Gov. Ron DeSantis reiterated his administration and state government’s commitment to fixing flaws in Florida’s unemployment system.
In comments to media Thursday at the state Capitol, the Governor said “there’s definitely been progress,” regarding attempts to create a functional website to process applications for unemployment benefits.
The CONNECT site, DeSantis said, handled between 35,000 and 50,000 submissions Wednesday with a new parallel site handling 50,000 more applications.
While the state has yet to fully address how to migrate the data from the parallel website, the Governor emphasized that state workers would be at the ready to “potentially help out” with that, as well as with inputting data from paper applications distributed around the state.
The Governor spotlighted a “big increase in call center capacity” to go along with the website capacity increase.
In the past week, hundreds of call center operators have been rushed through training, paper applications were made available and dozens of computer servers were brought from Orlando to boost the online system’s capacity.
Server capacity has been tested, DeSantis noted.
“It slowed down Monday … got better Tuesday and Wednesday,” DeSantis said of the $77 million website commissioned by the state in 2013, one apparently built to handle a small fraction of what the Governor has called a “crush” of unemployment claims.
“At least people can file,” DeSantis said.
“We’re taking this very seriously. We’re putting as much as we can [into it],” DeSantis said, urging those processing applications to be “nimble” and “get it done.”
“We’re in a better position today than we were a week ago,” DeSantis said.
Hundreds of thousands of Floridians have tried unsuccessfully to use the original application site, which had difficulty processing 20,000 applicants simultaneously.
The spread of the new coronavirus has sparked massive layoffs and furloughs in Florida, leading to a record number of unemployment claims crushing the DEO’s infrastructure, and hundreds of thousands of backlogged claims.
New unemployment claims in Florida totaled 169,885 in the week ending last Saturday, down from the record 228,484 [adjusted from the previous week’s report] the week before, according to the latest numbers released by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Almost 500,000 Floridians have filed first-time claims for unemployment insurance in the past three weeks.
Many of the Florida claims remain in a backlog that could take weeks to resolve. That has led to calls for benefit payments to be made retroactive to when claims were filed or when people lost their jobs, rather than upon approval of the claims.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees the state’s unemployment system, is set to release March unemployment numbers on April 17.
However, the data represents a period before the state started to expand the use of paper applications because people were unable to file through the troubled online CONNECT unemployment system.
The Department of Labor report indicates the Florida number is driven by layoffs in a variety of sectors, as businesses shut down or scaled back amid social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the deadly disease caused by the coronavirus.
Geoff Luebkemann, senior vice president of the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, said numbers are being compiled on the impact of COVID-19 on restaurants in the state. He anecdotally noted that an unidentified Florida-based chain about 10 days ago laid off all its hourly employees.
“They’re running takeout and delivery-only now with just managers working seven days a week just to keep the lights on,” Luebkemann said. “They’re probably at a 90 percent sales decrease, 10 percent of what they normally do. And I’m hearing that pretty consistently.”
The News Service of Florida and Florida Politics’ Renzo Downey and Scott Powers contributed to this post.