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'Beyond livid:' People laid off because of coronavirus angry over long wait to file for unemployment

Viewers tell us they've been trying four weeks to get help through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity system.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — First Coast News viewers trying – and trying – to file for unemployment are flooding our phone lines, inbox and Facebook messages with complaints about the state’s CONNECT website and call center.

“Beyond frustrated. Beyond livid. I should be able to get some kind of answer,” said Leslie Paine, who was laid off by Eagle Crest apparel company a month ago because of the coronavirus pandemic.

She says, as business slowed, she could see the layoff coming.

“It wasn’t just me. About half the company got laid off,” she said.

It happened late in the afternoon, so the very next morning, Paine went to the Florida jobs website to file for unemployment, only to be denied because the system didn’t have her most recent pay information. 

She uploaded all her pay stubs from 2020, she said, but the site didn’t update. So, she called the suggested contact number.

“When you call it comes up with a message saying ‘you can leave a call back number if the wait is too long,’ and then it says ‘all of our agents are currently busy, we are experiencing higher than normal hold time.’ Then it says ‘we are unable to take call back numbers at this time and then it disconnects you,’” Paine said.

Vickie Moore is equally frustrated with the phone system and the message saying there will be no call backs.

“I’m calling four or five times a day. I have set my alarm clock for 6:30 a.m. to start calling to see if hours are extended. I’ll sit there trying to be the first one to call in at 8 a.m. and still getting that message.”

Moore was laid off four months ago from TIAA Bank Field, where she worked as a supervisor in the premiere suites. The long wait for unemployment benefits is a financial burden. She said she is drawing on her pension to make ends me.

“It’s affecting me bad,” she said.

Paine said losing her job has cut her family income by about half.

“I’m really worried about my mortgage payment,” she said.

The Florida Department of Economic Development said it has contracted with Faneuil, a customer care and technical support company, to add 250 more representatives to the Florida Reemployment Assistance call center. It also plans to add more people to the Connect website.

“DEO will also be adding a minimum of 50 additional employees to team this week and we are continuing to interview more this week,” communications director Tiffany Vause said.

If you need to print an application to file, you can find the document here.

Paine and Moore both said they aren’t convinced that will be enough.

“They need to do something with the bandwidth on their computer site,” Paine said.

Moore said, “Fifty employees are not going to get it. 50 employees are not enough to help the thousands of people who are applying right now.”

Moore’s chief problem has been she forgot her PIN and can’t advance her claim any further until she gets help from the call center.

Vause says 50 new employees will be assigned to just helping people with resetting their PINs.

The additional workers are needed to address an enormous surge in jobless claims as a result of the pandemic. Vause calls the increase "historic."

For the week ending March 21, Florida received 74,313 applications for Reemployment Assistance, but that had tripled to 222,054 the following week.

RELATED: US jobless claims soar to record 3.3 million as layoffs jump

Vause said the department made “significant technical improvements” to the CONNECT system over the weekend, “including increasing our ability to provide on-site capacity through the installation and configuration of additional hardware that allows the application to serve more Floridians at once.”

RELATED: How to file for unemployment during the coronavirus pandemic