Florida’s unemployment application system to go down overnight

Hundreds of thousands of people attempting to apply for benefits

ORLANDO, Fla. – The state’s unemployment system, which has been overwhelmed with an influx of applications from people who have lost their jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic, will be going down overnight Sunday into Monday.

From about 10 p.m. until 5 a.m., the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity will not be accepting reemployment benefit applications online.

“We understand this is an enormous inconvenience, but it is necessary to increase our ability to process the many applications we are receiving,” a message announcing the outage read.

On Thursday, the director of the DEO publicly apologized to the thousands of Floridians who have been unable to successfully apply for assistance.

“From my heart, I apologize for what you’re going through,” Ken Lawson said.

At that time, he said the agency had received 1.5 million calls in the past week.

Sunday, Florida Sen. Linda Stewart said many residents are seeing issues while trying to apply.

“You cannot fill out the application on the website, you cannot make a phone call to get through and when you do, you get disconnected,” Stewart said.

To make it even easier for residents, she‘s printed out the paper applications and placed them outside her office on Bumby Avenue. She printed them out both in Spanish and English.

“There are so many problems out there and so many people out of work that I think this is the least I can do,” Stewart said.

Jary Wilson picked up an application Sunday. He said it's very convenient for him.

“This is going to help us who don’t have internet access or printers,” Wilson said. “The whole system is jammed up. Better late than never.”

He said he's trying to bounce back.

“My company shut us down three weeks ago and we don’t even know if they’re going to reopen or not.”

The Department of Labor reported Thursday that 227,000 Floridians initiated unemployment claims the week prior, up from 74,313 the previous week. Another 56,000 were expected last week as Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a statewide stay-at-home order that took effect on Friday, according to the Associated Press.

Those seeking help have reported being locked out of the system and not being able to reach a representative even after calling hundreds of times.

A tweet from the DOE didn’t indicate the reason for the temporary outage but late last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order allowing other state agencies to send employees to help with unemployment claims. The same order also authorizes the agency to purchase extra technology and equipment to help handle the demand.

A News 6 investigation found that in the past two weeks, the department has spent $25 million on improvements to the computer and phone systems it uses to collect unemployment benefits applications.

In another effort to help Floridians, paper unemployment applications have been made available for anyone to download, complete and then mail.

Stewart said she’s printed out applications for residents to pick up to mail in.

“We’re aren’t going to know until tomorrow whether or not what they attempted to do tonight is going to work,” said Stewart. “I do not believe that overnight it can be up to par.”

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About the Authors:

Jerry Askin is an Atlanta native who came to News 6 in March 2018 with an extensive background in breaking news.