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Florida takes steps to address besieged unemployment services


By John Haughey | The Center Square

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida's collapsed unemployment website has been re-forged and now has the capacity to handle 120,000 simultaneous connections.

The governor said the state’s besieged Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), which processes unemployment claims, will get a manpower boost of about 750 workers drafted from other state agencies by Tuesday.

The state has added 72 servers to double DEO’s website’s capacity, is hiring private call centers to augment services and is offering paper applications, DeSantis said Monday.

That’s good news for the 227,000 Floridians who filed unemployment claims last week and the hundreds of thousands who are expected to do so in the coming days and weeks.

Many applicants’ experiences with the DEO website, which the state paid $77 million to build in 2013, have left them ensnared in a web of glitches, crashes, error messages, slowdowns, freezes and blank screens.

Meanwhile, phone calls to DEO go unanswered as the department is swamped into paralysis by the deluge in demand.

Last week, DEO received 3.8 million calls, 50 percent more in one week than it received in all of 2019, it said.

More than 520,000 Floridians have applied for unemployment since March 15, compared with 326,000 in all of 2019, according to the governor’s office.

’We are in a position where people have lost their jobs, they are looking for relief and they were having a lot of difficulty,” DeSantis said. “People were on this site, and it was timing out. People would go hours and hours upon end and it was totally unacceptable. You have a single mother who no longer has a job, who has to worry about how the rent is going to be paid, how food is going to be put on the table. We want this system to be accessible.”

Also during a Monday roundtable, DeSantis said he would sign an executive order that waives state taxes on small business loans issued under the federal CARES Act and he has asked DEO to consider making people eligible for unemployment benefits the day they lost their job rather than when they completed their application.

Florida law stipulates jobless workers are eligible from the date of application and are required to wait two weeks before their claim can be activated.

“It’s not like they were just sitting on their hands not doing anything,” he said.

The 17-member Florida Senate Democratic caucus earlier Monday asked DeSantis to make unemployment eligibility retroactive to the date their job was terminated.

“Recognizing that the application system was not only out of service for much of the start of this pandemic, but continues to undergo repair, we ask for immediate action to help expedite Floridians’ access to the unemployment benefits they have earned,” Senate Democrats asked the governor in a letter.

Senate Democrats want unemployment retroactivity to date back to March 1 and for the provision to be extended to independent contractors, those who receive 1099s rather than W-2s.

DEO Executive Director Ken Lawson, whose resignation has been requested by one Senate Democrat, said the state has been working with the federal government in determining when the additional $600 per week of unemployment benefits per individual will become available on top of the state’s $275.

“All states are waiting for the feds, but we’re pushing harder to get the money quicker,” he said.

“Seems to me that money’s worth a lot more over the next few weeks,” DeSantis said, “than it will be in two months.”

CARES Act, Department of Economic Development, Governor DeSantis, Pandemic, Unemployment


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