LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. — A year has passed since the pandemic officially shut down Florida. Businesses were forced to close, and people started losing their jobs.
Full story tonight on FOX 4 News at 10 PM
Southwest Floridians, like Katie Keller of Lehigh Acres, are still having problems collecting their unemployment benefits. Before the pandemic, Keller worked as a server. Like thousands of others working in the restaurant industry, she lost her job in March of 2020, when Governor Ron Desantis shut down the state. Within a week, her 11-year-old son was forced to go to school, from home.
Her unemployment kicked in the following month, and she finally received a lump sum in July. Then, Keller returned to work for two days. She says, "Their training was so fast paced, that I couldn't continue during the training because I couldn't do the third day. That is the whole reason I stopped working for them."
The last time Keller received an unemployment check was August 12, 2020. Keller's status changed to "adjudication," and she wanted to know the reason. She reached out to FOX 4 after an operator with the Department of Economic Opportunity told her to call the news or her senator.
Shortly after FOX 4's Jane Monreal called Keller's local representative's office, Keller learned that someone was going to review her "pending issue."
In a turn of events, the DEO disqualified her claim, citing an unexcused absence. It was because she missed that third day of training, which was due to an attempted break-in, for which she didn't file a police report. There was no document to back up her claim. Keller immediately filed an appeal.
FOX 4 also reached out to the DEO in an email and asked, "Is there anything she can do with her appeal?" A spokesperson for the agency responded, saying that her case was being passed onto the Reemployment Assistance team for a "deeper dive." Keller was granted an appeal hearing and won. A new decision stated, "Claimant disqualified for benefits is reversed." All payments due to her since summer of 2020, was deposited into her account.
Naples entrepreneur, Becky Brooks, also wondered why she was being asked to send in a new claim in early January. She says, "At first, it went through, and then it said, 'I was ineligible.' Yet, I was paid for one week. That was January 19, and I have not received money since then."
Brooks also reached out to her local leaders. She says, "I called both of them, and they both said they'd put a call in to the DEO office and they'd work on it." She soon learned that the DEO owed her payments from 2018. The agency has since begun the process of rectifying her account.
The DEO sent this statement to FOX 4. "The Department continues to implement the program extensions provided for in the Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers Act of 2020. As these programs are implemented and enhancements are made, claimants may see some changes to their statuses, which may be related to the ranking of these programs. For example, a claimant may be required to apply for and receive Extended Benefits before PEUC, or to receive PEUC before being eligible for PUA, depending on the weeks requested and program eligibility factors. Additionally, when benefits exhaust or a claim year expires, a claimant may see changes to statuses in their account. As the claim proceeds, eligibility factors are continually reviewed and may also result in status updates."
For more information regarding claim statuses, visit these DEO guides:
http://www.floridajobs.org/docs/default-source/reemployment-assistance-center/understanding-your-weekly-benefit-payment-status-in-connect.pdf [floridajobs.org]http://www.floridajobs.org/docs/default-source/reemployment-assistance-center/understanding-your-reemployment-assistance-claim-status-and-claim-messages.pdf [floridajobs.org]