Yesterday the some of Florida’s top Democratic United States Congressional leaders as well as state lawmakers held a press conference to voice their collective frustration over the way Gov. Ron DeSantis is dealing with the many glitches in the state unemployment system. as well as the low unemployment payouts.
This past weekend Florida finally processed over 400,000 unemployment claims after more than a month since those claims were submitted to the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity’s (DEO) website.
There also was a demand that the state raises the unemployment benefits from $275 maximum weekly unemployment payments, expand beyond 12 the number of weeks benefits are available, and make payments retroactive to when claims tied to the coronavirus shutdown were filed.
People applying for $600 weekly checks through a federal-stimulus law also need to go through the state system. The information posted online by the department didn’t include numbers for people who apply through the system for federal funding yet fail to qualify for state payments.
According to an Associated Press analysis of U.S. Department of Labor data, nearly 7 of every 8 Floridians who managed to file claims during the three weeks from mid-March until early April were waiting to have them processed — the worst rate in the country.
In comparison, California and Texas had about two-thirds of their claims backlogged, while New York, the country’s current coronavirus epicenter, had about 30% of its claims still waiting, according to the analysis that looked at claims data submitted to the federal government.
The Democratic lawmakers were quick to point out that Florida’s benefits fail to meet the minimum wage and, combined with the federal stimulus funding, are less than what many Floridians typically earn.
Also drawing heat was Florida’s junior U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, who was governor when the state implemented CONNECT in 2013.
“It was during my last year as governor that we made the contract with Deloitte to have this system,” said Congressman (D-Fl 13) Charlie Crist, who was elected governor as a Republican in 2006 and later became an independent before leaving the governor’s office in 2011. “I had very little time to review it once that occurred. I left office and Gov. Scott came in and was there for eight years as you all know. That’s a long time to have an opportunity to analyze, to investigate, to look into and make sure the system called CONNECT, which is a real disconnect obviously, is working appropriately and properly. Evidently that didn’t happen.”
Crist offered some advice to Gov. DeSantis.
“As a former governor myself, I understand what a difficult position Governor DeSantis is in but I think the choice is clear in this case,” said Crist, “Do the right thing.”
Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-Fl 14) was quick to add her take on how the CONNECT program has failed Floridians.
“All the evidence is in that this is a system that is designed to hurt Floridians at a time when they need help the most,” said Rep Castor.
While this press conference held by Democratic lawmakers from Washington and Tallahassee this is an issue that affects everyone no matter what political party.
“Many of my Republican colleagues have expressed outrage about this, so this is not a partisan issue. I think the outrage about this is unanimous,” said Florida state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez (D – Fl 37.)
Gov. DeSantis has voiced his concern over his legal ability to do whatever it takes to fix the clearly broken system. A point that Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fl 20) says can be easily solved.
“If he thinks that he doesn’t have those powers, then he should call the legislature into special session or use that budget commission that meets in between sessions to help him expand that authority,” said Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz. She was also quick to point out that a complete investigation of how the system failed and how it can be fixed needs to be done quickly.
“It’s clearly been broken before this happened, it was in a completely disabled position to be able to handle a crisis and we have a federal role here and it was not able to be fully maximized,” said Rep. Wassermann Schultz
According to a report in POLITICO some Sunshine State Republicans admit that the $77.9 million system that is now failing Florida workers is doing exactly what former Florida Gov. Rick Scott designed it to do — lower the state’s reported number of jobless claims after the great recession.
Republican Party of Florida chairman Joe Gruters was more succinct in his comments to POLITICO: “$77 million? Someone should go to jail over that.”
While inside the DeSantis camp there is massive frustration over how Scott set things up there is agreement that an investigation is warranted. However, DeSantis has put that plan on the back burner for now.
“My job is to fix problems when they arise, the agency said this was a good system a month ago, obviously that was not accurate,” Gov. DeSantis said. “My number one concern outside of health is to get the checks out. We’re putting 100 percent of the effort on this.”
However, Gov. DeSantis claims of getting things done right was met with push back by the Democratic lawmakers. Castor, Crist and Wasserman-Schultz all three said that this clearly shows the need for direct stimulus payments from the federal government so people in Florida can get their money without going through a broken system.