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After fighting Florida's unemployment system, applicants prepare for 'long ride' to get checks

'We’re going to have to strap in'
Posted at 6:10 PM, Apr 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-09 18:10:00-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Unemployment numbers continue to surge in Florida despite online struggles to file claims.

Last week, the state logged another 170,000 applications. The total is now near half a million people since COVID-19 regulations started in mid-March.

But finishing an application is only the first hurdle.

“I think we’re going to have to strap in,” said Tallahassee mother Laura Hughes. “I think it’s going to be a long ride.”

Hughes was finally able to file her unemployment claim after days of dealing with the state’s finicky website. Now that it’s uploaded, a new obstacle has presented itself, no specific timeline for her check.

“You just don’t have a great feeling about it,” said Hughes. “Especially since the process to even get it so hard to go through.”

Though Hughes has just started her wait, some say their claims have been in limbo since mid-March.

Department of Economic Opportunity Communication Director Tiffany Vause says average wait times to process claims range from two to three weeks.

“We’re doing everything we can to speed up that process as much as possible,” said Vause.

She says the Department of Revenue has dedicated 600 employees, starting this week, to increase speed by helping verify identities. Shorter wait times would come next week, she expected.

“The department understands that people are frustrated,” Vause said. “We are working around the clock, seven days a week to make sure that we are processing these claims as quickly as we possibly can.”

The department has a pile of claims to clear before getting to the new ones. Director Ken Lawson said totals exceeded a half million at the start of the week.

Lawson, amid calls for his resignation, has set a goal of clearing 80,000 before next Monday.

“My job right now is to do everything I can to make the system work,” Lawson said. “Anything else in the future, I don’t care about. What I care about is today.”

We asked DEO about their progress on the claims goal. They have yet to return the request for information.