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Florida lawmakers demand answers about dysfunctional unemployment website

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Posted at 3:01 PM, Apr 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-04 20:04:43-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Frustrations are high as people continue to apply for unemployment and the line seems to only grow.

“They’re calling me in tears because they’re on their last dollar [and] they don’t know how they’re going to feed their children,” said district 18 State Senator Janet Cruz.

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If that’s not daunting enough, the system is overrun and unable to keep up. People all over the state are complaining the website kicks them off mid-application or they can’t verify their identity.

When they call the number provided to speak to a person on the phone, either no one answers, or the line hangs up.

“I’ve had enough, I am fed up and I am over this and someone needs to answer to this,” Cruz said.

Cruz and fellow local lawmaker State Representative Jackie Toledo say the system has been audited numerous times since 2015 when taxpayers shelled out millions to replace it. They say those audits pointed out flaws, glitches and error messages and yet they say nothing was done to fix it.

“When we found out that $77 million was being spent to upgrade the system, or we’ve spent that much money, that’s when the outrage came,” said District 60 State Representative Jackie Toledo.

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Governor DeSantis announced this week they’d allow people to send in paper applications. It’s a move Cruz and Toledo say they’ve been demanding for a while.

“Only at the insistence of senators and house members have they decided they’re going to go to paper applications. We offered in our office to help process the paper applications,” Cruz said.

Toledo suggests the department hires a third party vendor to process claims and help verify applicants identities. She fears the lingering impacts of coronavirus will bleed into Hurricane season, and if disaster strikes, the damage could lead to even more layoffs.

“People want answers, people want to know when is help on its way because they’re living on their last paycheck,” Toledo said.

In a video conference Thursday, the director of the department, Ken Lawson, answered questions and apologized for the problems.

“We have a director who is failing to answer why. He’s been there for 18 months and hasn’t made any changes,” Cruz said.

It’s why she thinks he should step down.