Democratic lawmakers call on Ron DeSantis to make unemployment more accessible

Carlos Guillermo Smith
The lawmakers say people can't get through to file claims online or by phone.

Some Democratic lawmakers are calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to take additional action to make the unemployment benefits more accessible amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Reps. Anna Eskamani, Carlos Guillermo Smith and Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez say their constituents are having trouble applying for benefits. They add that DeSantis has not responded to their requests to allow claimants to access benefits sooner, raise the amount the state gives in unemployment and extend the number of weeks people can collect money.

Smith says the system is not fully functioning right now for people trying to apply or get questions answered. He says it’s hard to reach a customer service representative by phone and there’s just a recording that plays over and over again until the line is disconnected.

“The online system is even worse,” he said. “It’s riddled with errors, people are locked out of the system because they need to change their pin number; they can’t change their pin number.”

The Department of Economic Opportunity has not yet responded to a request for comment. In a press conference on Monday, DeSantis says the agency was struggling to keep up with new wave of demand because of the economic impact caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. DEO is ramping up hiring in Tallahassee and Orlando.

““I’d imagine you’ll see people added,” I know (DEO Executive Director Ken Lawson’s) trying to execute as many contracts as he can with different companies that provide this type of support. But this is a crush that we’ve never experienced in this country.”

DeSantis is advising Floridians to file online for better results.

More than 74,000 individuals applied for unemployment for the week ending on March 21st, shattering Florida’s previous record of 40,403 set in 2009 as the state reeled from the Great Recession. But that appears to be lagging behind other states. It’s not clear whether that is due to the technological problems DEO has been experiencing or to what extent.

DeSantis has waived the requirement that recipients have to be searching for another job to keep their benefits. They also don’t have to go register on the jobs website to prove that they are looking for work.

Smith says DEO is asking applicants to check a box on the application that says they agree to look for work and they will forfeit the money if the agency finds they haven’t been looking for work, even though that has been waived. 

“It really boggles the mind how this process has just completely shut down,” he said. “People are not able to (apply), they can’t get their questions answered, and then the few answers we do get just defy logic.”

Rodriguez says he wants the one-week waiting period before people can start claiming benefits waived.

“Waiving the wait week is probably the most obvious thing to do because the feds have said they’ll pay for it,” he said. “So there’s an arbitrary wait week that applicants have to basically give back to the system and the feds have said they’ll pay 100% percent of it. So we don’t immediately waive it makes no sense.”

The lawmakers also want the state to extend current weeks of unemployment from 12 weeks to closer to what other states have, which is more like 24 weeks. Florida also has one of the lowest benefit amounts in the entire U.S. at $275 a week. But in the coronavirus relief package passed last week by Congress, claimants will get another $600 in benefits

Sarah Mueller

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to [email protected]


10 comments

  • Patti Lynn

    March 30, 2020 at 2:38 pm

    Rick Scott’s aim, in reducing the benefits and not staffing the center for employment benefits was to DISCOURAGE claims. It is a SORRY system, and is humiliating for those who have worked for years, and find themselves at sea!! In this time of crisis..loneliness, isolation, and illness, the governor needs to order IMMEDIATE staffing of phone lines, an upgrade to the computer system, and COMPASSIONATE employees. The state is in crisis. People need HELP, not hindrance!!

  • Cogent Observer

    March 30, 2020 at 3:10 pm

    The provision of health care service–ranging from maintenance jobs at hospitals and similar facilities–to nursing if you have the skills–to caring for people at home allows opportunities for employment. Hell, if you don’t wish to come into contact with ill people, establish a phone bank in your neighbodhood and surrounding ones and be the go-between between them and family members. Go shopping for them and leave packages at their doors. Charge a reasonable fee for the services–don’t gouge–don’t scam. But for Chris*** sake, quit whining and do something to help yourself. Everybody is in the same boat.

    • Patti Lynn

      March 30, 2020 at 3:22 pm

      I don’t know where you live, but, WE have volunteers in South Florida doing that for folks, for FREE. Folks here don’t have a lot of money in the bank, they live from paycheck to paycheck! A lot of the things you mention require background checks and licensing. People aren’t whining, they’re looking for assistance. If you are so sure of your position, why can’t you use your name?

  • Drock

    March 30, 2020 at 5:03 pm

    yea, wife has been calling for a week. Nothing seems to be fixed. 800 calls today. really 800 calls.

    • Patti Lynn

      March 30, 2020 at 5:05 pm

      I am so, so, sorry. Please hang in there.

  • Cogent Observer

    March 30, 2020 at 5:14 pm

    Patti Lynn–In North Florida there are scores of voluntary organizations helping others, food banks, etc. People here assist one another. In response to your objection to my suggestions, might I suggest having a background check conducted or applying for a license if it is needed to do whatever you want to do? You haven’t stated that one is needed in your case. I’ll bet that many law enforcement authorities would assist with a background check at little if any charge under these circumstances. That’s why I used the word “whining”. Don’t wait for someone else to come to you to figure out what you need or want. Figure it out for yourself and find it.

    • Patti Lynn

      March 30, 2020 at 5:29 pm

      CO, I work with seniors, many in south Florida who have to work. They are quarantined…not permitted to go out. They have lost their jobs, and truly NEED the unemployment compensation. We have lots, and lots of volunteers, helping others, providing food, delivering food, etc.,but, these folks are ENTITLED to the unemployment benefits. Just make the damned system WORK!!! I have a job,
      I am working from home. I am NOT asking for me. I have been a volunteer for more than 50 years, and I continue to volunteer, when I have completed my working hours. Just get some people working on the system. It is BROKEN…if not actually designed to hang up, disconnect, and ERASE the data that has already been entered!!

    • Pedro

      March 31, 2020 at 6:59 am

      So people should just go out and ignore social distancing? You really think law enforcement in these times have time to conduct background checks? We are not waiting for someone to come around, we are waiting for the things we have paid into our whole lives to actually work when we need them.

      You really sound like a sheeth0le conservative protestant ethic type. Keep your crappy religion to yourself, we don’t need your evangelization.

  • Valerie Sprieser

    March 31, 2020 at 2:17 am

    So when you go on the website even though Desantis waved the requirements to look for a job the website still makes you fill out the form that asks you what employers you have contacted for a job. It does have a few places where you can say why you have not looked for employment. When you say you have not because of the virus when you get to the end of submitting it says your weeks filing has been put on hold because
    You are not looking for a job! Why can’t the governor hire a IT person to chang the fucking program and let’s you opt out of the employment section. How hard is that!
    Many people will be cheated out of $ that is due to them or have to wait weeks to get oked to get their $ ! Florida unemployment site is ridiculous and shameful!😈

    • Pedro

      March 31, 2020 at 6:49 am

      This is how cheap ass republicans always work government. They reduce taxes on the wealthy but cut services for the workers and make them jump through hoops even though workers themselves contribute to the UI compensation program. They then cut staff, fail to hire real programmers and sit back and say see I reduced our government. When a crises hits we all suffer.

Comments are closed.


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