As More Floridians Go Back To Work, Issues Remain With State's Unemployment Assistance System
The Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) says of the jobs initially lost during the pandemic, nearly 80% have been recovered. In addition, the agency's Deputy Secretary Adrienne Johnston says there are more people in the labor force now than in February of last year.
"Over the last five months, Florida's labor force has grown by 373,000, showing the success of the state's return to work initiative as more Floridians are returning to work," Johnston says.
The state ended its federal unemployment benefit in June three months early as part of an effort to get more people back into the workforce. In August, the state's unemployment rate was 5%—placing Florida as the 29th lowest state for unemployment.
Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) has been helping Floridians navigate the state's unemployment assistance system. She says her office is now hearing from people who've gotten letters from DEO stating they owe money.
"This is a situation where DEO is accusing someone of receiving money that they should not have received. And it could be due to they weren't actually eligible for benefits, so everything they were paid was an overpayment, or it could be that their base pay that determined weekly benefit amount is actually lower than what was originally calculated," Eskamani says.
The state says it's legally required to send the letters, but if someone received more than they should have, DEO submitted a request to Florida's Chief Financial Officer requesting the state not send claimants to collections. But that's only good for non-fraudulent debt and for people who collected unemployment between March of 2020 through September of this year.
Eskamani says other issues plaguing the state's unemployment assistance system include delayed processing and people getting locked out of their accounts.