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Florida woman works to get thousands of unemployment issues resolved

Vanessa Brito spends all of her time caring for her sick mother and helping Floridians navigate the failing unemployment system.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Think about the times in your life you were desperate for help. Where did you turn? A customer service representative or a politician? Doubtful.

How about a friend, neighbor, or even the stranger who stopped to offer a hand when you needed it most?

Turns out relying on each other- the regular men and women around you, might be the answer to getting your unemployment benefits in the state of Florida.

It started when Vanessa Brito, a Miami-based community activist with a background in Florida politics, started asking questions.

Now, it's a full-blown movement with thousands of results coming in day after day.

When the pandemic first hit, Brito was a full-time caregiver for her sick mother. She decided to spend any spare time she had advocating for people who couldn't get through Florida's complex and bogged-down unemployment system.

Brito said when state representatives and other elected officials didn't step up to demand resolutions, she felt compelled to stay on the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) on behalf of the people.

Now in November, she's still at it. Brito said, "All my time is dedicated to this. Literally, other than taking care of my mom, it’s unemployment 24/7."

Brito has made a name for herself on various unemployment groups on Facebook where person after person share testimonies about the assistance, guidance, and resolution they got after connecting with Brito.

Credit: Vanessa Brito

Gia Cuccaro, a Broward County woman who worked for a real estate investment company has been furloughed since March. After three months without a payment, she reached out to Brito.

"She kind of just figured out ways to tell us how to fix it, don’t click on this. Click on that," Cuccaro described.

Brito explained that she was able to figure out ways to work around the system and connect people with actual specialists within the DEO who could help with their specific problem.

Word of mouth (or word of type) spread quickly throughout social media. Brito had trouble putting a number on how many people she thinks she's helped but she said, "Just last week, I sent in 5,000 cases and I’ve been doing that every week for eight months."

Brito says staffers with the DEO have unofficially collaborated with her in recent months to understand the glitches claimants are seeing on their end and what the most common problems are so they can make internal fixes.

Cuccaro believes Brito has helped about 200,000 Floridians. Cuccaro, who is still furloughed from her real estate investment job has volunteered to help Brito on her mission to get people the benefits they deserve.

"I felt like once she helped me, I had to kind of pay it forward. I’ve kind of taken on this role of, I don’t know, of her secretary," said Cuccaro.

Right now as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, Brito says the two most common unresolved issues in the Florida unemployment system are:

1) Back Dating: Waiting to have your effective date changed so you receive the federal supplement by the end of the year.

2) Wage Determination (for self-employed people): In order to get your max payout, you have to request a wage determination. That process is backlogged.

RELATED: Florida unemployment agency requests millions for fixes, but possible action is months away

Among many things Brito has done, she created a google form to help her better consolidate what the most common existing problems are and point people in the right direction.

Now Floridians are helping each other by sharing contact information or advice about what worked for them and how to expedite the issues. The movement is growing.

You can connect with Vanessa Brito and view the resources she's complied through her Facebook page: Vanessa Brito - Community Activist

If you don't have Facebook, you can e-mail her at Vbrito@me.com

Her advice to people still waiting or at their wits' end is not to give up. Brito believes every Floridian should get the money they're entitled to and use social media and connecting with people in the same boat to get answers.

RELATED: US jobless claims increase to 742,000 as pandemic worsens

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