TAMPA, Fla. -- More than a month after a record number of out-of-work Floridians flooded the state’s broken unemployment website, I-Team Investigator Kylie McGivern found Florida has collected more in interest on its largely untapped unemployment fund than any other state.
Florida’s unemployment fund earned nearly $25 million in interest in the first three months of this year, according to an accounting record obtained by the I-Team.
While other states across the country saw their unemployment funds shrink as checks were quickly mailed out to people who lost their jobs due to the coronavirus, Florida was the only state in March that was taking in more money than it was paying out in unemployment checks.
The $4 billion unemployment trust fund has continued to swell, as Floridians struggle to get the state and federal unemployment checks they are owed.
In an email, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Economic Activity (DEO) told the I-Team, “In March, we did receive money faster than we could distribute it, which is why there was a minor increase in the Trust Fund.”
That minor increase meant Florida’s unemployment fund ended the month of March with $3 million more than when the month began.
“We are not seeing that anywhere else,” said Michele Evermore, an unemployment insurance expert with the National Employment Law Project. “It is the only state in the nation that didn’t spend money in its trust fund as of April 16. The fund actually increased in April.”
Halfway through April, the I-Team found Florida’s unemployment fund has grown another $13.7 million.
“Employers are paying more in than workers are getting out. And that’s saying something because a lot of employers are shut down now,” said Evermore.
Florida businesses pay a tax to fund the state’s unemployment trust, which collects interest.
“The relative benefit of that little bit of interest is nothing compared to the benefit of paying out unemployment insurance benefits,” said Evermore. “Unemployment insurance benefits help the whole economy.”
As the state collects interest, Glenn Barca’s credit card company is charging him interest, as he waits for relief.
“I’ve had to resort to putting bills and kind of my every day expenses onto my credit card. My actual credit card right now, I am maxed,” said Barca, who lives in Wesley Chapel. “I have not seen any money yet, my application is still in a pending status and has been since the 29th of March.”
Before the shutdown, Barca was a self-employed driver for a black car service.
“Transportation for a lot of the various golf and tennis resorts here. That business has obviously ceased,” said Barca.
Barca told the I-Team he can’t understand what is taking the state so long to pay out unemployment checks.
“Here we are, we’re in the state of Florida, we have all sorts of tech companies here, we have everything that has to do with the space program, we can send rockets up, satellites up, but we can’t figure out how to get a system, a website, up and running properly, so these funds can be distributed to the people that need it,” said Barca. “There are no words for it.”
Barca started an online petition, demanding Governor Ron DeSantis and the state’s unemployment office stop delays and pay Florida’s unemployed what they are owed, including $600 weekly unemployment checks from the federal CARES Act.
“People are out here wondering how they’re going to feed their children, where their next meal is coming from. It’s extremely scary,” said Barca.
More than 8,000 people have signed the petition so far, including Tonya Olsen, of St. Petersburg.
Olsen went from making a living as a physical therapist, to physical distancing, seemingly overnight.
Olsen is self-employed, mainly working in people’s homes and out of gyms. She’s been out of work the last seven weeks.
Like Barca, Olsen is still waiting on an unemployment check, with her status listed as “pending.”
“I’m in pending purgatory,” said Olsen, who called the state’s unemployment system infuriating. “I feel betrayed. I feel like we are — the working people of Florida are just being hung out to dry.”