TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A former Department of Economic Opportunity call center staffer tells 8 On Your Side he witnessed computer glitches reject otherwise eligible unemployment applications.
At this point, it’s no secret the system is one in shambles. Stories of a crashing website and overwhelmed call centers have dominated headlines since the COVID-19 crisis hit in mid-March.
State audits dating back to 2013 found technical flaws that were never fixed.
But the state maintains that if claims are still delayed or denied, it’s the applicant to blame, not the system.
Much like how thousands of unemployment applicants don’t know why they were denied, Reggie Ellison said the DEO did not give him a reason for canceling his call center contract Sunday.
Ellison is one of 3,000 temporary employees brought on to help unemployment seekers navigate the CONNECT system. But he often found himself disconnected.
Feeling failed by the unemployment system? 8 On Your Side is putting together a list of names of people waiting for their benefits to send to Gov. DeSantis and the DEO.
If you have been waiting for 30 days or more on unemployment benefits, please fill out this Google form. 8 On Your Side’s Victoria Price will be delivering it to the governor.
“The only thing that was more constant than the system malfunctioning was me breathing,” Ellison described of his work environment.
It’s that same malfunction system, Ellison said, that glitches and rejects applicants that should otherwise qualify for benefits.
“Yes, I’ve seen people rendered ineligible just on a computer glitch,” he said.
As of Tuesday, May 16 the DEO had rejected more than 400,000 claims.
Its CFO, Damon Steffens, testified Tuesday that the wage category, which includes job history and how much money made, is the most common category people are disqualified over.
In that same hearing, Ellison testified that the information in the wage category is what most frequently and mysteriously would disappear from claims during his experience at DEO. Workers who had submitted their wage information would log back in to find those wages zero’ed out, and claim deemed ineligible.
“I honestly, for the life of me, cannot understand why the system has been doing that,” Ellison said to 8 On Your Side.
The agency denies erroneous rejection, stating there are “multiple reasons” someone could be found ineligible.
Governor Ron DeSantis reinforced that claim several times, who when asked, said that delayed or denied claims are likely the applicants’ fault due to incomplete forms or ineligibility.
Ellison may be off the job, but he’s still answering calls for help. Since getting let go, he’s started sharing his DEO knowledge with thousands in a Facebook unemployment system support group for people who can’t claim their benefits.
“If I can help, I want to,” he said.
He’d like to see an investigation into how the DEO functioned and handled funds during the crisis. Florida democrats sent a letter to Washington D.C. with that same request earlier this month.
8 On Your Side’s Victoria Price has confirmed with a representative of the Government Accountability Office that a federal review of how states handled pandemic unemployment funds will likely include Florida.
DEO responded to an inquiry involving all of these issues, saying “we will respond as quickly as we can.”
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