Mix of frustration and relief as changes to unemployment programs roll out, questions remain

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

As the state begins to roll out changes and extensions to unemployment compensation, courtesy of the new stimulus bill, some Floridians worry it won’t be smooth.

Community activist Vanessa Brito, who’s been helping decipher and guide people through the unemployment system for months, is preparing for the worst.

“I want people to be prepared for a tremendous amount of issues and glitches. I want people to be prepared that there may be a lapse in benefits, especially if they need to reapply,” Brito said. “Because there is a gap of a couple of days when applications are pending and then put into an ‘active-eligible’ status.”

WINK News followed up with the DEO on Monday January 4th for instructions and clarity on what claimants should expect to see on their accounts, but we did not receive a response.

“I think on Monday, is the entire process going to be efficient and streamlined? Probably not,” Brito said. “But if we can at least have clarity on what the process is going to be: Do people need to reply, yes or no? If you do, who are those people, who are those claimants that are going to have to reapply?”

Here’s what some people in Florida were dealing with Monday.

Brito says implementing all the changes, along with requiring another Quarter-Change questionnaire, will be a nightmare for some. The changes include extending PUA and PEUC, introducing MEUC, and initiating the extra weekly $300 FPUC.

“We know that in the past, the quarterly changes have always been difficult. They’ve always led to a series of glitches for a certain number of claimants,” Brito said. “I think it’s not so much the process of having to fill out the questionnaire, knowing what to expect in terms of what that means, but what is going to happen after? Because there’s other compounding issues now.”

In regards to MEUC, Brito thinks the qualifications are confusing and too little, too late.

“It’s $100 boost to the [weekly benefit amount], but it cannot exceed 275,” Brito said. “So if somebody is receiving $200 as their WBA, they’re not gonna go up to 300. They’re going to get a $75 boost.”

Brito looked over the guidance provided to states from the U.S. Department of Labor to try to clear things up, but she and many unemployed people are still left with many questions.

Brito offers help with the unemployment system on her Facebook page and can be contacted directly at 2millionstrongfl@gmail.com.

If you are having trouble with the unemployment system, email tips@winknews.com and include your full name, contact information and screenshots to show us what you’re seeing on your account. Please do not share private information such as social security numbers, addresses or birthdates.


A look at the new and extended unemployment programs to start 2021

Many people who are unemployed in Florida are finding they’re either expired or ineligible, but that should change soon.

There was much uncertainty still with the unemployment process in the state to start 2021 Friday.

Adding to that confusion, some people received a message to end 2020 that said they needed to reapply by Saturday, but the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity said to ignore it.

The CONNECT system is not accessible to claimants Friday or Saturday because the state is updating the website to accommodate the new CARES Act programs. The site will be back up on Sunday, and the hope is by the start of next week claimants will have more answers.

What we know

The update includes extending two existing programs, reinstating a third and adding in a new, fourth program for people who get both W-2 and 1099 tax forms. Guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor breaks down all the programs and instructs states on how to implement them.

Breaking it down

The second CARES Act or “Continued Assistance Act” extends Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) for people who don’t qualify for state benefits, such as gig workers and independent contractors.

It also extends Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) which adds up to 13 weeks of payments on to regular state benefits.

It also brings back Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), but instead of $600 extra a week to the unemployed, it’s $300.

Those payments are retroactive starting Dec. 27.

Finally, the new program is Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) which pays qualified people an extra $100 a week, but not more than the maximum benefit amount of $275.

To qualify for MEUC, you have to have received wages through both 1099 and W2. For the previous tax year, you must have made at least $5,000 in net income from your self-employment. You also can’t be on the PUA program. MEUC payments in Florida will cover weeks beginning December 27th, and no earlier.

All of these programs expire in March.

The DEO told us it’s working as quickly as possible to get people paid as quickly as possible.

What we still don’t know

We don’t know if you’ll need to fill out new applications for any or all of these programs.

We don’t know how soon you’ll start to see the money in your accounts.

Trust WINK News to continue bringing the state your questions and pressing for answers in 2021.

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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