Hundreds of Floridians, forced into unemployment due to this pandemic, have written and called 8 On Your Side with heart-wrenching stories about an unemployment system that seems to be setup to fail.

Many of you have asked how a system like this could get so overwhelmed.

While the CONNECT system has had its own issues, it’s the process and restrictions on benefits themselves that are keeping people from receiving benefits currently.

DEO shut it down last weekend in part to manually push through updates overriding restrictions the governor had already lifted more than a month before.

“The technology hasn’t been able to keep up with the Governor’s orders,” said Tiffany Vause, DEO Director of Communications.

Lots of new restrictions on unemployment benefits were put into Florida law in 2011:

  • max benefits of $275/week
  • max 12 weeks of benefits when unemployment is below 5%
  • complete an initial skills review
  • search for 5 jobs every week
  • reapply every 2 weeks
  • make claims via internet

The restrictions were passed by then-Governor Rick Scott and a legislature led by Republicans in both houses.

Of all those lawmakers still serving in the legislature, only a few are from the Bay Area:
State Rep. James Grant of Tampa
State Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg
State Sen. Ed Hooper of Clearwater
State Sen. Kelli Stargel of Lakeland

Now-Senator Rick Scott sent the following statement to 8 On Your Side:

The reforms to the unemployment insurance program that were passed by the legislature in 2011 created a re-employment system that would be more reflective of economic conditions. When the economy is strong and there are hundreds of thousands of job openings, we should make sure the unemployment insurance system creates no disincentive to look for work. The reforms worked well under Governor Scott to help more than 1.7 million people get jobs, and there were hundreds of thousands of job openings when he left office.

There have certainly been issues with the Connect system that was created by a vendor chosen before Senator Scott was elected governor. But right now, every leader at the state, local and federal level needs to focus every ounce of energy on solving the Coronavirus and getting our economy back open. The CARES Act boosted unemployment insurance benefits by $600 per week and extended benefits to 16 weeks. Ken Lawson and many others are working hard to address the unprecedented influx of new applicants during this crisis and Senator Scott will continue to do everything in his power to help workers and small businesses get the help they need.

Watch WFLA News Channel 8’s weekly local political show Battleground Florida with 8 On Your Side political anchor Evan Donovan every Sunday morning at 9:30 right before Meet the Press.