By John Haughey | The Center Square
Florida and New York politicians have been trading barbs for weeks about how leaders in both states have handled the COVID-19 emergency.
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has said New Yorkers fleeing Democratic Gov. Anthony Cuomo’s quarantine restrictions flooded the Sunshine State in March, dramatically swelling the disease’s outbreak in south Florida.
Cuomo blamed open “beaches in Florida” for inspiring youthful protesters in New York City to not wear masks.
Florida Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, a former two-term Florida governor, vocally has been opposed to a proposed $3 billion COVID-19 bill that includes assistance for state and local governments, which has been referred to as a “blue state bailout.”
Cuomo responded by accusing Scott of “playing the American people” by claiming New York receives more than it pays in federal taxes, noting it is among “donor” states that contribute far more in taxes than it receives in federal services.
On Monday, the Florida-New York dispute surfaced in the U.S. Senate, when Democratic New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s minority leader, called on the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate Florida’s much-maligned unemployment system.
In a letter to Inspector General Scott Dahl, Schumer joined Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon in requesting an inquiry into U.S. DOL oversight of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), which administers the state’s unemployment system.
DEO’s CONNECT unemployment website collapsed in March, when it was deluged by newly jobless applicants, creating a backlog that persists.
“While all states have seen record increases in the number of its residents applying for unemployment, Florida’s performance has proved uniquely poor in its abject inability to assist millions of residents who have applied for and continue to await unemployment benefits,” their letter said.
Schumer and Wyden maintain despite unemployment claims sharply increasing, “Florida’s Unemployment Trust Fund grew in size between March 1st and April 16th (by nearly $17 million). The most recent data available from the U.S. Treasury Department shows Florida is the only state in the nation whose trust fund gained money during that time period.”
DEO’s Reemployment Assistance Claims Dashboard reported Monday that 2.015 of 2.169 million – or 92.5 percent – of “confirmed unique” claims filed by state residents since March 15 had been processed, with 1.248 million – or 92.5 percent – of “eligible claimants” receiving payments totaling $4.619 billion.
DEO’s numbers, however, do not include nearly 500,000 people deemed ineligible for state benefits, as well as hundreds of thousands more who are apparently still waiting for claims to be processed.
Florida Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson posts a daily #PayTheClaimsNow Unemployment Benefits Watch notice. On Monday, “Day 92,” she listed the number of Floridians “still waiting for payment” at 920,504.
DeSantis dismissed Schumer's and Wyden’s concerns about Florida’s unemployment system Monday as “very partisan.”
“Are they U.S. Senators from Florida?” DeSantis asked during a news conference in Doral. “I’ve never heard of partisan politics in Washington, D.C., before. Oh, my goodness, can you imagine that?”
DeSantis has ordered a state inspector general investigation into the $77 million CONNECT system he inherited from Scott, which he’s described as “designed to fail.”
DeSantis has called the CONNECT website, built by DeLoitte Consulting in 2013, “the equivalent of throwing a jalopy into the Daytona 500.”
Since March, DeSantis has authorized at least $100 million to upgrade the website, purchased 72 servers, reassigned 2,000 state workers to help DEO and tapped Department of Management Services Secretary Jon Satter to manage it.
“It’s going to take time,” DeSantis said Monday of the probe.
Meanwhile, DeSantis added, “We’ve really been able to pick this thing off the mat. We’re going to do more.”
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