Never-ending error: Self-employed Floridians face yet another hurdle to collect unemployment benefits

Florida Unemployment

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — For months, 8 On Your Side has chronicled the uphill battle unemployed Floridians have faced for benefits.

Now we’ve learned of another glitch that is preventing self-employed applicants from collecting unemployment, in the form of an inexplicable error message.

As an independent contractor, Shari – who didn’t want to use her last name – is used to getting things done for herself. So when the pandemic forced her out of work at the beginning of April, she thought she could navigate the unemployment system no problem.

Then the pesky error message kept her from submitting her application.

Because self-employed workers don’t traditionally qualify for unemployment, the state created a special “Pandemic Unemployment Assistance” application. Shari says the online application crashes every time she goes to upload her supporting documents and submit.

At this point, she’s lost count of how many times it’s happened over the last few weeks. She’s tried different browsers and computers, and tried logging in during different times of day, but continues to receive the same error message.

“System has experienced an unexpected technical error,” it says. “Please close your internet browser, then reopen it and log back in to CONNECT through your normal process. You may need to do this once or twice to be successful and we appreciate your patience.”

The error message includes a phone number to call for assistance. Shari says every time she’s called, she’s reached a voicemail box that is full and cannot leave a message.

“I just feel hopeless, helpless,” she said. “Frustrated, sad.”

Fed up after weeks of failing to get through and assuming she must be doing something wrong, Shari resorted to going to Career Source Pinellas for guidance with her PUA application. After hours of troubleshooting, she says the staff there also could not explain what was creating the error.

Reports across social media show she’s not the only applicant facing this dilemma, and this is far from the only glitch that’s preventing people from collecting unemployment.

As 8 On Your Side previously reported, state audits from years past warned of deficiencies with the CONNECT system that created incorrect error messages.

With federal pandemic assistance only available through July, the clock is ticking for people like Shari.

“We need it fixed, times running out bills, need to be paid, life is pressing,” she said. “People need this help, they need this system to work.”

8 On Your Side contacted the Department of Economic Opportunity to ensure its aware of the error message. The agency has not articulated what’s causing it or what these people caught in the middle can do.

LATEST ON FLORIDA’S UNEMPLOYMENT PROBLEMS:

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