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Florida's jobless residents struggling to file for unemployment amid coronavirus pandemic

Posted: 3:20 PM, Mar 23, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-24 05:56:44-04
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FLORIDA — COVID-19 is forcing a long list of layoffs across Florida.

Thousand of people are now filing for unemployment assistance or at least trying too.

One Tampa Bay area woman contacted ABC Action News for answers, claiming she has not been able to get through to the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) for four days.

“Bills still have to be paid your rent comes, your utilities, your cell phone,” Michele Abshire has an entire household to support but says it will soon become difficult after she was laid off from her job in St. Petersburg on Thursday.

As if a world-wide pandemic isn’t stressful enough, Abshire says she and another 20-plus employees were called into a room and let go last week. Now jobless, she has been trying to file her claim online, as well as over the phone, but says she keeps getting a message from the DEO reporting high volume calls.

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Abshire says on the fourth day of trying to call she tried before the office opened in hopes she would be put through. She says she called every five minutes up until 7:30 a.m. and then afterwards but still got the same response.

“It says 'you know due to high call volume we cannot take your call and we do not have an option for call back,'” she said.

ABC Action News reached out to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity after users complained about the long wait.

In response the DEO said,

"The Department of Economic Opportunity is taking immediate action to increase our ability to serve the people of Florida during this unprecedented time. These actions include:

  • Expanding the hours for the Reemployment Assistance Call Center, which is now available Monday – Friday, 7:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
  • Increasing staff working on the Reemployment Assistance program, by re-tasking current DEO employees to assist with Reemployment Assistance, and hiring more than 100 individuals statewide to help answer calls and process applications so that individuals can receive benefits as soon as possible.
  • Working with DEO’s current vendor to expand capacity.
  • Adding server capacity to the online application for Reemployment Assistance.

Additionally, to make filing for Reemployment Assistance easier, Governor DeSantis has asked to waive the work search and online work registration requirements for Reemployment Assistance while the state mitigates the spread of COVID-19. Individuals filing for Reemployment Assistance will not be required to register in Employ Florida or submit information on a biweekly basis regarding the employers that they contacted each week. While we add people to the team, the quickest way to file for Reemployment Assistance is to apply online. As noted above, the Call Center is experiencing above average wait times.

With this unprecedented event in our state, we are asking everyone to have continued patience. If you have trouble filing your claim, please try again later. With the increased volume in users, our system is moving slower. Floridians filing for Reemployment Assistance have until Saturday at midnight to file for the week. Click here for a direct link to instructions on how to apply for Reemployment Assistance and a short video."

ABC Action News stopped by Career Source Polk in Lakeland but found the doors locked and signs stating they were closed until further notice because of the coronavirus.

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Others seeking assistance were also trying to get answers at the physical location only to find a box with instructions on how to file online.

“I’m looking for some work, and I have to file for unemployment, that’s all I can do,” Kieron Speights said trying to get into the office.

According to unemployment reports, Floridians filed nearly 1,000 more applications for assistance last week compared to the week prior.

The DEO also says that in three days they received more than 75,000 calls about unemployment compared to the average 28,000 calls during the entire week.

“It’s a little bit disheartening, you can’t do anything, you’re just sitting here hoping something will happen,” Abshire said.

If you’re seeking a job, here’s somewhere to start: job openings in Florida.

The DEO is also hiring to help answer calls and process applications for its Reemployment Assistance program. Anyone interested in applying can do so by clicking here.

Major companies are promising to hire thousands in the coming months because of COVID-19.

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Companies include Dollar General and CVS, which each vow to hire 50 thousand employees by the end of April.

Publix is looking to hire “thousands” by the end of March.

And the big box store, Walmart wants to fill 150,000 positions in the U.S. by the end of May.