With hundreds of thousands of Floridians still without unemployment assistance from the state, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order Thursday to suspend the requirement for laid-off workers to confirm every two weeks that they are unemployed.
Having people come back to an already strained submission system once every two weeks provides an unnecessary strain, the Governor said. And with Department of Economic Opportunity Director Ken Lawson off the case, he continued to throw the director under the bus.
“This one, I didn’t think I needed to do an executive order for because the (U.S.) Labor Department has said this can be waived,” DeSantis told reporters. “The agency didn’t do it, so I had to force their hand to do it, and I think that that’ll make things move a little bit smoother.”
By the Governor’s order, 80,000 of the 850,000 Floridians in the queue will be able to receive their benefits. The rule was one step of the bureaucratic red tape the Governor initially wanted eliminated.
“If the system is suffering under too much stress, why would we want people to have to go on and recertify that? We know what the economy’s doing right now,” he said.
The Governor has already redirected a significant number of state employees from the Department of Management Services (DMS) to addressing problems with unemployment applications. On Wednesday, DeSantis put DMS Secretary Jonathan Satter in charge of the state’s unemployment response.
About 2,000 state workers who had previously specialized in areas of government far removed from the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity will be tasked with data entry for applications coming in from across the state.
While he has expressed support for retroactive benefits, especially as individuals struggle to access applications, DeSantis has yet to answer questions about extending the term of unemployment past 12 weeks, nor has he discussed increasing the state’s maximum payout despite calls from Democrats.
People who have already maxed-out their unemployment benefits are still eligible for the federal government’s $600 checks starting to make their way to Americans. Satter said DMS will be rolling out a separate website for people who are ineligible for the state’s unemployment benefits to bypass the state’s system and get federal checks.
With the state’s submission system consistently going down at night for maintenance, the secretary compared it to a 7-year-old car. Those overnight fixes, sometimes 12 hours, have prevented some unemployed Floridians from submitting their applications.
“We’ve just loaded the car with a lot of passengers, and we’re expecting the car to drive 10 times as fast as it was built for, and so we occasionally have to take the car in for a pit stop,” Satter said. “It’s longer than we would like, but we would rather make incremental investments in the system now than over-promise and underdeliver.”
A fiscal memo released today by Senate President Bill Galvano painted a grim picture of the state of employment in the state. It showed in the last five weeks, 660,000 Floridians filed for unemployment, a number likely low given the myriad difficulties people have with applying.
Since mid-March, the state has sent 121,102 payments, nearly $50 million-worth, to 33,623 individuals who have filed for unemployment. With hundreds of thousands more still waiting for their direct deposit or debit card, the Governor said it’s not enough.