Call takers limited when trying to help unemployment applicants

Reporter: Sara Girard Writer: Jackie Winchester
Published: Updated:

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity claims dashboard now says that 95 percent of eligible claimants have been paid their unemployment benefits.

However, many of you tell us you’re still waiting for those promised payments, and you still can’t log on to the website or get answers over the phone.

Doug French said he has spent hours upon hours every day since March 20 waiting on hold, hoping to find out why his application is “processing.”

WINK News reporter Sara Girard joined French as he called the DEO helpline on Thursday, and she discovered that the people hired to help aren’t sure how.

At 10:44 a.m., French called the DEO and got far enough to request that someone call him back, and about 30 minutes later, someone did.

French said what happened Thursday morning is unusual since he has been calling the DEO almost every day for two months, and if he’s lucky enough to get a call back, it’s usually hours later.

What remains the same is his frustration.

“I have not received anything yet,” he told the person on the phone. “Do you know if we can look up where my status is and find out about that? Are you guys able to do that now?”

The call taker said: “Not at this point. I’m unauthorized to look up claims or accounts because our system for employees, they’re still working on it.”

The call taker said he has only been on the job for four days.

When French asked what kind of training he received, the call taker said he’s supposed to be trained to go onto the system, get information and reset PINs.

That training is almost worthless now.

According to the call taker: “All of a sudden the website failed the weekend we all went through the training. And they all just gave us a whole bunch of information to study on Monday, our first day, and just told us ‘tell the people this while we try to get everything back up and running.'”

WINK News told Gov. Ron DeSantis during his stop in Fort Myers on Monday that you aren’t getting the answers you need.

“You’ve said call if you need help, if you suspect there’s an issue with your account. They cannot reach people over the phone…” reporter Sara Girard questioned.

DeSantis said he’d look into it.

“If it’s not 100 percent where it needs to be, I’ll definitely take a look and have them amp up that,” DeSantis said.

And yet on Thursday, the call taker told French he can’t look up his status because, “the link that they’re supposed to send us, so that we can do everything on what we train for, is not even up yet.”

He told us he can only answer “general” questions, even though French requested help with “claim-specific” questions.

When Girard and French called back to see if someone else might be able to help, they couldn’t get through.

The automated message said: “All of our phone lines are busy, and we are unable to offer our call back option at this time.”

WINK News reached out to the DEO and the governor’s office about this. The governor’s office did not respond as of this publication.

DEO spokesperson Tiffany Vause provided this statement:

DEO recognizes that many individuals are seeking an improved level of customer service that Floridians expect during this unprecedented time. To quickly serve Floridians, in March, DEO took immediate action to begin increasing staffing so that DEO could best serve Floridians impacted by COVID-19. DEO hired multiple contact center vendors to quickly assist Floridians and our agency. Since late March, DEO has been able to add more than additional nearly 6,000 contact center representatives through our contracted contact centers and our DEO team members.

DEO’s strategy was to the hit the ground running, so DEO immediately began training these individuals on the top issues that were preventing Floridians from completing their applications, such as PIN resets and Frequently Asked Questions, to ensure they could serve Floridians quickly. This enabled our seasoned DEO employees to prioritize claim specific questions and allow our third party contact center providers time to learn the system which ensured Floridians got paid, quickly. This week, 200 of those new contracted team members received and completed the full training and can now provide full claim-specific help to Floridians.

To understand the volume of calls DEO receives, the week ending March 8, DEO received 28,000 calls and the week ending March 14, DEO received 224,000 calls. Since March 15, DEO has received more than 15 million calls. To put in perspective, an average call takes 20 minutes to from start to finish on claim-specific questions.

DEO provides answers to frequently asked questions and answers to all of the call center representatives to ensure they have an understanding of reemployment assistance benefits, and the knowledge they need to assist Floridians. DEO has utilized a phased training approach to make trained call center representatives available to respond to the high-volume requests as quickly as possible.

DEO has mandated to all contact center vendors that all contact center representatives should be Floridians.

Serving Floridians during this unprecedented economic and public health crisis continues to be the number one priority of DEO.

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

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

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