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Coronavirus: Florida's unemployment claims office overwhelmed

Gayle Coleman lost her job after her non-profit closed its doors due to the virus. The process has been difficult due to the office being overwhelmed.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a surge of unemployment claims and a rising tide of frustration with Floridians.

Gayle Coleman lost her job after her non-profit closed its doors due to the virus. Coleman filed a claim as soon as she was eligible to do so and now the process has left her frustrated and without funds.

"I became unemployed last Tuesday, I wasn't fired, the non-profit closed," she said. 

Coleman said she has been on the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity numerous times trying to complete her application for benefits.

"I have applied at least 27 times in the past week," she said. "I keep getting thrown off."

The process is simple. You visit the website FloridaJobs.org and it will ask you to provide your social security number, driver license number if you have one, the first and last day of employment and your gross earnings.

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

"I have followed the steps and it is a circle, a circle of frustration for sure," she said.

She has used the service before and has an account. She requested a new pin number to complete the process and has yet to receive one.

Coleman is not alone, the state has posted an apology to its website.

Why the problems? What's being done to fix them?

On Your Side reached out to the state agency for answers.

RELATED: How to file for unemployment during the coronavirus pandemic

"The problem:

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is seeing historic increases in Floridians filing for Reemployment Assistance.

In January 2020, Florida's unemployment rate was at a historic low of 2.8%. Funding for the administration of the Reemployment Assistance program is directly tied to a state's unemployment rate. With historic lows, our team has been working with minimum staffing.

The solution:

The Department of Economic Opportunity is taking immediate action to increase our ability to serve the people of Florida during this unprecedented time. These actions include:

*Expanding the hours for the Reemployment Assistance Call Center, which is now available Monday - Friday, 7:30 a.m. - 6:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. - 2 p.m.

*Increasing staff working on the Reemployment Assistance program, by re-tasking current DEO employees to assist with Reemployment Assistance, and hiring more than 100 individuals statewide to help answer calls and process applications so that individuals can receive benefits as soon as possible. We would appreciate it if you would share the link to our job openings with your viewers as well.  

*Working with DEO's current vendor to expand capacity.

*Adding server capacity to the online application for Reemployment Assistance.

Additionally, to make filing for Reemployment Assistance easier, Governor DeSantis has asked to waive the work search and online work registration requirements for Reemployment Assistance while the state mitigates the spread of COVID-19. Individuals filing for Reemployment Assistance will not be required to register in Employ Florida or submit information on a biweekly basis regarding the employers that they contacted each week.

The call center is experiencing above average wait times.

With this unprecedented event in our state, we are asking everyone to have continued patience.  If you have trouble filing your claim, please try again later.  With the increased volume in users, our system is moving slower. 

Floridians filing for Reemployment Assistance have until Saturday at midnight to file for the week. Click here for a direct link to instructions on how to apply for Reemployment Assistance and a short video.

Who is eligible:

Individuals who may be eligible for Reemployment Assistance may include:

*Those who are quarantined by a medical professional or a government agency, *Those who are laid off or sent home without pay for an extended period by their employer due to COVID-19 concerns, or *Those who are caring for an immediate family member who is diagnosed with COVID-19.

Individuals whose employment has been impacted, but are still receiving wages through paid leave are not eligible to receive Reemployment Assistance."

"I call and even filled out forms," said Coleman. "This is critical, I am getting behind on my bills."

Getting through the application process is one hurdle, once a person is qualified it may take up to a month to receive the first check.

RELATED: LIVE BLOG | 102 cases of COVID-19 confirmed across the First Coast

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