Florida unemployment website down through the weekend

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Thousands of frustrated Floridians trying to check the status of unemployment claims Friday received a message that the website will be down until Monday morning.

It was another hurdle for hundreds of thousands of Floridians who have lost their jobs because of business closures caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

“So many of us are suffering,” said John Brenner, a hotel manager who was laid off. “We all would rather be working and living our lives. Instead, we’re feeling the despair of being jobless, combined with the shame that this website makes you feel. And worst of all the site doesn’t even work.”

While individuals could still submit claims, the website, called CONNECT, wasn’t available to people checking on their claim status.

“CONNECT is currently processing payments. We apologize for the inconvenience. CONNECT will be available at 8:00 a.m Monday, April 27,” the message on the sign-in page said.

For thousands like Brenner whose claims are still pending, the desperation is mounting in a state that has been one of the slowest to process claims and issue payments. The 38-year-old from Plantation said the stress, fear and sadness of unemployment have impacted everything from his diet to his inability to sleep.

“We know that not being able to access the system may cause uncertainty, but these updates are designed to expedite the process for payment,” said Department of Economic Opportunity spokeswoman Tiffany Vause in an emailed statement.

Gov. Ron DeSantis acknowledged the ongoing problems, but said the department is working “around the clock” to fix them.

“This thing was a clunker, there’s no doubt about it,” DeSantis told reporters. “With this volume, it was going to be a problem no matter how good the system was, but I do think the way this thing was designed was very problematic.”

Since March 15, Florida has received claims from more than 700,000 people, a surge that overwhelmed the Department of Economic Opportunity’s website. As of Thursday, fewer than one in three claims had been processed and only about one of every five people submitting a claim had received a payment, according to the department.

Floridians took to social media again Friday to express anger, compare how many hours they’d spent trying to log on and to demand answers from lawmakers.

“What takes them so long to get a website up and running? We can send rockets here in Florida up to the space station,” said Glenn Barca, a 53-year-old self-employed driver. “Are you telling me we don’t have people here in the state of Florida that are tech savvy enough to get a system up and running so it’s a capable of handling this information?”

Barca has already maxed out his credit cards to pay bills and groceries. His retirement savings is dwindling and will be gone in a month. He makes the bulk of his income during Florida’s busy tourist season from December through April, saying this couldn’t have come at a worse time. He’s afraid he might have to borrow money from one of his adult children.

The frustrated Wesley Chapel resident started an online petition last week to state leaders demanding transparency and immediate payment of unemployment benefits. It’s garnered more than 7,000 signatures.

He challenged DeSantis to “do everything humanly possible to get these systems fixed, up and running smoothly and get this money out now. Not tomorrow, not next week. The time for excuses and passing the buck is over. Get to work.”