‘Technology concerns’ may have caused missed unemployment payments, state says

Reporter: Sara Girard Writer: Jackie Winchester
Published: Updated:
Credit: WINK News

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity said Thursday that 97 percent of unemployment claimants have been paid, but that doesn’t mean they’ve been paid in full.

For weeks, you’ve been asking WINK News reporter Sara Girard, “where is my money?”

Girard created a Facebook poll, and out of almost 1,500 people in Southwest Florida who answered, more than 80 percent said they’re missing three or more payments from the DEO.

Depending on who you ask, that money means the difference between having a home or a car or food on the table.

Eileen Young, Apryl Davies, Victor Rivera and Mark Benfield don’t know each other, but their stories are all too familiar.

“On March 22, I applied for my unemployment, and it sat and it sat and it sat,” Young said.

Davies said, “In the last week I’ve talked to three different people, and everyone has no idea what’s going on.”

“I don’t know how much longer I can hold out without getting this money when I need it,” Rivera said.

And Benfield: “We’re all in a different boat it seems like, but we’re all in the same ocean.”

Each of them unemployed, eligible for benefits and missing the thousands of dollars they need. Davies said she’s missing seven or eight payments.

Navigating the system when it’s working is hard enough. When it isn’t working, it feels like a sinking ship.

The DEO admitted this week that two “technology concerns” may be why people haven’t seen their $600 CARES Act benefits (also known as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation or FPUC) in more than three weeks.

Statement from DEO:

“It is important for claimants to log into their CONNECT account to claim their weeks. Benefits are paid after weeks are claimed. We have noticed in most cases, individuals who are not getting paid have not claimed their weeks, or they claimed their weeks late, which can lead to a delay in payment. The department cannot pay an individual if they do not claim their weeks, because we do not know if they have returned back to work. Here is a step-by-step guide to share with your viewers.

“After reviewing several claimant IDs, the Department has identified two technology concerns that may have prevented an individual from receiving their Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payment over the last few weeks.

Individuals who requested that their claims be backdated were not included in recent payment files for the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments. We are working diligently to ensure these claimants are made whole as quickly as possible. At this time, claimants do not need to do anything but should continue to request benefits as long as they are unemployed or partially unemployed. The department anticipates having the issue resolved quickly and being able to provide these payments to eligible claimants.
Additionally, the department has identified that some claimants were not paid their Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payment for their waiting week. The department has identified these individuals and should have them paid their $600 federal payment within 5 business days.”

“I’ve yet to receive anything from the government past May 12,” said Benfield, who has been staying at a Naples hotel he used to work at as a handyman.

He has until Saturday to find somewhere else to live.

“It’s very hard to find a job that pays enough to even give you a livable wage to where you can have a place to stay,” Benfield said.

Young in North Fort Myers and Davies in Punta Gorda are pet sitters – and both are burning through their savings.

“It was really really tough, those weeks,” Young said.

“If we don’t get the money, where is the money going?” asked Davies.

Rivera, who takes care of his mom in Lehigh Acres, lived paycheck to paycheck while working a warehouse job. Now, bills are piling up.

“This has hurt me and my family. This has put us through tremendous undue hardship. I mean we have no savings,” he said.

These four people, and many others, are all virtually lost in the same treacherous waters of Florida’s unemployment system.

“It seems like we’re all forgotten,” Rivera said.

In less than a month, WINK News has sent more than 10,000 of your names and concerns to the DEO and the governor’s office – at their invitation.

While the state has helped some of you, many more are still waiting.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday directed the DEO to continue waiving the work search and work registration requirements for claimants through July 4. Additionally, the waiting week requirement will continue to be waived through Aug. 1.

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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