TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The head of Florida's Dept. of Economic Opportunity apologized for the system issues that have plagued the thousands of people trying to sign up for unemployment benefits.

“From my heart, I apologize for what you’re going through,” the agency's executive director, Ken Lawson, said during a morning meeting. “There’s a full commitment from me, personally and professionally, to get you the resources you need from my department.”

Lawson answered questions during the teleconference, which ran on State Sen. Annette Taddeo's Facebook page. 

Lawson blamed the biggest issues with the system on the coronavirus leading to the influx of people suddenly unemployed. He said the agency has received 1.5 million calls, with a third of the calls about issues with PIN resets. A new contractor has been hired to handle just the PIN resets.

He also said a paper application would be created so that people can fill it out and mail it in. Another company will be contracted to scan those applications in. 

Critics argue the state has long been warned about the failures of the system. Democratic State Rep. Anna Eskamani told Spectrum News that problems were known as far back as 2014 under former Gov. Rick Scott.

Eskamani also points to a 2019 Inspector General report, outlining hundreds of issues with the state’s unemployment application system.

On Thursday, DeSantis signed an executive order redirecting state employees from other agencies to the Florida Dept. of Economic Opportunity to help with the avanlanche of phone calls and applications. 

He's also authorizing the DEO to purchase any additional software and technology needed to help with this.

Taddeo, a Democrat from Miami, says she'll be asking Gov. DeSantis to make sure unemployment benefits are retroactive from when a person lost their job. Normally unemployment benefits start when a person is approved for benefits, but some people have been trying to get unemployment for days, even weeks.

Lawson says that, with the U.S. CARES Act, people will see more money in those unemployment checks, and also that gig workers and self-proprietors will also be eligible for benefits. 

On Tuesday, the DEO tweeted out an FAQ thread with the best practices to apply for benefits. It includes using Internet Explorer when you go to the DOE website.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.