ORLANDO, Fla. —
The COVID-19 pandemic knocked the tourism industry in Florida off its feet.Millions of people were laid off across the state, and the system meant to help them crashed and burned under the pressure.Since then, the state has paid nearly $27 billion in unemployment benefits to more than 2.3 million Floridians.More than a year later, the meltdown at the Department of Economic Opportunity that delayed benefits is still a continuing nightmare for thousands of people.But, even as jobless people struggle without benefits, the DEO is finding new ways to turn a very healthy profit, WESH 2 News has found. WESH 2’s Greg Fox shows us how the state is benefitting from people who have received little help.
The COVID-19 pandemic knocked the tourism industry in Florida off its feet.
WESH 2 News Investigates: Is the state making money off unemployment?
JIM: THE PANDEMIC KNOCKED CENTRAL FLORIDA’S TOURISM INDUSTRY OFF ITS FEET. MILLIONS OF PEOPLE WERE LAID OFF ACROSS THE STATE, AND THE SYSTEM MEANT TO HELP THEM, CRASHED AND BURNED UNDER THE PRESSURE. SINCE THEN THE STATE HAS PAID NEARLY 27 BILLION DOLLARS IN UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS TO MORE THAN 2.3 MILLION FLORIDIANS. MEREDITH: MORE THAN A YEAR LATER, THE MELTDOWN AT THE DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY THAT DELAYED BENEFITS, IS A CONTINUING NIGHTMARE FOR THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE. BUT EVEN AS JOBLESS PEOPLE STRUGGLE WITHOUT BENEFITS, THE DEO IS FINDING NEW WAYS TO TURN A VERY HEALTHY PROFIT. WESH 2 INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER GREG FOX SHOWS US HOW THE STATE IS BENEFITING FROM PEOPLE WHO HAVE RECEIVED LITTLE HELP. >> I AM ASKING FOR ASSISTANCE AND IF I QUALIFY I FEEL LIKE THEY SHOULD ALLOCATE MONEY. GREG: CATHY PLUCHEL OF WINTER GARDEN PAID A VISIT TO CAREER SOURCE, THE STATE’S RE-EMPLOYMENT OFFICE. THE 62-YEAR-OLD OUT OF WORK DENTAL ASSISTANT IS TRYING TO REINVENT HERSELF, AND IS SEEKING MONEY TO ATTEND TRAINING TO BECOME A CERTIFIED MEDICAL ASSISTANT. GREG: THE FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY CERTAINLY HAS MORE MONEY TO HELP PEOPLE LIKE KATHY THROUGH THE STATE’S WAY2GO DEBIT CARD. IT’S PROVIDED TO THE UNEMPLOYED WHO DECLINE TO USE DIRECT DEPOSIT AT A BANK TO RECEIVE BENEFITS. IT’S PART OF THE GOPROGRAM WHICH IS RUN BY CONDUENT. ACCORDING TO A CONTRACT OBTAINED BY WESH 2 INVESTIGATES, THE DEO HAS A REVENUE SHARING AGREEMENT WITH CONDUENT. IT RECEIVES 19% OF REVENUES DERIVED FROM MERCHANT INTERCHANGE FEES. IN SHORT, EVERY TIME A WAY2GO DEBIT CARD IS SWIPED AT A STORE, FLORIDA MAKES MORE MONEY. THE RESULT? FLORIDA’S 19% CUT OF THE REVENUE SHARING DEAL GENERATED INCOME THAT, IN FIVE YEARS LEADING UP TO APRIL 2020, AMOUNTED TO $345,000. SINCE THEN? IT’S SKYROCKETED TO $1.6 MILLION DOLLARS IN JUST 10 MONTHS. THE GOALS OF THE CONTRACT ARE TO GENERATE PROGRAM OPERATING INCOME, REDUCE PROGRAM FRAUD AND ABUSE AND ENHANCE CUSTOMER SERVICE. >> IT’S VERY MISERABLE. GREG: REESE CRAYTON, A NURSE’S ASSISTANT, HAS BEEN OUT OF WORK SINCE NOVEMBER AND IS STILL WAITING FOR HER UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS TO TAKE CARE OF HER AND HER NINE-YEAR-OLD SON, VINCENT. SHE THINKS THE STATE DEAL TO MAKE MORE WHEN PEOPLE ARE EARNING LESS IS WRONG. >> I FIND THAT VERY DISTURBING. IN MY MIND TO KNOW THAT THE STATE IS BENEFITTING FROM ME AND I HAVE NOT RECEIVED ONE BENEFIT FROM THEM. >> WHAT REALLY KILLS ME ABOUT THIS SCENARIO TOO IS THAT THE UNEMPLOYMENT SYSTEM IS LIKE CRIMINALLY BROKEN WHILE THE STATE MAKES MONEY OFF PARTS OF IT. GREG: DEMOCRATIC LOCAL LAWMAKER ANNA ESKAMANI WANTS TO KNOW IF THIS EXTRA MONEY IS ACTUALLY BEING USED TO CURB FRAUD, AND IDENTITY THEFT THAT CAN LEAD TO PEOPLE IN LEGITIMATE NEED BEING LOCKED OUT OF THEIR ACCOUNTS. AND CONSIDER INCREASING BENEFITS SO THAT AT THE VERY LEAST PEOPLE OF THE STATE BENEFIT FROM THE UNEMPLOYMENT SYSTEM, WHEREAS NOW THEY’RE JUST SCRAPING THE BOT
Updated: 3:36 PM EDT May 14, 2021
But, even as jobless people struggle without benefits, the DEO is finding new ways to turn a very healthy profit, WESH 2 News has found. WESH 2’s Greg Fox shows us how the state is benefitting from people who have received little help. More than a year later, the meltdown at the Department of Economic Opportunity that delayed benefits is still a continuing nightmare for thousands of people.
Since then, the state has paid nearly $27 billion in unemployment benefits to more than 2.3 million Floridians. Millions of people were laid off across the state, and the system meant to help them crashed and burned under the pressure.
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