No decision made yet during emergency hearing for unemployment benefits

Emergency DEO Hearing

SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Several attorneys are asking a Tallahassee Judge to order the Department of Economic Opportunity to pay unemployed Floridians immediately.

Earlier this month a different Judge dismissed a similar proposal from the same attorneys.

After more than eight hours on Tuesday 2nd Judicial Judge John Cooper said he needed a break and wanted to finish the emergency hearing later this week.

"I'm sorry but at some point going too long is not the way the process should work," said Judge Cooper.

Before that point, more than a dozen witnesses spoke about their struggles with receiving benefits from the DEO and getting a hold of an agent that could help.

“Look in your back end and see what your administrative authorities are. If you can actually access my claim and make changes to my claim,” said unemployed global event planner Lollie Marcelin.

“So you’re essentially telling him how to do his job,” said Attorney Marie Mattox.

"That’s correct, that’s correct, " Marcelin.

The plaintiffs had a former DEO call center agent as one of their witnesses.

“We were forbidden from telling callers that there was a glitch in the system. We were forbidden from telling callers approximately how many calls would enter into the phone system before callers would get the message that the line was busy and to try again later,” said a former DEO call center agent, Reginald Ellison.

He worked with the DEO for two months and was laid off on Saturday.

Plaintiff attorney Marie Mattox, Judge Cooper and the defense attorneys questioned the Chief Financial Officer for the DEO.

"While we recognize that everybody would like this to be overnight we are diligently looking at everything we can to constantly upgrade the system to meet the demand we have right now," said Damon Steffens, DEO CFO.

Steffens says 80,000 people can be on CONNECT at one time and still operate efficiently.

He says that's improvement from the approximately 5,000 person capacity they had before the pandemic.

The judge didn’t make a ruling on Tuesday afternoon.

The emergency hearing will reconvene on Thursday at 1 pm.

You can watch the hearing in its entirety here: part 1 and part 2.

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