State employee speaks out about what’s behind delays in Florida’s unemployment system

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HIALEAH, FLA. (WSVN) - A state employee describes a system that’s completely overwhelmed, and he says the paper applications are especially problematic. The Nightteam’s Brian Entin has this exclusive investigation.

Around 223,000 Floridians filed for unemployment last week alone, and we’ve heard from so many of them frustrated by the process.

We’ve also heard from the governor defending what the state is doing, and for the first time, we’re hearing from an insider about what, he says, has been going wrong.

People lined up for hours in Hialeah in early April just to pick up a printed copy of the unemployment application.

The state started accepting paper after their website failed under a crush of jobless claims.

Man in April: “The website now, it’s impossible.”

Applications were mailed to the Department of Economic Opportunity in Tallahassee, the agency in charge of the state’s unemployment system.

7News obtained applications with handwritten notes detailing the desperation.

“Please give to me work or unemployment cash to pay debts,” one person wrote.

On the question, “Are you a homeless veteran?” Another circled “No” but added “Close.”

State employee: “We’re seeing a lot of messages from people that are begging.”

This state employee is not revealing his identity because he fears retribution.

State employee: “If the state found out who I was, I would be submitting an application into the unemployment system.”

He says there’s a systemic failure processing paper applications.

State employee: “If most people realized the way that this back-end is being handled, they would be even more livid than they are currently. The biggest problem we’re seeing is that the system is consistently down. You can’t enter something into a system that isn’t functional.”

According to the state, more than 300,000 paper applications were submitted.

Hundreds of employees from several state agencies are working as reinforcements to help DEO, but this employee says it has taken too long for DEO to scan applications received by mail.

Only after that happens can he and other state employees digitally input the information so claims can be processed.

State employee: “Every day, I’m seeing applications that are a month old, three weeks old.”

Also troubling, he says, are delays processing — and therefore paying — Spanish and Creole-speaking applicants.

In this email from May 13, a DEO supervisor wrote, “Unfortunately, there is a backlog of these translation” applications.

State employee: “So, they’ve had enough of a backlog of these Spanish applications that they worked on them for three days straight.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis: “Since March 15, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has paid out $2.659 billion.”

Gov. DeSantis said the state has made major progress on the unemployment system, and more than 97% of eligible applicants have gotten paid.

As to why certain applications are not processed, he said in some cases, the fault lies with the people applying.

DeSantis: “Obviously, you’ve got to provide work history information.”

Work history, this employee says, was provided on the applications he saw, but sometimes, he discovered the data disappeared from the system even after he entered it.

State employee: “I don’t know where it’s gone. It disappeared into never-never land. I’m pretty confident that this is an issue that’s led to people being denied benefits that they’re rightfully entitled to.”

The employee says he’s not looking to assign blame but to get the problems fixed.

State employee: “The people here in Florida deserve better.”

7News reached out to the DEO Thursday afternoon to ask about the state employee’s concerns, but the agency did not respond until after the story aired.

Late Friday afternoon, a DEO spokesperson called to say they have not seen issues with the system that employees use to input applications’ infomation being down and some state employees working from home do not have enough internet bandwidth to complete the work.

The spokesperson also said they received a huge influx of paper application (nearly 150,000 the first weekend alone) and there were early delays, and they have always been clear that paper applications would take longer to process.

As for the Spanish and Creole applications, they have translators but need more, and they are willing to hire certified translators.

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