she has also heard from constituents with other complaints.
Idalia brought a flood of water into the Tampa Bay area and also flooded DEO with new claims from people who lost work due to the hurricane. DEO has not provided data for how many have applied for Disaster Unemployment Assistance. (DUA)
DUA may be involved with a new potential delay for benefits, but it sure sounds like the old one related to COVID.
“It’s just one thing after the other. You can’t get someone on the phone,” Eskamani said. “It’s very difficult for any customer service. The problem has absolutely persisted.”
Rep. Eskamani said legislation passed to modernize the state’s unemployment system will not have an impact until 2024 or 2025, but she she is still advocating for positive changes.
“On the macro level, we continue to push for policy changes,” Eskamani said. “We’re doing what we can to not just expedite improvements to the website but just have better customer service.”