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DEO director apologizes for unemployment claims website, promises paper applications

'I gotta be as creative as possible'
Posted at 6:20 PM, Apr 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-05 18:12:37-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — New numbers show an additional 227,000 Floridians filed unemployment claims last week amid COVID-19 restrictions. That’s more than three times the number from the week prior, which was historic in its own right.

It comes as the tens of thousands continue to struggle with Florida’s unemployment claims website. The most common complaints are users getting locked out of the system and repeated crashes.

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Melissa Staskowski, of Boca Raton, has been trying to file for days with no results. She has even tried in the wee hours of the morning when web traffic is lower.

“It’s a disaster,” Staskowski said. “Really, it’s a disaster. It has caused so much additional stress— as if we don’t have enough right now.”

Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity has been working to fix the problems by adding more call operators and web server capacity. Director Ken Lawson told viewers in a virtual town hall meeting Thursday morning he’ll also be bringing back paper applications in the interim.

“People can mail that in,” Lawson said. “We’ll hire a company to scan that paper application in, cause I gotta be as creative as possible because of where we are.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis also chipped in with an executive order, late Thursday. It gave Lawson authority to use the paper applications but also directed all state agency heads to send some employees to DEO, helping cut down its massive workload. The department took more than two million calls this week alone.

“We’re in a situation where this system is not handling the needs of the people of Florida in an adequate way,” DeSantis said in a news conference. “We need to do more to get relief for the people of Florida.”

Lawson has apologized for the inconvenience, taking full responsibility for the website’s failures.

His words follow the discovery of an audit from last year which suggested improvements for the web portal, long before COVID-19 appeared in the state.

“Bottom line, I’m committed to solving the problems,” Lawson said. “It’s going to be hard. You’ll have to accept that— but we’re getting the resources needed to improve this system, but it’s going to take time.”

Paper applications for unemployment are now available to print at the Flordia DEO website .

DEO's reemployment application system will be unavailable April 5 from 10 p.m. – 5 a.m. so they can fix the things necessary.