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Florida releases paper unemployment applications — but there’s a catch

You might want to wait for the state to release a way to submit the form electronically. But it’s unclear when that will be available.
Residents in Flagler County work on computer skills to apply for jobs and unemployment benefits. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is entering talks with the Labor Department in an effort to make changes to its jobless benefit program.
Residents in Flagler County work on computer skills to apply for jobs and unemployment benefits. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is entering talks with the Labor Department in an effort to make changes to its jobless benefit program.
Published Apr. 4, 2020
Updated Apr. 4, 2020

TALLAHASSEE — Floridians looking for a way around the state’s broken unemployment website and overwhelmed call center now have another option: paper forms.

Late Friday, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity published paper applications on its website that people can print and mail to its headquarters in Tallahassee.

But you might want to hold off before filling one out and dropping it in the mail. State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, says state officials told her that the state would also be releasing a way for those forms to be submitted electronically.

Submitting them electronically would be faster than mailing them in. But it’s unclear when the state will make electronic submissions available. (We’ll update this story with that information when we have it.)

The Department of Economic Opportunity has not responded to multiple questions from the Times/Herald in the last 24 hours about the paper applications. Its communications staff didn’t send out a news release when the paper forms were released on Friday, passing up an opportunity to promote a workaround to CONNECT, the state’s overwhelmed online system.

If you don’t want to wait to send the applications electronically and want to proceed with the old-fashioned route, that’s understandable. Here’s a link to the paper applications, which are available in English, Spanish and Creole.

The application should be printed off and mailed to:

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity

P.O. Box 5350

Tallahassee, FL 32314-5350

Florida officials are having to revert to paper forms because CONNECT is essentially broken. Thousands of Floridians thrown out of work because of the coronavirus have been unable to apply using the website, which is riddled with error messages and glitches caused in part by the increased need.

And the backup method to CONNECT, the state’s call center, has been similarly overwhelmed, with some people waiting up to 12 hours on hold — if they’re able to connect at all.

As a workaround, the department had to create paper applications, which did not previously exist. Allowing paper forms required an executive order from the governor.

The CONNECT website, which former Gov. Rick Scott spent $77 million to launch in 2013, has had problems from the start. Auditors flagged the problems in their 2015, 2016 and 2019 reports, but neither Scott nor Gov. Ron DeSantis, who took office in January 2019, apparently fixed the problems.

“$77 million? Someone should go to jail over that,” tweeted Republican Party of Florida chairman and Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota.

And on Friday, Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, called for the department’s executive director, Ken Lawson, to resign, and Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, called for an audit of his department. Neither DeSantis nor Lawson responded to a request for comment.

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