Senate Democrats demand unemployment fix, full vote-by-mail election

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Democrats are also again calling for Medicaid expansion.

The full Senate Democratic caucus is demanding Gov. Ron DeSantis fix the unemployment system and install a full vote-by-mail system.

Senators included those requests in a letter sent to the Governor Friday.

“Each of these issues are time sensitive and involve matters that deeply impact the lives of Floridians and need to be handled now in a proactive manner to protect the interests and rights of our citizens,” the members wrote.

The letter mainly mirrors previous calls by individual Senate Democrats or other Democratic lawmakers from the state.

The Senators are urging the Governor to fix an unemployment system, which is the slowest in the nation at processing claims.

“Thousands of Floridians cannot fully access the system or otherwise complete their applications. Those who have been able to file have not yet received their first installment of benefits and therefore lack resources to even feed their families,” the letter reads.

“We renew our call for the State to fix this system and to begin processing and approving claims expeditiously so that Floridians may receive the help and support they so desperately need. We also call for an Executive Order that expands benefit payments for needy Floridians above the current paltry $275/week.”

At a Friday news conference, DeSantis called the unemployment application site a “clunker” and said it seemed to be “designed to fail.”

Democrats also pushed the Governor to help the state adapt to a vote-by-mail system.

“With multiple election cycles upon us, it is important that voters feel safe and empowered to exercise their right to vote, in a manner of their choosing, without having to ask for such,” the letter continues.

“Should this state still be dealing with virus related shutdowns or a second wave of infections in August and/or November, it is imperative that we plan for and take measures to ensure safe access to voting for all Floridians. Therefore, every registered voter should automatically receive a vote by mail ballot which would allow them to decide for themselves whether they wish to vote early, poll vote, or return the vote by mail ballot.”

Florida Democrats have advocated for the measure, even in the face of President Donald Trump trashing the method. That’s despite the President himself voting by mail in the March Florida primary.

Elsewhere, Senate Democrats’ letter revived years-long calls — continuously rebuffed by Republicans — to expand Medicaid coverage in the state.

“With the dramatic number of employment terminations caused by this pandemic Florida faces an historic increase in the ranks of the uninsured,” the Senators wrote.

“Therefore, we renew our call for an Executive Order expanding Medicaid eligibility, including a request to the federal government for Florida to use its Medicaid Section 1115 in combination with Section 1135 waiver authority, to fully cover uninsured individuals who would not otherwise be eligible for Medicaid coverage during the public health crisis, and potentially beyond.”

DeSantis has argued such a move is unnecessary, as testing for the novel coronavirus is free, though a free test doesn’t negate costs for medical care if a person tests positive for the virus.

Finally, the Senate Democrats’ letter indirectly waded into the ongoing back and forth between the Governor and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

Fried is the only Democrat who won statewide election in 2018, and she has been consistently critical of the Governor’s response to COVID-19. Subsequently, the Governor left Fried off a series of panels dedicated to reopening the state despite naming other members of his cabinet to those panels.

In the letter, Democrats pushed the Governor to work with Fried’s office to address issues of food insecurity during the outbreak.

“We need a comprehensive plan and coordinated effort to preserve and distribute available foods and to begin to plan and manage the food needs of hungry Floridians,” the letter says.

“The Department of Agriculture is Constitutionally and Legislatively empowered to oversee, regulate and manage agricultural, crop and livestock issues. We encourage you to provide FDACS with the additional resources needed to implement preservation, distribution and availability of food resources for our state.”

The Senate letter follows a request from leaders of the House Democratic caucus to convene a Special Session to deal with similar issues.

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected].


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