It is no secret that Florida’s unemployment claims system is a hot mess. That fact, and it is a fact, became painfully clear this week as claims skyrocketed beyond even the most historic levels ever before reported.
Gov. Ron DeSantis took a major hit for a system he didn’t develop.
The $77 million website that is now crumbling under the weight of out-of-work Floridians in the coronavirus economy, which is sending the nation into a tailspin, was developed under the administration of former Gov. Rick Scott who, as POLITICO speculated, might very well have sought to create a benefits system that didn’t benefit many Floridians.
“It’s a sh– sandwich, and it was designed that way by Scott,” said one DeSantis advisor, according to POLITICO “It wasn’t about saving money. It was about making it harder for people to get benefits or keep benefits so that the unemployment numbers were low to give the governor something to brag about.”
Do you hear that? Scott was allegedly less interested in helping the unemployed as they searched for new work than he was in painting a (potentially false) image of a booming economy.
If that’s the case, Scott deserves to be held accountable. But this is not the time for DeSantis to brush it off as ‘not his problem.’
Consider that the fundamental failures with the state’s unemployment system have existed for the duration of DeSantis’ more than one year as Governor. Not once before the pandemic created an employment crisis of epic proportions did the Governor attempt to fix it.
He only began taking steps, which were delayed even considering the timing of the crisis, after scores of jobless and desperate Floridians flocked to the figurative unemployment line.
It took him days to issue an executive order calling for an “all hands on deck” approach, allocating state workers from other departments to help manage the crisis. Days went by before he agreed to hop in the way back machine and allow job seekers to use paper applications for their unemployment claims.
Days may seem to be not that big of a deal in the pre-coronavirus era, but today those days are precious. Every day that goes by could be one more day a family goes without food. These are people who, even before outright losing a job, might have already experienced weeks of financial decline as the economy gradually ground to a halt.
On top of that, DeSantis is still resisting calls to increase the shameful amount of benefits Florida offers. At just $275 a week for only 12 weeks, Florida has one of the stingiest unemployment benefit options in the nation.
In a lean economy, one could make the conservative argument that the benefit is reasonable, one that more liberal minded constituents would balk at. But in these times, times when finding a new job might not be an option for some, it’s laughable that DeSantis has sat on the sidelines and given a thumbs up to the system by way of sheer complacency.
But there’s good news, Governor. It’s not too late to get it right. Now is the time to employ that Navy discipline to your office; flex that fancy Harvard education and identify meaningful and, yes, creative solutions.
Through broad executive power, power that is strengthened further through the state of emergency you declared, you can order better benefits for longer periods of time to help make families whole again; to help them weather this storm.
You absolutely can direct state funds to fix the ravaged website causing, not the unemployment crisis itself, but the gross inability for people to seek the need they help and deserve.
Remember Governor, that this influx in joblessness is not a result of laziness. These are not people who slacked off and got fired. They weren’t trying to bamboozle taxpayers into paying their way. They’re not welfare queens.
They’re furloughed bartenders and waiters. They’re hard working moms and dads whose jobs, and in many cases second and third jobs, were taken away by a virus we still don’t understand and can’t seem to control.
Pick up your pen and do the right thing.
If you do it now, history might forget your delay in issuing a stay-at-home order and remember your compassion for those who lost their jobs.
But if you delay, all of the good you have done for the environment, for teachers, for clean water, could be erased with one failure to act.