The bizarre reason one Florida woman hit a roadblock applying for unemployment benefits

System asked for her incarceration dates, even though she’s never been arrested

A woman without a criminal record was denied unemployment benefits because the state system thinks she's been incarcerated.

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. – Nancy Marquis insists she's never been in trouble with the law.

Yet before she could obtain unemployment benefits, the business owner was required to answer questions about her prior stints in jail or prison.

"My first husband was a police officer, so there was no time spent in the slammer then," said Marquis. "And since then I've never even been in a police car."

While answering questions on Florida’s unemployment assistance website called CONNECT, Marquis learned the state suspected she might have been in a corrections facility prior to seeking jobless benefits.

"Your availability for work is in question because we have received information that you were/are incarcerated," the CONNECT website stated.

While criminal backgrounds do not disqualify claimants from obtaining unemployment compensation, those who were unable to work due to being in custody may have challenges proving prior and future employment opportunities.

"At first I thought this was funny," said Marquis, who does not have a criminal history in Florida, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records. "They still have a glitch in the system."

The website asked Marquis to provide the dates she had been incarcerated, the name and location of the corrections facility, and any information about her release from custody, such as electronic monitoring or house arrest.

The website form did not give Marquis an option to deny she had been incarcerated.

"I can't go past it," said Marquis, indicating she was unable to complete her request for benefits until the questions were answered truthfully.

"You must respond to this information by 5/7/2020," the website informed Marquis. "Failure to respond by the specified deadline will result in a determination being issued with the available information."

Marquis, who owns a medical courier business, said she stopped working in late March after learning someone tested positive for COVID-19 at an assisted living facility where she delivers medicine and other medical goods.

"I'm 71-years-old, I'm diabetic, and I want to keep breathing," said Marquis, expressing her concern about contracting the virus.

Although Marquis is not entitled to state unemployment benefits since she is self-employed, she filed an application through CONNECT to obtain federal assistance provided by the CARES Act.

Shortly after her application was accepted, Marquis said she logged on and encountered the questions about her incarceration history.

Assuming it was a technical error, she logged off the site.

But when she returned the next day, the questions remained.

So Marquis said she tried calling the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity by phone, enduring repeated disconnections on its overloaded phone system.

"I finally got a hold of someone and she said, 'I've never heard of this'," Marquis told News 6. "She says, 'I'm going to get my supervisor on the line,' and her supervisor has never heard of this."

Shortly being told that call center representatives would be sending an "urgent" email to DEO, Marquis logged back on to CONNECT.

By then, the questions about her incarceration history had vanished.

“It was gone. I didn’t have that page anymore. And I finished my application,” said Marquis.

However, when she returned to the website days later to enter additional information needed to obtain federal unemployment benefits, Marquis said the incarceration questions had returned.

Once again, the business owner said she repeatedly called DEO until she reached another call center representative.

"She said, 'Once you fill out the Florida unemployment (portion), that information is sent to the IRS. You have to call them.'," Marquis recalled. "Now my blood pressure is about up to here and I'm starting to get a bit aggravated."

But instead of contacting the IRS, Marquis reached out to News 6 for help.

A News 6 reporter notified DEO's communications staff about Marquis's problems.

Within hours, Marquis said she received a call from an agency representative offering to fix it.

The next time she logged back on to CONNECT, the incarceration questions had once again been removed.

"Thank you so much," Marquis told News 6. "There is nothing more I have to take care of."

Marquis, who has never received prior indications that she might be the victim of identity theft, and she still does not know why the state’s website flagged her as a possible jail inmate.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.