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DEO Secretary Speaks On Unemployment System Complaints

Willy Sanjuan/Invision
AP Photo

Florida’s unemployment numbers are rising and those applying for benefits are continuously being rejected from the state’s unemployment system. Many Floridians haven’t been able to apply due to long hold times and website malfunctions. Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Ken Lawson tried to address the problems Thursday.

Lawson says since the coronavirus pandemic began his agency has been flooded with calls and online applications.

“The week of March 7, I had 5,000 unemployment applications, last week I had 220,000 filed in one week. That’s no excuse but the reality we’re facing," Lawson said. "By virtue of the computer system we have, we’ve had problems where it’s crashed at times. But know this we’ve been committed and working hard every single day.”

Lawson says during that time DEO received more than 1.5 million calls related to unemployment. He says the agency is working to get the help needed to answer them.

“I’ve hired an outside call company just to bring up to 250 people to assist with calls, also I’ve hired 70 additional staff members to assists with calls," Lawson said. "I’m getting help from other agencies to assist with calls. I’m looking at upwards of about 500 people to assist with calls."

Lawson says a third of the calls are for pin resets and one of the call centers will be trained specifically to handle those issues. The department is planning to have at least 50 new people answering calls by the end of the week. Lawson says there will be upward of about 500 additional employees to assist. As for the website? He knows it’s an issue.

“As the leader of DEO who’s responsible for the system, I apologize to each and every one of you. I accept responsibility for my system," Lawson said. "I took this job in January of '19 and please know every month that I’ve been in this job I’ve had my I.T. team working on the system to improve it.”

Lawson says paper and mobile-based applications will be created as a workaround until problems are fixed.  

“I am creating a paper application, and I am going to have that paper application across the state of Florida," Lawson said. "I’ll ask for members to have that paper application so that people can mail that in and we will hire a company to scan that application in because I have to be as creative as possible."

Lawson says he will also work with churches and faith-based organizations to help distribute the applications. Miami Democratic Senator Annette Taddeo said she wants the Governor to allow applicants to receive unemployment benefits beginning the day they were fired instead of the day they apply due to the issues with the system. Lawson joined Taddeo on a video conference call.

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.