By John Haughey | The Center Square
The department that handles Florida's unemployment applications has collapsed under unprecedented demand, spurring lawmakers to call for audits and firings as the state wrestles with helping jobless residents access urgently needed benefits.
As the debacle consuming Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) bedevils individuals seeking to tap into unemployment benefits, small businesses are being warned of an emerging administrative nightmare with the new federal small business loan program.
Banks across the nation said Friday they could not launch, as planned, the $350 billion Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses included in the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Under the bill, banks will process loan applications and allocate the money from a fund championed by Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Businesses are expected to file millions of applications once guidelines are posted.
However, the guidelines have not been posted. Therefore, the Bank Policy Institute (BPI), which represents banking consortiums, said Friday the loan program cannot be launched.
“Banks are ready and willing to lend, but they need clear rules of the road and a streamlined process to be able to get funding into the hands of small business owners in the coming days,” BPI President and CEO Greg Baer told Poltico’s Zachary Warmbrodt.
BPI said the program does not say whether banks are responsible for verifying borrower information and could be liable for inaccuracies.
If so, BPI said, “verification requirements could lead to substantial delays in issuing loans” and a “lag of weeks or more” to establish guidelines and liability waivers.
Floridians already are ensnared in a web of glitches, crashes, error messages, slowdowns, freezes and blank screens in accessing services on DEO’s website and unanswered calls on the department’s phone lines.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 227,000 Floridians submitted new unemployment claims last week, a more than threefold increase from the week before and a tsunami compared to the 6,000 submission weekly average. The demand has overwhelmed DEO's capacity to respond, leaving applicants frustrated and lawmakers angry.
Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday ordered funding to hire more workers and directed state agencies to send spare employees “to assist DEO with their re-employment assistance efforts, including call center operations and other citizen services.”
DeSantis also required DEO to provide paper applications.
Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, has called for DEO Executive Director Ken Lawson to resign. Rep. Jackie Toledo, R-Tampa, wants DEO audited. Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, the Florida Republican Party chairman, is livid the $77 million website Deloitte Consulting built for DEO in 2013 doesn’t work.
“It’s just a complete boondoggle,” Gruters said. “It’s incredibly disappointing because, as a senator, I’ve had tons of people, I can’t even tell you how many, come to tell me what a disaster it is. My own mother has tried to file over 100 times without success.”
Lawson apologized Friday for his department’s failures and said improvements are certain, noting in a Zoom conference that one-third of the 1.5 million calls DEO received this week were related to stymied personal identification number resets.
“We’re getting the resources necessary to improve the system, but it’s going to take time,” he said. “I recognize people need our help during this time of crisis. I know you’ve got to pay your bills. You’ve got to eat. And that’s why I need to get money out on the street. But over next week or two, it is going to be difficult.”
From the Office of Senator Randolph Bracy
Senator Bracy is making paper applications for unemployment available at district office
As many constituents from Senate District 11 continue to experience problems with Florida’s unemployment website, State Senator Randolph Bracy (D-Ocoee) has printed out
hundreds of paper applications that are now available at his District Office in West Orange County.
Senator Bracy mentioned that: “Too many of my constituents who need immediate relief are unable to use the unemployment website because it is essentially broken. The system is crashing and people cannot even reset their PIN numbers, which are required to access
Please drop by Senator Bracy’s District office to pick up a paper application for Unemployment Assistance if you need one. Copies are available in English, Spanish, and Creole.
Here are some instructions on what to do when you arrive: go to the middle of the building and walk down the breezeway between Concept Design USA and the Brazilian Coffee Shop. That will lead you inside the building. Take the elevator to the 2nd floor and find Senator Bracy’s office in Suite 211.
District Office Address: 6965 Piazza Grande Ave, Suite 211, Orlando, FL 32835