DEO phone lines jammed as contractor lays off call-center agents

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A small group of demonstrators gathers at Lake Eola Park to protest the Florida unemployment benefits system, Wednesday, June 10, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. Many Florida unemployed workers are still trying to apply for and receive unemployment benefits since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Layoffs by a third party contractor that staffed Florida’s already troubled unemployment benefit call center are being blamed for dozens of unanswered calls from claimants.

According to a Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) employee who asked not to be identified, KForce notified employees Monday night that their assignment had ended and the company’s contract with the state was completed.

KForce has not responded to requests for comment.

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The employee, who did not know how many were laid off, also said an internal message sent Friday and Monday indicated unemployment call centers would be closed on those two days.

DEO spokesperson Andrew Nixon has not provided any details about the Kforce situation, but did say DEO “did not send out communications to DEO employees.”

“The Reemployment Assistance Customer Service Center was open Friday as normal and is open [Monday],” Nixon wrote in an email.

Charles Thompson, of Apollo Beach, is one of several who have reached out to 8 On Your Side about jammed phone lines in recent days.

“I’ve called 100 times since last Thursday,” Thompson said. “After you punch in your claim number the voice says, ‘all of our lines are busy and at this time we cannot offer any call back options or features.’ Then it hangs up.

Thompson’s issue was connected to the IDME verification system that he said kept him locked out of filing his upcoming claims.

“It says you’re all set and that I would be contacted within three business days, but that hasn’t happened,” Thompson said.

Similar issues were reported by Dino Setaro, who said he has not been able to get through since Friday.

“I’ve been applying for jobs, hoping to get back to work,” Setaro said. “But I have about $5,000 tied up with the state [in unemployment benefits] and bills to pay. I can’t get through.”

I am again told the message about Friday and Monday was an internal posting on Microsoft teams that started with “To All DEO staff and representatives.”

According to the DEO, Florida’s unemployment rate was 4.8 percent in April, below the national rate at that time.

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