ORLANDO, Fla. – As more businesses in Florida reopen, hundreds of thousands of residents are still waiting on unemployment checks from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity either through state or federal CARES Act benefits but beginning Monday the unemployed will need to take an additional step to get those payments.
During an already confusing and frustrating time for those waiting on benefits, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued conflicting information about changes to the unemployment requirements compared to that of the DEO on Monday.
According to the DEO, beginning this week, people must log into the Florida unemployment website CONNECT to claim their weeks. Claimants have until May 17 to claim the current week which began Sunday after that they will need to sign into CONNECT every two weeks to claim their payments.
This step was temporarily waived by DeSantis amid the coronavirus unemployment surge. According to Floridajobs.org, the unemployed must begin claiming their weeks due to federal law.
However, speaking about unemployment Monday DeSantis contradicted what the DEO has been telling visitors on Floridajobs.org for days about claiming weeks. He told reporters, he waived that requirement until May 30.
“We also extended the waiver for doing the two-week re-certification until the end of the month and we did that partially because even in phase one not like the economy is 100% back," DeSantis said. "But then two, we really want to use the system to process as many people as possible and if you have 500,000 people going on just to do that and we know they are probably still unemployed it’s prob better to waive that for the time being or to further waive that.”
News 6 has called and emailed the governor’s office seeking clarification.
A spokesperson for the DEO responded to a request about the governor’s statement and said beginning this week,"to comply with federal law, claimants will be required to return to the CONNECT system every two weeks to request their benefits or ‘claim their weeks.’"
Several people shared screenshots of their CONNECT accounts showing the ability to claim weeks wasn’t available as of Monday afternoon but a message instructed them it would be available Tuesday. News 6 has asked the DEO about which date is correct.
Others have reported they were unable to claim their weeks in CONNECT as instructed or the website was unresponsive.
This means claimants will not receive payments unless they have requested them every two weeks. This is a step-by-step guide showing how to claim weeks in the DEO system.
What has been waived until May 30 is the work search and work requirements, according to the DEO. However, applicants must still answer work search questions in the CONNECT system.
The change is likely to cause more problems and confusion for those already struggling to access the website which goes down on the weekends to process claims and payments, according to the DEO.
Tomorrow beginning at 8am, claimants will be able to access the CONNECT system to claim their weeks. Weeks must be claimed for both PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) and state #reemploymentassistance benefits.— Florida DEO (@FLDEO) May 10, 2020
When asked about long wait times for people calling into the unemployment call center on Monday, DeSantis said it’s much better than before the state added more than 2,000 call takers. DeSantis has also previously said the reduced the training time from several weeks to 24 hours for those call takers.
Floridians calling into the 1-833-FL-APPLY hotline have reported waiting for hours only to be disconnected or call takers couldn’t answer their questions when finally connected with a person.
“We’ve got a huge number of people now doing the phone,” DeSantis said. “If it’s not a 100% where it needs to be I’ll definitely have them look into it.”
Part of the confusion among the unemployed is the difference between state benefits and federal pandemic benefits available under the CARES Act.
“In a normal situation the majority of people who apply for unemployment don’t qualify,” DeSantis said Monday. “So, say you’re a gig employee, you wouldn’t.”
However, under the CARES Act gig workers, self-employed and contractors do qualify for something known as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or PUA. Those workers must still apply through the Florida website and then be invited to apply for PUA benefits.
In response to why some people haven’t seen payments from PUA, DeSantis said it’s because the federal “money was only recently given to the state.”
In an April 23 interview, Sec. John Satter, who is overseeing Florida’s coronavirus unemployment surge, said individuals could begin applying through the existing application system for federal benefits.
Several weeks later, many Floridians have reported to News 6 delays in the application process due to errors in the CONNECT system or being declared eligible for benefits but in a limbo with the system showing “pending” for weeks on end.
According to the DEO dashboard, more than 23,000 PUA payments have been made as of Monday and more than 635,000 unemployment payments have been made total out of the more than 1.3 million verified claims submitted.
Those who have exhausted their regular unemployment benefits are still waiting for relief from the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or PEUC, which provides assistance to those individuals. On May 1, Satter said the state is working to be able to process PEUC applications and payments.
According to the Floridajobs.org website, “more information on how to apply is coming soon.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the DEO responded with the correct instructions for Florida’s unemployed.