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Senate Democrats demand Florida unemployment probe as state is slow to pay out federal funds

Florida Unemployment

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Lawmakers are once again calling for an investigation into Florida’s embattled unemployment system.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, another top-ranking Democrat, sent a letter Monday to the U.S. Department of Labor Inspector General demanding an immediate audit into Florida’s failures to pay unemployment claims.

The letter is similar to one penned by Florida Democrats last month to the Government Accountability Office. A spokesperson for the GAO previously told 8 On Your Side that a probe into Florida’s unemployment agency and its response to COVID-19 is highly likely.

Monday’s letter accuses the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity of a “uniquely poor” job in paying out unemployment benefits, especially billions in federal funds allocated by the CARES Act.

It asks Inspector General Scott Dahl to investigate how Florida handled the money. It also asks for a probe into the state’s highly-criticized CONNECT site.

This comes as 8 On Your Side continues to get emails and calls from unemployment recipients who say their federal payouts suddenly stopped without explanation, and still haven’t received what they’re owed.

That includes Scott Sloop of Polk County. After a few weeks of uncertainty after he was laid off at the end of March, he received his first unemployment payment April 21 and assumed it would be smooth sailing from there.

“Makes you anxious enough to be in the middle of a pandemic, now we have rioting,” he said via Zoom. “And I have to worry about food and shelter.”

Less than a month after his weekly payments began, the $600 a week in federal benefits stopped after May 19. The DEO recently switched to biweekly payments but this still wouldn’t account for the now three weeks he’s owed.

“I’m at a loss for what’s wrong here,” Sloop said.

While Florida claims to have paid 92% of eligible applicants, it seems anecdotally that very few have been paid in full. The DEO does not differentiate on its reemployment assistance dashboard claimants paid in part versus full.

As of June 7, the DEO paid $4.6 billion in state and federal assistance to 1.2 million people. Compare that to New York, which according to a May 22 press release, had paid well over $10 billion to nearly the same amount of people.

Unlike state unemployment funds, there’s no way to track federal checks or which week they’re associated with.

“You just cross your fingers in the morning, check your bank account, and hope they make a deposit,” Sloop said.

Governor Ron DeSantis last month ordered his own inspector general to look into CONNECT’s issues and in particular Deloitte, the consulting firm contracted to design it.

Much like the various officials calling for investigations into what went wrong, laid off workers like Scott Sloop would like to know what happened to the $600 a week he was banking on.

“Thanks for being one of the few folks I’ve talked to that actually gave a hoot,” he said to 8 On Your Side.

As of this writing, a spokesperson for the DEO was not able to provide an explanation for why federal payments would suddenly cease.

MORE ON FLORIDA UNEMPLOYMENT

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