A Herald/Times reporter tried several times over the course of a week to reach the state’s customer service department for jobless claims. Several times an automated message said, “We are currently experiencing high call volumes. An agent is not available at this time,” and then the line went dead.
On one occasion, the recorded voice said: “There are currently 399 calls in front of you.”
James Miller, a spokesperson for the Department of Economic Opportunity, said tied-up phone lines are not a problem, and the average hold time is about seven or eight minutes.
“We have no record of any delays or problems with distributing Reemployment Assistance payments to claimants,” he said. “We also are not aware of any issues with the 800 claim line.”
Togyer said he has spent nearly two months trying to get someone to tell him what is going on with his application for assistance.
He applied online shortly after being laid off from his position with Shah, Drotos & Associates, a Pompano Beach engineering consultancy. He was told he was eligible for about $275 per week, and waited patiently for his first check. After three weeks, there was no check and he tried to call DEO to find out about the day. It took him several days to reach an agent, who then informed him that he was required to fill out a 45-question skills assessment to measure his skills.
Togyer said he saw nothing about a skills test while he was applying, and received no warning that his application was incomplete. He has now completed the skills review, but has yet to receive a single payment, he said.
“I’ve been paying into it for 37 years. This is the first time I claim unemployment and they’re giving me a big runaround,” said Togyer, who recently began collecting Social Security benefits. “They’re treating me like I’m an illegal alien or something.”
Scott regularly touts the drop in the number of people receiving unemployment benefits as evidence that Florida’s economy is improving.
“The number of people on unemployment has gone from 568,000 to 320,000 people,” he said this month at a gathering of conservatives in Jacksonville.
What he doesn’t mention is federal data showing that more than 250,000 Floridians have been kicked out of the program during Scott’s tenure, because their benefits ran out.
Hundreds of thousands of additional applicants have been denied access to benefits, because they did not meet strict new requirements that Scott signed into law.
Meanwhile, job creation in Florida continues to lag behind the national pace, countering Scott’s argument that the Sunshine State is a beacon of economic growth and dependency on unemployment benefits is falling as a result.
With slowing job creation numbers, Scott has pivoted to highlighting the shrinking unemployment compensation rolls. Though the decline in the number of people receiving unemployment checks is clearly not an accurate barometer of job creation, Scott may point to such numbers during high profile appearances at the Republican National Convention next week.
“I’m pretty consistent in what I talk about every day,” Scott said this month, indicating that he would not veer from his standard talking points during the convention. “I want to make sure people can get a job in Florida.”