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Tampa Bay area hospitality workers facing challenges applying for unemployment benefits

Unemployment Benefits Form
Posted at 6:13 AM, Apr 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-06 08:02:16-04

TAMPA, Fla. -- Overnight, the state said it updated the online system to help you file for unemployment. Officials say this will increase the ability to process the influx of new applications.

Last week, Governor Ron DeSantis said people can now download unemployment applications from the state's website, print it out and mail it in.

State representative Jackie Toledo wants the state to hire a third-party vendor to process claims and help verify applicants.

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Frustrations continue to be high as people continue to apply for unemployment in Florida. They tell ABC Action News they are calling hundreds of times and get the busy signal or the website crashes.

That's tough for Mae Sanchez, an executive chef who works in a premium hotel along Tampa Bay's Riverwalk. She said many people on her staff are not internet savvy or cannot read or write in English. That is providing yet another barrier to thousands of people trying to apply for benefits.

"Some of these guys can't read or write, or they are from another country and don't know how to go online and navigate these websites," Sanchez said.

In the meantime, people like Mark Colon, who has immune issues, are unable to search for work as they wait for benefits.

Colon is a Tampa bartender of 20 years. He is unable to do many in-demand jobs right now, such as serving as a grocery delivery worker, because he says doctors are telling him to stay home to avoid catching COVID-19.

"I can't do that because I'm asthmatic, so we're under quarantine," Colon said. "So we're not getting any answers."

Local lawmakers say the system has been audited numerous times since 2015. Taxpayers paid millions to replace it, and they say the issues didn't get fixed.

In a video conference Thursday, the Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Ken Lawson answered questions and apologized for the problem. However, Florida Senator Janet Cruz wants him to resign.