Benefits questions going unanswered at Florida's unemployment office

Staffing, technology problems continue to plague agency
Posted at 4:21 PM, Sep 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-16 18:21:12-04

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — There are fewer people filing for unemployment in Florida, but an old problem is still persisting.

It is still difficult for residents to make a call to the state and get questions answered about benefits.

Delano Austin in suburban Lake Worth has a real problem with reaching the Department of Economic Opportunity.

He said out of 114 phone calls that he's made to the DEO, the latest one was the most frustrating.

"This time I got the voicemail. They said the operators were busy, and 'click.' I’ve never gotten that before," Austin said.

Delano Austin talks about his problems reaching the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity
Delano Austin speaks about the difficulties reaching the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity with his questions.

Since then, he said the DEO promised they would get back to him in 48 hours to handle his back-benefits issue.

However, Austion has not heard from them and said his calls aren't going through.

Since June, he said he has been making phone calls to try and clear up the $1,228 that is still owed to him in unemployment benefits.

"I feel I'm being let down, like maybe every million people that are unemployed right now. They can't get an answer," Austin said. "They don't know who to call. They don't know who to talk to. There's no response. Your hands are tied."

What's happening appears to be a long-standing issue with DEO, according to State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani
State Rep. Anna Eskamani discusses ongoing issues with the state's unemployment office.

"You would think with less people on the unemployment system it would be easier to get through to a call center agent, but it's the opposite," Eskamani said. "The system is designed to fail and not give people a lot of support."

The lawmaker said the old issues of staffing and technology problems still plague the agency and money is an issue.

"Because we're not in a state of emergency there's no emergency funding allocated to DEO to maintain a call center for high volume," Eskamani said.

She said as much as $22 million has been approved by lawmakers to upgrade the system, but that money hasn't resolved the issues yet.

“There are remedies coming, but the people impacted right now are not the ones who will benefit," Eskamani said. "That's the irony of this."