Florida homeowners still waiting on COVID relief

ORLANDO, Fla. — More than a year after President Biden approved $676 million for Florida homeowners financially impacted by COVID-19, residents say they are still struggling to get answers from the state agency responsible for distributing the money.

“I have never had to ask for this kind of help in my life,” says Lake County resident Darren Cerier.

Darren saw his hours as a flight attendant cut in half during the pandemic, while his second job furloughed him for more than a year. Facing mounting bills, he took out a forbearance on his mortgage.

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Now that money is coming due.

“I applied (to DEO) on March 1 and did the application on April 22, so it’s been almost two months, and if you try calling someone at DEO, they will give you the same spiel that they don’t have the information,” says Cerier.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the same state agency that oversees unemployment, was tasked with distributing the hundreds of millions of dollars to homeowners. While the agency says it is prioritizing the most at-risk homeowners and that it has “awarded $60 million in total relief” with “more than $16 million awarded” last week, residents say getting answers about specific claims is nearly impossible.

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“It has been difficult,” says Brevard County resident Stephanie Hare. “If I am able to get through, they are polite, and they tell me they will escalate the claim and they’ll get back to me, but then nothing happens. I’ve been escalated five times.”

Stephanie, like Darren, is behind on her mortgage due to a job loss during 2020.

“There is no feedback. Everybody is just in limbo,” says Stephanie.

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While many homeowners struggle to get answers as to when their claims will be addressed, those who have been given money for bills said that too is complicated.

“I am grateful for the assistance; however, there is no transparency,” says Seminole County resident Scott Silver. “You can’t even speak to your rep. You got to constantly call. You have no transparency.”

Scott has started to get some of his bills paid, but the amounts have not been consistent, leaving him some months with unexpected late charges, an issue he’s tried to address with DEO, but with no luck.

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Meanwhile, DEO is still accepting registrations for homeowners impacted by COVID through its website - https://www.floridajobs.org/community-planning-and-development/homeowner-assistance/homeowner-assistance-fund

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