Tammy Menke was earning $20 an hour as a waitress and bartender when the pandemic forced her employer to close the doors in March leaving her without a paycheck and a long quest for unemployment benefits.
“I was lucky, I had money saved for the first time in my life,” she said. “Now I don’t, I’m broke, my dog needs to be put down, my car’s in the shop, I’m sick to my stomach.”
Menke’s Florida unemployment account shows she was disqualified for benefits until June 6 because of an overpayment collected last year when she was out of work for a few weeks.
That mistake created a void of roughly $6,500 in benefits that should have been paid from March to May.
“They said ‘just be patient,’” Menke said of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. “There’s thousands of people waiting for their backpay.”
Menke said she repaid the $692 to the Department of Economic Opportunity on Dec. 17, 2019 but that this year her unemployment account did not reflect that update.
“I’ve filled out every single form, I’ve made thousands of phone calls and emails (to the DEO). Nothing,” a frustrated Menke said.
With two teens at home she said she is struggling to make ends meet with a part time job at a home improvement store and a weekly unemployment check of $275 she started collecting the week of June 6.
In a recent interview DEO Director Dane Eagle confirmed the average wait to correct unemployment accounts has been 4 to 6 weeks.
A DEO spokesperson confirmed Tuesday that Eagle will request $5 million from the state legislature to hire an estimated 108 non-salaried staff to speed up the claims process.
Mark Hamrick, a senior analyst for BankRate.com, said similar reports of long delays have been the norm across the country.
"People need to get those benefits, "Hamrick said. "Four to 6 weeks is just unacceptable.”
Menke said the hours at the home improvement store have been scattered 11 hours one week and 4 hours the next.
She has to be available 7-days a week so a second job would never work.
“I should have my money, ‘4 to 6 weeks. be patient,’” she recalled a DEO supervisor telling her. " Well, 4 to 6 weeks (and) nothing."
The DEO is reviewing her case this week. A spokesperson for the agency said Menke’s is one of thousands currently under review.
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