Gov. Ron DeSantis said Florida’s top economic priority is helping those who have lost jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to numbers from the state, that’s about 800,000 Floridians.
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And that only counts the out-of-work employees who were able to file for claims with Florida’s beleaguered unemployment system. Many of the state’s hundreds of thousands of newly jobless have reported problems with filing applications or getting help from hotlines.
DeSantis said the state is working to make the process better, bringing in thousands of state employees from other agencies to help handle claims and adding 100 new servers to boost the capacity for the website.
“We’ve got to fix this. We’ve got to put all hands on deck to get this done,” DeSantis said, pointing out that the state only got about 350,000 applications for assistance for the whole year last year and is dealing with an unprecedented situation.
He said before the crisis, if an applicant did everything right, they might get assistance in four to five weeks.
“Where the rubber meets the road is we need the people to be able to get the assistance,” DeSantis said. “I’ve told the agency they need to get this out the door as soon as possible.”
To speed things up, DeSantis has waived some of the rules, including work search requirements, the prohibition on receiving payment the first week after applying and the requirement that applicants recertify their unemployment every two weeks.
De Santis said the state went from paying out 35,000 claims last week to more than 100,000 this week -- more than were sent for the entire year before the crisis began.
“It is ramping up, and I’ve told them we’ve got to continue to do it because it’s important to a lot of people. People don’t know what’s going to happen economically,” DeSantis said. “I think we have a path back. But for right now, people need to be able to put food on their table and pay their rent.”
Management Services Secretary Jonathan Satter, who was named Wednesday to oversee the unemployment payment system, said Thursday the banking system is also being upgraded, so it can issue 100,000 checks per day instead of 25,000.
He compared the system to a 7-year-old car that never got used much but now is being used by 10 people -- it can’t cope without repairs.
Colleen Corbett, a 30-year-old Tampa bartender who applied shortly after she lost two jobs in mid-March, hasn’t received a check. She doesn’t understand how so few claims have been processed.
“I can’t believe DeSantis expects Floridians to live for over a month with zero income and still pay their rent and feed their families,” said Corbett, who is trying to supplement her income making T-shirts that she sells on Etsy. “Every day I see DeSantis on the news bragging about how much better the website is running and it’s an absolute lie.”
Danielle Priebe’s husband was laid off from his job as a restaurant manager after eight years on March 15 and her hours managing a beauty supply store were cut from 40 a week to 16. The Priebes applied for unemployment right away, but their applications still haven’t been approved.
They’ve called more than a hundred times, but can’t get anyone on the phone and despite lengthy waits are eventually disconnected.
“The governor keeps saying that, ‘We’re doing this, we’re doing that,' but we’re not seeing it on our end. We’re getting nowhere. It’s like we’re spinning in circles,” said the 50-year-old Melbourne mother of three.