Article 43

 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Punishing Florida’s Unemployed

images: florida unemployment system is broke

Florida’s unemployed struggle with system designed to fail
Governor Ron DeSantis admits the benefits process is intended to deter people as the coronavirus crisis wreaks havoc with lives

By Michael Sainato
The Guardian
August 11, 2020

Crystal Tucker of Polk county, Florida, has spent months trying to solve issues with her unemployment benefits since she was furloughed in March 2020 from her job in the admissions department at Legoland in the Orlando area.

Like millions of other people in Florida and across the country, Tucker is a victim of an UNEMPLOYMENT SYSTEM unable to cope with the record number of claims that have swept the country during the coronavirus pandemic. In Florida the situation is particularly catastrophic.

Tucker started to receive benefits, but she was deemed ineligible when she completed her weekly filings on 10 June because she had resigned from her position as a claims supervisor at Walmart after 14 years before taking the job at Legoland. Tucker quit due to a flare-up of lupus, an autoimmune disease, just as her workloads increased due to job cuts in her department. She was worried about the impact a coronavirus infection could have on her already-compromised immune system.

“I am now homeless,” said Tucker. I have no vehicle and have sold everything of value, so I would be able to pay for my doctor appointments, medications and dog food. I don’t know how much longer I can keep it together.

FLORIDA’S UNEMPLOYMENT SYSTEM has come under harsh scrutiny since the pandemic reached US shores and unemployment soared.

During an interview with CBS Miami last week, Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, admitted the state’s unemployment system was deliberately designed with several roadblocks to deter people from applying for benefits. The admission confirms claims from one of his advisers in an April 2020 interview with Politico that the states unemployment system was set up to make it difficult for people to obtain and continue receiving benefits. The state has one of the lowest benefit payouts in the US, capped at a maximum of $275 a week.

The processing of unemployment claims in Florida has improved compared with the first few months of the pandemic, but thousands of people are still waiting on payments or their claims to be processed, trying to fix claims where they were deemed ineligible for benefits or struggling to obtain backdated payments to their claims.

According to the state of FloridaҒs dashboard, over 3.28m confirmed unemployment claims were filed between 15 March and 4 August. More than 633,000 claims were deemed ineligible for state or federal unemployment benefits, over 68,000 claims are in a queue awaiting to be processed and nearly 100,000 processed claims are still awaiting payment.

Tucker had an appeal hearing scheduled for 28 July, but a Walmart representative didnt appear, and it was rescheduled for 18 August.

In the meantime, Tucker has no health insurance, and had to sell her jewelry to cover $450 for doctor appointments and medical costs, and canҒt afford to schedule follow-up visits recommended by her doctor. She was renting a room from a couple before the pandemic, but had to move out when she could no longer afford rent and currently sleeps on a couch in a sunroom at a friend.s house.

“I have spent hours upon hours calling different unemployment numbers to get help with issues on my claim,” added Tucker. “There is no reason my unemployment should have been denied. I did everything right.”

As thousands of people in Florida continue trying to solve issues with their unemployment benefits, the expiration of $600-a-week expanded unemployment benefits from the federal government on 26 July has forced those still unemployed to rely on the state maximum benefits of $275 a week. Congress remains deadlocked over a possible extension of the additional payments.

Monika Bon has been furloughed indefinitely since 9 March from her job in land security for cruise ships in Port Canaveral, Florida. It took her until 24 May to complete and process her unemployment application, but she is still having problems in receiving her backdated payments for 10 weeks.

“I used up every dime I had those few months I could not get into the department of economic opportunity system,” said Bon.

In Lakeland, Florida, Lauren Baker has been furloughed from her position as a bookkeeper and doesn’t expect to be recalled until at least December. Since her furlough, she has struggled to appeal against her eligibility determination, which initially stated she didn’t make enough in wages to qualify for state unemployment benefits.

“I made over $15,000 with my current employer, but they still said my wages were not sufficient. Ive submitted my wage records weekly since May. I call daily. I email dozens of representatives a week,” said Baker, who is still struggling to resolve her problems with the system. “I missed out on about seven weeks of federal payments and thousands of dollars in missing benefit payments because of my incorrect eligibility determination.”

After 20 weeks of calling, sending emails and trying to process her unemployment claim, Lillie Blaney finally began receiving her unemployment benefits after she was laid off as a production clerk for a transportation company based in Bradenton, Florida, in April.

It’s been really tough. I had to go to food banks, put my mortgage on forbearance, get help from churches to pay some utilities and mortgage assistance, said Blaney.

Florida lawmakers have CRITICIZED a recent decision to award a new $135m contract to Deloitte Consulting for modernizing Florida’s Medicaid database while the firms 2011 contract for the unemployment portal site is UNDER INVESTIGATION. A class-action lawsuit was FILED in April against Florida’s department of economic opportunity and Deloitte Consulting alleging negligence and breach of fiduciary duty for not properly maintaining and operating the state unemployment benefits system. A judge is currently reviewing whether the lawsuit will be allowed to proceed.

Florida’s system has been broken for a long time, said Marie Mattox, an attorney based in Tallahassee, Florida, who filed the lawsuit. ԓThere are so many people in Florida who have been hurt by the delays in getting paid, not getting paid at all, and there are still people not getting paid. Our hope is nobody else will have to go through this again.

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Posted by Elvis on 08/12/20 •
Section Dying America
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