Being Furloughed in Florida during the 2020 Pandemic (My Florida Department of Opportunity Story)
A Floridian’s story on the love hate relationship with the Florida Department of Opportunity.
These are some crazy times we live in.
We are currently living in a pandemic where an invisible virus is circulating around the world. We don’t know who has it. We don’t know who could be a carrier. We just know it’s out there and it can be on anything and anyone.
The virus is causing businesses to close temporarily, some are closing permanently and some are furloughing employees because those businesses can’t afford those people anymore.
The nation was on a lock down. Restaurants were either closed, making deliveries or only providing curbside service. Shops were closed. We only really had Walmart and Target available for shopping needs. Online shopping became the way to shop for household essentials. And I mean, household essentials as toilet paper, lysol products, scrubbing bubbles, paper towels and the Nintendo Switch (which were all sold out for several months). Don’t judge, for those locked at home, the Nintendo Switch became a necessity.
And before you judge, I purchased my Nintendo Switch just weeks before I was furloughed. I had no idea I was going to be furloughed. If I had known, I wouldn’t have made that pricey purchase. I don’t regret this purchase though, it has provided me many hours of mindless entertainment where I would have driven myself mad without it.
Anywho, back to my furloughed journey.
On Friday, April 24, 2020, I was furloughed from my job of 3 years.
I was on a conference call with my supervisor and an HR representative. She regurgitated information that I honestly don’t remember. It was a script she had given many times that day and now it was my turn to hear it. The bottom line was that I had been furloughed and if I was called back to work, it would be for a different position, it wouldn’t be in the previous position. Oh and I will have to come by the following week to clean out my desk.
I hang up the phone. I took a deep breath and thought, ok, what do I do now.
The news was on at that very moment with a story about the Florida unemployment system. Apparently, their website had been down for days so to apply for unemployment benefits you could go to a FedEx store and pick up a hard copy.
That’s exactly what I did. I hopped in the car, drove my furloughed ass to a FedEx store and waited in line. There was a surprising amount of customers at the FedEx store on a Friday afternoon during a pandemic. I had 4 people in front of me in the cramped store. I looked around to see if I could catch a glimpse of the applications. I didn’t see any.
As I stood in line in the store, the realization as to what just had happened to me engulfed me at that moment and I started to cry silently. Tears were streaming down my face. I wiped them away as inconspicuously as I could. I think it hit me then on the magnitude of the situation. I don’t have a job to go to anymore until only God knows when. How am I going to pay my bills? I was on a plan to get out of debt. I had just lowered my student debt to just under $16,000 from the almost $50,000 I had to borrow to finish my Communications degree that I don’t even use. I was working on the snowball debt plan.
You know, the snowball debt plan is paying the minimum of all your bills except the smallest. The smallest bill you pay the most you can towards it to eliminate it and move on the next smallest debt. I was doing so well too.
I think I was having a panic attack in the middle of the FedEx store.
I took several deep breaths, trying to concentrate on my breathing and not my running wild thoughts on the what ifs of life.
I was next. The gentleman at the FedEx counter greeted me, noticed I was crying, gave me a sympathetic look with his eyes and I asked him for an unemployment application. Talking while crying isn’t easy for me. My voice cracks, I get flustered and my brain gets all scrambled. He must not have understood me in my frazzled state so I asked him again, a little more clearly for an unemployment application.
He looked behind me. Great, they were in my face. I turned around but there was nothing in these paper cubbies.
He said he would have to print one for me.
I nodded because that’s all the communication I could do at that very moment.
Several moments went by as I stood in place, as I continued to cry to myself. I didn’t want to browse the small shop in fear of being too close to someone or not wanting to touch something someone with the corona virus has touched before me. So I stood there, several dreadful moments just waiting for my unemployment application to be printed.
Finally, the lovely gentleman handed me a copy of the application with sympathy in his eyes. I thanked him and walked out.
I cried some more on the way home.
When I get home, I get to work on the application right away.
In the middle of filling it out, I realize this application is asking me a bunch of questions the news has been reporting for weeks that the unemployment system isn’t supposed to ask anymore. For example, the application isn’t supposed to ask for work history, if I’ve searched for work and a few other questions.
The news during this time has been none stop reporting on the Florida Unemployment situation. They reported there will be no holding week when it comes to benefits. The Florida DEO website has been down which means the unemployed can’t even get an application through. SOme reported the online application would let you but knock you off in the middle of the application process, therefore, losing all your progress. Also, the Florida DEO has been delaying payments. THere were stories that some people haven’t been paid in over a month.
It wasn’t looking good for the unemployed in Florida.
In the middle of my paper application, I decide to give the online application a try.
I had to google the website because it has been several years since I applied for unemployment. And boy am I grateful for that.
Found it. I logged in, reset my password and started the electronic application.
It was luck, pure freaking luck that I was able to log in and apply with such ease, unlike so many others.
The application process maybe took me 30 minutes.
But then it was the waiting game.
I didn’t receive anything int he mail, I didn’t receive an email and I didn’t receive a carrier pigeon letting me know of my application status. The website was down more than it functions so logging in to check was problematic.
Finally, about 2 weeks after I submitted my electronic application, the website was working, sorta. I tried to log in several times. I would get an error about my pin being different.
It was odd. I hadn’t been able to log in to change my pin so how was this possible?
OK no problem, there’s a button to change my pin below. CLICK. Fill out some info. CLICK> ERROR.
With this error was a phone number to call.
Oh the joy of calling the Florida Department of Opportunity with over 1 million other unemployed Floridians are also unemployed and wanting to know what there application status was.
So I called. Oh, I was hung up on because basically there was no more room in the phone queue. ALright, I called again, and again and again. I called 10 times that day before I was able to get to the part where you can select what you’re calling for.
I was a dummy, I selected the general questions prompt. Smacking my head even now and this was a month ago.
Of course, the lovely lady on the other end of the phone can’t help me because I need to reset my pin NOT generally ask her a question. How annoying.
I decided to it a try the next day.
Round 2 of calling the Florida Department of Unemployment went a little better. Yes, I still was booted from the line about 15 times that morning. Finally, I got through and I picked the reset pin prompt. Woohoo!
Oh but I was literally on hold waiting for an agent for an hour. But at least I got through.
I got another lovely lady who reset my pin, she was able to tell me the status of my application and she answered some questions I had as well.
Yay! My pin is reset, I’m able to log in now. I log in and everything the lovely lady I just hung up with told me was right there in my face. My application was still pending.
It’s just a waiting game at this point.
I logged on everyday. The status didn’t change for several weeks. And one day finally the status changed to “Active”. I got really excited. I’m active. Nice!
And then I waited some more.
FInally, on May 19, 2020, I received my first electronic payment of $741 and then another payment of $600. This was amazing! I was so excited.
The amounts were weird. So according to my calculations the $741 was 3 weeks worth of unemployment benefits and the $600 was the additional stimulus money the government was paying us.
It was odd because I hadn’t claimed any weeks on my application form. Also, at this point, I was not prompted to claim unemployment weeks. Which was odder yet.
The following week on May 27, 2020, I received $1080. Again, odd amount, according to my calculations this could be two stimulus checks with taxes removed. This is my guess.
Randomly, with no warning, I receive a letter from the Florida Department of Oppurtunity with a check for $247. There was no explanation. There was no reasoning. I logged in to check my FL DEO website and there is no record of this payment. If it’s a mistake, I have left the money untouched in a savings account JUST IN CASE it was an error.
On June 3, 2020, I was scheduled to claim unemployment weeks. I did so as soon as I woke up that morning. The unemployment website had implemented a virtual waiting room where you are meant to keep your computer window open until a little melodic sound randomly rings from your computer speakers and you’re able to log on to your account.
The Florida DEO website had been down the day before so I was nervous I wouldn’t have been able to get in to submit my weeks the day I was supposed to. I had logged in before 8 am that morning when I was greeted with the same message as the day before stating the site would be down today. I was so sad. I was frustrated. People count on this money for living. I need this money to live, buy groceries for my family, put gas in my car. I’m not fiverously buying crap.
At 8:30 am on June 3rd, I logged in again. I had a thought that maybe I tried to log in too early so I tried again. And BOOM it was working, I was in the waiting room and I waiting.
I waited exactly an hour. I logged in at 8:35 am. The little melody alerted me I was able to log in at 9:35 am.
This part was quick. I logged in, there was a prompt to submit my weeks, I answered my questions and just like that my weeks were submitted.
So about the questions they ask for the weeks you submit. According to Florida Governor De Santos, the Florida Department of Opportunity is not to ask you if you’ve been searching for jobs while you’re furloughed. I think they decided not to make this a requirement because of Covid-19. When addressing this question, I’ve been told to put I haven’t been searching for a job due to Covid-19. I do believe the time to say no to job searching has past. I do believe, according to a recent interview from Gov. De Santos to Tallahassee’s ABC 25 WPBF, as the time of the posting of this blog post, it is now required to be job searching. I think. I could be wrong but don’t quote me.
Anyway, my weeks were submitted now it’s time to wait again. I logged in the next day to check the status my week submission and I am greeted with a pending approval. I do believe it is pending approval because I selected I wasn’t looking for work.
On June 5, 2020, I received a direct deposit of $494 in my bank account. It only took 2 days for application to process and money to be deposited in my account.
Finally, my latest payment of $1080 was received on June 8, 2020.
The stimulus checks are completely unexpected. I had no website to check the status. They don’t arrive every week as previously stated by the news.
For example, today is Saturday, June 12, 2020 and I did not receive a stimulus check this week.
I received the first stimulus check on a Tuesday. The next check came in on a Wednesday. The following check came in on a Monday (skipping the week before). There is no consistency when it comes to the stimulus check. And that’s extremely concerning.
I understand that I am lucky to receive any stimulus check what so ever. The government bailed us out. And I am extremely grateful I’ve been able to survive financially and provide for my family.
This is my Furlough in Florida journey thus far. I hope you enjoyed reading. This was a long one.
In the future, I want to make a post about the Florida Department of Opportunity payment of $275 a week is not enough to live off of when you’re unemployed and this is your only source of income.
Have you or someone you know been furloughed? What’s your experience like? I hope you’ve had better luck!