TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It’s been a full year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic and just weeks later people began having problems with the Department of Economic Opportunity.
Unlike the hundreds of thousands of Floridian’s last year initially applying for unemployment benefits, Rebecca Heagle believes she got lucky.
“I had no problem getting on it,” she said.
And then 2021 rolled around and her luck seemed to fade.
“I did get the virus on January 21 and it was a whole week of hell,” she said.
Shortly after that, her unemployment claim was put on hold.
“They said it was an incarceration,” Heagle said. “I’ve been incarcerated before but not while I was on unemployment.”
She says the last time she was in jail in Polk County was in 2017 and according to the clerk of courts website that matches up. She says a charge in New York from 2000 was dropped and on record, it was last modified in November of 2020. But, she tells us she served a few days in jail for that charge before she began to claim unemployment.
“How can you not see that I wasn’t if you have the records?” she asked. “What, do they do get the records from the department of corrections?”
The DEO says in January it had close to a million “possible fraudulent claims” trying to enter the system. It says 700,000 were blocked by the department’s fraud system and of the 250,000 that made it through, 140-150,000 were locked.
“We saw the potential for fraud in other areas and there was a mechanism that identified those who have been incarcerated through the department of corrections,” said Dane Eagle, the executive director of the DEO.
He now admits some of those locked accounts shouldn’t be.
“As that was turned on, we realized that some were not incarcerated and may have gotten caught in there, maybe it’s faulty data,” he said.
Eagle says the DEO is not only prioritizing those claims but is working with the Department of Corrections to fix the issues. He says locked accounts must be manually unlocked by training employees.
ABC Action News also sent Heagle’s information to the DEO for clarification.
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