PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Employment applications continue to roll in as the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity admits its system was not prepared for what’s happening during the coronavirus pandemic.
From the back porch of her apartment, Valerie Slemkewicz’s uncertainty continues to grow.
“As a senior with an autoimmune condition, I am so vulnerable and I have no health insurance,” she said.
She lost her position as an assistant manager — a job she’s held for the last decade.
With bills in the pipeline, Slemkewicz and so many other Floridians have filed for unemployment. Some say they’ve waited for hours even days to get their application in only to be told their identification can’t be verified.
“They give you an 800 number which I called, and most the time it’s busy, busy, busy,” said Slemkewicz.
She says another option is to e-mail or fax over your social security card and driver's license to the FDEO, but she wonders where those e-mails and faxes are going, who’s reading them, and if they could get into the wrong hands during such a chaotic time.
The FDEO says in just one month it had 520,000 applications — a little less than double than what it had for all of last year.
“We’ve had a couple of weeks of this, and it’s late for them to finally realize that they have problems,” said Ryan Barack, a labor and employment attorney at Kwall, Barack, & Nadeau.
Governor DeSantis says the state has already added and trained 250 staff members and is training 500 more Monday to help process claims and verify identities.
Slemkewicz thinks the state should hire people with call center experience who lost their jobs for the position. Barack says that’s not a bad idea.
“We are facing a tremendous level of unemployment right now, and so yes, this is absolutely an opportunity for the state to be employing people to do a job that needs to be done,” he said.
DeSantis says they have 2,000 non-essential state employees at home on stand by and ready to help if asked.