TAMPA, Fla. -- While some Floridians are starting to see unemployment payments, others are still in limbo navigating a system they describe as confusing and frustrating.
"I have not received a dime," said Steven Russell.
The 48-year-old said he was furloughed from his job as a travel agent at the end of March. He submitted a claim, but said he was ultimately deemed ineligible, and never given a reason. He said he went ahead and reapplied, now waiting for an answer again.
"A nightmare. I mean it’s been 6 weeks of no income. And I’ve applied for food stamps and I’m not sure what the status is on that," he said.
- Previously unemployed Floridians head back to work, unable to cancel unemployment benefits
- Out-of-work Floridians must go back into unemployment website to request benefits every 2 weeks
- Many unemployed Floridians are being told to reapply for state and federal benefits
Russell said he's tried to call more than 1,000 times.
"I’ve gotten through twice and I guess I’m lucky the people I spoke to were at least nice but they can’t do anything other than sit tight," he said.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers are doing what they can to get answers.
"It can’t handle a massive inquiry number of inquiries from the residents of the state. Call centers are not equipped with the tools and the knowledge to be able to guide people through," said Sen. Darryl Rouson (D-Dist. 19).
Sen. Rouson said he made a surprise visit to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity this week.
"They’re making some progress. I know that doesn’t do a lot for the 51% that remain unpaid declared ineligible without reason, get kicked off the system and responses but there is good news and that is we’re getting better," he said.
Starting this week, Floridians once again have have to claim their benefits every two weeks, DEO says to comply with federal law. The governor waived the work search and registration requirement through May 30th. The DEO provided this guidance on answer questions in the process:
"When completing the application, you will be asked questions about your ability and availability to look for work for the weeks of unemployment you are claiming. If you did not search for work due to the waiver, you may select “no” when asked if you looked for work that week. After selecting no, proceed through the next steps in the process. If you answered that you did not search for work, you will not be asked to complete a work search log. However, you will be asked additional questions that need to be answered to proceed to the next step in the process. Example questions may include: why did you not search for work; did you not have transportation; did you not have child care; or were you out of the area? If you did search for work, you may be asked to complete a work search log."
"The tip of the day is 2:30 to 5 p.m. seems to be the best time to call Wednesday, Thursday or Friday," said Florida Senator Ed Hooper (R-Dist. 16).
He said his staff is spending most of their time on the issue.
"There are a lot of people that may or may not know they’re not entitled to unemployment compensation because they didn’t contribute. We juggle a lot of that," he said, while acknowledging there are mistakes.
"We’ve spent almost twice as much on trying to fix the system as it cost originally to put it into play and I believe that will be a huge topic the next legislative session, now what do we do with this system that is not functioning as intended and how do we go forward?" he said.
Sen. Hooper said while some are receiving their checks and some are trying to figure out how to stop their checks, there are many that haven't gotten any money.
For those trying to stop a check, the DEO says, "If claimants, currently receiving Reemployment Assistance benefits, no longer wish to receive benefits, they do not need to claim their weeks, as payments will stop processing if weeks stop being claimed."
But for people out of work and without answers, they're still in limbo.
"I don't know if I'm every going to get anything," said Russell.