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DEO site may be prompting unemployment seekers to apply for incorrect programs, delaying benefits

Florida Unemployment

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — There is still no immediate relief in sight for many Floridians forced out of work by the pandemic.

There is no timeline for when, or even if, the state will roll out the president’s proposed plan for additional unemployment benefits. A spokesperson for the governor’s office tells 8 On Your Side they are still reviewing federal guidance to map out a financially feasible course of action.

But the clock is ticking for many of Florida’s unemployed, as many have exhausted their traditional state benefits ahead of the state’s eviction ban expiring on Sept. 1. And 8 On Your Side has learned of what may be yet another system glitch further delaying some benefits.

It appears that CONNECT, the state’s unemployment website, is prompting some recipients to apply for the wrong benefits wrong once they’ve maxed out the standard state unemployment compensation.

Bart BonBrest of Tampa says it happened to him. When he exhausted his benefits a few weeks ago, an application for PEUC, or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, popped up on his CONNECT profile and he immediately applied.

PEUC is one of the programs established by the CARES Act that uses federal funds to extend state benefits for another 13 weeks. In Florida, that max amount is $275 a week.

Something soon went wrong.

“The next day or the day after, I can’t tell you exactly, (my application) was removed and it said zero funds available,” BonBrest explained.

According to BonBrest, a DEO agent claimed that CONNECT overrode his PEUC application and then prompted him to apply for PUA, or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. PUA is mostly intended for self-employed workers and won’t be available to BonBrest until he also exhausts PEUC.

BonBrest did not apply for PUA. He said the DEO agent could not explain what was happening, but was adamant it’s a prevalent issue.

Stephanie Anderson of Wesley Chapel faced a similar situation. When she exhausted her benefits earlier this summer, CONNECT prompted her apply for PUA even though she needed PEUC. Confused, she filled it out anyway, figuring something was better than nothing.

Anderson even briefly began receiving benefits after that, only to soon have them halt. After a month of inquiring why, she says the DEO told her she was erroneously receiving PUA benefits, and that she needed to apply for PEUC instead.

Filling out the PUA application versus PEUC created an issue that has now delayed Anderson’s benefits for two months.

“They told me it was no fault of my own, that is was a fault of the CONNECT system,” Anderson told 8 On Your Side. “If it weren’t for my husband, I’d definitely be homeless.”

8 On Your Side asked BonBrest how he felt to learn a mistake on DEO’s end could mean weeks until it’s rectified, and he can start receiving benefits again.

“It was very disheartening and discouraging,” said the father of two, who has interviews lined up but still waiting for a job offer and can’t afford to wait much longer.

8 On Your Side reached out to the Department of Economic Opportunity. We have yet to receive an explanation.

In the meantime, if CONNECT prompts you to complete an application for a program you don’t think you qualify for, 8 On Your Side suggests contacting DEO first to confirm if that’s the correct application. It appears that it may take longer to fix an incorrect submission, like what Anderson is dealing with, than to wait for the correct link to appear.

LATEST ON FLORIDA'S UNEMPLOYMENT PROBLEMS:

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