Restarting unemployment benefits is apparently not as easy as stopping them.
More than two weeks after Congress renewed benefits for long-term jobless, Florida began sending notifications and applications to those who may qualify for retroactive payments.
The Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation, which oversees the unemployment program, said claims for Floridians with lapsed benefits are being entered into the system incrementally. Director Cynthia Lorenzo said the agency was proceeding with caution "to ensure our computer systems are functioning properly."
"A system overload would cause undue delay," she said.
So the agency has been urging patience, suggesting would-be recipients check in only once per day to see if claims have been updated with the number of weeks of back payments they would receive.
"There is no need to check more than once per day, since each day's claims are updated overnight," spokesman Robby Cunningham said.
As of mid Monday, high numbers of calls meant wait times between 11 and 15 minutes, but there were no reports of any system overload, Cunningham said.
While some are still waiting for reinstatement, Caleb Sullivan, an unemployed attorney from Miami, considered himself among the lucky ones.
After a fruitless and frustrating week of getting no answers through AWI, he went online Monday and found out he was eligible for four weeks of retroactive payments totaling $1,200.
"This money has made a huge difference and continues to make a huge difference," said Sullivan, who is on week 46 of his job hunt. "The market has been horrific."
Monday's startup affected two groups:
• Long-term unemployed who had fallen off Extended Benefits, or EB, after the program was disrupted in June. The program lasts up to 20 weeks, giving long-term jobless a maximum of 99 weeks of coverage.
• Those whose benefits had lapsed under the Emergency Unemployment Compensation, or EUC, program, but may be eligible for retroactive weeks. EUC represents unemployment benefits paid after the 26 weeks of state unemployment compensation but before the Extended Benefits kick in after Week 79.
To check a claim's status, applicants can take the state's recommended route of going online to www.floridajobs.org or call toll-free 1-800-204-2418.
Recipients can begin claiming retroactive EB weeks starting today. Claims must be certified online or by mail using an application sent from the state.
About $3.6 billion in EUC benefits will be paid to about 528,000 Floridians who have or will exhaust their regular state benefits. Of that total, about $448 million represents payments retroactive to June 2, when the program temporarily halted.