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State unemployment fund $10 million short after thousands of businesses failed to pay up

Posted at 7:52 AM, Apr 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-16 23:31:54-04

TAMPA, Fla.  — The state’s failing unemployment system – which has left hundreds of thousands of frustrated Floridians unable to sign up or seek benefits – is operating under a $10 million shortfall in the fund used to cut checks to the state’s unemployed, an ABC Action News investigation uncovered.

As the state scrambles to get benefits to a record number of out-of-work Floridians, I-Team Investigator Kylie McGivern discovered 25,760 businesses statewide never paid the tax that funds the state’s unemployment system.

Those unpaid taxes add up to a $10 million shortfall for the state’s unemployment fund as of the beginning of this year.

RELATED: Florida unemployment claims stalled by clogged websites

An I-Team analysis found those missing funds could fund unemployment checks for 3,450 Floridians for three months.

The shortfall in funding doesn’t mean less unemployed workers will be seeking money from Florida’s unemployment system.

Out-of-work residents are still eligible to collect unemployment – even if their employer failed to pay the tax that funds the system.

When asked which businesses have failed to pay up, a spokesperson for Florida’s Department of Revenue refused to name the delinquent businesses, citing privacy rules protecting the scofflaws.

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The state can file a lien against businesses that fail to pay the unemployment tax — something state tax collectors tell the I-Team they did more than 11,000 times last year. It’s unclear how much money those efforts recovered.

In total, the state collected $514 million in unemployment taxes last year. That’s significantly less than in years past. In 2012, the state collected nearly four times as much – $2 billion – for the unemployment fund.

It’s a savings for big business that Gov. Ron DeSantis highlighted in December, calling Florida’s unemployment tax “the lowest possible rate” in a press release announcing his administration’s commitment to Florida’s business-friendly reputation.

Those seeking unemployment assistance told the I-Team they are frustrated with the broken system.

Krystal Greenwell said she’s been up at all hours for weeks, trying to help her husband apply for unemployment benefits on the state’s overloaded website.

“I’m scared. I’m worried,” said Greenwell. “How am I going to provide for my child? We need the money now – not three weeks from now.”

Greenwell’s husband, a maintenance worker at a local bowling alley, is among the growing list of Floridians laid off due to COVID-19.

Before the pandemic, the family was living paycheck to paycheck and their bank account is already $1.47 in the red as they wait for unemployment checks.

“I’m very disappointed in the whole system,” said Greenwell. “I’m just extremely disappointed. I have no faith in it.”

If you have something you'd like the I-Team to investigate, you can call 1-866-428-NEWS or email kylie.mcgivern@wfts.com.