The hits kept coming on Thursday for Gov. Ron DeSantis over recent failures of the state unemployment system.
A prominent Democratic state Senator, Jose Javier Rodriguez, frustrated in his attempts to get answers from Department of Economic Opportunity head Ken Lawson, repeated his request to Lawson’s replacement.
Though Lawson is still Executive Director of DEO, unemployment claims administration has been moved to the Department of Management Services.
Rodriguez wrote DMS Secretary Jonathan Satter with a series of lingering questions, including what “executive action on retroactivity” will look like, the future of the biweekly reporting requirements gumming up the system currently, and potential streamlining of federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance aid applications.
“The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance provides assistance to business owners, self-employed, independent contractors, have limited work history, and others not usually eligible for regular state unemployment benefits. My constituents do not have clarity on how and when they can apply for PUA,” the Miami-Dade Democrat wrote.
The DeSantis administration has repeatedly dodged questions relating to increasing unemployment benefits or increasing the length of time benefits are available.
Benefits are capped at 12 weeks with a top level of $275 weekly, making it among the nation’s most meager benefit. The Governor has expressed confidence that the $600 federal stipend will be enough to make up for any perceived coverage deficiency.
Officials have also not addressed whether applicants will be able to get clarity on when to expect benefits or a fully functioning online application process.
The Governor has conceded many of these failings. DeSantis has been frustrated, he told reporters Wednesday, by a failure to get accurate numbers and a weeks-long inability to get data on claims and their fulfillment status.
“What people want more than anything is to see money turned around,” DeSantis said, noting that the normal three-week wait is itself “too long” and he is “seeking ways to process as expeditiously as possible.”
The Democratic Party does not think DeSantis has done enough, however.
“People can’t wait weeks, much less months, for relief after losing their jobs. They needed that assistance weeks ago and the Governor must do better. Instead of taking responsibility, DeSantis seems to be taking another page from Donald Trump’s playbook and is passing the buck of this failure to his administrators,” said Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Juan Penalosa.
The coronavirus and the precautions taken to slow its spread continue to wreak havoc on Florida’s job market.
Last week saw another massive number of new unemployment applicants, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
New claims reached 181,293, up 11,408 over the previous week, which saw 169,885 new claims. Florida was one of the few states that saw an increase in claims.
Nationally, there were 5.2 million new applicants for unemployment, a decrease of 1.4 million week over week. All told, roughly 22 million have filed in the last four weeks nationally.