Florida updates unemployment system to process self-employed claims

Reporter: Sara Girard Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:

Robert Kantor of Punta Gorda is a ride-share driver who’s been trying to apply for unemployment since March 16.

“I cannot drive because I’m at high risk for coronavirus,” Kantor said.

Friday, Kantor’s status finally changed from “completed” to “submitted.”

As a gig worker, he’s supposed to be eligible for federal benefits. But he’s starting to lose faith he’ll see anything anytime soon.

“It’s the definition of insanity,” Kantor said. “Keep doing the same thing over again. Why do you expect a different result?”

Tuesday, Jonathan Satter, secretary of Florida Department of Management Services who now heads the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), told WINK News communication is one of the agency’s top priorities.

“There’s no communication whatsoever,” Kantor said. “I have emailed them; I’ve never had a response.”

Friday, the DEO’s Reemployment Assistance Claims dashboard showed 21.9 percent of claims have been paid between March 15 – April 23, up from 17 percent the day before.

In the meantime, Florida House Majority Leader Dane Eagle says his office is fielding unemployment questions from constituents to get them answered.

“So, if anybody’s having problems with DEO, I’d first encourage them to contact my office because we get what is happening,” Eagle said. “And we want to make sure that people get what they need.”

Eagle’s office confirmed to WINK News Friday that unemployment system is now updated to accept claims made by self-employed workers, independent contractors and gig workers. These workers can apply through the existing DEO website, the same as all other claimants. Existing applicants do not need to reapply.

The system will determine if they’re eligible for regular state benefits and, if they’re not, they will be directed to fill out a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) application.

Eagle’s office also confirmed applicants will get retroactive payments dating back to “whichever is later: March 9 or the day of their job loss and regardless of when their application was successfully submitted.”

For now, the CONNECT website is inactive until Monday April 27, as the DEO works to process claims and payments. New claimants can still apply.

Kantor says people just need their money.

“There are people that are fending day-to-day to eat,” Kantor said. “They need their money. And they need it quickly.”

Local lawmakers are offering help to their constituents with questions who are having trouble getting answers from the DEO. Find your local representative here.

Rep. Dane Eagle (represents Cape Coral)
Email: Dane.Eagle@myfloridahouse.gov

Rep. Spencer Roach (represents unincorporated areas of north and east Lee County)
Cell: 239-336-4588
Email: Spencer.Roach@myfloridahouse.gov

Statement from Florida House Majority Leader Dane Eagle’s office

After not receiving answers from the DEO, WINK News turned to Rep. Eagle’s office and got this statement Friday night:

Florida Department of Management Services Secretary, John Satter (now overseeing DEO) announced [Thursday] that self-employed workers, independent contractors, and gig workers can apply now through the existing DEO site the same as all other claimants. There has been some misconception here. They have always had the ability to apply; however, they were being deemed ineligible by the system. According to Satter and effective yesterday, the existing system will no longer reject these type of claims as presumably the site has been corrected/updated to accommodate the federal benefit. It is also important to note that if these type of claimants have previously applied, they do not need to reapply. Their information is on file and will be processed accordingly.

Additionally, it has been rumored that a new portal, specific to self-employed workers, independent contractors, and gig workers will be created. According to statements made by Secretary Satter [Thursday], this will not be the case. Again, they simply apply using the current system.

Lastly, [Thursday] the DEO released an updated Resource Guide. I am linking it here for your convenience: http://www.floridajobs.org/docs/default-source/reemployment-assistance-center/new-individual-faq-includes-cares-act-final.pdf?sfvrsn=5f2547b0_20.

Note the relevance and further clarification on Page 11:

“Gig workers will apply just like any other individual would apply for Reemployment Assistance benefits. They will fill out the regular Reemployment Assistance application to determine if they’re eligible for regular Reemployment Assistance benefits, and if they’re not, they will be directed to fill out a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance application.”


For ongoing updates and information on unemployment, follow WINK News Investigative Reporter Sara Girard on Twitter and Facebook.

She also updates the FAQ: Unemployment Resources page as information is received.

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