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DeSantis blames paperwork problems for unresolved unemployment claims

Governor says forms routinely lack Social Security numbers, other key details

File photo
File photo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday that most remaining unsettled claims in the state’s heavily criticized unemployment system are due to incomplete applications.

DeSantis said forms often lack Social Security numbers or information about wages earned when the applicants were employed or they improperly list reasons for people being out of work.

“We were in Tampa the other day, and one of the reporters said, ‘You know, I have someone here who has been unable to (get approved), filed them in mid-March,’” DeSantis said Monday while in Orlando. “So, it's like, give us a name. We took the name, and it turns out the employer’s contesting it, saying that the individual quit.”

DeSantis, who intends to provide more information Tuesday on the state’s much-derided handling of jobless claims and the “common pitfalls” by applicants, made similar comments Friday while in Jacksonville, where he said, “nine times out of 10 the application’s incomplete.”

On Monday, DeSantis also put the onus on the news media to check the backgrounds of people, including Social Security numbers, before using them in anecdotal stories on the state’s CONNECT unemployment system.

“You got a responsibility if you’re going to put that out to viewers to say that, ‘We’ve looked into it, the person submitted Social Security, the person is eligible,’” DeSantis told a reporter who claimed to have the names of 5,000 people who have been waiting since March for assistance.

DeSantis, who has called for an investigation into the creation of the $77.9 million CONNECT system, which went live in 2013, noted at prior appearances across the state that the Department of Economic Opportunity would put an emphasis on checking the status of applications when forwarded by reporters.

Democrats have called for the investigation of CONNECT to include the handling of claims under DeSantis, as applications flooded the system when businesses downsized and closed as COVID-19 spread throughout the state.

Senate Democrats on Monday delivered to DeSantis’ office information about more than 1,000 applicants who have been waiting for unemployment benefits since March. The information included names and claimant identification numbers.

Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said Democrats want to amplify the voices of people who have come to their offices and that playing blame games won’t help people trying to support their families.

“Rather than a smart sheet or a fax suggested by DEO (the Department of Economic Opportunity) in a tweet on Friday, our caucus took the people’s distress to the governor as he requested last week,” Gibson said.

From March 15 through Sunday, the Department of Economic Opportunity had received more than 2 million applications for unemployment, of which about 1.3 million were considered “unique.”

Among the unique claims, 715,131 people have been found eligible for state unemployment benefits, 88,922 have been eligible for federal benefits, and 322,560 deemed ineligible.

Issues of identity have been raised in 12,927 cases, and 225,421 have been held up due to employer and wage disputes.

DeSantis said Monday that after work over the weekend, 97 percent of the unique and valid applicants have drawn state or federal benefits.

The department in a Sunday recap also reported 43,813 claims have come from out of state, and fraud has been detected in 32,221 cases.

The New York Times reported Saturday it had obtained a Secret Service memo describing a well-organized Nigerian fraud ring using previously obtained Social Security numbers and other personal information seeking jobless benefits in Florida, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Washington, and Wyoming.