Busch Gardens employee loses jobless benefits because of duplicate application, DEO says

Single mom says one wrong number froze 8 weeks of unemployment checks

Stephanie Brannon said she was relieved when her first unemployment checks from the Department of Economic Opportunity arrived on June 24 but that happiness was shattered by a single piece of mail from the very same agency.

The Busch Gardens restaurant supervisor told News 6 the DEO notice indicated there were some issues that suggested she might not be eligible after all.

When she called the DEO to get some answers, she said the conversation with the woman checking her account was very confusing.

“She logged in (to DEO database) and she says, ‘You’re not even registered,‘” Brannon recalled. ”I said, ‘I just received two checks from you guys.‘”

Brannon’s W2 confirms she has been an employee with Busch Gardens and is eligible for unemployment benefits.

This is where it gets a little crazy. That notice from the DEO was sent on the same day Brannon’s unemployment checks were issued.

“I feel like this is the most complicated process I’ve ever been through on my life,” Brannon said.

The single mom of a 17-year-old boy said she has worked for Busch Gardens for “nearly 23 years” and was surprised to see a list of employers and a Social Security number that didn’t match her personal information.

“It just has the last four digits on the letter,” Brannon said. ”But those four digits don’t match mine‚ it’s off by one.”

She said the DEO letter has the number four where it should have a five.

“I’ve only gotten $745,” she said. “This is ridiculous, that back pay they owe would really help.”

News 6 contacted the DEO and presented her information, the mistakes and a copy of our TV report.

The DEO investigated the mix-up and it turns out Brannon filled out two applications, according to the department.

In a statement to News 6, DEO spokesperson Paige Landrum wrote, in part:

“Ms. Brannon’s account was locked due to duplicate claims (one with a wrong social security number), but our team has been in contact with her and we have resolved her issue,” Landrum wrote. “We would like to take this opportunity to remind claimants that it is important to only file one claim at a time. The Department takes fraud seriously and we must ensure that individuals are who they say they are. Our system locked this account because it appeared that someone was trying to file untruthfully. It is imperative that ALL Reemployment Assistance claimants are vigilant about ensuring their information in CONNECT account is accurate when they file their claim and during the life of their claim. If a claimant notices that their information is inaccurate or has been changed they should report it to the Department immediately.”

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