Florida’s Re-employment Assistance Program, run by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, has been under tremendous strain, and according to U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, Osceola County’s member of the House of Representatives, said Tallahassee has been so gridlocked that he’s taken on local cases through his office.
At an online town hall meeting Friday afternoon — rescheduled from Thursday afternoon, when he was voting with the House to pass the second part of the CARES stimulus package — he spoke of the funds the state and federal government have promised and tried to provide: stimulus checks, unemployment funds, and Paycheck Protection Program funds for true small businesses.
“The State Legislature has been overwhelmed with the unemployment system,” Soto said. “But 26.5 million Americans are seeking unemployment, and there’s probably more who have lost jobs or hours.”
The DEO has added 72 new servers and three new call centers, and while the figure of payments paid has gone from 4 percent last week to 21.9 percent this week (and 32.3 percent of claims processed, and it won’t improve until Monday because the state has taken it offline for the weekend to make it work better next week) per a DEO dashboard, it’s not enough for Soto.
“It’s a disaster of a system, a disgrace, but we are fixing it,” he said.
As for stimulus checks — the $1,200 per person who made less than $75,000 last year — Soto is encouraging people to set up direct deposit, as the system for getting physical checks out is also slow; some may not arrive until May.
“Make sure your account information is up to date, especially if you’ve had multiple accounts in the last two years,” Soto said.
He said he made sure to be in chambers on Thursday to vote for the second coronavirus relief bill, which includes another $300 billion to re-fund the PPP.
“There was $17.6 billion in Paycheck Protection funds in the state of Florida, before it tapped out,” Soto said. “I know so many business owners are hurting.”