FORT MYERS — Thousands of people across the state are trying to get their unemployment benefits restored, months after having them frozen.
A software change at the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity marked people as being in jail when they really weren’t. Samantha Hovis said she got out of the Lee County Jail more than two years ago, but back in March, Hovis said her unemployment checks just stopped coming.
"My account was completely locked out," said Hovis.
Hovis called FDEO, and was shocked when they told her why.
"They said that I was incarcerated in their system, and I haven’t been incarcerated in like two years," said Hovis.
Unemployment Advocate Vanessa Brito said she started investigating this issue several months ago.
"We saw a pattern after asking a sufficient amount of claimants have you been incarcerated in the past? And the answer was yes," said Brito.
Brito said she’s heard from more than 4,000 people at this point who have had their account frozen because they were arrested within the past decade. Brito said FDEO told her there was a software change to prevent criminals from using inmates' information to illegally file for benefits, but it backfired.
"Something that was designed to help prevent fraud is now really hurting people and keeping them from paying their bills," said Brito.
People like Hovis, who currently doesn’t have power in her apartment.
"They have to get a licensed electrician to get it fixed. I don’t have that kind of money," said Hovis.
In order for FDEO to lift the hold on Hovis’ account, it has to verify her identity. That means it needs a copy of her Social Security Card, something she’s going to have go get.
We reached out to FDEO Monday morning to ask for the best way to solve these issues, but we didn't immediately hear back.