TALLAHASSEE, Fla — Unable to pay her bills Ana Cepeda says she’s on the verge of eviction.
“I’m literally to the point where I just want to give up. I know I can’t. You just wanna give up,” she said.
She’s been waiting on the state to schedule an appeal hearing to find out if she’ll start getting benefits again. She says an error on her part led to disqualification.
She says it was a misunderstanding that she couldn’t get anyone on the phone to help fix. She filed for an appeal in March and is still waiting.
“When I spoke to that agency back in May regarding my appeals he told me 'you know we’re so backed up, we’re still working on February,' that’s not my fault,” she said. “I’m trying to figure out what to do with my life and with the things that I need to get done, I don’t wanna hear that. If you guys are so backed up why is it that you’re not getting more help."
Instead, the DEO is ending its current contract with Titan technologies, an agency that’s been supplying call center agents.
Titan technologies released a statement saying, “Over the past 15 months, call volumes have continued to drop and the FL DEO developed a plan to shift call center operations from contracted to Government staff.”
“Now I’m never gonna get through, we couldn’t get through before, before they did this cut off so I imagine now,” said Cepeda.
Just last week, the Department of Economic Opportunity admitted the CONNECT system was busier than usual and experiencing “higher than average wait times” without saying why. It makes this most recent decision to let go of call center agents seem questionable to Cepeda.
The DEO responded and said:
“The Department’s contract with Titan was set to expire on June 30, and the Department was not planning to extend this contract. However, the Department was not fully satisfied with the work the company was providing and so, because of performance issues, the Department has chosen to end this contract early.
“Sometimes I’ll last the whole day without being able to get through,” said Cepeda.
She says her experience trying to get unemployment benefits has been an absolute nightmare.
“People think that you just want to sit there, and not wanna go to a job, it’s not like that, everything takes a toll on you,” she said. “This struggle is real, and it’s just crazy.”
We’ve sent Cepeda’s information to the DEO and are asking about the wait times for appeal hearings we’re waiting to hear back.
Read the DEO’s full statement below:
"During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department prioritized scaling up Reemployment Assistance Customer Service Center staff, which included third-party contractors, to assist with the significant increase in call volume made to the Reemployment Assistance Customer Service Centers. The Department previously planned to eventually phase out all third-party contracted staff as call volume continued to decrease due to the economic turnaround post-pandemic, as reported in several articles such as this one and this one. Secretary Dane Eagle previously stated in November 2020, “Since, as I mentioned the claims are coming down week by week, we’re looking to offload that and eventually would like to get rid of the call centers completely.” As a follow up to that commitment, the Department’s contract with Titan was set to expire on June 30, and the Department was not planning to extend this contract. However, the Department was not fully satisfied with the work the company was providing and so, because of performance issues, the Department has chosen to end this contract early.
As part of the state’s 2021-2022 budget that Governor DeSantis recently signed, $92.4 million in state and federal funds is being provided for continued operations and to modernize the state’s unemployment system. This funding will allow DEO to provide a more user-friendly experience for claimants applying for Reemployment Assistance benefits, as well as hire 435 additional Reemployment Assistance staff members to assist with call center support and processing claims. Currently, the Department has over 1,300 Reemployment Assistance staff working to make sure all eligible claimants are paid the benefits they are owed as quickly as possible. Utilizing internal DEO employees, instead of contracted call center staff, will allow these employees to better assist claimants with any issues.
Economic factors, such as the state’s low unemployment rate of 4.8 percent and twelve consecutive months of job growth, show that Floridians are returning to work. As such, the Department has phased out all third-party contractors that previously provided call-center support, except for Lighthouse. The Department currently contracts with a third-party contractor, Lighthouse, for Reemployment Assistance Customer Service Center support through the Unique Abilities Partner Program. You may view contracts, as well as any payments made to these third-party contractors, here.
The Department remains committed to making sure all eligible claimants are paid the benefits they are owed as quickly as possible."