ORLANDO, Fla. – Floridians can now download a paper application to file for unemployment as the state’s computer system continues to bog down because of the number of workers now jobless due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In a tweet posted early Saturday afternoon, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity said, “Reemployment Assistance paper applications are available online at http://FloridaJobs.org/COVID-19.”
Earlier this week, Ken Lawson, director of Florida’s DEO, apologized for the breakdown and vowed to improve the jobless assistance program.
“You need to understand that, from my heart, I apologize for what you are going through,” Lawson said in a video conference hosted by a state lawmaker. “You can count on us to do everything we can, and we’re not going to stop.”
In addition to the agency’s website and phone system used to accept unemployment benefit applications, Lawson announced that paper applications would soon be available. The paper apps can be filled out by hand and mailed to the state.
Last week, 227,000 Floridians applied for unemployment benefits, but the number of people needing assistance is likely much higher since many applicants reported having trouble using the DEO’s website and phone line.
"In early March we had nearly 28,000 calls coming into the call center. Last week we had over a million," said Tiffany Vause, the agency's communications director. "We are doing everything we can to increase our capability as quickly as possible."
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order Thursday instructing all state agency heads to identify personnel who can assist DEO in collecting and processing unemployment benefit applications, which the state calls “reemployment assistance."
The DEO recommends applicants try visiting its website early in the morning or late in the evening when fewer people are online.
Vause also suggests applicants compile all paperwork and required information before beginning the application process so they do not have to log back into the system later. The agency created a video explaining those requirements.
Eligible Floridians can receive a maximum of $275 in state unemployment assistance for a maximum of 12 weeks.
Under the CARES Act passed by Congress last week, an additional $600 in federal dollars will be provided to eligible recipients and the state's time period will be extended an additional 13 weeks.
That federal money will be routed through the state DEO, which has not yet announced how it will distribute to the funds to new unemployment recipients and those who have already collected their full state benefits in 2020.