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Two Independent Contractors Struggle To Get Through Florida’s Unemployment System

A big banner is tied up on trees. It reads, "Now hiring. Now accepting applications." Besides the banner is what looks to be a gas station.
Wilfredo Lee
AP Photo
In this, Wednesday, May 6, 2020 photo, a now hiring sign is displayed on a street corner in North Miami Beach, Fla. Initial jobless claims in Florida dropped by more than half last week compared to the prior week, according to figures released Thursday, as unemployed Floridians continued facing problems signing up and receiving benefits because of difficulties with a computer system.

Gov. Ron DeSantis is deflecting criticism for the state's unemployment system by blaming those who apply for reemployment assistance. He says it's up to applicants to fill out their form correctly and says most claims brought to him by the media are from ineligible applicants. However, some ineligible people still have to go through Florida's system to get federal aid.

Gina Gaudreau worked at a nail salon before the coronavirus pandemic hit. The salon closed due to the governor's stay-at-home order, and Gaudreau wasn't able to work. She's an independent contractor, so she isn't eligible for state unemployment benefits, but Gaudreau still had to apply through that system to get federal assistance.

"I would log in, it would kick me out, and this would happen probably about 15 times a day until it finally went through and I would just keep trying and trying," Gaudreau says.

Gaudreau explains that she had to wait about five weeks before getting her claim denied—which is what she expected—again, that rejection allowed her to apply for the federal benefits. Gaudreau says it took her three days to finish the federal application because the website kept timing out, and when she finally got a letter in the mail, it said she was ineligible.

"It was a little upsetting since I spent eight weeks trying to get through to that website and trying to get something. They said I was ineligible because they said I didn't make enough money to get those benefits," Gaudreau says.

It's a challenge Sarah Mueller is going through as well. She worked for a Delaware Public Radio station before getting laid off. She applied for unemployment in November before getting hired as a reporter for a Florida political blog. Then COVID-19 hit, and she was laid off again—this time in early April. However, because she filed for unemployment in Delaware in November, the state withdrew her Florida claim.

"So basically I don't have any recourse. They just withdrew it, and so I've had to go back now, and I called Delaware unemployment, and you know, it seems just as bad as it is here. So I spent an hour on the phone with the department of insurance—or you know, in Delaware and I was like, can I reopen my claim in Delaware? And they were like, well, you know, the only way you can reopen your claim is to submit a new claim," Mueller says.

She did that and is now waiting for a letter to come in the mail so she can apply for federal unemployment through Delaware's system.

"I just feel like government right now is just really failing people, and I just don't think it's right," Mueller says.

After weeks of trying and getting nothing, Gaudreau was able to go back to work. Mueller is still looking.

Robbie Gaffney graduated from Florida State University with degrees in Digital Media Production and Creative Writing. Before working at WFSU, they recorded FSU’s basketball and baseball games for Seminole Productions as well as interned for the PBS Station in Largo, Florida. Robbie loves playing video games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Animal Crossing, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Their other hobbies include sleeping and watching anime.