Gov. Ron DeSantis closed out the week defending the state’s recent changes to the unemployment application process.
However, he avoided multiple questions from this reporter regarding whether he would move to expand benefits, raising them from what arguably are the worst levels in the civilized world.
“Can I get a question from someone else,” an exasperated DeSantis asked.
A staffer said his office would provide clarification on the question he could have answered on a live mike. As of Saturday morning, however, that clarification has yet to be offered.
Newly unemployed Floridians are eligible for 13 weeks of unemployment, capped at $275 per week.
He would not address expanding the term to 26 weeks or beyond. And he seemed to believe that the federal $600 supplement was enough to augment Tallahassee’s miserly stipend.
“$900 a week,” DeSantis said, “can make a big difference.”
There are a lot of people for whom that theory will be tested: nearly 170,000 claimants in the last week, almost 500,000 in the last three.
DeSantis, in the ever-friendly Jacksonville media market, preferred instead to rehash elements of his administration’s “all hands on deck” approach, including describing website improvements and paper applications as he did in Tallahassee the day before to the state press corps.
The Governor did indicate that, despite the epic failure of the $77 million website, which he said earlier this month didn’t have the backup server connected, he was willing to let bygones be bygones and not play the blame game.
“I don’t think you need incrimination,” DeSantis said. “I was told by the agency three weeks ago when I said ‘beef up the call center’, they said ‘just go to the website,” the Governor added.
A fateful recommendation it was.
“They told me this website was great,” DeSantis said, potentially raising questions about other flawed guidance the Governor may be receiving.
“Well, obviously, it couldn’t handle this capacity, they were wrong,” DeSantis said, pointing to increased capacity and a “parallel site” that functions more like a webform than a web portal.
Though it can receive data, applications on the parallel site, as well as paper applications, will be hand-encoded by a battalion of 2,000 state workers, now on the front lines of fixing catastrophic unemployment insurance failures.
DeSantis described “an unprecedented amount of manpower,” noting that “these systems weren’t designed for this.”
DeSantis wants to get money out, but the application backlog suggests that is an aspirational goal.
He noted that even in normal times, applications take three weeks to process.