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Charlie Crist implores state to tap tech community for unemployment benefit mobile app

The app would meet benefits-seekers where they are, Crist said.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist is calling on the state to partner with the tech community to develop a mobile app to shore up Florida’s unemployment system that is causing hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Floridians to face road blocks when seeking benefits.

In a letter to Florida Department of Economic Development Executive Director Ken Lawson, Crist highlights the need for more than just a paper application as many out of work Floridians do not have a printer or stamps, and libraries, which would usually serve as a resource to access printers, are closed.

Crist parsed his words in his letter, noting that Florida was not alone in facing such a swift decline in economic activity and related increase in jobless numbers.

“Never has our nation experienced such a swift and dramatic economic contraction with millions out of work seemingly overnight,” Crist wrote. “What sets Florida apart, however, is the ongoing inability of every unemployed Floridian to claim their benefits still weeks into this pandemic.”

In a statement accompanying his letter, Crist lamented the long lines benefits-seekers are facing as they try to obtain paper applications. Images of lines at a site where paper applications were being handed out this week showed a shocking scene where individuals were framed into lines, forcing them into a situation that defied social distancing guidelines currently in place. The images painted an apocalyptic picture of desperate Floridians donning face masks, many of which were homemade.

“Yesterday’s images from Hialeah of desperate Floridians crammed into lines to receive paper unemployment applications was shocking,” Crist said. “For the hundreds of thousands of unemployed or furloughed Floridians frustrated by a broken website and do not have a printer, the new paper application is not a solution.”

“To serve the people, you have to meet them where they are at,” Crist wrote in the letter. “Rather than working in vain to try to fix a broken system, the State of Florida should work with leaders in the tech community to develop an app to let people who lost their job because of the coronavirus apply for benefits from the safety of their own homes.”

Crist included somber tales of constituents who are struggling — a Clearwater waitress who hasn’t taken a table in three weeks, a bartender “making rent only by the grace of God.”

“For them, time – and simplicity – is of the essence.  The paper application was a meaningful step for some; however, not all out-of-work Floridians have a printer or postage stamps,” Crist wrote. “I encourage you to work with established software engineers to design a secure, mobile-based application, so Floridians can apply and submit supporting documents via their phone or email.”

Earlier in the day, Crist also spoke with reporters during a virtual press conference with U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor calling for Gov. Ron DeSantis to use his executive authority to also increase Florida’s $275 a week limit on unemployment benefits and extend the amount of time Floridians can receive those benefits, which is currently 12.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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