Unemployment woes: 'The website just doesn't work'

Her online profile says "active," and she's tried calling several times only to get put on hold for up for two hours and then have the calls dropped. She ...
Unemployment woes: 'The website just doesn't work'
Unemployment woes: 'The website just doesn't work'

Brianna Nickerson had a good job working as a server at Laishley Crab House in Punta Gorda for the past year. Restaurant managers made it possible for the mother of two toddlers to accommodate a consistent schedule — until March 18.

All staff at the restaurant were let go when an order was issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis requiring restaurants in Florida to shut down dining rooms and opt for delivery or takeout instead.

"I applied for unemployment the very next day," Nickerson said. "I completed some steps of the process and then the system would log me out. It happened several times."

That was almost a month ago and Nickerson has not received any assistance as of yet. Her online profile says "active," and she's tried calling several times only to get put on hold for up for two hours and then have the calls dropped. She said she's ready to give up on the process.

"I've yet to speak to a live person," she said. "I can't always get in to look at my inbox or any pending issues ... it's just very frustrating."

Nickerson received some support on April 15 when her government stimulus check was deposited in her account. And her fiance, who does carpentry/housing development, is still working. So for now, she's staying home with her 3-year-old and 2-year-old children. She stays in touch daily with her former co-workers through social media.

"I know there are a lot of people who've applied and are waiting for help, so at least we can be there to support each other through this," she said. "Eventually we'll all get back to work, we just have to stay patient and help each other any way we can."

Tracy Rosier was working in food service at Carmelo's Italian restaurant in Punta Gorda. She filed for unemployment online after the restaurant closed and 26 days later, her case is still pending.

"The website is unusable and they direct you to use virtual call back which doesn't work," Rosier said. "It also sends you to contact by email which also doesn't work. Very frustrating."

As of April 15, 472,000 people in the state filed for unemployment — but the true number may be much higher. Hundreds of thousands of people in Florida have been unable to file their unemployment claims because the state’s system has been so clogged.

On Wednesday evening, DeSantis shook up oversight of the state’s unemployment-compensation system, and said he was assigning Department of Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter to be in charge of the troubled CONNECT online unemployment system.

"His mission is very simple, get assistance out and as quickly as you can,” DeSantis said of Satter.

For those who do not have internet access, applying for unemployment benefits can be both challenging and discouraging.

Staff at Charlotte and Sarasota libraries are making it a little easier for those looking to apply.

Paper forms for unemployment as well as IRS forms are located at each of Charlotte County library sites outside the front door and near the book drops, and they're covered in case of rain. The forms can be filled out and mailed to Tallahassee. 

"We have reemployment forms available in English, Spanish and Creole," said Tracy Herman, librarian supervisor at Mid County Regional Library in Port Charlotte. "If people have questions about them, they can call and library staff will try to provide answers."

Residents near Elsie Quirk in Englewood also can find help with forms.

"Because many people have been unable to successfully apply online, we are providing printed paper forms that can be picked up outside the front door of the Elsie Quirk Library," according to Zina Jayne, from Elsie Quirk Library. "The form can be taken home and filled out, and then returned in a sealed envelope through our book return. We will then deliver the envelopes to FedEx, where they are shipping them to Tallahassee daily at no charge."

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