TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — 8 On Your Side is getting results for a Tampa man who, thanks to Florida’s unemployment failures, found himself homeless.
A week after we first met Julius Johnson, he sat at the same bench in the same park but his outlook on life couldn’t be more different.
“If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have this here,” he said. “My car would be right there underneath the shade, and I’d just be sitting out here probably on the phone with unemployment.”
That’s because up until this week, Johnson had $4,000 in benefits on hold with the DEO. The state believed he went back to work late May and wouldn’t release the money when he claimed weeks.
Johnson did briefly go back to work in the kitchen of a local restaurant, but quickly found himself laid off again as COVID-19 cases began to spike. With no money, he was eventually forced to live out of his car.
After months of providing documentation but getting nowhere with the DEO, Johnson asked 8 On Your Side to get involved. Within days of us inquiring, Johnson says the agency released 14 weeks worth of benefits previously on hold.
Johnson says the first thing he did was go get himself a motel room.
State Representative Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando says benefit holds, like what happened to Johnson, remain one of the most common complaints coming into her office. Like Johnson, it’s often when someone briefly goes back to work or can only find part time work.
“It really is causing harm for Floridians, trying to do the right thing, get back to work, get an income,” Eskamani explained. “Now they’re struggling because they literally did the right thing.”
Speaking of back to work, finally getting benefits isn’t the only progress Johnson made in the last week. With restaurants able to open up to full capacity, the out-of-work chef says he’s heading back to the kitchen in a few days.
“I’m blessed and I’m very grateful,” he said.
While the state has made progress in claim backlog, many issues persist six months in this crisis. For example, the CONNECT site was kicking so many people off earlier this week, the DEO was forced to take the site offline to fix the bug.
Governor Ron DeSantis recently appointed former state representative Dane Eagle as the new DEO director. 8 On Your Side has made multiple requests to interview Eagle.
The agency has not yet made him available, but we’ll continue to try next week.
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