More Than 260,000 Floridians Wait Weeks for Struggling Unemployment Website to Say They Are Ineligible for Benefits

Hundreds of thousands of people have been told that they are "ineligible" to receive unemployment benefits in Florida after waiting weeks for confirmation from the state's website which has struggled to deal with the onslaught of applications.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity's (DEO) CONNECT website was taken offline over the weekend to help sort through several hundred thousand claims as a result of people losing their jobs amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The site went back up on Monday, although people were still complaining that the site was glitching and not allowing people to log in, reports Spectrum News.

More than 267,000 people—just over 40 percent of all applications—were told that they were ineligible to receive unemployment benefits, according to the DEO website. Many believe this was a mistake.

Keanan Bender, who was laid off from her job as the manager at a custom apparel shop in March, had been trying to file her unemployment benefits with the DEO's website for the past six weeks.

She described how she had hope when the site was taken offline in order to deal with the backlog.

"I thought great! Maybe they will finally approve my claim," she told WFLA. "And then I logged in this morning and it said ineligible."

Bender said she believed that she was eligible for benefits as she met the minimum wages threshold, her employer paid into the system and she had worked at the store for a year.

Laura Colt, who was furloughed from her tourism job, also waited weeks for her application to be processed only to be told she was ineligible despite believing she met the requirements.

"I think state leaders need to take a closer look at how citizens of the state are being treated, this is not acceptable," Colt told Spectrum News. "I know it was a strain on the system, it was unexpected, unprecedented, but you need to take quicker action. Do something about it."

In a statement to WFTV, the DEO said: "If you are not eligible, the written determination will explain the reason we denied your claim and will explain your appeal rights. If you disagree with a determination that denies benefits, you may request an appeal hearing.

"You have the option to request an appeal with our team within 20 calendar days after the distributed date of the determination."

Others who were told they are ineligible for benefits are contractors or the self-employed, according to Click Orlando. While they are not able to claim state benefits, they are eligible under the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

In a statement, the DEO offered guidance for self-employed and contract workers who were deemed ineligible for benefits.

"During this process, many individuals were deemed ineligible for state Reemployment Assistance benefits. There are numerous reasons someone could be deemed not eligible for state Reemployment Assistance benefits, including wage base period issues, lack of wage history, among others.

"You can review the Reemployment Assistance Handbook here, which has examples of why individuals could be deemed ineligible. Each person deemed not eligible for state Reemployment Assistance receives a notification regarding their eligibility.

"Many of the individuals that were deemed ineligible this weekend could be eligible for federal benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. The agency is working diligently to get more detailed information to individuals who may be eligible for federal benefits."

The DEO has been contacted for comment.

Unemployment forms are seen kept at a drive thru collection point outside John F. Kennedy Library in Hialeah, Florida, on April 8, 2020 CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty