A dozen Democratic members of Florida’s congressional delegation are urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to increase unemployment benefits and improve Floridians’ access to those benefits amid the COVID-19 virus outbreak.
In a letter to DeSantis, the members suggested six areas of improvement as thousands of Floridians are already out of work due to social distancing recommendations.
“We recognize that you submitted a request for a major disaster declaration to the President in order to grant Floridians access to disaster unemployment assistance,” the letter reads. “However, we again request that you immediately improve Florida’s unemployment insurance and ease the burdensome application requirements that are preventing Floridians from accessing critical benefits at a moment of crisis.”
Among those suggestions are pushes to update the eligibility formula, increase the maximum amount paid out and extend the length those benefits will be received.
The letter was signed by U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Donna Shalala, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson.
The lawmakers are also requesting the Governor waive the waiting period for benefits as well as work requirements to receive the aid.
The state has already acted on the latter. Earlier this week, the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) waived some of those requirements. Applicants no longer must register online or state they are available for hire.
The congressional members also posed questions regarding some individuals’ struggle to access those benefits due to a surge in applications.
“We continue to hear from constituents that the website where all applications must be completed continues to malfunction, making it extremely difficult for individuals to even file a claim for unemployment benefits,” the letter continues.
Executive Director Ken Lawson says the agency is handling an “unprecedented number” of unemployment applications. Data from Thursday showed a record 74,000 applications from the previous week. That bests the previous high of 40,403 during the Great Recession in 2009.
Mucarsel-Powell added a statement of her own expanding on the letter to the Governor.
“My office and I have been inundated with constituents calling worried about making ends meet after losing their jobs because of the coronavirus crisis. But they are held up because of the state’s outdated and difficult application process,” Mucarsel-Powell said.
“During this national disaster, we must not only increase Florida’s abysmal $275 a week unemployment benefit, but also ensure all Floridians who have lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic can get the assistance they need.”