U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who has heard from several constituents unable to apply for Disaster Unemployment Assistance using the state of Florida’s unemployment website, sent a letter today to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta urging his agency to step in and provide the technical support necessary to fix the problems before it’s too late for Floridians to apply.
The U.S. Dept. of Labor last week extended the deadline for Floridians who lost wages as a result of Hurricane Irma to apply for disaster-related unemployment benefits. Yet, despite the extension, many eligible Floridians say they have been unable to apply for the program because of problems with the state’s unemployment website.
“An extension is pointless if the current process is not corrected to facilitate the proper management of the program.” Nelson wrote. “I urge your Department to provide Florida with the necessary assistance to address the current factors obstructing individuals’ ability to claim DUA.”
The eligibility requirements for disaster-unemployment benefits are different than those for regular unemployment benefits. For example, unlike regular unemployment benefits, eligibility for disaster-unemployment benefits does not necessarily require that the individual have a substantial work history.
Applicants say that when they answer a question that would normally disqualify them for regular unemployment benefits – but not disaster unemployment benefits – the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s website rejects their application.
After being rejected from the system, applicants are left only one option: spending multiple hours on the phone with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s help desk to try to get it resolved.
The deadline to apply for disaster assistance in Florida is Nov. 14.
Workers eligible for the benefits include:
- the self-employed;
- workers who experience a “week of unemployment” following the date the major disaster began when such unemployment is a direct result of the major disaster;
- workers unable to reach the place of employment as a direct result of the major disaster;
- workers who were to begin employment and do not have a job or are unable to reach the job as a direct result of the major disaster;
- individuals who have become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of the major disaster; and
- workers who cannot work because of injuries caused as a direct result of the major disaster.
Following is text of Nelson’s letter to Labor Secretary Acosta, a pdf copy is available here.
November 6, 2017
The Honorable R. Alexander Acosta
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Ave NW
Washington, DC 20210
Dear Secretary Acosta:
I’m writing to thank you for extending the deadline for individuals to apply for Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) after Hurricane Irma. The extension is necessary to allow individuals an adequate amount of time to apply for this much needed program. However, I’ve heard from constituents encountering numerous difficulties due to how the program is being administered by the state of Florida. I urge the Department of Labor to provide technical assistance to ensure procedural barriers aren’t hindering access to DUA.
Parts of Florida weathered significant damage after the storm – the full extent of which is still unfolding. Despite this, I’ve heard multiple accounts of Floridians facing difficulties when trying to apply for DUA. They are getting kicked out of the online application system because they are not eligible for traditional unemployment insurance, despite being eligible for DUA. When they call a representative for help, it can take hours on the phone to properly complete the application. An extension is pointless if the current process is not corrected to facilitate the proper management of the program. I urge your Department to provide Florida with the necessary assistance to address the current factors obstructing individuals’ ability to claim DUA.
Thank you for your attention to this important request. I look forward to your response.