Florida unemployment website down through Monday, applicants are furious

Coronavirus

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) – As if Florida’s unemployment system hadn’t failed enough, the website applicants use to track claims is shut down.

Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity announced Friday the CONNECT system – which is used to pay claims for reemployment assistance – will be offline through Monday.

Florida’s CONNECT system, where users track submitted claims for unemployment assistance, is down through Monday.

The site is expected to be available again at 8 a.m. on Monday. In a tweet, DEO officials said they took the system offline in order to “maximize payments to claimants.”

A DEO spokesperson says the decision was made Thursday night during the system’s regularly-scheduled evening shutdown.

“We’re doing that so as less [sic] people try to access the system because it’s not available to the public, we’re able to process claims faster,” said Tiffany Vause, DEO Director of Communications.

The CONNECT system used to be where temporarily unemployed workers apply for weekly benefits, but it has been overwhelmed since coronavirus lockdowns began putting people out of work. After weeks of outrage from the system kicking applicants out, crashing, and not allowing users to submit claims, DEO created a new, mobile-friendly website in early April for new applicants to file claims online.

A DEO spokesperson says CONNECT no longer allows users to create a login – that must be done through the new site. Users who already have a login to CONNECT can continue to use it – but they will not be able to access it this weekend while it’s shut down.

However, the new website is just a user interface. New applications filed there are still fed through to CONNECT, which also controls the payments going out. Paper applications – which were also accepted starting in early April after the CONNECT issues – get entered into the new website and ultimately fed to CONNECT as well.

Ashley Lehto hasn’t heard a word about her application since she submitted her claim in late March. When we spoke to her two weeks ago, she was still getting kicked out of the system regularly, and couldn’t get through to anyone on the phone.

On Friday morning, the former server at Cortez Clam Factory got a letter requiring her to show she has searched for work.

But Gov. Ron DeSantis waived that requirement more than a month ago.

“And it said I needed to submit the info by the 27th,” Lehto said as she showed 8 On Your Side the letter. “But the website is down until Monday–which is the 27th.”

Lehto laughed, but is so fed up with the process, she wrote the state a letter.

Ashley Lehto’s letter to the state of Florida, which has still not processed her unemployment claim.

8 On Your Side spoke to DEO officials who say that system requirement is one of the reasons they’ve shutdown the website for the weekend.

“The technology hasn’t been able to keep up with the Governor’s orders,” said Vause. “Part of what we’re doing this weekend is taking down CONNECT to the outside so that our IT folks on the inside can push payments through so we can get more people paid as soon as possible.”

8 On Your Side heard from dozens of viewers Friday who got similar letters asking for more information. Vause said she is hoping the system changes will push through their checks over the weekend.

“We’re trying to get as much messaging out there as we can that you can ignore that right now,” Vause said. “Through this manual process we’re doing over the weekend, when they login on Monday, they should see the application has processed through.”

Federal data released earlier this week shows Florida is among the slowest states when it comes to processing unemployment claims.

According to the DEO’s new claims dashboard website, there have been 1,818,594 claims submitted since March 15. Only 218,935 claims have been processed and just 153,788 applicants have been paid.

The system has been plagued with problems since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The site was unable to handle the influx of applications, so the state added servers to help online applications and additional employees to help answer phone calls.

They also introduced paper applications. But 8 On Your Side discovered that’s also causing issues and confusion.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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