Se. Jeff Brandes wants libraries opened on a limited basis so Floridians can apply for unemployment benefits.
“One of the best community resources we have is our libraries,” Brandes said. “But most are closed by cities and counties right now.”
The Pinellas Republican would like to see libraries opened for short, limited spans of time, and only to those who need access to computer terminals for this specific purpose.
In Brandes’ vision, the Department of Economic Opportunity would issue statewide instructions for librarians, who could guide applicants through the unemployment process.
“But it’s not uncommon for librarians to help people with unemployment applications,” Brandes said. “In many ways, librarians are the front line access to government services, and this is an opportunity to provide additional equipment with that in mind.”
Brandes understands why libraries and closed and would not want mayors and county leaders statewide ignoring public health guidelines on social distancing.
But as the state deals with an unprecedented number of unemployment applications amid the COVID-19 global pandemic, Brandes said it’s important government eliminate barriers to access.
Libraries during the Great Recession became go-to locations for the suddenly unemployed seeking internet access after turning off service at home. Individuals could apply for government services, search classified sections and engage with information at no personal cost.
Fear of spreading the coronavirus means libraries can’t serve all those functions now, and nearly every county in Florida has at least limited access to public facilities where crowds of more than 10 usually gather, including libraries.
But Brandes said providing this singular access would be helpful. He imagines individuals registering to come during a limited set of hours to libraries. Terminals could be spaces at least six feet apart in otherwise unused library space. Individuals would be required to use hand sanitizer before and after using terminals, and library staff would have disinfectant wipes at the ready to keep facilities healthy and clean.
The plan could be implemented without any legislation and would only take a decision by whatever local officials governed access to libraries, be that mayors, county leaders or city officials.
“It doesn’t take much,” he said.