TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – There are new calls for the state to quickly pay unemployment claims now and worry about the legitimacy of the claims later.
Statistics released on Friday show the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity continues to see more claims than it is paying.
Just over 175,000 Floridians filed for unemployment between Sunday and Thursday, but the agency continues to lose ground. It processed just 153,000 claims in that timeframe.
“Pay the damn claims — pay them," said State Sen. Perry Thurston. “If you’re worried about fraud, go back and look at that after it’s over with, after you compensate these people.”
Four state Senators, all Democrats, renewed the call for a special session Friday, but added that Gov. Ron DeSantis could be doing more now.
“It can be fixed with a stroke of a pen by the governor via executive order,” said State Sen. Gary Farmer.
The lawmakers want weekly benefits raised from $275 to at least $400 and they want to double the number of available weeks.
State Sen. Jason Pizzo has been physically walking constituents’ names over to the agency with claims he said he knows are legitimate. He said case workers processing the claims feel helpless.
“I had a call center person reach out to me saying how ridiculous it is,” Pizzo said. "I have a blind man on the phone, who is obviously not looking at a computer, and I can do everything for him and I can’t submit his application. I mean, how ridiculous is that?”
Meanwhile a lawsuit against the agency for slow payments is moving forward. A hearing has been set for May 26, the day after Memorial Day.
"We have people who will testify that they were instructed that if someone calls and they can’t pay the rent, can’t pay the mortgage, to tell people to call the emergency number of the United Way,” attorney Gautier Kitchen said.
Farmer called the idea outrageous. “It’s unconscionable," he said.
More than 300,000 claims remain in a verification queue. The majority of those are in the queue because employers, who have 20 days to verify employment, haven’t done so.